Keeping the kitchen (and me) healthy and happy means cleaning out the fridge fairly often and pitching things that don't belong anymore. While I generally experience a sense of satisfaction with the whole process, it also reminds me that I need to try to be less wasteful.
With this in mind, did you know that there are many things that can have second lives, even after they look like they should be thrown away? Here are 10 foods that can easily be saved from the compost and repurposed into new uses that'll make you (and your wallet) glad you didn't throw them away.
1. Cheese rinds and bits of leftover cheeses
Take any combination of hard and soft leftover cheeses and make fromage fort, "strong cheese," by whizzing it in the food processor with wine and herbs. This gives new life to those scraps of cheese you have sitting around in the fridge.
Throw Parmesan cheese rind into your next batch of soup or pasta sauce for deeper flavors. You can reward yourself with a cook's treat when you pull the piece of melty, oozy cheese out to snack on.
2. Black bananas
Place ripe or overripe bananas in the freezer and thaw later for banana bread or cake. You can also keep them frozen for your next smoothie or blend them up into an amazing one-ingredient banana ice cream!
3. Brown vegetables
Keep a large plastic bag in the freezer for these and throw browned vegetables in here — I have onions, scallions, carrots, and celery tops in mine — for use later in stock.
4. Chicken bones
If you're cutting up or deboning a whole chicken, save the bones to make stock. You can also save the bones from rotisserie or roast chicken to make a deeper-flavored brown stock. In either case, you can throw the bones into the freezer until you accumulate enough to make a batch and have the time to make the stock.
5. Stale bread
Turn dry, stale bread into croutons. Or, if you're like me and love fresh breadcrumbs but never have any around, run the bread through the food processor to turn it into crumbs, which can be stored in the freezer indefinitely.
6. Vegetable tops
There's just no reason why you should throw out edible vegetable tops. You've paid for them, they're good for you, and they're tasty! Some of my favorites are carrot tops, beet greens, radish tops, kohlrabi tops, and fennel fronds. Experiment with the different ones and try sautéing them, throwing them into soups or braises, or just eating them raw.
More on vegetable tops you can eat:
7. Pumpkin and squash seeds
When you're done scraping out the seeds of a pumpkin or hard squash, save them to make a tasty snack. Roast them plain or jazz them up with some of your favorite spice blends.
8. Leftover coffee
The cup of leftover morning joe can be saved to enhance desserts, especially chocolate ones. Coffee can also be used in savory applications, like a red-eye gravy or Mexican mole sauce.
9. Pickle juice
Pickle brine can be used to pickle other things, give some tang to salads or salad dressings, add some zip to martinis or bloody marys, or even soothe a sunburn!
10. Bacon grease
People were on to something when they used to keep a jar of bacon grease on the stove. This flavorful, smoky fat has a high smoking point, meaning you can sear something in it over high heat, plus it'll add a ton of bacon-y flavor to your food!
What do you save that you think other people normally throw away?
Updated from a post originally published in September 2007.
(Image credits: CGissemann/Shutterstock; MaraZe/Shutterstock; Emma Christensen; udra11/Shutterstock; Nealey Dozier)