On the Cheap

Waste Not, Want Not: When To Save Your Scraps, and What to Do With Them

March 26, 2014

Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Gabriella Paiella shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety. 

Today: Here's how to be the ultimate frugal chef -- and make your meals better. 

The DIY, back-to-the-land, nose-to-tail, we-can-pickle-that movement has been in full swing for a few years now, but those folks don't have anything on my mother.

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She learned how to run a tight, frugal kitchen years ago, from her mother. (It should be noted that my grandmother, in addition to wasting close to zero food during her entire life, can also give anyone on Extreme Couponing a run for their money, fits more butter per square inch into her cookies than is humanly possible, can tell your fortune from a cup of coffee, and gives A+ grandma hugs.) 

When I was younger, I used to constantly roll my eyes when my mother scolded me for wasting food -- and maybe I still do, from time to time. But the last time I visited her and my father, and she set out tangy, savory-sweet lemon peels as a side dish, I realized what an efficient cook she's always been.

She also tells me that I should write about those preserved lemon peels for this column constantly, and I will begrudingly admit that she is right, so here they are

Once you've made those (and you should!), I've rounded up a few more ways for you to use up more of your vegetable scraps, chicken bones, and all the other odds and ends left over after a great meal:

Cheese Rinds

My mother used to dice up cheese rinds and add them to minestrone soup during the last few minutes of cooking time. They were, unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the dish -- one of my first food-centric memories is being in awe of how sublime the taste and texture of the slightly-melted cheese was. I was constantly fishing for them, and can confirm that there is still no disappointment in the world quite as profound as thinking you've gotten one and discovering a potato instead. You can also add Parmesan rinds to risotto or even make a full-on cheese stock

Vegetable Scraps

Whether you've got vegetable peels or produce that's gone slightly soft in your crisper drawer, place your scraps in an airtight plastic bag and keep it in your freezer -- you can add to it whenever you accumulate more, until you have enough for a solid pot of vegetable stock. If you're looking beyond soup, we've rounded up several ways to use stems and roots here. My personal favorite? These genius grilled chard stems.  

Chicken Bones

Once you've indulged in a roast chicken dinner, save the bones to make stock. It's simple, time-tested, and really does taste better when made from scratch. Then, make a new kind of chicken soup: go Mexican, or Greek

Orange Peels

How many miles of orange peels are wasted every year, do you think? It's a shame, because whether made extra-sweet or used to add fragrance to an addictive appetizer, they're well worth hanging on to. (Bonus: When it hits summer, don't toss your watermelon rinds.) 

Bacon Grease 

Once you've cooked up your bacon, carefully (the operative word here) pour the grease through a strainer white it's hot directly into a container, where it'll solidify. You can then use it to add bacon flavoring to everything: from cornbread, to biscuits, to greens.

Tell us: What food scraps do you save, and what do you use them for? 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Laura Mier
    Laura Mier
  • Tamara
  • Exbruxelles
  • Ariana Mullins
    Ariana Mullins
  • Marylene
Yes, my name rhymes.


Laura M. March 14, 2015
I save my fennel tops, dice them up and throw them in a salad for an extra dose of refreshing flavor. (They're also good tossed with farro, golden beets, shallot and lemon vinaigrette.)
Tamara March 14, 2015
I go out of my way to purchase celery with plenty of leaves still attached. The leaves are the most flavorful part. And, when I make chicken soup, I always purchase carrots by the bunch so I have the tops.

