What to CookOn the Cheap

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

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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.

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? 

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Tags: My Broke Kitchen