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What types of produce and ingredients do you have the most trouble using up?

(Or, if you're a master of using everything up, fill us in on your best tricks and tips!)

former Community Editor

asked 7 months ago

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68 answers 2952 views
cv
cv
added 7 months ago

Fresh herbs, nothing else comes close.

There are strategies for long term storage of fresh herbs (freezing, drying, etc.) but the resultant product is never quite the same as the fresh stuff. Dried parsley is almost completely flavorless. The frozen stuff works for some preparations, but you're not going to chop up defrosted parsley to garnish a dish.

Luckily, my garden is generating a fair quantity of certain herbs, so I don't feel so guilty when I toss the unused portion away (composting at my location is problematic).

The freshly picked stuff blows doors on anything you can buy at a market, including the farmers market.

Luckily, here in the SF Bay Area, a wide range of herbs can be grown outdoors for most of the year.

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Windischgirl
added 7 months ago

I freeze herbs in one of two ways:
--whole, shaped into cylinders for easy chopping: this works best for chives (natch) and dill (stripped from the thicker stalks)
--chopped fresh, then frozen in a block; I pack it in a plastic container and freeze. When I want to use it, I unmold the chunk onto a cutting board, shave off what I need, and return the frozen chunk into the freezer. By the time I garnish the dish, it's defrosted but retains its nice bright colors.
Here in the mid-Atlantic, I can try growing herbs, but it's July before I have anything, and there's frost by Halloween...
I agree, dried anything is flavorless...

Nancy
Nancy

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added 7 months ago

Soft leaf herbs, parsley, basil etc. Do the upstanding-in-water, freeze in bag or chopped in ice cube tray. Or pureed with oil when I think I can use them in soup, stew or sauce.
Woody herbs rosemary etc. Freeze in bag and use sprigs as needed.
Lately, where the dish can stand it, I'm using more fresh herb than the recipe calls for - might as well enjoy it at its best.

HalfPint
HalfPint

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added 7 months ago

Parsley. I always have parsley wilting/dying in the fridge. And I've tried just about every tip to extend. I even have hard time using up the parsley in the garden. Unlike coriander seeds, them parsley seeds sow very easily and they thrive no matter how much you ignore them :)

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Liz Butler
added 7 months ago

I’ve started using the recipe for Pan Bagnat to use up excess parsley. I always have the remaining ingredients on hand- a true pantry meal. If you don’t have baguette, the salade is dynamite tossed with pasta al dente, a dollop of pesto and a handful of quartered grape tomatoes. Enjoy! https://food52.com/recipes...

Stephanie B.
added 7 months ago

I'm going to list some ingredients I have trouble using up, and some ways I try to use them up. Excited to hear other suggestions as well!

Cilantro! I love it, but usually the bundles are so big, and it gets mushy so fast. Lately we've taken to making chimichurri type stuff and freezing it.

Fresh ginger. Maybe I just buy too much? The number of dried, withered ginger nubs I've found in the back of my fridge...those I simmer for about 10-20 min and use for green-ginger tea with honey. Delicious hot or iced.

Carrots and celery (and lots of other random veggie scraps) Yes, I know they're very common with lots of uses, but they are not anywhere near my favorite vegetables. In my dream world I would only buy 1-2 each when needed for soups, but the world doesn't work that way. Even when looking for the smallest bundle of each, I still usually have too much leftover. So I chop and freeze them them for a future soup - personally there's not much else I want to do with them.

Kumquats (when they're in season in CA). Ok, definitely my fault because I 100% overbuy them. Typically I end up subbing them in for recipes that call for preserved lemons, slice them and add to salads, and when I really need to use up a bunch, make marmalade.

Flax meal. I buy it because it's supposed to be healthy, and add it here and there to batters and doughs, but it takes me forever to get through. What other uses are there for flax meal? At what point should I get concerned about the age of that bag of flax meal in my fridge?

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MMH
MMH
added 7 months ago

Peel your ginger. Wrap it in plastic. Put it in a zip loc freezer bag and store it in the freezer. When you need some grate it frozen. It's so much easier to grate it frozen.

