Has anyone else noticed how you have to "get creative" in order to prepare a meal without the convenience and (of course) waste of aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and other single-use disposable products? Has anyone tried substituting ingredients when the called for one is not available in bulk or recyclable packaging? What tips and tricks have you picked up in an effort to cook the zero waste way?
Here are some of the things I've tried out:
- Substituting turbinado sugar or sucanat for brown sugar (haven't found brown sugar in bulk yet)
- Making powdered sugar from regular cane sugar by grinding it with a mortar and pestle
- Using two knives and a mixing bowl to make pie/tart dough instead of using the food processor or a pastry cutter. Just use the knives in a crisscrossing motion to blend the pieces of butter into the flour.
- Using a Silpat instead of parchment paper, and it works as a placemat for rolling out dough (prevents dough from sticking)
- Making pesto from radish leaves via this recipe, instead of throwing them away (in the compost, of course)
- Using a baking sheet as a casserole dish "lid" and plates as lids for leftovers in bowls
- Using a thin dishtowel in place of cheesecloth to strain out homemade ricotta or chicken stock
- Reusable pie crust shield instead of foil to prevent pie crust edges from burning
- Using almond or cashew nut cream from this recipe, instead of heavy cream (haven't found cream that is sold in a glass container yet)
- Letting cooked beets sweat inside a Le Parfait jar, then peeling them with the edge of a wooden spoon (instead of using a plastic baggie and a paper towel)
great list, got me thinking!
-For cooking, aside from making own ketchup, I'm mostly trying to figure out what AM I going to do for some of the condiments I like to use such as worcestershire, oyster sauce, a to-die-for Ginger Sauce. OTOH, mustard, mayo, BBQ, relish, pickles, easier to sub. My commercial smoked hot pepper sauce -working on that...
-Already was using leaves, stems of veggies instead of tossing, but being much more efficient now. Using mandolin (ouch! had a protective glove, now using) to maximize use of hard to cut veggies, such a broccoli stems
-Repurposing some of my cookware, e.g., using heavy lidded round casserole instead of open, rectangular pyrex+foil
-Once again, trying a kitchen herb garden! Basil, Parsley, typical other herbs, spring onions, chives. Hope my luck is better this year <sigh> me vs the bugs
- will be harvesting and using (some how) lavender from our garden. Its been decorative until now. Replant bush dogs ate.
- using guavas from our tree if I can beat the squirrels to them; same with our ancient pear tree. Plant a dwarf lemon tree, meanwhile talk neighbors into sharing!
- trips to "pick-your-own" fields for crops I can put up/dry: strawberries, tomatoes, apples, grapes (maybe try my hand at grape juice)
We've been working on healthier, simpler living before I found this zero waste blog/forum fairly recently.
Here's our list (DH, DD - age 10, and myself):
~ Silicone mats for baking and rolling dough. To make life easier, I slowly found a silicone mat for each of our baking pans (after reducing the number of baking pans down to the basics). We use the largest for rolling dough, as well.
~ I make my own Ranch dressing and store it in glass jars (from previous food purchases). Same with an oil/vinegar/herbs/cheese dressing my DD makes and enjoys.
~ Make bone broth from meat bones and produce scraps (ends and skins and parts we don't generally eat). We freeze the bones and scraps until I make the broth. We store it in glass jars in the freezer (for soup base) and I freeze some in silicone muffin pans (1/2 cup portions) and pop them into a glass container or plastic bag (space-depending) for rice and other dishes.
~ We compost our produce scraps (parts we don't eat) of foods we wouldn't use in the broth directly in our backyard garden areas. We have worms in those areas and they like to eat! ;) We dig a small hole with a trowel, drop the scraps in, cover with dirt and/or cardboard (egg cartons or other) and/or newspaper (soy-based inks only or unprinted). Cardboard and newspaper also serve as weed barriers between the edible plants. We don't receive a newspaper regularly, so egg cartons are more common.
~ We buy foods packed in glass versus plastic whenever possible and then reuse the glass jars.
