My family moved to Asheville, North Carolina almost six years ago. This quirky little mountain town is home to an intriguing mix of cultures, economic positions and interests. People here are extremely passionate about whatever it is they are into--be it higher education, hiking, mountain biking, the arts, cookery, nutritional beliefs, etc. I have found that a large majority of people I meet have STRONG opinions to share. It definitely makes conversation interesting! One thing I find that MOST people here are passionate about is conservation. The mantra "REUSE, REDUCE, RECYCLE" has been popular here for quite a long time.
Recently, more of us have started using the 3 R's in our culinary endeavors. Maybe it is the economy that had cause this sudden urge to rethink how we use our ingredients and spend our money. Maybe it's a revival of grandma and grandpa's firm traditional "waste not, want not" philosophy. Either way, I believe this can only be a good thing.
You may remember as I do, how Sunday night's Roast Beef Dinner became Monday's Beef and Noodle Casserole, then Tuesday's Beef Stew. Until recently, many of us never considered that there might be a more resourceful way of using our ingredients. We want what we want...and when we want it. I know many people who run to the grocery store 3-5 times per week, then throw out their leftovers every night! Our lives are completely about convenience. I fully understand this, after all, I have children. Most of my cooking is done while helping one with homework and shaking the other off my leg! But with just a little thought we could make wonderful meals, waste less food, and save money.
For instance, what if instead of throwing out veggie tops and peels, or herbs on the verge of going bad--you threw them into a pot of water with a couple tablespoons of salt. What would you have? Veggie stock. Add left over chicken, or chicken bones...chicken stock! I have often spent $4 for 32 oz. of organic stock when I could make quarts of it for FREE--just the carrot peels, onion roots, and leftover meat from dinner. I wouldn't even have to stand over it. Let it simmer for an hour and it's done! Strain it, put it in quart-sized zip bags, and freeze! By the way, professional chefs have ALWAYS done this. Reusing food items keeps their costs down and raises profit margins. Yesterday's special is today's Soup Du Jour!
Reuse coffee that you don't drink by putting it in the fridge for an iced coffee later.
Stale bread makes great homemade stuffing, croutons, and bread pudding.
Leftover chili, soup, casserole, pasta sauce, lasagna, hamburger patties, mini meatloaves ALL can be put in the freezer for a ready-made meal next week.
You know those little nubs of cheese you will leave in your frig until they are green and fuzzy? Pop them in the food processor with a little white wine, butter, and herbs and you will have the most delicious cheese spread. Much better than those you buy in a tub for $7+.
Throw unused fresh herbs into a salad, instead of letting them die in the bottom of your produce drawer. Your will instantly have the $5 boxed herb salad mix from the grocery store.
And now an amazing culinary trick...I will turn soup into bean dip! Make a classic navy bean soup for dinner one night. Then puree the leftovers and add a little extra spice on day two. You will have the most amazing bean dip. My husband calls it bean "crack" because it's unbelievably addictive. Serve it warm with tortilla chips or cut veggies. It's a great appetizer or side dish for a latin-inspired meal.
There are so many creative and responsible things we can do in the kitchen, if we just take a little extra time to think about it. Happy Conservation Cooking!
Homemade Cheese Spread
1/2 lb. left-over cheese (any variety), at room temperature
1/8 cup dry white wine
2 Tb. unsalted butter, softened
1 Tb. fresh parsley (or basil, thyme, rosemary...)
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
Remove any rinds from hard cheeses. Cut cheeses into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth--2 minutes. Serve or refrigerate for at least 1 hour for a firmer consistency. This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Classic Navy Beans Soup
2 Tb. oil
1 large bag of navy beans (or any white bean)
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ham bone/hock (mine was in the freezer from Christmas) OR 4 oz. of chopped bacon.
1 Tb. cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp. salt
Soak your beans in a large pot over night as instructed on the package. (Dried beans are a MAJOR money saver!) Drain the beans. Then add 2 Tb. of oil to a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and ham hock (or chopped bacon), saute for 3 minutes. Next add the garlic, cumin and cayenne--cook for one more minute. Add the beans back to the pot. Fill pot with enough water to cover the beans. Salt and stir. Cover the pot and allow it to simmer over low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours--stirring occasionally and add water if needed. Once the beans are very tender, remove the ham hock and add the parley. Taste the soup, then add salt and pepper if needed. Take 3-4 cup of bean soup out of the pot and puree them in the blender. Then return the puree to the pot for a creamier texture. Serves 8-10.
White Bean Dip, A.K.A Bean "CRACK"
Take your leftover navy bean soup and add several dashes of cayenne pepper. Using an immersion blender or a food processor; puree the rest of the soup until mostly smooth. Warm and serve with tortilla chips or fresh veggies. YUM!