Stephanie B.
added 7 months ago

Great tip, thanks MMH!

ChefJune
ChefJune

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added 7 months ago

Chop up that extra celery, likewise the carrots and freeze them in small baggies to have at the ready. Most recipes start with a mirepoix, so if I were you, I'd be using lots of carrots and celery!

Dani Rowen
added 7 months ago

My solution for the cilantro is blending it with lime juice and freezing in ice cube trays. Then you can add some to rice or quinoa to liven it up. I'm sure you could do this with other herbs too and just substitute another citrus juice or water.

Windischgirl
added 7 months ago

I peel my ginger and put it in a small jar, covered with white wine. When the ginger is gone, the wine can be used in place of sherry in Asian recipes. But I will have to try the frozen trick next time. Right now I'm working my way thru a package of Dorot frozen ginger cubes...

NancyFromKona
added 7 months ago

I understood that 1 tsp of ground flax daily would decrease my risk of breast cancer so I bought whole seed. When I went to grind it (better absorbed than whole) there was cumin in the grinder. Lazy me I ground the flax with the cumin, found it was tasty over my daily taco.

BerryBaby
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added 6 months ago

Use to have the same issue with celery. Now all the stores sell loose celery sticks so you can buy only what you need. Love it, saves $’s and waste.

Em
Em
added 7 months ago

We have a CSA, and sometimes we just get too many damn cabbages. I like cabbage, but a head (or three!) every week for a month is just too much. Luckily, they last forever in the fridge, so it's easy to just toss them in the produce drawer and come back in a couple of weeks when more inspired.

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ktr
ktr
added 7 months ago

I used to love when that time of year rolled along. I made a big batch of sauerkraut, a batch of kimchi, roasted it, sauteed it in a pan to either eat as a side dish or as a noodle substitute, or cut it in wedges and cooked it in a pressure cooker in the juices left over after cooking a pork roast.

creamtea
creamtea

Lisanne is a trusted home cook.

added 7 months ago

I love cabbage (although I agree, it's hard to use up a big head). I often use shredded cabbage in a simple salad: salt it, either wait (or not), add lemon juice, oil, and mashed garlic and if you have it, minced dill. I admit I often buy packets of pre-sliced cabbage. Another great dish (which we just had last night):, sauté sliced fresh shiitakes, shredded cabbage till wilted, add diced tofu, tamari, salt, mirin and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Dinner in less than 10 minutes (this is a Madhur Jaffrey recipe from her book, World of the East Vegetarian Cooking). This is a comforting dish for a chilly spring (or winter) night!

Nancy
Nancy

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added 7 months ago

Fry cabbage, onion and (at the end) cooked buckwheat in a large frying pan.
Obviously Eastern European/Russian.
Jews made it with schmaltz; others with bacon.
Can be used as a breakfast or a side dish, or a base for protein...top with roasted meat, poached eggs, your choice.

CSM
CSM
added 7 months ago

I shred it, steam it, and use it in place of spagetti for a low carb meal. Add meat and tomato sauce and it's ready to eat!

Liz Butler
added 7 months ago

My partner’s sister has a genius recipe for this predicament: shred the cabbage, toss with two big handfulls of cilantro leaves, fresh mint, lemon juice, sesame seeds, shredded carrots, salt and pepper to taste. Massage. Keeps in fridge an incredibly long time, is great as a side or a topping for sandwiches/tacos (and is easier to eat than keeping the head of cabbage whole!)

Windischgirl
added 7 months ago

Traditional Eastern European dish is cabbage fried until it is caramelized, tossed with caraway seeds, plenty of black pepper and salt, and mixed with egg noodles. Add fried onion if you like. Simple and hearty. We ate it as a main dish. Great pantry meal!

creamtea
creamtea

Lisanne is a trusted home cook.

added 7 months ago

Mmmm some of these cabbage recipes sound amazing. Going to make them!!

ktr
ktr
added 7 months ago

I just used up a pile of cabbage this weekend making sauerkraut and kimchi. And tonight I'm going to quarter a head of cabbage and cook it in the pressure cooker in the drippings from a pork roast.

