By Erika Mathieu
I am eager to share some more money and ingredient saving tips this new year! A 2019 study completed by “Second Harvest” found that in Canada, 58 per cent of food produced is lost or wasted amounting to over 35 million tonnes annually, and of that waste, 32 per cent (11 million tonnes) could have been rescued to help support communities across the country.
Although many people advocate for growing your own food supply, the reality is not everybody has the time, technique, space, or money to get started, and for that reason relies on food produced elsewhere. The logical first step in reducing waste is reducing unnecessary consumption. Meaning if you are buying broccoli for every day of the week, knowing full well you probably won’t eat broccoli everyday that week, but are hoping to put off shopping for another week, you may find yourself throwing out more than you intended. If you find yourself with more than you can reasonably eat before the product turns, you do have options before throwing it away. Here are a few of my favourite saver hacks.
I always keep a vegetable scrap bag in my freezer, meaning that every veggie odd, end, or peel goes into a large freezer bag as I acquire scraps. I save and add to this until I eventually make stock. This bag houses onion ends, celery leaves, carrot peels, and mushroom stocks, and pretty much any other vegetable scrap that you would normally throw away. You can utilize these for vegetarian stock or save your chicken bones from poultry or other meats and make a bone stock. Simply strain produce scraps after simmering on the stove with water for at least an hour, and filter through a coffee filter and you will be left with home-made, shelf-stable broth on hand for your next recipe. You can also portion the stock into an ice cube tray and freeze for handy ready-to-go stock, that actually is better than bouillon.
If you find yourself with a surplus of a particular vegetable, that definitely hasn’t turned, but is nearing the end of its life, I recommend incorporating that produce into soups, stews, or other cooked forms. A long cooking process changes the texture of vegetables anyways (think broccoli cheddar soup, sauces with kale or spinach, or squash), so it often makes a minimal difference in the end product. Eating these items in a raw form as they near their shelf life may be slightly more obvious to your tastebuds, but I am able to “save” past-their-prime veggies by cooking or blitzing into a puree.
Pickling is also an option and is surprisingly easy. Rather than tossing out that half of a cucumber, or last bunch of asparagus, I will slice whatever I am pickling, sterilize a small jar and cover with hot brine to create a seal. I am left with the easiest (less than 5 minute) pickle rounds or asparagus spears which are now shelf stable.
I have a few more money saving approaches when it comes to preserving sturdy herbs. Years ago, I watched my roommate take a bundle of rosemary, separate the leaves, and add it to ice cube tray with olive oil before freezing. The oil insulates the herbs from freezer burn and cuts down your prep time when cooking with herbs. An oil infusion is also an amazing way to get the absolute most of out your herbs, even the stocks. Gently heat olive oil low on your stovetop and “steep” stocks, or scraps for about an hour. Allow to cool and store in a jar and use it in cooking, homemade dressings, or to finish dishes. I recommend these herb hacks for hearty herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage, or tarragon, but suggest leaving the dill, cilantro, or other leafy, delicate herbs for add-ins in salads or fresh sauces.
Finally, when it comes to shelf-lifes, I believe they can be arbitrary. I am not advocating for totally abandoning them, but I have had dairy expire long before the best before date, and have had produce, or eggs, or yogurt last even 2 weeks longer than the printed best before date. Something being past its peak does not mean it is automatically rotten, inedible, or even unsafe, and the ability to use your best judgement can keep a lot of waste out of the landfills, and more money in your pocket. Obviously if you really aren’t sure, or something looks or smells off, use your best judgement and toss it, but most of your ingredients will not suddenly disintegrate at the stroke of midnight.