Why I Like Eating Garbage

“If we make this recipe, then we get to eat garbage! What do you think of that?” As you might expect, my six-year-old responded to this with a mix of confusion and amusement. I had gotten a bag of cutie tangerines from the store the other day and they were plump, flavorful, and easy to peel. In less than 20 minutes, my daughters and I polished off almost 10 of the little beauties, leaving a pile of orange peels on the counter. I could have tossed them in the trash or used them to clean my disposal, but I had a better idea.

orange peel
Candied Orange Peel is a way to turn kitchen waste into culinary gold.

For Christmas, my husband had gotten me the book Waste Not by the James Beard Foundation with a foreword from Tom Colicchio who we know and love from Top Chef. It has recipes for a lot of great ways to use the scraps from your kitchen to make new and wonderful concoctions. In particular, it has some delicious ideas for citrus peels, including Citrus Vinegar and Candied Orange Peels. The Citrus Vinegar, which is made by allowing orange rinds to sit in plain white vinegar for 2 weeks, simmering briefly, and seasoning with salt and sugar, turned a cheap liquid better suited for cleaning into an acidic delicacy I could throw in salad dressing, marinades, or even cocktails (like the Orange Old Fashioned shown below). The candied orange peels likewise required a little time, water, and sugar, but they produced a unique confection I could eat plain, coat with chocolate, or throw into baked goods.

orange vinegar old fashioned
Orange Vinegar adds an acidic, citrus punch to an Old Fashioned.

Think of it for a second. If I took pound cake with candied organge peels to a party, my friends would say “Oooh, fancy!” And if I served salad with homemade orange vinaigrette dressing at a dinner party, people would fawn over the effort invested. It’s things like these which make me understand why top chefs (yes, pun intended) like Colicchio must love making use of their kitchen scraps. Not only is it something that contributes to the restaurant’s bottom line, it is also a way to make harmless mischief with your guest’s minds. After all, it sort of is a trick to make people feel as if they are eating like kings when part of the meal is composed of trash.

Using kitchen scraps doesn’t always have to fancy though. It can be practical and useful. We are currently in the midst of an Instant Pot craze, so many of you may be familiar with pressure cooking. When I got my Instant Pot, I soon started saving the bones from meat I ate and scraps from veggies (the ones my dogs didn’t get anyway) in the freezer. When the bags were full, I’d spend a lazy Sunday afternoon making stock. Sometimes I’d do it when I wanted to make soup for dinner and sometimes I’d then save the stock in the freezer for a later use. I don’t have tons of time to spare, but you don’t have to monitor stocks in the Instant Pot while they cook and I found that this extra effort produced outstanding soups. It added smokiness and earthiness that canned stock or soup base could not provide.

Similarly, I used to toss the ends of broccoli crowns and the stems of kale in the garbage. Based on the book’s recommendation, I tried choping them up and sauteeing them in ghee and my favorite spice blend. In a word, they were excellent. And, now I no longer throw away the stems of herbs, having found that they are great additions to veggie stocks or sauces like pesto or chimichurri. Once you cook or food process the stems, you can’t tell what part of the herb you are eating anyway because all that is really left is the flavor.

In short, eating “garbage” is not noly a good way to reduce food waste (and we certainly need to do that), it is a way to get the most out of the money you spend at the grocery store or the farmer’s market. It is also a way to play around, to experiment, and enjoy your time in the kitchen. Thus, while Henry David Thoreau went to the woods to “suck out all the marrow of life,” I say that (for your next culinary adventure at least) you may not need to go any farther than your garbage can.

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