Think of how much food you waste in a given day, week or month. This waste may be due to perceived spoilage, due to being stale or perhaps simply be considered crumbs or not enough to do anything with, so you just toss it out. Whatever the reason, in a 2012 report the National Resources Defense Council found that the average American throws out 20 pounds of food per month and 300 pounds of food per year. The average household throws away over $2,200 in food each year and a whopping 90% of what is thrown out as trash is still considered perfectly edible and is thrown away too soon! Considering that one in seven Americans use food banks each month, if we could simply get a better handle on our food consumption and usage, we could actually feed another household of two annually just on what we currently throw away.
Now, think for a moment on what types of food you purchase. When you buy a frozen pizza do you purchase the most expensive option or do you buy the least expensive? What if I told you that both are often made on the same machines, by the same companies, with the same ingredients, just chopped up and portioned out differently. Would this change your buying habit? What if you could learn a simple trick to making the least expensive frozen pizza as good as the most expensive and often as good as or better than delivery chains? Interested? Well, I am, so I'll share my tips with you along with others on how to not only make use of food you may believe to be trash, but also on how to improve a couple of the least expensive dishes to maximize your budget, extend your food's shelf life in the kitchen and add some variety to your diet.
Let's begin by looking at some standard fruit options such as bananas, apples, pears and berries.
Banana's are notorious for developing dark spots in a few days. While light bruising is often not a cause of concern, once the bruises darken, which is called over-ripening, we often throw them out because the texture is not what we have come to enjoy from a raw banana. But hold it right there! They are now at the perfect stage for use in banana bread recipes, to be smash fried or added to smoothies. They can also be peeled and frozen solid to make a delicious, high fiber banana ice cream. Simply take the frozen bananas and run them through a food processor or mash them to the desired consistency. Add in a touch of Hershey's syrup for your chocolate fix, or handful of berries and have at it. This is a great treat for children and a good alternative to throwing out your bananas every week. Once frozen, they will save quite a while, so you can add to it weekly to have a monthly batch of frozen banana ice cream.
Almost any apple or pear will keep for three or four months if stored properly. Abnormal bruising due to being dropped or crammed into a fruit bowl where contact against other bruised fruits can lead to contact rot should be avoided. If you have unbruised fruit, simply wrap them in paper. Newspaper or saw dust has historically been used, but printer paper or packaging paper works just as well, just avoid heavily inked papers and magazines. All you need to do is wrap paper around each individual apple or pear and twist it at the top. No tying or tape required. Then place them in a cardboard box and store in a cool dry place such as in the back of a closet or if you have it, a root cellar. If you have a dry crawl space under your home that's free of pests and vermin, this is another possible storage area. You do not want them to freeze, once that happens they turn into one big bruise and rot quickly. If keeping them raw is not of interest, you could cook them in a myriad of ways. For quick use, trim off any bruised areas and bake them with cinnamon, raisins and brown sugar for a nice dessert treat. You can also slice them thin and dry them in a hot car or dehydrator for long term shelf life and later use to be eaten raw or rehydrated and added to oatmeals, deserts, etc.
To make apple or pear sauce:
1. Peel, core, and slice apples or pears into small chunks. Transfer to a large saucepan or pot.
2. Add in water, lemon juice, and cinnamon to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to low.
3. Puree using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender for a smoother applesauce.
To make apple or pear butter:
1. Place some apples or pears, apple cider, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt in a large pot, and cook over medium-low heat, uncovered, (stirring occasionally) until the fruit becomes very soft (about 1 hour).
2. Use a hand blender to puree the mixture (or ladle it into a regular blender in batches) until smooth.
Berries often turn to mush, so before that happens take any left overs you have a freeze them for use in desserts, consider making some yogurt popcicles by mixing your berries with your favorite yogurt and scooping it into your popcicle molds or a shallow dish. Frozen berries will keep a long time. For more immediate use, consider making some jam or jelly.
To make canned Jelly or Jam*:
1. Sort and wash berries and remove any stems. Place them into a large kettle and crush them. Add 1/4cp water per pound of berries, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and extract juice. Allow the juice to stand in a cool place overnight to prevent the formation of crystals in the jelly.
2. Strain the juice through a double thickness of damp cheesecloth. Measure 4 cups of the juice into a large pot. Stir in the sugar (1.75cp per pound of berries). Quickly bring to a full rolling boil. Stir in pectin (0.25 ounce per pound), and allow to boil hard for 1 minute. Remove from heat, and skim off foam. Pour into hot sterile jars, and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.
