Save, Not Waste: Food Tips And Hints
Here is a collection of tips and hints that will help you save more and waste less food—be it through using up those leftovers, prolonging the life of food, correcting mishaps that occur while cooking, or shopping wisely.
Tips & Hints
To reduce the spicy taste, try adding citrus juice—lemon or lime—to the dish. Alternatively, shredded or chopped potato can help the sugar to fight the heat. Cheese can lessen a spicy chilli. Coconut milk, yoghurt, or milk can really reduce the heat in a spicy curry.
If you have over-salted soup, add unsalted liquid to dilute it or put in a peeled, quartered potato for 15 minutes. Over-salted sauces can often be helped with the addition of a little cream, brown sugar, or vinegar. Use your judgement depending on the sauce, using a little at a time and tasting all the way. A bit of unsalted, cooked white rice, pureed with unsalted water or broth to a thin paste can also help cure over-salted soups or stews.
Slice fruit like over-ripe lemons and limes and freeze them in a tray. Once frozen, they can be taken out of the trays and stored in a suitable plastic bag or box. The slices on either end of the lemon/lime can be squeezed for juice when preparing foods, and the frozen slices can be dropped into drinks in place of ice cubes!
Use ice cube trays that make big cubes to freeze foods such as canned vegetables, gravy, meat fillings, or almost anything else that fits. Once frozen, they can be taken out of the trays and moved into suitable storage bags or boxes for further freezing. The ice cube trays can be washed and reused to freeze more food.
Additionally, you can make a note of how many cubes make up one serving so that you can later defrost only what is needed for each meal. This note can be written on the storage bag or box for easy reference.
Take apart any meat left on a barbecued chicken and store it in a container. It is more likely to be used up this way than when left on the bone (which looks unappetising). If the meat is not used in a few days, it can be frozen for use in another recipe like a soup or pie.
Keep a re-sealable food storage bag in the kitchen freezer to collect your ingredients for homemade vegetable stock. Use this bag to store stems of fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, and rosemary, the tough green parts of leeks, the base plate of onions and any clean discarded parts of vegetables whenever you work in the kitchen. You can then boil this great mix to make tasty vegetable stock (without salt if you wish)! This tastes much better than any shop-bought stock cube.
Instead of throwing out the last of the contents from jars of dried herbs, transfer what is left into a separate jar and add more of your leftover herbs each time you have some. You will end up with an interesting mix of herbs in the jar. Be careful about what you combine if you use spices though. Spices can be collected in a separate jar instead of combining them with the dried herbs.
How often have you bought a bag of rock-hard pears which seem to take forever to ripen, only to find that all of a sudden all the pears are close to turning bad and have to be eaten immediately?
There is a great way to use them up when they reach this stage. Peel the pears carefully, trim the stalks, and place them in a slow cooker with a little caster sugar, vinegar, or grape juice, and enough water to cover the pears. Then cook them on high heat for about an hour and a half.
The result is a delicious dessert fit for a dinner party. It can be served with yoghurt, cream, or ice cream, but is quite tasty even on its own!
This dessert can also be made in a large saucepan, although you will have to watch closely while it simmers. This method will probably take about half the time to cook.
If you have a lot of tomatoes that have become too soft for salads or sandwiches, blend them using a food processor or blender and use as a substitute for tinned tomatoes in pasta dishes.
With a few such tomatoes, you can blend them with a small serving of tomato puree, add seasoning, and use as a tasty pizza topping. You can then spread it on a pizza base before adding other toppings.
Always wrap celery in aluminum foil and store it in the fridge. Celery stays fresh for weeks this way.
You can easily make spicy sauces and dips out of almost anything. Use the scraps of ingredients left in the fridge (those items you do not want to dispose of, but are not sure what to do with either) and cut them up into small cubes. Add a dash of lemon juice, salt and pepper, chilli sauce or fresh chilli, cucumber, onion, tomato, fresh chilli, a few fresh herbs if you have them (coriander works very well), red and green peppers—whatever you have at hand—and blend them all together. You can use this preparation as a dip or in another recipe.