Scott
added 7 months ago

Mine tends to be lettuce. I'm single, I live alone, and don't host many dinner parties. Despite the many salad recipes here, I remain a "meat and potatoes" type- and salads aren't high on my list. I buy it for taco topping or to round out an Italian sub- and try to use the rest in a salad on my "health kick" days.

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scruz
added 7 months ago

i buy it and wash the individual outer leaves, wrap in wet paper towel. run water over top and into middle of intact inner head of lettuce, wrap in wet paper towel, bag leaves packet and inner intact head in plastic bag and put in crisper. take out as much as needed and chop roughly. lettuce keeps for more than a week this way and making a salad is a snap...less than a minute or two. two of us now go through about 8 average sized heads of romaine per week by cleaning and storing this way.

chez_mere
added 7 months ago

Green bell peppers. I hardly ever buy them, but whenever they do end up in my fridge, they dither around for weeks before I work up the motivation to use them. I feel like I don't know any dishes that aren't Mexican-inspired to use them in.

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Scott
added 7 months ago

I can always enjoy a basic stuffed pepper. A bit of ground beef, a little bit of rice, with a tomato based sauce to braise them. Yummers!

Nancy
Nancy

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added 7 months ago

Taste the colored peppers (red, yellow, orange) and see if you like them more, so eat them more. They are riper than the green, and a little sweeter.
Or, roast the peppers (any color) and put in a jar of olive oil. Or in a bag in the freezer.

Liz Butler
added 7 months ago

Nearly all Cajun recipes (red beans and rice, gumbo, etouffees, etc) all call for a sort of modified mirepoix with peppers in place of the carrots. No pepper is ever left behind in my fridge, as I slice them and use them as a low-cal, high-crunch vehicle to gobble up hummus.

Sharon
added 7 months ago

Green bells are a vital component of the "holy trinity," which is the building block of all good cooking, Louisiana/Southern cooking in particular. A sofrito of onions, green bell peppers and celery (& garlic) is the foundation of some of the best food on earth! Although any color bell pepper will do, there is no need to ever wonder what to do with green bell peppers. Fire roast them, peel, cut into strips and freeze them. Nice to have around to add to any beans, pasta or ground meat recipe. And that's just for starters. Also, they're wonderful in Asian stir-fry dishes.
BTW, green bells aren't generally used in Mexican cooking. There are SO many more potent and flavorful peppers available and traditional to that cuisine.

creamtea
creamtea

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added 7 months ago

I often make an easy weeknight stir-fry of bell peppers (though usually red, not green), onion and sugar snap peas, sliced shiitakes (optional) with either leftover chicken (shredded) or cubed tofu, sauce is tamari, scallions, garlic and ginger, a little vinegar, water and sugar with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. sometimes I don't even cook the snap peas, I just add them when everything else is done. Other times I leave out the Asian components (leave in the garlic) and instead add smoked paprika at the end, toss and stir. In this case you could use fresh or frozen peas in place of pea pods..this is delicious. Serve either one over rice.

creamtea
creamtea

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added 7 months ago

Avocados. I can't seem to judge ripeness. I must throw half of the ones I buy away.

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MMH
MMH
added 7 months ago

Judging ripeness takes a little practice. When they have just that right "give" I put them in the fridge.

Rachelwrites
added 7 months ago

When the "button" on the top/narrow end will push in with a little pressure it's good to go! If it pops in super easily it is probably over ripe. I love this tip that I only discovered about a year ago.

Smaug
added 7 months ago

Actually, avocados ripen starting at the stem end, so it's more accurate (though perhaps a bit more potentially damaging) to test them at the other end.

creamtea
creamtea

Lisanne is a trusted home cook.

added 7 months ago

Thanks for the avo advice!