~ We have a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share and receive a box of local, organic produce every other week. It comes to the pick-up point in a wax cardboard folding box. We remove our produce into several reusable bags and leave the box for the farmers to reuse (at their request, so everyone does this). We share our box with another family for many reasons and it is working out very nicely. Our investment is $15 every other week, paid quarterly. The farm uses paper bags whenever possible to pack the produce and we reuse the plastic bags when we split everything with our friends delivery after delivery. (They aren't quite on the same path as we are and that's okay.)
~ We have a tiny backyard and use most of the space for edible plants...herbs and fruit and veggies we like and either don't get through our CSA or don't get enough of.
~ We buy some things in bulk and have for years, but I just thought (via this site) about asking to use our own containers. We use and reuse glass for nearly everything, but there is always room for improvement. My focus has been food storage more than zero waste, so it is a different perspective. Time to readjustment again... :)
There are more, I'm sure, but this is all I can think of at the moment. Having a garden and CSA have prompted us to cook more creatively. I wonder how the zero waste concept will alter those ideas and methods again. ;)
Wonderful ideas, you guys! You've inspired me to garden with more edible plants. Just have to find a spot where the animals (and neighbors) can't reach;)
Don't quote me on this, but I think I saw a recipe for oyster sauce in Eileen Yin Fei-Lo's "Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking." Wish I still had the book on me (borrowed it from the library) so I could tell you whether or not the ingredients were all unpackaged.
Thanks for the radish leaf pesto idea! I had just been looking for a recipe for using some beet greens -- it turned out great! Here's another article on the flexibility of pesto, allowing for the fact that if you change too many ingredients, it may not actually be "pesto" anymore, but it is all yummy!
Karin, I LOVE homemade ranch dressing!!! I always bought the packaged stuff thinking it would be too hard to make. Not at all! Ranch dressing is so easy to make and tastes waaaaaaaaay better. What I have been missing all these years!
@OP: Aside from ranch dressing, I am also experimenting with crackers. We go through cookies and crackers like crazy. Homemade cookies are always better, but I didn't realize that crackers are possible too. I've made a couple of recipes but nothing is as good as storebought yet. I'll let you know if I come up with something worthy. ;)
I got this one from someone online when I asked for help, so I am happy to pass it along. :)
"1 clove garlic
Salt to taste
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
2 tbsp fresh chives
1 cup mayonnaise (I can share my recipe if you like)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Buttermilk (as needed to desired consistency)
1 lemon worth of juice
1/4 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp Tabasco
Mince the garlic with a knife and then sprinkle about an 1/8 to ¼ teaspoons of salt on it and mash it into a paste with a fork. Chop the parsley, chives and any of the optional herbs very finely and add to the garlic.
In a bowl combine all ingredients, adding other optional ingredients as you wish, tasting frequently and adjusting seasonings as needed. Chill for a couple of hours before serving, thin with buttermilk to desired consistancy.
Other ingredients that I've added are fresh dill, thyme, a splash of vinegar, fresh oregano... it just depends on what fresh herbs I have and what I'm serving it with, but above is the master recipe I always follow."
I have never followed the recipe exactly, ever. I haven't even made Ranch the same way twice. LOL I use recipes as a guide for the types of ingredients and for the wet/dry ratio and for ideas. :)
We don't even own Worcestershire sauce nor Tabasco sauce, so I just skipped those. I don't really measure, but eyeball it. I have used the entire spring onion and skipped the onion powder. I doubt I used garlic powder. I added freshly ground pepper and I've used random fresh herbs from our garden and CSA. I've subbed additional mayo for sour cream. I've subbed plain yogurt for sour cream. We don't always have sour cream and I haven't found it necessary. I use buttermilk when we have it. We purposely buy one quart of it and make all the recipes we like that call for it within a few days. However, my DH knows a "quick fix" to use in place of buttermilk and I've let him make that for me to use instead.
I have made it thick, as a dip, for a party (used sour cream for the sour cream and plain yogurt for the buttermilk) and split the batch. I was prepared to use all of it for the party, but I didn't want it to go to waste if it wasn't going to be eaten. (I was feeding a dozen 9-10 year old girls, so I also toned down the spices. It was a big hit, but they were only dipping carrot sticks in it and didn't eat a ton.) I used the second jar of it to make dressing with regular cream-top milk (versus buttermilk) and added in some more spices at that time, too. Worked fine and tasted great.
