Kitchen Hacks to Stop Wasting Food

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We’ve all been there in the kitchen – you buy a carton of buttermilk for a recipe when you only need a quarter of a cup. Then what happens? Two weeks later, you have buttermilk in the fridge that has gone bad. Or cilantro in the fridge that’s turned yellow. Or brown sugar in the pantry that’s as hard as a brick. And you throw it all out. According to the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, the average American family of four throws out up to an estimated $2,275 of food each year.

By learning how to keep your foods fresher longer and substituting more specialized ingredients with everyday pantry items, you can make a dent in that $2,275 and keep more of your cash instead of letting it rot.

Salvage Food and Money

Eggs

Have a carton of eggs in the fridge but they are past the expiration date? Don’t throw them out just yet! According to the Egg Safety Center, the expiration date doesn’t mean the eggs are bad, simply that the stores can no longer sell them past that date. Eggs should still be safe for consumption even a week past that date, but to be sure, considering testing eggs by placing them in a glass jar filled with cold water. If the egg sinks to the bottom, the egg is fine. If the egg sinks but stands on end, the egg is fine but should be used soon. If, however, the egg floats, too much air has entered the egg and it should be thrown out.

Herbs

Having fresh herbs on hand can add flavor and presentation to any dish, but only if they look nice. Keeping herbs fresh can be difficult, but knowing the best way to handle and store herbs will help you enjoy them longer. When you buy the herbs, do not wash them immediately; instead, make sure they are completely dry. Best practice is to wash herbs only before you use them, and only in the quantity that you wish to use. Trim the ends and fill a small jar with some water. Place the herb stems in the water and cover the leaves loosely with a plastic bag. Certain herbs, such as cilantro, will do best when placed in the refrigerator, while others, such as basil, will resent the cold. Continuously check the water every few days and change the water if it starts to discolor. Another way to store herbs is to place the dry herbs on a paper towel and spread out the bunch. Then, roll the paper towel into a log and place in a plastic baggy and store in the fridge. Both methods will significantly improve the life of your herbs.

Berries

Berries are a delish snack to have on hand, but are very delicate and can spoil quickly. To make sure your berries last the longest, rinse them in a nice warm bath. Simply plunge the berries in their baskets into a pot filled with warm water and swish them around for half a minute. This will kill mold spores and allow your berries to last longer. Remove berries and let them dry before storing. Quick tip – strawberries, blueberries and raspberries fare best in ~125 degrees.

Bananas

When you bring home a bunch of bananas, make sure to separate them all out and wrap the ends with plastic wrap. This will make sure they stay fresh all week long. Why? Ethylene gas, which is found in many fruits and influences the fruit’s browning and ripening, is mostly released from the banana’s stem. By wrapping each individual stem, you are slowing down the ripening process.

Green Leaves

Storage: Similar to tip two of storing fresh herbs, when you have lettuce or other greens, make sure they are completely dry before storing. Spread the leaves out onto paper towels and roll them up. Stick in a ziplock bag and store in the fridge.

Refresh: Got some sad looking greens? If you have a case of wilty lettuce, perk them up with some ice-cold water. Simply dunk the leaves into an ice bath and swish around for a few seconds. When done, they should look beautiful and perky once again.

Easy Substitutes

Buttermilk

If you aren’t regularly making pancakes and biscuits, buying a whole carton of buttermilk may prove wasteful. Instead, try substituting buttermilk with either yogurt or sour cream mixed with water until you have an approximate consistency. You can also culture your own milk in just a few minutes. Mix together one tablespoon lemon or white vinegar with a cup of milk, then let sit for 5 minutes.

Brown sugar

Have a bag of brown sugar you could beat an intruder with? Before throwing it out, put the brown sugar in a bowl and cover with a damp paper towel. Place the bowl in the microwave and microwave it for 30 seconds at a time until the sugar loosens. Or, avoid this situation altogether by easily making your own with just molasses and sugar. For light brown sugar, combine one tablespoon unsulfured molasses with one-cup sugar. For dark brown sugar, increase the molasses to two tablespoons.

Eggs

Whether you happen to be out of eggs, or just prefer to cook sans eggs, there are quite a few quick and easy substitutions you can make when it comes to replacing eggs in recipes. Try using ¼ cup greek yogurt per egg. For the animal-free crowd, you can replace eggs with either a ¼ cup of applesauce, or by combining 1-tablespoon ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water. Let the flaxseed + water combo sit in the fridge for 15 minutes before using.

Sour cream

If you don’t use sour cream too much, except for the occasional baked potato, cut out the need to keep sour cream in you fridge all together by substituting whole greek yogurt in recipes that call for sour cream.

Cake flour

Cake flour is one of those specialized flours that the common household may not have a ton of demand for, except for special occasions. If this sounds like you, make your own quick cake flour by replacing a cup of cake flour for two tablespoons cornstarch with enough all-purpose flour to make a full cup.

Shortening

Whether you are trying to cut down on pantry items or just looking to avoid trans fats, swapping out shortening in baked goods is one of the easiest swaps to make in the kitchen. Simply replace shortening one-to-one with either butter or margarine. Just note the butter/margarine substitution may alter the texture of some baked goods, like making cookies spread more than with shortening. Any easy fix is to chill the dough before placing in the oven.

Butter

If you are out of butter or just prefer not to use it, swap it with either applesauce or canola oil. If using applesauce, however, look to decrease the liquid content a bit elsewhere in the recipe. As for canola oil, only substitute butter with canola oil when the recipe calls for melted butter.

Herbs

Plenty of recipes call for fresh herbs, but buying a full bunch of basil can be a pain if all you need are a few leaves. Instead of buying the fresh herbs and then throwing them out after they go bad in a few days, opt for dried herbs. They have a much longer shelf-life (2-3 years versus mere days) so you can re-use again and again. Just make sure to cut the amount of herbs by 1/3 since the dried variety is more potent than the fresh.

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