A hummus style dip can be easily made by processing together any cooked pulses (peas, beans, etc.) you have left over in the fridge. Do not let them turn so slimy that they have to be thrown away. Instead, mash them together in the food processor with a little garlic and lemon juice, and then add salt and pepper to taste. This preparation tastes lovely with toasted flat bread or chips.
To avoid wasting fruit juice, write the ‘drink by’ date on the carton when you open it. This date would typically be about three days from the date of opening the carton and is usually mentioned on the packaging.
Biscuits that have gone soft can be refreshed and made crispy again by putting them in the oven when it has just been switched off after cooking and is cooling down—so that you can make the most of the remaining heat.
Use leftover tea to marinade meat before cooking. You can even add used tea leaves to fertilizer to help grow your plants. Try using a tea bag on closed eyes to soothe them and make your skin fresh and smooth!
Tea can also effectively remove grease and grime on mirrors and floors. So use an old bag to make a cold brew, then use it as a cleaning solution.
Have two bowls with the words ‘eat me’ written on them. Keep one in the fridge and the other on a common table that everyone can access. Any food that is leftover, open packets not wanted, items of food at home that staff do not like, etc. can go into the bowls and anyone can help themselves to anything in there. Food waste is thereby reduced at work as well as at home, since something you may not like will be someone else's favourite.
Chop squash with other vegetables (onion, tomatoes, or anything else). Blend these and fry them with spices and tomato paste. This preparation makes a perfect substitute for gravy, for example
Toast them for quick and tasty snack. Grate 2-3 oz. of cheese, add one medium tomato (chopped), and a quarter or half of an onion, depending on preference. Mix together with beaten egg. Toast one side of a slice of bread. Place the mixture on the other side, then toast until the tomatoes and onion soften.
Split it, then spread a generous amount of garlic butter and parsley on it. Wrap it in foil and place in the freezer. You will have ready-to-cook garlic bread to go with your pasta and other Italian dishes. When ready to use, simply cook the bread in the oven on a medium to high temperature for about 30 minutes. Delicious!
To correct a burnt taste in your food, avoid the burnt bit at the bottom of the pan and pour the rest into a new pan. Put a raw, peeled potato in the new pan with the food. The raw potato will absorb the burnt taste. Set the food aside for roughly 15 minutes and remove the raw potato. Gently reheat the sauce.
Mix leftover double cream and butternut squash with onions, cheese, thyme (or a similar herb), and tinned tomatoes. Mix with pasta to make a delicious pasta dish!
Cut the sausages into chunks. Stir fry any vegetables that you have (onions, mushrooms, peppers, sweetcorn, carrot, and broccoli all work well). Add the sausage and heat through. Add a small can of pineapple (reserving the juice).
In a jug, combine:
- 2 tbsp. vinegar
- 1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
- 1/2 tbsp. tomato puree (or tomato ketchup)
- 1 tbsp. corn flour
- 1 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1/4 pint water
- Reserved pineapple juice
Pour this mixture over the sausage and vegetables. Heat the mix until it becomes thick and clear. Serve with rice.
Apple peel need not go to waste. They can be made into a refreshing drink; either warm or cold. In a pan, cover the apple peel with enough water so it reaches about a centimeter above the level of peel. Add a dash of lemon juice and bring to a soft boil. Simmer until the peel is soft. Strain the contents of the pan in a strainer, pressing down until no more juice comes out. The juice can be sweetened to taste. More water can be added if the juice is too strong.
Chop up bananas that are about to turn bad and freeze them. They make a tasty frozen sweet treat!
Once a year, use a black marker pen and write the year on the top of all of the canned food in your cupboard. This way, you can see at a glance what is old and needs to be used first.
This is a brilliant way of using up cold chips left over from a meal. It is delicious and can be eaten hot or cold.
In a heavy, large frying pan—over medium heat—slowly fry two chopped red onions and a handful of chopped mushrooms in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for 10 minutes or so. Put these fried ingredients in a mixing bowl along with any chopped leftover cooked vegetables you may have and the desired amount of chopped cold chips (preferably no more than 6-8 oz.). Add four beaten eggs, a few ounces of grated cheese, salt, pepper, and a clove or two of minced garlic if it suits your taste. Cook slowly over medium heat until the base and sides of mixture are cooked and then finish off under a hot grill until lightly browned on top. Enjoy!
