Eat Your Garbage! Turn Your Trash Into Delicious Holiday Food

by Max Wong on 29 November 2012 7 comments
Photo: cardamom

Americans throw away 40% of the food that is produced in this country every year. While there is plenty of waste that happens before the food ever gets to our dinner tables, according to the latest reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average American family of four throws away $2,275 dollars in food annually! (See also: Waste Not, Want Not: Stop Throwing Away Your Food!)

As the granddaughter of both a livestock broker and a restaurant owner, I was raised to have an insane horror of food waste. My frugal mother trained my sister and I from infancy to eat last night’s dinner leftovers for breakfast — a habit that is stomach-churning to anyone who has never eaten prime rib or a side salad at brunch. This dinner-for-breakfast practice pretty much insured that there were never cooked leftovers languishing in the fridge, and it’s a habit that has cut tens of thousands of dollars off my sister’s and my food budget during our lifetimes. But this isn’t the only kitchen waste hack we picked up from our ultra-foodie family. Here are several others that make for great holiday eats.

Citrus Peels

I remember being shocked as a kid to discover that people actually paid $1 to buy a tiny jar of dried orange peel in the spice section of my local supermarket. OMG. Highway robbery! My child brain immediately started tallying up how much money I could make by reselling the peels that were leftover from my school lunches, instead of putting them into the “orange chicken” Tupperware container that lived in my grandfather’s freezer. (If you’ve never wondered who supplies Chinese restaurants with all those peels for their tangerine beef, well, now you know too much). While most of my citrus peels now go toward making homemade citrus cleanser and improvised garden equipment, I still have a small container of peels in my freezer for home cooking and a second container of citrus zest for holiday baking.

Candied citrus peels are a luxurious way to turn your kitchen trash into an old-fashioned holiday treat. While it’s possible to candy any kind of citrus peel, or even entire kumquats, my favorite candied peel is, by far, grapefruit. Their peels are thick enough to have just the right amount of tooth. My favorite recipe for candied grapefruit peel comes from Georgeanne Brennan’s fabulous cookbook "The Glass Pantry," because I think her version has the perfect balance of sweet and bitter, but Williams-Sonoma uses a similar technique. If you want to get extra fancy about it, dip the finished candied peels into dark chocolate. They are a great addition to the holiday cookie basket. Also, candied peels can last a month without refrigeration and ship well, so they are a great homemade gift to send to friends who live in far-flung places.

Apple Peels and Cores

Apple peels and cores are never wasted in my kitchen because I use them to as the basis for homemade pectin for jam-making. Homemade preserves are my favorite make-in-advance gifts because they use up surplus backyard produce. None of my precious summer fruit gets wasted, and my friends get delicious, artisinal food that costs me less than $2 a jar to create.

Even if you are never inspired to the "Little House on the Prairie" heights of canning your own fruit, there are a number of less food science-intensive holiday recipes that use apple peels like these homemade gummy worms that are great stocking stuffers for kids, or these elegant apple peel twigs from Martha Stewart that serve as decorative, after-dinner snacks. 

Boiling apple peels with cinnamon and cloves also makes a delicious tisane (hot herbal tea) that will make your whole house smell good. It's a party beverage and an air freshener in one!

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Meat and Vegetables for Stock

The most obvious garbage-to-table transformation for most home cooks is homemade stock. Before your throw away your Thanksgiving turkey skeleton or your Christmas ham bone this year, put those bones and any spare chunks of meat into a large pot of water with a spare onion, some carrots, and celery to make your own savory bouillon.

Wait.

Did I just say spare onion, some carrots, and celery? Because I meant to say onion tops, carrot tops, and that “butt end” of the celery that you’ve saved (for now) from your compost heap that are sitting in a zip lock bag in your freezer. The limpest, palest, saddest celery will still add great flavor to homemade stock. For stock, it’s not about how it looks, it’s how it will taste once it’s been simmered for a few hours.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you can also save money by making your own vegetable stock. Collect the ends of your carrots, celery, and onions in a container in your freezer. (You’ll know when it’s time to make stock, because your container will be full.)

Bread

What do French toast, seasoned bread crumbs, croutons, and bread pudding all have in common? If you answered “They’re too ding dang expensive to buy considering that they’re all made with stale bread,” you’d be right.

As long as it’s not growing black mold, dried-out stale bread is a fabulous flavor sponge. Don’t believe me? Check out the top-rated recipes on the internet for bread pudding or croutons. Most call specifically for day-old bread as the main ingredient. Bread pudding makes a splendid main dish for New Year's Day brunch, but it also works well as a make-ahead dessert to bring to holiday potluck parties. (No one has to know that they're eating the leftover dinner rolls from your family's Christmas dinner).

The French, incidentally, do not call old bread dipped in egg batter “French toast.” They call it “pain perdu” which means “lost bread.” (The more you know).

So get busy! Don't you have some stuffing to make out of your recycled turkey and bread crusts?

What’s your favorite food waste hack? Please share your genius in the comments section.

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Guest's picture
Olivia

Thanks for your article! Watermelon rind pickle is a favorite at our house. You can also make a lovely apple peel jelly from peels and cores. It's a soft pinky peach color with a mild flavor. Pretty enough for gifts.

Guest's picture

Thanks for this great article, Max. I've cross posted it on Google+ and on the Facebook Compact group.

Max Wong's picture

Thank you Eric! I love running into people I know on the interweb! It's like running into you on the street in a strange city.

Guest's picture
Kelly Evans

Fantastic article Max. I am going to try the candies peels this year. I have enough citrus cleanser going that I can use my peels for something else this month. Hope you like your cleanser as much as I do! Thanks for the info.

Guest's picture

Wow!! The percentage of food that is thrown away is way TOO high!! We have to find a way to reduce 40% to less. All we need to do is spread the word with this article. I know my family and I eat left over but as far as the extra food that we trash that can be used for food, we usually don’t bother. However, this Christmas I hope to use these ideas.

Guest's picture

Wow, really cool. I had Thanksgiving at a family friend's house this year for the first time and her gravy was absolutely amazing. When I asked about it, she said that every year she takes whatever is leftover from the turkey and uses it to make the next years gravy and freezes it, and also makes a few batches of soup too. Great ideas!

Guest's picture
Heidi Brandenburg

I love the way your mind thinks!! I've been trying for years to think of things to do with not only leftovers, but the rind, skins, crust etc of my food. One of my favorites is soup from Celery bits, broccoli stems and Cauliflower stalks. I use Veg stock, then when it's all cooked, take my imerging blender to it all. Comes out like a cream soup with no dairy! Very good.