Whether peeling an orange or grapefruit to eat, or a lime, or lemon for cooking or drinks, I zest them first. I sprinkle the zest on parchment or in a ramekin and allow it to air dry, as opposed to putting it in my food dehydrator. I then store the zest in small spice jars. That way, when I am cooking something requiring zest, or simply want to add a bit more flavor, I have it on hand. And, I always, always, wash my citrus with mild hand soap prior to zesting or cutting it. Goodness knows how many filthy hands (including mine while in the market) have touched that piece of fruit.
Exbruxelles April 8, 2014
My family likes carrot top pesto better than traditional basic pesto. The method is the same as for the traditional stuff: Mash a clove of garlic or two in coarse salt. Put the garlic paste in the bowl of a food processor and add a handful of carrot tops, and a handful of italian parsley, some pine nuts and parmesan cheese. With the machine running, add olive oil until the pesto is the consistency you like. This is particularly good over a firm pasta, but you can use it for whatever you would use regular pesto for.
Ariana M. April 1, 2014
Last fall I used my apple peels to make a really good hard apple cider! Most of the flavor is in the peels anyway, so it was very nice. Here's the method I used: http://andhereweare.net/2013/09/simple-apple-peel-cider.html
Marylene April 1, 2014
I cook the peel of asparagus in order to make a stock.
Also, I keep the young and tender leaves around a cauliflower to blend in a potato puree.
Dan P. March 30, 2014
Broccoli stems - we make kinpira, a Japanese stir-fry: http://justbento.com/handbook/recipe-collection-side-dishes-and-space-fillers/bento-fillers-forgotten-vegetable-kinpira
AntoniaJames March 29, 2014
Okay, this is not really a "scrap," but more akin to the bacon fat example. After I've roasted a chicken and made pan juices in the skillet, I find that the skillet tends to want to keep a fair bit of my sauce, no matter how diligently I scrape it down. I toss about 1/4 cup of water (after dinner, usually) into the skillet, turn on the heat and then scrape up all the sauce, stir it well almost as if I'm deglazing. I don't cook it down too much. Usually, I put it into an 8 ounce Mason jar (wide mouth) with leftover bits from the carcass, generally thigh or leg meat because it holds so well, and top it off, add whatever sauce is left, if it's only a few spoons full, and then freeze it. I make sure the chicken is covered in liquid. The meat holds well in that super flavorful broth/sauce, which I then use to make a light chicken stew to serve over toast on some weekday evening in the future. So delicious, and I haven't let any of that tasty sauce go down the drain. ;o)
Stuart G. March 29, 2014
Wonderful,timely article!Also,you can encourage your local
cafe.Sarah's Composting Club has helped Sarah's Sister's
Sustainable Cafe,in "thinking" Semaphore, create 85% landfill reduction!The vital point;Club Members guarantee that they
will collect(the 20-40 litres of)scraps,and used coffee grounds,etc.,EVERY DAY. Everybody wins!
Jacquie H. March 29, 2014
Cooking up carcasses and bones makes a therapeutic broth! The cartilage from the bones is used by your body to rebuild connective tissue. You can learn more from Dr. Cate Shanahan, MD on her website, drcate.com
Mary March 29, 2014
I chop orange and lemon peel into small pieces and scatter on garden flower beds to stop cats using as their toilets.Cats hate citrus smell.I chop banana skins and put around rose bush.They act as a great fertiliser.
Robbie March 29, 2014
I use my dehydrator and dehydrate my lemons, limes and orange peels. I use them for extra flavor in ice tea...specially hibiscus tea. Some times I take some of those dried peels and grind them up to a fine powder and use a little in cake batter. Chicken carrcuss (especially when I buy a rotisserie chicken) are thrown in the freezer to make chicken stock for soups.
AntoniaJames March 27, 2014
Lemon seeds (also known as the "pips"), and the membranes, too, are also full of pectin. They are great, tied into a cheesecloth "bag" for firming up fruit jams. They need time to extract the pectin, so for jams and jellies that I don't cook a long time (of course I always use them in marmalade, which can tolerate a low, slow cooking process) I typically put the pips, etc. in a saucepan the night before with a cup or two of water, which I simmer or a few minutes before letting it sit overnight. Then I strain the water, squeezing hard on the pips, which release the pectin, which actually feels like thin jelly. Oddly, I don't see this trick mentioned much. I learned about it years ago when I stumbled on an ancient pamphlet published by a citrus growers' association in the '30s. If I'm not mistaken, it included a recipe for citrus pectin. I never actually made the pectin, but I used the knowledge, adapting it for my purposes (the engineer in me at work). ;o)
Katie March 27, 2014
I cut up orange peels, leave them to dry, and then coarsely grind them with cinnamon and cloves to make orange spice tea. The dried orange peels by themselves are really good in plain black tea too.
Lisa March 27, 2014
Recently I roasted some duck legs and always strain and save the fat. The next morning for breakfast we had pancakes and my husband fried our delicious eggs with half duck fat and olive oil. The duck fat gave a beautiful flavor and made the edges nice and crispy.
Panfusine March 26, 2014
Cauliflower & BRoccoli stems used as relish. I peel them and dice the core. a bit of crushed mustard, cayenne, salt & turmeric. Then heat oil until its almost smoking and pour it over . Stir the mix, cool down and add some lime juice.
AntoniaJames March 26, 2014
Apple cores and peels make great, free natural pectin. ;o)
lilroseglow March 26, 2014
My mom could stretch a food budget like no one else. She kept a 1 qt tupperware container in the freezer, and any time we had a little bit of something leftover, typically less than a single serving, she would add it to the container. Vegetables, gravy, small bites of stew or Sunday's roast, pan drippings. Whatever would freeze. Layer upon layer the container would fill up. When it was full, it was time to make soup. She'd add a quart of home canned tomatoes, stock, and seasonings. Served with a pone of cornbread w/ butter, I still remember that as a "comfort food" meal.
Amy March 26, 2014
My new favorite frugal kitchen fun is regrowing scraps! I currently have a lovely new bunch of green onions growing from the tail end root scraps, celery, garlic, and my own sprouts right in my window sill. Its a amazing how resilient they are! And any other scraps go straight into the garden compost for longer growing veggies.
AntoniaJames March 26, 2014
My fuschias were looking a bit sad; the fellow at the local Ace Garden center said to bypass the compost process (we separate "greenwaste", which the city's service providers compost for us), and simply to chop up our banana peels and put them in the soil around the fuschia plants! Love this idea about re-growing from the roots! You've inspired me. ;o)
CHeeb March 26, 2014
If you have an asparagus bed, they too ,love the banana peels simply laid on the ground among the ferns. Worms drill up to get them, and aerate the beds naturally without harming the crowns.
wisekaren March 26, 2014
I put apples that are past their prime (or cores from those I've used) in the freezer bag with the veggies for stock. Also parsley stems.
AntoniaJames March 26, 2014
Potato peels -- where the vast majority of flavor in any potato resides -- I reverently cook in about 4 times their volume of water. I drain the starchy cooking water and save for use in bread. I blitz the cooked peels + the starch/mushy solids they've released with a hand blender, then save/freeze in small deli containers, for use in rustic artisanal breads.
I must have at least a dozen other tricks up my sleeve that would be pertinent here, but my office is under siege with the usual end-of-quarter madness (I specialize in commercial transactions) so those will have to wait. ;o)