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Ideas for wasting less and using ingredients before they go bad

It occurred to me that I have been wasting too much. I buy a carton of cherry tomatoes and a fair amount go bad before I use them. I buy a thing of white mushrooms and half of them get too brown before I use them. Of course, bananas.

It occurred to me that I should be roasting the extra cherry tomatoes before they get to the throw away stage. Same with the mushrooms. Sautee and then use or freeze. I made some low fat (kind of ) bearnaise sauce with milk I would not have used. I froze that.

I bet there are a million other ways to work with ingredients to extend their life. And then refrigerate or freeze for later use.

Any other ideas like that I'm not thinking of? And ways to use the preserved ingredients?

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  1. well as far as mushrooms are concerned, but them loose and buy what you need....

    4 Replies
    1. re: babbabooey

      Exactly, and they are cheaper that way

      1. re: roro1831

        karykat might be in the same situation as I am...my grocery stores don't sell loose mushrooms! They only come 2 ways: 8 ounce box or 1 pound box. Total pain in the butt.

        1. re: Val

          hm, ok...well when you use them, make them two different ways this way you can have them for dinner the next night? one b"box" of mushrooms isnt really that much though..I freeze my bananas and use them in shakes or i make banana pudding or banana bread once they are ripe. i also freeze grapes and eat them frozen. bernaise is tough if not used immediately because there are eggs in it and when reheated, the eggs will cook.

          1. re: Val

            I can get them loose, but for unknown reasons, the packaged ones usually look fresher (less browned.) Not sure why.

      2. Veggies are easy to use up in soups and stews....then you can freeze the soup/stew if you have too much of that! For your mushrooms, perhaps make some marinara sauce and freeze that.

        1. dehydrate and run through a food processor to make flakes or powder, then bag and freeze. add to soups, broth, stews.

          blanch or saute and refrigerate to give yourself a day or 2 more to use.

          3 Replies
          1. re: appycamper

            Interesting. We have a food dehydrater we haven't used yet. What vegies do you do?

            1. re: karykat

              pretty much whatever presents itself. if you take tomatoes to a leathery consistency you can pack in olive oil. i keep things like green beans, summer squash, onions, sweet peppers, greens, mushrooms in one container. stuff that should have more time cooking like potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, parsnips i keep separate so i can give them extra time when added to a soup.

              hot peppers i also keep apart so i can add as needed. so maybe 3 freezer containers in all.

              if you really want full control over flavor profiles you could keep separate containers for each item, but what the heck i like the mix.

              1. re: appycamper

                I dehydrated slices of sweet potato, spinach leaves, onions, green onions, peppers, garlic, ginger, apples, limes and lemons. Now I can use them whenever a recipe calls for them.

          2. I hate wasting food. We grocery shop once a week and I think doing a bit of meal planning before we go is the most helpful in terms of not buying too much (it's easy to get a bit carried away buying things if you don't know what you need). I try to choose recipes for the week that have some ingredient overlap.

            Also, I have some flexible recipes, like salad or marinara sauce, where I'm perfectly fine throwing in whatever. I needed to get rid of some cherry tomatoes and carrots and some green onions last night so I just sort of put them all in and it worked out perfectly fine.

            I don't shoot for anything too complicated because I don't want to make more work for myself.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Memily_G

              I agree w/ having a few key "cleanup" recipes that absorb all kinds of extra veggie ingredients. I also do a hearty marinara w/ shrooms, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and just about anything else. My other recent favorite is coucous tossed w/ grilled/roasted leftover veggies (cherry tomatoes and asparagus most recently) along w/ roasted garlic, olive oil, a little lemon, and parsley (or whatever herb I need to get rid of). Adding toasted pine nuts, other seeds, or feta, parmesan, or some other flavorful cheese can also add to this or take it in another direction. Basically, I just use the couscous as a palette for the roasted leftovers.

              1. re: sholli

                Couscous is my go-to move as well -- known in my house as "kitchen sink couscous" but delicious nonetheless. A bit of ras el-hanout is often thrown in for good measure -- and I definitely second the cheese and/or nuts.

              2. re: Memily_G

                My go-to "cleanup" recipes are omelettes, quiche (or frittata), and pizza.

                Great for those small amounts of veggies, meat and cheese.

              3. I agree re meal planning - maybe you're doing this already and getting thrown off by life events (happens to the best of us some weeks!) but I find that making up menus for the week on the weekend & then shopping for what's needed helps a lot with waste. Otherwise, your ideas sound good - and I'd add that soups are a great way to get rid of stuff that's on its way out, as are frittatas. We eat a lot of frittatas! I also often use Epicurious' (www.epicurious.com) advanced search feature to plug in whatever crazy ingredients I have and get ideas/recipes. That's probably my #1 strategy.


                1 Reply
                1. re: gansu girl

                  me too! i usually make frittatas or soup with the left overs. fried rice or noodles is another easy way to use up the extras. Oh what about pizza?

                2. This isn't exactly along the lines of what you're asking for, but I think one of the very most important tips on keeping vegetables fresh is to get them out of sealed plastic, and dry them off a bit if they're dripping water from the market's mister.