Do not throw away that stale cake. Use it to make these simple but delicious cake balls. In a processor or blender, break down the cake into fine crumbs. Stir in a large spoon of butter cream icing (basically butter/margarine mixed with icing sugar. If you have no icing sugar then you can easily make it by blending regular sugar). Use your hands to roll the mixture into little balls. Place these on a plate or in a bag and freeze for around 15-20 minutes. Melt some chocolate and use it to cover the cake balls. You can either put sticks into them or just dip them in the chocolate and sprinkle on some decorations (if you have any). Place them in the fridge so that the chocolate can set.
Then the cake pops/cake balls are ready to eat. They should be good for a week!
Why not make a Spanish omelette? Make sure you have between 4-6 eggs (four are fine for two servings). It is an easy and very tasty way of using up all those bits lurking in your refrigerator. Onions, cooked potato, peppers, chillies, mushrooms, tomatoes, celery, shredded meat—absolutely anything will work. Soften the harder ingredients in a little oil in a large oven/grill-proof frying pan, and then add the softer ingredients. Beat the egg and season with salt, pepper and herbs (again whatever suits your taste). Pour this over the other ingredients. Cook on high heat for a few minutes until the omelette begins to set on the top. Remove from the heat and put it under a preheated grill for 5 minutes in order to lightly brown the top.
Bolognese (pasta sauce) and chilli dips are cheap and easy to make from scratch. You are likely to already have most of the required ingredients in your kitchen; so this is your chance to use them up! Plus, homemade food is almost always the healthier and more environmentally friendly option.
Start by frying an onion and some garlic. Once soft, add your seasoning (mixed dried or fresh, half a teaspoon of cumin, coriander, and chilli powder work well). Next add your meat, vegetables, or meat alternative. Cook for a few minutes and then add a tin of tomatoes, stir and then simmer. Adding a stock cube will add extra flavour and depth to the sauce. If you have vinegar, you could add about a tablespoonful. A small amount of sugar added with the tomatoes will bring out the flavour.
Looking for ways to use the great deal of pickle you have at home? Spread a spoon of pickle over bread and then add cheese. Grill until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. A drop of soy sauce on top of the cheese works well.
Make your own kebab sauce using whatever you have. Ingredients like soy sauce, ketchup, barbecue sauce, cumin, ground coriander, and a bit of chilli powder, all combine to make a delicious cooking sauce for meat and vegetables. Feel free to experiment! Start with a few teaspoons of sauces and a teaspoon of ground coriander and cumin. Add chilli powder to suit your own taste.
Turn that over-ripe avocado into homemade guacamole. Cut open the avocado and scoop the contents of one half into a bowl. Finely chop a garlic clove and ¼ of a red onion and add them to the bowl. Add a half-a-cup of sweet chilli sauce and blend everything together with a handheld blender. Cut the flesh of the second half of the avocado into cubes and stir this into the paste. This is perfect to serve with shawarmas or to use as a dip with chips.
Put any leftovers such as gravy, vegetables, stock (even if it is only a tablespoon) into a freezer bag and store this in the freezer. Whenever the bag is full enough, empty the contents into a pot, add tomatoes, stock, etc. and make soup.
Fruit and vegetables should be stored in the drawers at the bottom of the fridge (in their original packaging or a loosely-tied bag). The exceptions are onions, potatoes, bananas, and whole pineapple. These should be stored in a cool and dark place, but not the fridge.
Meat and fish needs to be covered and kept in the coldest part of the fridge, which is usually the shelf above the vegetable drawers. Cooked meats go above raw meat and fish.
Dairy products like cheese and milk can be stored along with cooked meats.
The warmest part of the fridge—i.e. the top two shelves—can be used for pastries, eggs, and general produce.
