10 Smart Uses for Food That's About to Go Bad

By Mikey Rox on 12 May 2016 0 comments

It happens all too often that we buy food that we don't get around to eating fast enough, and it ends up on the verge of spoiling. But all isn't lost when there's a soft spot in your fruits and veggies. Turn lemons into lemonade — literally — plus a few more edible hacks with these smart uses for food that's about to go bad.

1. Make Smoothies and Bread Out of Bananas, Zucchini, Sweet Potatoes, and Carrots

Banana bread is best when the bananas have been left on the counter to turn into black vessels of near mush — we all know that — but there are other fruits and vegetables that can be utilized in a similar manner before they're completely wasted.

Zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach all can be salvaged for smoothies, and in some cases, like zucchini, baked goods. I can't give you my grandma's recipe for the latter — she'd have my head — but you can try somebody else's grandma's recipe for moist, delicious, spicy zucchini bread.

As for the smoothies, it helps to have a juicer to separate the pulp when using carrots and spinach for smoothies, but you can strain it all the same, and many blenders these days can pulverize the ingredients so there's nary a stringy piece in the drink. I always recommend the Ninja brand, but another may work better for you.

2. Make Vegetable Stock From Near-the-End Veggies

If you have a crisper full of veggies that are on their last leg, turn them into a stock that you can freeze and use later in soups and other recipes.

"You can save all the bits and ends from vegetables you've trimmed throughout the week (stems of broccoli or leafy greens, ends of carrots, garlic and onions, soft tomatoes, or wilted greens), gradually adding to a freezer bag, and when it's full you'll be ready to start a new batch of veggie stock," says Rebecca Lewis, HelloFresh's in-house registered dietician. Here's a recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2–3 pounds vegetable peels (enough to fill a 1 gallon freezer bag). Suggested vegetables: onions and garlic (including skins), peeled carrots, fennel, celery, leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens), and herbs
  • 12 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6–8 peppercorns
  • 1 t salt

Method:

Empty the gallon baggie of veggie trimmings into a large stock pot along with the bay leaf and peppercorns. Add eight cups of water and see where your water level is. Remember it — this will be the level of where your stock will roughly be after reducing it. Then add the other four cups of water and the salt.

Bring to a slow simmer over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain the simmer, keeping the pot uncovered. When the liquid has reduced to the point you recalled earlier, taste the stock. If it doesn't seem concentrated enough, simmer for another hour or two.

Remove the stock from heat and strain through a colander. Squeeze all of the stock out of the veggies then discard the veggies. You should end up with roughly eight cups of concentrated stock.

3. Freeze Herbs in Olive Oil

I love cooking with fresh herbs, but it's annoying to buy a huge bunch when I only need a little for the recipe I'm making, like a chicken noodle soup. Parsley and cilantro are the major culprits in this dilemma, and cilantro, in my experience, tends to go bad much quicker than parsley.

To get the most herb for my money, I started chopping them up all at once when I get home (or when I first need them for a recipe). I put a bit of the chopped herbs in a plastic baggie in the fridge so I can cook with them throughout the week. I put the rest in ice cube trays with olive oil, place them in the freezer, and then transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer bag for sautéing and other recipes later. This is a really simple and easy way to preserve your herbs instead of buying a new bunch every time and throwing half of it away.

4. Infuse Olive Oil With Herbs and Peppers

People pay a pretty penny for flavored olive oils at fancy gourmet supermarkets, but you can make your own at home by putting your on-the-verge-of-spoiling herbs and peppers in the bottle for preservation and flavor. Let it sit for at least a week for maximum flavor, and either use them in your own cooking or give them as gifts if they're in a presentable bottle.

5. Place Vanilla Bean Pods in Sugar

If you have an unused vanilla bean after a round of baking — this is particularly useful at holiday time — consider adding them to your sugar to enhance its flavor. You can place the pods directly in the sugar or slice them open and scrape out the insides and mix them in the sugar. If you want to do it the easy way, just put the pods in the sugar and let them sit for two weeks. Your sugar will have an amazing vanilla taste and scent.

6. Put on a Pot of "Peasant Stew"

I'm not a huge fan of soups and stews — I'm a very picky eater and totally "anti-chunk" in my food (my fellow finicky foodies know what I'm talking about) — but cookbook author Cynthia MacGregor's idea of taking just about anything you have lying around the kitchen and making a meal out of it before it goes bad seems pretty ingenious. She didn't invent it, of course, but it sure sounds like she's perfected it.

"Ideally you'll start saving food for a peasant soup/stew as you go along, freezing whatever will freeze well," she says. "When you have one or more foods that won't freeze well or have reached their outer limit, or you're just in a cookin' frame of mind, defrost what you've saved frozen — from complicated recipes down to simple simmered veggies — in a suitably large cooking vessel. Add whatever you want, from herbs to wine to chicken stock to garlic to onions to Worcestershire sauce to plain yogurt or sour cream — the list goes on."

Got celery that's looking droopy? Toss it in. Got nothing crunchy in the fridge and you'd like to sink your teeth into something? Try a can of water chestnuts. Want color? Add a jar of pimentos. Looking to make the stew/soup more hearty? Add potatoes or, for a twist, yucca. Taste as it cooks.

7. Cut Old Bread Into Croutons and Bake

Instead of throwing away your stale bread, cut it into cubes, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and dried herbs if you'd like, and place it in the oven in a single layer on a baking sheet for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. You'll have perfectly crispy croutons every time. This hack is for stale bread only, by the way; moldy bread is not salvageable — just throw it away.

8. Puree Delicate Berries for Yogurt and Dessert Toppings

I have a love-hate relationship with berries — strawberries and raspberries, in particular — because they spoil so quickly. I've picked up raspberries from the market that have gone bad within 48 hours of purchase, and considering how expensive they can be, it's not something to which I look forward.

Now, if I know I'm not able to eat the amount of berries I've purchased within that short window of time, I'll take a portion out for other purposes. One thing I like to do is mash up raspberries and mix them in my yogurt. If you do this and store them in an air-tight container, they last up to a few more days than if they were left in the fridge whole. As for other berries, like strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, I like to either boil them down with a bit of water, sugar, and lemon juice, which makes a nice, thick sauce for desserts or pancakes, or freeze them to throw in smoothies.

9. Make Patties or Fritters Out of Beans, Grains, and Shredded Meats

What to do with those little bits of beans, grains, and shredded meats that may not be substantial enough for a decent meal? Turn them into patties or fritters says Liza Baker, an integrative nutritional health coach.

"Cooked beans, vegetables, grains, and even flaked fish and shredded meat and poultry can be mixed with egg, some bread crumbs (gluten-free or not), and some herbs (dry or fresh) and/or spices and quickly browned in a little butter or olive oil (or ghee or coconut oil) and served on their own, on a bun, under an egg (poached or fried), or crumbled into a wrap," she says.

10. Use Old Lemons as a Cleaner

Lemons too soft and bitter for anything but the trash? Not so fast. Even if the lemon is past when it tastes its best, its lemony power can still be used to clean and sanitize surfaces in your home. (See also: 4 Ways to Use Your Food That Don't Involve Eating)

"If you have lemons that are going bad, they can be used as a cleaner," says money-saving enthusiast and blogger Karen Cordaway. "If you have stains that are hard to get off of your pans or stove top, mix baking soda, vinegar (tablespoon of each), and some lemon to scrub off those stubborn stains. It works extremely well."

How do you extend the life of your foods that are about to go bad? I'd love to hear some of your ideas in the comments below.

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