                  I've discovered that rinsed and dried lettuce, kept in the crisper in an OPENED plastic bag with a paper towel on top will keep twice as long as the same lettuce left in the bag you brought it home in. Same thing for things such as baby carrots, radishes or other rinsed-and-bagged produce.

                  1. It's very important to LABEL what you've frozen. You think you'll remember / recognize that little package but you won't. Get in the habit of questioning whenever you cook--"is there something in the freezer I can toss in this?"

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: blue room

                      Yes, yes, yes yes. Labelling! I just threw out a lot of what was in our freezer because I just didn't know how old things were. Or even WHAT some things were. I bought some little freezer labels online. Kind of silly but they weren't that much and they inspire me to actually do the labelling. Pathetic I know. Anyway, I am inspired by my cleaned out freezer with everything in there now labled.

                      1. re: blue room

                        Blue_Room - Labeling IS so important - Nothing like a ziploc of brown or red that leaves me going, huh? I wonder what I thot I was going to do with this.

                        Marinara and soup is a great "what to do with leftover / about to go bad" stuff. But if I don't label it, even in my frig, sometimes, then it's a complete waste and I truly regret having wasted food.

                        The other thing, for me, is to go thru the frig and freezer regularly. Before I make a shopping list (once a week maybe) I try and go through the frig and freezer and find out what I HAVE.

                      2. Roasting cherry tomatoes is a good idea--I do this with grape tomatoes that get to that wrinkly stage (but before they are truly bad).

                        Milk (and cream or half-and-half) can be frozen--I freeze in old jars. There may be some separation, but that's not an issue if the dairy is warmed (I typically use my frozen leftovers in homemade ice creams). You can freeze leftover red wine, too, before it turns to that vinegary stage. Thaw and use in stews or pot roasts.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: nofunlatte

                          A couple of things that help me are washing and sometimes cutting produce when I get home from the store or market (so I don't have any excuses not to cook it), making a load of sauteed onions and garlic and freezing them, and making dried fruit. I just halve or slice the fruit and use my oven on 200 degrees or so, but if you have a dehydrator that's probably even better. I've done peaches, plums, and apples, and they've all come out nicely. I think I've read that you can freeze bananas for bread as well (if you don't have time to make banana bread right then-- the skins will turn black, but they're still ok.) With a lot of produce, if I seed it, cut it up, and freeze it on a cookie sheet before tossing it in a ziploc, it's handy enough that I can throw a handful in a dessert or something. With lemons, I've done the preserved lemon thing, and they hold up really well. Other citrus I'd juice and zest and freeze the zest/juice mixture in an ice cube tray.

                          I am enjoying the thread and look forward to reading the rest.

                        2. A cuisine that has so many great herbs, spices, and vegetables is Indian food. Their cuisine uses all of those things in just so many different ways. It's endless what they do with vegetables and herbs! I love spicy carrot spread, and the garlicky spinach spread I've bought. Not to mention, so many wonderfull naan, garlic, spinach, and vegetable naans that I want to learn to make. Check out a great Indian cookbook at your library. Then once you find a keeper, buy the book.

                          I'm baking. I make my own bread, or some of my own bread. I am going to try making hamburger buns this week. I like that I don't have to have all those preservatives in my bread, that's been my motivator.

                          Advice? Well aside from the obvious, don't buy food that you have no idea what your going to do with it. And plan your menu a week at a time.

                          But what can I do that's more fun and challenging? Learn to cook interesting cuisines or bake. Take your cooking skills to a new level one that uses a lot of herbs and vegetables, That's what I'm going to do.

                          1. I am retired now, but at one point was often working 50hr weeks at a physically-demanding job. I shopped for groceries on Sunday. But often I'd be driving home with too tired and sore to cook, and wound up at a drive-thru or stopping for a quick bite or take-out pizza, with the result that on occasion the fresh groceries spoiled. My solution was to cook Monday's dinner on Sunday, so I knew that all I had to do when I got home was microwave my dinner. Then later Monday evening, when I got my second wind, I'd cook for the next day, and so forth. I don't mind having the same meal more than once a week so I cooked ont he average of 3-4 times a week. I also found that unless I made my lunch the night before, I'd often skip it in the morning and buy lunch - again leaving uneaten food in the fridge.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: greygarious

                              I do something similar. I teach school, and because we don't have hot lunch, I pack a lunch every day. I rarely feel like cooking right after school and my daily trip (knock on wood) to the gym, but late at night I'll often get the urge to cook, so I'll make the next day's lunch or dinner. This past Sunday I roasted some potatoes and savoy cabbage and salmon, and Tuesday night when I had a little extra time, I made a big pot of soup. That kind of cooking plus frittatas, stir-fries, and quickie pasta dinners saves me from wasting all my fresh veggies.

                              I think it's essential to have a handful of "kitchen-sink" type recipes that will easily accept all the odds and ends floating around in the fridge. Even though it's far from authentic to any regional cuisine, I think a jar of good curry paste and a can of coconut milk will cover a multitude of mediocre leftovers! ;)