We refill glass dressing bottles from commercial dressings. We saved a few of the plastic inserts (from old plastic Ranch dressing bottles) to control the flow and I tend to make it a bit thinner due to the glass bottle. Sometimes, to mix things up, I make it thicker and use a wide-mouth mason jar and we use a spoon to serve it.
Thanks! I used one of those miniature food processors (I think it's called a mini chopper). I do own a mortar and pestle, but I have never been very successful with it -- is there a particular technique to getting it to work?
The problems I've encountered with the mortar and pestle usually stemmed from overfilling the pestle with too many ingredients at once. The pestle I own is on the small side, so I've been grinding each ingredient separately, then combining them together in a bowl before adding the oil. Garlic cloves tend to mash better when you add a dash of salt (not sure why). And it helps to roughly chop the greens before mashing their leaves with the mortar, so you don't end up with a lot of long, fibrous stems in your pesto. Hope this helps.
Julie, I tried out this cheese cracker recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and it's good. Kind of has a Ritz cracker texture, but cheesy (yum). For crackers, getting the right texture takes a bit of trial and error to figure out the baking times and temperatures that work best with your oven. There's also a whole wheat goldfish cracker recipe on the same site but I haven't tried out the recipe yet.
I have another Ranch recipe I've been making. Got it online and all the ingredients in it (except the wet ones) are dried so I don't have to worry about having fresh herbs at hand.
1 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp dried chives
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried dill weed
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp salt (I put a little more than that)
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
Mix everything together, cover and refrigerate for 30 mins. I lighten it up with a bit of milk to make it less thick, and I replace the chives with green onions when I have them at hand.
I've also replaced my Nesquick with homemade chocolate syrup, and to my surprise, my sons actually like it better!
1 cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar (I do 1 and a half)
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1 tb vanilla
Bring 1st 4 ingredients to a boil, lower heat and add vanilla. Let cool and store. Lasts a long time in the fridge.
I posted a while ago about making home made laundry soap, which has been working wonderfully. Super simple recipe found online: 1 bar of grated bar soap (Ivory, ZOTE, Fels-Naptha, I use Kirk's castile), 1 cup of borax, 1 cup of washing soda. Stir together in a bowl for 5 mins and use between 2 tbsp and 1/3 cup depending on the state of your laundry. Also stopped using bleach on my whites and just add 1/2 cup borax. I'm taking advantage of the California sun and have been sun drying my clothes as well. It's also very motivating when I get the energy bill :)
All these changes may seem like extra work to someone else, but they've actually improved my quality of life, making me feel more independent, leaving more money in my pocket and simplifying things when it comes to the amount of things I've gotta buy at the grocery store every other week. No more jugs of bleach or laundry soap!
Thanks for the recipes! Will try out this Ranch dressing as well. More than one person in my family will be happy to hear that we can have chocolate syrup again, thanks to your recipe. Just in time for ice cream season. Yum!
Just "learned" this (quotes are because common sense and enough thought should have told me this) from Salad-in-a-Jar : instead of cheesecloth or coffee filters for straining things like yogurt>>yogurt cheese, kefir grains, use a ss bouillon strainer.
@Andrea: Did you sneak a peak in my recipe book? j/k I have the exact same recipes and I agree. They are awesome! My kids are wild about the ranch dressing and chocolate sauce. They won't go back to store bought. ;) I'm making the same laundry soap as well. Works great! Totally agree that becoming independent feels so good. And really when it comes down to it, making these things is really not that much extra work, especially when you get used to the recipes. Cheers!
Just saw this article in the NY Times about one of my favorite and essential kitchen tools: the kitchen scale. Not only is it a more accurate (and reproducible) way of measuring ingredients, it also simplifies the cooking process by reducing the number of bowls and utensils you'll need to use to measure out and prep. The scale lets you measure out all of your wet/dry ingredients in one bowl; you just zero the readout on the scale after weighing each ingredient. For most baking recipes I end up using only one large bowl and a spoon. This conversions chart from the blog Chocolate and Zucchini has been indispensable (especially the 1 cup AP flour = 120 g equivalent).
What are some of your favorite kitchen tools for simplifying cooking/baking?