Leftover couscous can be used the next day by mixing it with chopped cucumber, tomatoes, and herbs for a cheap lunch at work. Alternatively, try heating gently with honey or maple syrup, dried fruit and nuts and yoghurt/cream for breakfast.
Make stuffing mix or breadcrumbs from leftover buns or stale loaf ends. Lay them out on cookie sheets and put them in the oven on low heat. (Sometimes you can use the left-over heat after baking to toast/dry the bread. Without the heat, it takes a few days in the oven.)
If the bread is cubed first, they could toast faster in the over. Once toasted or dry, crush the bread in a food processor and store the crumbs in large, re-sealable bags. They store fine in the cupboard with no refrigeration needed because they are dried. However, you could also freeze them.
This way, you never have to buy breadcrumbs, which are endlessly handy for topping bakes, coating fish or chicken fillets. Flavour them with chilli flakes, herbs, garlic, lemon juice, and grated cheese and use to scatter over steaks, fish fillets, or chicken breasts.
Wrap asparagus in a damp kitchen towel and keep in a loosely-tied bag. You can store it in the fridge this way for a few days. If it is cooked, it will store in the fridge for three or four days.
Frozen cooked asparagus has a different texture so use those in preparations such as soups.
Dried apricots should be kept in a sealed bag or box in a cool and dry place. They will store well for up to a year like this. They can also be frozen if needed.
You do not have to use potatoes, but this dish is much nicer if you do include them. Peel and cut as many potatoes as you wish to use into very thick slices and put them in a large oven-proof dish.
Include any other vegetables (chopped) you happen to have—such as onions, leeks, carrots, mushrooms, etc. Season well with salt and pepper. Make a pint of white sauce or cheese sauce (packet sauce works too) and pour it over the vegetables. If you wish to top with grated cheese and breadcrumbs, do it at this stage. Place the combination in an oven pre-heated to 200˚C. Cook for one hour. Adding cubes of beef or chicken at the beginning makes a lovely non-vegetarian version of this dish.
This can be served with a side salad.
Not enough meat? Add some chickpeas, kidney beans, a potato, or dried red lentils, etc. to curry meals to make dinner more filling. You get to have a delicious dish that serves more, use up other food items in your kitchen, and save money on meat.
Ann from the Isle of Lewis
Vegetables that have lost their freshness can be used to make vegetable broth, portioned up, and frozen for later. Alternatively, dice up the vegetables and freeze them in bags. Tomatoes can be stored this way to use in soups and sauces. This method can save you from frequent travel to the shops; especially you have to travel a long way to get there.
Make a refrigerator cake by adding some dried fruit to all those leftover biscuits, nuts, and chocolates that are still hanging around in the cupboard from Eid. The end result will not be particularly diet-friendly but probably better than trying to finish all those goodies individually or letting them go waste. Everything will be condensed into a manageable portion that will last in the fridge for at least a week and will, of course, taste absolutely delicious.
Break the chocolate, biscuits and nuts into small chunks. Melt a small amount of butter or suitable alternative in a medium sauce pan, add the dry ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon over low heat. When all the chocolate has melted and everything is mixed well, empty the mixture into a glass or plastic container. Allow to set in the fridge. When set, cut up into slices. Enjoy!
When you buy a jar of tomato purée, spoon the contents into an ice tray and freeze. When the cubes are frozen, empty them into a freezer box or bag. Use as many cubes as required by the recipe when cooking.
Vegetable soup can be made with whatever pasta is left in bags or jars, canned tomatoes, canned or pre-soaked beans, and any vegetables that need to be used up. Boil all the ingredients in a pot for an easy and fulfilling meal that is liked by both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
Always remember that leftover vegetables can easily be turned into a quick and filling soup by combining them with canned tomatoes, herbs, pasta pieces, stock, and anything you think would make it taste great.
Use up tuna and filo pastry by mixing the drained tuna with mayonnaise, spring onions, and a bit of chilli. Then wrap the mix in the filo pastry and cook in a frying pan.
Use leftover iced cake to make truffles. In a food processor, mix the cake with cocoa powder and some flavouring essence. Then roll into balls and chill. You can include some jam to make them more moist if necessary.
