Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Economical Kitchen--Don't Throw Anything Away!!

The grading. My goodness, the grading. I can't even talk about it right now. Anyway, a little over a week ago, I received a fantastic Bountiful Basket. Amazing. I had added the $10 tropical fruit pack as well. I came home with three grocery bags full of produce for $28. Bananas, pumelos, apples, lemons, three colors of carrots, broccoli, etc...came in the regular part, and I got two vanilla beans, six mangoes, several small key limes, a pineapple, kiwis, a coconut, ginger, and a bunch of mint in the tropical add-on.

Of course, as soon as I got this fabulous bounty, my life at work went nuts and most of this languished in the crisper. I've been pretty guilt ridden but loving the kiwi and mango at least during the week. Anyway, today I got some free time, so I decided it was time to use up as much of this as I could before it went bad. Nothing aggravates me as much as pitching food in the trash. I never feel as crappy about being a middle-class American as when I throw away food because it went bad. Anyway, so I just did lots of little odds and ends with things to preserve as much as I could today. Now, none of this is revolutionary, but I think it's handy to have in one place, especially if any of you haven't thought about preservation this way.

The sad bananas were peeled, bagged, and frozen for future banana bread and smoothies. (I KNOW there's a Vitamix under the tree. I'm willing it to be so by stocking fruit for smoothies in the freezer.)

Next, I had this bag of lovely mint. My little one and I love, love mint in our hot tea. You don't understand about the significance of beverages in my family. My husband has often said that he could never lose me, my mother, or my sister because all he needs to do is follow the trail of cups. At any given time, each of us has about three cups of something going. My sister sent me a snapshot of her desk at work the other day, and I swear there were about eight cups/mugs pictured. My daughter is following in this fine tradition, and she especially loves minty hot tea when she's feeling under the weather.
So I got out an airtight container and just layered sugar and mint leaves (that I had slightly bruised in my hands) several times over until I had enough.
Mint-infused sugar. 
Now we'll have minty sugar for the foreseeable future. This can go in jams, jellies, desserts, drinks, anything! But I still had a lot of mint left.
Mint Extract
So, I decided to make some mint extract. I sterilized a jar, popped in a stick of peppermint candy and bruised mint leaves, covered it all with vodka, and hurray! After a few weeks in the pantry, I'll have gorgeous mint extract. Then I decided to do the same thing with my vanilla beans. I really wanted to cook with them, but it just wasn't happening. I go through a lot of vanilla extract though, so I decided to make some. I slit the vanilla beans down the middle and covered them with vodka. We'll see how this is in about five weeks. If I get more, I'll cover them with rum and see how the two compare.
Vanilla extract.
I had SO MUCH FRUIT! When I got my basket home, I had broken down the pineapple and stored it. One day last week, I had made kiwi-apple juice for jelly and frozen it when I ran out of time to finish. About eight days later, it was do or die for the pineapple and mango. Jellies and jams are really not very hard to make, and they're a great vehicle for fruits that don't do well in the freezer. If you don't want to go to the trouble of sterilizing jars and processing them in a water bath, you can buy Ball brand jars meant especially for freezer jam and go that route. I don't have the freezer space, and I like having a stock of interesting treats handy for gifts and special occasions.
So here's the stove top: top right is Five-Spice Pineapple jam simmering away, bottom right is the kiwi-apple juice reducing, bottom left is mango-lime jam, and top left is boiling water to sterilize jars.
Start of Five-Spice Pineapple Jam. It's stupid easy. 
About a month ago, I made a simple syrup and combined it with shredded cranberries and vodka (are you seeing a pattern here?) to distill into cranberry liquor. It was ready, so I strained out the cranberry bits and bottled the liquor. The cranberry bits went into a sauce pot with sugar to cook off the booze. It's now a really tasty cranberry relish.
Here's the end result of my jams, jelly, and holiday hooch. I feel good that I didn't let food go to waste, and now I have some fun, special things to share with friends and family for Christmas next week!

I also still had three bell peppers and four tomatoes about to crap out. So I chopped them into large pieces, drizzled them with oil, and roasted them under the broiler until they blackened. When they cooled, I put them in freezer bags and froze them. I can use them in any number of tomato-based sauces coming soon!

The moral of the story? Always have vodka on hand.

I also raided the veggie drawer and made soup from carrots, sweet potato, onion, and garlic. Soups are the best vehicle for veggies destined to become mush otherwise.  I'll post about it soon!

What do you do when the contents of your fridge are about to go bad?