Hacks to Avoid Food Waste

Last year my son took a high school course called Current World Issues, which aimed to tackle a huge array of problems facing society, each of which could warrant a course of its own. One problem, how to produce enough food for a growing worldwide population, got me thinking about the small ways everyone can do something about the huge quantities of food that are produced but thrown away every day.

I kept a page from my local city newsletter that says, "Worldwide, it takes 2.5 billion acres of land just to grow the food we waste." Posting the page on my fridge helps remind me to do my part in avoiding food waste. 

I submitted two ideas that I've implemented in my own kitchen to the Quick Tips section of Cook's Illustrated Magazine. Months later, I received an email from the magazine saying one of them would be published in the September/October 2017 issue. If you're a subscriber, take a look at your copy - it's there. If not, this issue should be available at supermarket checkout stands for a short time. 

If you're reading this blog after October 2017 and you don't have a Cook's Illustrated subscription, do not worry. I'm sharing both ideas here. 

Quick Tip #1

When I buy a whole chicken or bone-in chicken parts, I usually make stock from the bones. This isn't as hard as you might think. Combine a quartered onion, coarsely chopped raw vegetables and herbs you have in the fridge, the chicken bones, salt (at least a teaspoon if the chicken wasn't pre-salted or brined, less if it was), and 2-3 quarts of water. Carrots and celery are good choices, and it's a way to use that center part of a celery stalk that doesn't taste good on its own. Avoid broccoli or cauliflower in the stock, but they can be fine additions to chicken soup. 

You can sauté the vegetables in a little oil before adding the other ingredients, to enrich the flavor, but it isn't necessary. Boil, covered, for about 2 hours, strain, and refrigerate overnight. If there is substantial meat still on the bones, I save that separately. I dump the bones and strained vegetables into the compost bin.

Here's where the first hack comes in. Fresh chicken stock only lasts 2-3 days in the refrigerator, so I freeze any I'm not using right away. I freeze it in ice cube trays, so I can thaw just as much as I need for a recipe. I fill up a measuring cup with frozen stock cubes, microwave it long enough to melt it partway, and then fill up with more cubes to the desired volume. 

The challenge comes in getting the frozen cubes out of the trays and into a storage container without dropping any on the counter or the floor. I found that emptying the tray of frozen stock cubes onto a piece of parchment paper allows me twist it to get all the cubes to release from the tray without any accidents. Then I roll up the paper into a cylinder and pour the cubes into a storage container. Cook's Illustrated created a great drawing demonstrating the process. 

Cook's Illustrated chose to publish the Quick Tip I submitted.

Cook's Illustrated chose to publish the Quick Tip I submitted.

Quick Tip #2

Recipes often ask for a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. A can contains 8 tablespoons, so the rest goes into a container in the fridge, only to be thrown away weeks later when it has grown what my mother used to call "fuzzy friends." My solution to avoid moldy tomato paste? Freeze it, of course. The first time I tried, I learned that tomato paste freezes rock solid. Even an ice cream scoop can't cut into it very well. I could freeze it in an ice cube tray, but I wanted to measure it out by the tablespoon. Since I was already using a tablespoon measure, the easiest approach was to drop each spoonful onto a cookie sheet coated with parchment paper.

Once frozen overnight, I pop the dollops off the paper and into a container, premeasured and ready to be used in recipes as needed. Frozen tablespoons of tomato paste can be added directly into a sauce cooking on the stovetop or microwaved to thaw them first. 

What hacks have you tried to make use of extra food in your kitchen?