Ingredients: half a cooked chicken, 1 leek or onion (chopped), 3/4 oz. sliced mushrooms, 1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup milk, 1 oz. plain flour, 1/2 oz. butter, and a little oil.
Method: Strip the flesh of the chicken and cut into large pieces. If you prefer, you can buy uncooked boneless chicken but you would need to pre-cook it at this stage. Sauté leek (or onion), and mushrooms in the butter and oil. When soft, add the flour. Add stock, stirring continuously, then add the milk so that the sauce is rich and creamy. If the sauce is a little thick, add more liquid. Add the pre-cooked chicken, and stir carefully until meat is completed coated and empty contents into a large pie dish. Again if you prefer to make this like a more traditional pie you can line the pie dish with the rolled out short crust pastry before putting in the filling. Cover with pastry, make a vent in the pie top, and brush with milk. Bake in oven on a high temperature (200˚C/400˚F) for about 25 minutes or until golden.
Sometimes baked beans need a flavour adjustment with additional sugar, or vinegar, or spices. You can create a nice dip if you spice them up like a Mexican chilli and then puree them. Adding cheese or sour cream can alter their flavour as well. If they are too runny for a dip, just cook for a while to reduce the moisture content. This is a taste-as-you-go process and not an exact recipe.
This is a great way to use leftover un-sauced pasta. For a couple of cups of cooked pasta, mix two beaten eggs, 250 ml of milk, 50 grams of sugar, and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Pour the mixture over pasta, mix and bake at 350°F for 40 minutes. Serve warm for dessert. You can vary the taste by adding different spices or dried fruits.
Use a plastic frame or few piece of would at the back of kitchen shelves so that items at the back of the shelf can be raised up and stay within sight.
Cans of lentils are good to create more servings of minced meat meals, and they help reduce red meat in the diet too.
Old packets of pasta and can of tuna make a great tuna pasta bake.
A brilliant way to use up basically every kind of leftover vegetable, meat and/or fish is a risotto. No matter what you throw in, as long as you add some vinegar, some garlic (and, for those Asian-food-lovers, some chillies and fresh coriander), it will taste great.
Ingredients – 500g pack of minced meat, onions, peppers, garlic, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes, and herbs (oregano, bay, and parsley). You can add grated carrot if you want. In fact, any leftover fresh vegetable will improve a frozen sauce.
Method – fry the mince in a pan and, when almost cooked, pour into a strainer to remove excess oil. Then run the meat in a food processor to break it up into smaller bits and then leave to cool. In the pan that you have just used, add the onions. After 5 minutes of cooking the onions, add the garlic and peppers, and after 3-5 minutes add the mince and herbs back to the pan. Add the tomato paste and after a few minutes, add the chopped tomatoes.
Cook down for a minimum of 30-40 minutes. Alternatively, you can cook this for as long as two hours on low heat although you might need to add some tomato puree to stop it from turning into a jam consistency.
At this point you can use half for dinner by either serving as is with some spaghetti or adding a jar of tomato puree to make a lasagne which will serve four, or two smaller lasagne for two people. Leave the rest to cool and then freeze.
When needed, defrost and added fresh chillies, cinnamon and a can of beans and tomatoes and make a massive pot of chilli which can feed up to six.
Alternatively you can defrost and add some fresh tomatoes to make a spaghetti dish. You can also use this to make pies or to fill hollowed-out bell peppers for a light snack.
Every three months, clean out your kitchen cupboards and bring anything that is close to its expiry date to the front of the shelves. Do the same with your freezer. You can even make a note of what is in the freezer.
Have a large white board on the kitchen wall and map out the meals for the next month. Try to use up the food that is expiring first.
Breadcrumbs, for instance, can be used to coat chicken or fish before frying. You can freeze some cheeses. If your family enjoys Italian dishes, then always have a bag of meat sauce in the freezer. This can be used as a basis of a lot of Italian meals.
Adding chopped tomatoes into a meat soup (stew) increases it in quantity. Adding a handful of lentils is another way to get extra protein into the dish.
