Greenpoint: Use those leftovers and avoid wasting food

Keeping them out of the trash goes a long way to reducing food waste
Breakfast strata is one of the great ways to make the most of your holiday meal leftovers.
Breakfast strata is one of the great ways to make the most of your holiday meal leftovers.

It’s the time of year for get-togethers, festive food traditions, parties and endless plates of cookies.

Possibly, it’s also the time of year of too much food, which leads to too much food being wasted.

Multiple studies say between 30 and 40 percent of food is wasted worldwide. Some is lost in the field or during processing or shipping, but the vast majority is lost on the consumer end — spoiling in the store or in your fridge, or tossed after meals. More food is bought and prepared during the holidays, so it stands to reason that more food is wasted this time of year.

Which means this is a good time to figure out how not to be part of the problem.

That doesn’t mean skimping. It means careful planning, then figuring out what to do with any excess.

Leftovers are a big part of the holidays. Keeping them out of the trash goes a long way to reducing food waste.

The Freezer is your Friend

When the table and kitchen are still loaded with food after the guests have gone home, it’s time to do an assessment of what your family is capable of consuming before it goes bad. That’s what goes in the fridge.

Then it’s into the freezer for future meals. You can make mixed packages — protein, vegetable, starch — in lunch-sized containers to bring to work in the future, if you’re the kind of person who brings your lunch to work.

Or put together family meal-sized packages for future dinners.

Or wrap different foods in separate packages to decide what to do with later. Freezer bags are handy, or freezer paper, or those containers you saved from Chinese takeout.

What freezes well?

Meat, which you can freeze in slices or chunks, and can be eaten later as is, or in stews and soups.

Flour-based gravies store well in the freezer. You can freeze them first in ice trays, then move the cubes into freezer bags. Then use them as needed — as flavoring for meats, stews or soups, or as gravy.

Cranberry sauce lasts a long time in the fridge and pretty much indefinitely in the freezer. Or you can bake it into cookie bars — as if we need more cookies this time of year.

More from Celebrate 2019: Food

Some cooked vegetables freeze perfectly, some get kind of mushy. You can freeze and reheat mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes. I’d use up baked potatoes rather than freezing them. Corn freezes well; cooked broccoli and cauliflower tend to get mushy, which is fine if they are going to be part of a pureed soup in the future.

Desserts are great for the freezer. Most cookies freeze well, which is useful during cookie season when people bring you their homemade cookies after you’ve just finished making a few dozen yourself. Brownies, bars and cakes freeze well. Cheesecake can be tricky — it freezes better in individual slices than as a whole cake. I freeze leftover pie, too, if there ever is any.

Breads — whether corn or cranberry breads or hearty French loafs — all freeze well if you wrap them properly to keep air out.

What about soup?

Turkey time means plates full of bones and cling-on meat. Perfect for the stock pot. Put all the bones in a large pot, cover with water and add an onion, some carrots and celery, salt and pepper and boil. Strain it, cool it overnight, scrape off the fat and you’ve got beautiful stock to make soup, now or later. The stock freezes well. The fat can be used for cooking.

A hearty soup is a great way to deal with a lot of leftovers from a big holiday meal. To your turkey stock, add leftover vegetables and chunks of turkey. You can add rice or noodles. Or, for a thick and creamy soup, puree your leftover mashed potatoes with your stock, and add cream and herbs.

Soup after Thanksgiving and Christmas was a staple of my childhood, and a tradition that endures. Made too much soup? Freeze some.

And if you don’t want to make soup right away, the stock you made from the bones freezes well. And if you’re too busy to make stock now, freeze the bones and make it later. We toss all our bones into bags in the freezer, year round, and make stock whenever the bags get full.

What about those drinks

The guests have gone and there’s three half-bottles of red wine. Or six glasses half full of wine. Time for wine jelly.

Don’t worry about germs — jelly is boiled and boiled and boiled. You can make it with red or white, and if you can it, it will last a long, long time. And it makes a nice present.

Simple recipe: 4 cups wine, 4 cups sugar, the juice of one lemon, 2 ounces of pectin.

Heat the wine, lemon juice and pectin in a large pan until it comes to a roiling boil — that means it’s still boiling hard when you stir it. Add all the sugar all at once, return to a boil and boil for one minute, while stirring. Pour into sterilized 4- or 8-ounce mason jars and process for five minutes in a large pot of boiling water.

You can do the same with apple cider — it makes a great jelly. You can spice it with cinnamon, cloves and ginger and make mulled cider jelly. Or you can freeze cider and drink it later.

Half bottles of beer? It’s good in hearty soups — think pumpkin or potato. It’s good in breads, if you’re a bread baker. It’s good as a marinade for meats. And you can freeze it, if you’re planning on using it for cooking, not drinking.

Other leftover booze also works as marinades or for cooking. Wine, vermouth, whiskey, tequila — all can be used in cooking, braising, marinading.

And everything else?

Too much stuffing? Sauté it and serve it with eggs in the morning, as a substitute for hash browns. And speaking of hash browns, your leftover potatoes — mashed or roasted or baked — can be used the same way. Omelets are a good way to use up leftover appetizers too — the cheese, the salsa, the cornichons.

And speaking of eggs, go ahead and add the broccoli, the Brussels sprouts, the sweet potatoes or the corn pudding to your scramble. And speaking of puddings, you can make savory puddings out of leftover potatoes, corn or pumpkin. Mix with egg and milk, add cheese if you like, and bake.

More from Celebrate 2019: Food

Leftover bread? The freezer, of course. Or make a strata — baked eggs, bread and cheese for a brunch. Or bread pudding — sweet or savory — to use up extra yeast breads and sweeter quick breads. You can do the same with rice.

Good planning makes for fewer leftovers to deal with. But during the holidays it’s easy to overdo, especially when we don’t always know how many cousins or partners will be showing up for a meal. Or when you leave Grandma’s with enough food to feed your family for a month.

If we get creative, we can keep all those leftovers out of the landfill.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday on the Gazette’s Environment Page. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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