3. If you prefer a Jam, leave the berry remains in the mixture instead of extracting only the juice!
Produce such as romaine, greens, spinach, kale, celery and the like are all items that can also be maintained in a variety of ways. Pickling is a great way to make use of left overs, cucumbers, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes and carrots are all delicious when pickled and it's an easy process. Vinegar, spices, salt, a jar and time are all that's required. Reuse your old pickle and spaghetti sauce jars for this process. Anything with a pop top can be used again at least once for this sort of process. If pickling isn't your thing, consider freezing your kale, onions and bell peppers for later use. They will last a long time and can be used in a wide variety of dishes. When your asparagus begins to darken and feel mushy to touch, here's a tip to bring backs months of life- give your bunch of asparagus a quick blanch in boiling water, then freeze them. This will give you another several months of longevity and enable you to again eat raw once thawed or use on your favorite dish. Celery, like potatoes is a plant that can be replanted! When you've held on too long to those stalks, give them a trim and place into fresh soil. Alternatively, should you be in the cooler months or in an apartment, set a bowl of water in your window sill, insert some toothpicks to keep the celery from sinking to the bottom, leaving the top two-thirds above water and wait... in time a new stalk will begin to grow which can later be transplanted into soil.
Think outside the box when it comes to making the most of all the food you bring into your home. Your family, your budget and the environment will all be the better for it.
Upcycling Cheap Food
When it comes to frozen pizza, I am a bit of an expert. My family owns one of the largest convenience store pizza chains in the United States and I have literally grown up on pizza. So, here are my tips on upcycling cheap store bought frozen pizza:
#1: Use your own fresh ingredients. Adding your own peppers, onions, tomatoes or fresh mozzeralla or cheese blend is always the way to go. Your initial investment on fresh ingredients will be spread out over several meals, so you're buying beyond the once a week pizza fix. This means only buy frozen pizza's with pepperoni or other meat blends as a general rule, never the supreme or deluxe. If you buy your own pepperoni or reuse ham or bacon from the mornings breakfast or burger from the night before, you're way ahead of the game!
#2: Add your own spices. Spices are key to a great tasting pizza. Garlic, orgeno, an Italian blend or salt and pepper, whetever you fancy, add it! Again, spices last for months so you will have plenty to go around for many, many other dishes or pizza pies.
#3: Consider Sauce. Most frozen pizza is light on the sauce, so if you're not quite ready to blend your own, consider a hearty marinara or four cheese spaghetti sauce. They're often less expensive than those marketed as pizza sauces, you get twice as much for the same price and they have more flavor options.
#4: Shop for crust. Not all crusts are created equal. If you like a cracker like thin crust, stick with that. If you like the cardboard, cut the roof of your mouth crust... well, okay. If you want self rising, choose the store brand, and finally if you want a deep dish, try adding a canned pie crust, cheap biscuits or a rolled bread dough from the cooler section to your budget pizza. In between the layers add more cheese or sauce to suit.
Here is my $1.50 Upcycled Pizza- I selected a Totino's Party Pizza (Cheese only) for $0.99, I purchased a packet of pepperoni for another $0.99, but it has enough in it to do three pizzas like this- so I divide that and arrive at $0.33. I then purchased a packet of $0.99 cheese blend which I caught on sale. This packet will do four more pizzas, so divide that and I'm at $0.25. Add it up and I am at $1.57 for this specific pizza. I added my own Italian season blend from home which was puchased from a wholesale club and it on it's 4th year of use, so that cost isn't worth considering. It's been used in multiple dozens of dishes, so maybe add $0.01. The onion I added came from my yard, so that was free!
What about Ramen? Yes, it doesn't get much cheaper than a packet of ramen noodles. Ramen noodles are particularly unhealthy because they contain a food additive called Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), a preservative that is a petroleum industry byproduct. They’re also incredibly high in sodium, calories and saturated fat. Yet, they remain a popular staple for campers, backpackers, preppers and college students. So, if you're set on having some cheap ramen to upcycle, first consider tossing out the flavor packet. The flavoring packet is jammed full of an unnecessary amount of MSG and other ingredients. Instead, opt for a boullion cube or other vegetable, beef or chicken stock. If you find this too salty, just water it down to taste. Here is my own original down n' dirty Kentucky Ramen recipe that will give that thirty cent packet a boost that will catapult it to stardom.
• 1 Pickled or Soft Boiled Egg
• 1 Packet Ramen Noodles
• 2 Cups bourbon brown sugar broth
• 1/2 cup sauteed greens (bok choy, kale, or collard greens all work well)
• Pinch of Cayenne Pepper or Korean Chili Flakes
• 1 Scallion, sliced
• 2-3 ounces of Bacon or Roast Pork Left overs
First begin your egg. For a more traditional ramen, use a soft boiled egg which you will place in the hot ramen to fully cook. But for a true southern inspiration, a pickled egg is the deal here in the hills of Kentucky. To make a soft boil egg, bring water to a rapid boil, then turn the heat off and let it sit in the hot water for 5-7 minutes. Cool the egg in an ice bath or under cold tap, then peel it. Soak in ½ cup bourbon and 1 table spoon brown sugar, 1 table spoon franks red hot for 1 hour or over night.
Remove egg from marinade, let sit at room temp while preparing the rest
Cook Bacon or prepare your roasted pork
Next, Saute greens in butter. Slice scallion.
Now, take 2 cups of beef broth and add 1 table spoon of brown sugar and 1 table spoon of your preferred bourbon (adjust to taste). Bring to a boil, then add dry ramen noodles, cook until desired tenderness (usually 3 minutes).
Slice egg in half.
Pour ramen into a bowl, top with bacon or pork, add sauteed greens, add egg to hot broth and top with scallion.