In a two-person household, vegetables can often go to waste. You might just need one stick of celery for a recipe, and have the rest of the bunch slowly rot in your fridge. One night of the week can be leftover vegetables night. To use up the vegetables, roughly chop them all up, stir-fry in a little bit of oil for 5 minutes, add some stock, leave to simmer for 20 minutes, and then blend into a thick, chunky soup.
If you have half a pot of hummus left, use it to make a pasta sauce—fry some vegetables, then just add the hummus and a little water and stir.
If you have leftover chicken and berries, this is a great way to spruce up a sandwich. Put leftover chicken in a blender, add 3 teaspoons of berries and mayonnaise to mix. Use for sandwich fillings or as a dip.
Once a package is opened and you know it will not be used right away, grate the cheese and put it in the freezer; it stays good for longer and is ready to use for cooking when you need it.
Pickle some of your excess fruit and vegetables so that they do not go waste. Items such as onions and beetroot are the standard things people think of for pickling, but other less common items associated with pickling include asparagus, chilli, and garlic—all items which generally you would buy and not use all at once. Chilli and garlic can then be used as if they were fresh and stops the prospect of throwing what you may not consume! The asparagus can be eaten fresh and is beautiful. A key tip—drop the asparagus in boiling water and boil for 45 seconds and no more. Drain and cool immediately under ice cold water. Meanwhile bring to the boil and simmer for a couple minutes in a pan of vinegar, sugar, sliced onion, peppercorns, and some coriander seeds (optional). Drain through a strainer and pour directly over the asparagus in a jar. Fill to the very top and seal with lid. Keep for a couple months at least before opening in order to get the best taste. It will last a long time in a cool dark place.
If you have a tiny piece of cheddar cheese sitting in your fridge, you can use it up with a tasty little snack. Pour a small amount of runny honey on the top of it and sprinkle a small amount of instant coffee over that (not too much of it either), and it is ready to eat. The flavours work together amazingly well.
Buy your meat in bulk-buy packets. These can be opened up and frozen in convenient-sized portions. You can then take it out as needed and avoid wasting any that may turn bad before you can use it. It also saves on packaging if you buy in bulk.
Aside from freezing raw meat, you can also freeze it cooked. Simply cook the meat as you normally would. Then let it cool for a few minutes, cut it up in to small pieces and freeze. This can then be taken out in small amounts and added to salads!
Last-minute panic buys will inevitably result in wasting money and food you do not need. Planning ahead can really make a difference. Once you know what meals you will be making and the portions you require, make a grocery list and stick to it. At the supermarket, seek out the best offers for the items on your list. Only buy bulk offers if you need that quantity or have the space and date-flexibility to store for later. This helps you save money, and more importantly, food—by making you buy only what you need.
Plan your festive meals in advance. Use up those freezer foods to make as much space as possible for leftovers. Plus it gives you a break from cooking from scratch every night. You get a better choice of meats if you buy in advance. You can also freeze your other meats and vegetables.
The closer it gets to Ramadan, the more frantic the supermarkets get. Here are some tips for savvy shopping. Prepare a shopping list and choose generous ‘use-by’ dates so you know you have time to use it. Store food properly and food will last longer than you would expect. Pick up supermarket bargains and then freeze immediately.
Make a meal plan for the days running up to Ramadan. Plan to eat a leftover meal and a meal from the freezer at least once a week.
Give your family and friends your own handmade chutneys by using up ripened fruit from the fruit bowl. They are easy to make and are an inexpensive present. To sterilise jars, run them through a dishwasher cycle or wash in hot soapy water, rinse, and dry on low-heat in the oven. Once filled, decorate and write the date and storage instructions. They will stay good in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Once opened, store in the fridge and use within one month.
- Dried pasta and some mayonnaise to whip into a tasty pasta salad
- A can of chickpeas to make easy hummus
- Frozen flat bread to use as great pizza bases
If you have food items in the kitchen that need to be used up soon, bring them together and think of a couple of meals you could make with those ingredients. If you do not need the meal that day, freeze it for later. A homemade ready meal for the freezer can also be a great gift—particularly for someone who leads a busy life, is ill, or physically handicapped.