waste not, want not
1. (idiomatic) If one is not wasteful then one will not be needy.
Growing up on a small farm in Missouri, I was raised not to waste things. Now I live in New York City and implementing a compost bin isn’t really practical to my apartment life, nor do I have livestock to eat my cooking scraps. Sadly, that means my kitchen produces pounds of chicken bones, produce peels, seeds, stems, dirty roots, and fibrous vegetable cores that all end up on the sidewalk in a garbage bag. Until now.
Over the summer I read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal and it changed my life. If there’s anyone in your world that loves food and cooking, or food writing, buy this book for them. It is really special. Tamar poetically shares how to get the absolute most out of food. Her book provides countless opportunities to stretch a vegetable or a piece of meat to pay the utmost respect to the ingredient, to the farmer, to the eater, and to the cook. It really is a celebration of life. And eating!
I’m going to highlight some of her wisdom and my biggest take aways from the book, kind of the way I did on my little book report of Dan Barber’s The Third Plate in the Gifts of Nature blog post.
- “We don’t need to be professionals to cook well, any more than we need to be doctors to treat bruises and scrapes. We don’t need to shop like chefs or cook like chefs, we need to shop and cook like people learning to cook, like what we are - people who are hungry.”
- “If we were taught to cook as we are taught to walk, encouraged first to feel for pebbles with our toes, then to wobble forward and fall, then had our hands firmly tugged on so we could try again; we would learn that being good at it relies on something deeply rooted, akin to walking, to get good at which we need only guidance, senses, and a little bit of faith.”
- “Instinct, whether on the ground or in the kitchen, is not a destination but a path. The word instinct comes from a combination of in meaning ‘toward,’ and stinguere meaning ‘to prick.’ It doesn’t mean knowing anything, but pricking your way toward the answer.”
- “Good meat only seems so expensive because we eat meat like children taking bites out of the middle of sandwiches and throwing the rest away.”
- “On salting water: Boil first, then salt, and it should taste like pleasant sea water. The water needs to be this salty whether it’s going to have pasta cooked in it or the most tender spring peas. It must be salted until it tastes good because what you’re doing isn’t just boiling an ingredient, but cooking one thing that tastes good in another, which requires that they both taste like something.”
- “The art of letting go: Being moved to surrender is an act of grace. Be glad today’s failure is behind you. Know that the next time, whether because you’ve learned how to avoid it or just to look at it differently, it won’t be as bad.”
- “There is profundity in the smallest of moments.”
I confess, I was a big fan of bouillon cubes. My Mom never bought canned beef, chicken or vegetable stock, we always had salty yellow or red cubes in the cabinet. And now they make those biodegradable cartons of stock that taste like murky water. As someone who is paid to carry groceries for a living, you better believe I am buying the lightest items possible. I would buy the fancy sea salt and herb cubes that delivered fast, easy and tasty flavor to my dishes.
I love a shortcut in the kitchen, but I have not purchased a bouillon cube since I read An Everlasting Meal. I feel like my clients are getting the best out of my groceries and I am getting the best out of my kitchen by taking this extra step. I now have a weekly ritual. I cook at the beginning of the week and all of the ‘scraps’ from the ingredients go straight into a stockpot. Nothing wasted. I keep the pot on the stove and as I peel a carrot, the root, stem, and peels go in the pot. I have created a wholesome and sodium controlled broth to use in soups, stews, and poaching liquid for next week’s cooking. It is SO satisfying.
Place a large stock pot on the stove. Add any discarded bits from your food prep to the pot: chicken bones, chicken skin, onion stems and skins, garlic skins and cores, squash seeds, a tomato too soft to slice, broccoli and cauliflower cores, tough kale ribs, unused bits of fresh herbs, it all goes in. (I even added the skins of some poached dates one week and it gave the broth a warm sweet note.)
Cover everything with water, pour in a few glugs of olive oil, generously salt the water, and add a few peppercorns. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for a few hours, tasting throughout. Once it cools, it is important to strain it twice, once to remove all of the big vegetable bits and once more through a fine sieve to remove any dirt or grit. I pour the strained liquid into quart containers to freeze for next week’s cooking. Leave out the chicken bones and fat if you are making a pure vegetable stock.