Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Something out of Nothing

I love making "something out of nothing," finding value where previously there was none. During tougher economic times, this is exactly when we should return to the ingenious ideas of our grandmothers who were the original reducers, re-users, and recyclers. And when this "something" is tastier, healthier, and saves me money---well sign me up!

I'm fortunate to have my office right next to the kitchen because as I type this, a wonderful smell of baking bread is wafting to my computer. I'm turning the ends of a dozen or so sandwich bread loaves into homemade croutons and breadcrumbs. Since I don't care for the end pieces, I've been saving them for weeks in my freezer and tonight I'm trying new recipes.

Google "homemade breadcrumbs" or "homemade croutons" and you'll get plenty of suggestions. I chose this recipe for breadcrumbs because it looked easy, fast, and said I could store them in a cabinet for up to six months. Once the bread was defrosted, I added a step to make them a bit crispier: I baked them at 300 degrees for 10 minutes (flipping the bread at 5). After that it was as easy as blending the bread to desired texture in a food processor and mixing with butter and spices of my choice. Done in 15 minutes.

The croutons were just as easy but took 45 minutes in the oven. I liked this recipe for croutons because it talked about using bread slices rather than French bread loaves like most of the recipes out there. Having all-wheat croutons may take some getting used to, but there's no preservatives like store-bought, it cost me nothing, and I can keep them in the freezer up to six months.

Another way I like to be thrifty is making my own chicken stock. I roast a larger oven-stuffer bird about twice a month so that I can make two or three meals out of the meat. Tip: You can often find them on sale at Kroger for $.99/lb.

After you debone the chicken, break the carcass into smaller pieces, add the skin, and just barely cover it with water. Throw in the tops of celery and any extra onion if you have it and add fresh pepper. Let that simmer a couple of hours covered, cool, discard everything but the broth, and let congeal overnight in the fridge. The next day skim off the fat.

Tip: I mix a little of the fat with some of the broth and pour it over the dog's food; she loves it. The remaining stock is usually about 3 cups, which I freeze in various sizes of Ziplocs. I take out smaller portions for recipes or larger amounts when I make soup. Now I've got healthy, delicious stock for $0.

So before you toss any food, I challenge you to think of another way it can be used first. Share your ideas.

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