Michele
added 7 months ago

Guilty on so many counts but I have learnt to either wash and freeze the vegetables and herbs. Once in the freezer when I have amassed enough they go into the stock pot with the chicken bones that I also keep and they become soup. Or they head to the compost and eventually go into the garden soil. To grow more vegetables.....

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cookinginvictoria
added 7 months ago

Some fresh herbs although I try to make green sauce (Amanda's recipe), mint chutney (Meera Sodha has a great recipe in Made in India) or salsa verde before they get too wilty.

We never seem to be able to use a whole tub of sour cream before it turns.

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Liz Butler
added 7 months ago

Sour cream makes banana bread into something divine. I throw overripe bananas into the freezer, then when I have half a thing of sour cream I’ll pull out the rest of the ingredients (pantry staples) and it’s good to go.

Tracey Martin
added 7 months ago

I don't have trouble with using up sour cream, but I've recently started using plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. Maybe you can find more uses for that, or buy it in the individual cups which might cut the waste.

ktr
ktr
added 7 months ago

I even toss the bits of banana that are left after my 2 year old eats one into the freezer. She insists on a whole banana but almost never eats it all. Every few weeks, I make banana bread or muffins with them.

ChefJune
ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

added 7 months ago

Store-bought fresh herbs are the bane of my existence. Those teensy packets are so expensive, and though they're small, I can never seem to use them up before they dry out or go moldy. I wish someone would sell them by the sprig!

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BerryBaby
BerryBaby

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added 7 months ago

Not really. If I have green peppers I make stuffed peppers. If I decide not to make them and peppers are starting to wither, slice the peppers, an onion, olive oil and pan roast. I use them on sandwiches, in salads or add them to tomato sauce. Every item can be turned into multiple dishes. You paid good money for it, don’t make your trash rich, you should enjoy it!

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Smaug
added 7 months ago

Produce of all sorts, at times- if I go to a good produce store or farmer's market, everything looks too good to leave behind. If I go to the supermarket most of the produce is now prepackaged in quantities practically guaranteed not to be what I need. Fortunately I run a very active compost pile. Cilantro is the worst- it's SO nasty when it goes.

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pierino
pierino

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added 7 months ago

Leafy herbs that have long stems such as parsley, cilantro or basil, you can treat as cut flowers. Fill a glass half way with water and put the stem ends in. They will usually keep for days this way, even up to a week. Much better than the fridge.

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Jan Weber
added 7 months ago

For me it's probably heavy/double cream. It's very hard to find a size at the store that is just enough for your recipe, especially if you're cooking for yourself or for two. It does last a while but it often takes me longer to find something else to use it for again.

As for fresh herbs, I often use the cut flower method - I've even put cilantro/parsley with the stems in a glass of water in the fridge, and put a plastic produce bag over the top with some holes poked in, fastened to the glass with a rubber band. This often keeps those herbs fresh for a week or so. Don't do this, however, if your fridge is very cold or is notorious for having cold spots.

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Winifred Ryan
added 7 months ago

I finally found I could make sour cream! Use yogurt as the agent and don't be afraid to leave it out overnight or in a warm, not hot pan of water like yogurt. It lasts well. As far as herbs, try compound butter and freeze it for putting on steak, broiled chicken or fish. Simple, tasty and available for those quick meals that need a little something.

Liz Butler
added 7 months ago

You could always freeze the remaining bit of cream in an ice cube tray, then place the frozen cream cubes in a sealed freezer bag for when you need them!

Alyssa
added 7 months ago

I always have trouble using up fresh herbs, which means I hardly ever buy them unless I have a specific use for them in mind.

I also buy half and half for my coffee, but I'm the only one in the house that uses it, so the pint goes bad well before the use-by date, as I can't go through a pint in even a month. I don't cook with cream, and don't bake often, so sadly, the now-spoiled organic cream generally goes in the garbage.

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Trena Heinrich
Trena Heinrich

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added 7 months ago

Buttermilk.

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Rachelwrites
added 7 months ago

I will not admit the age of buttermilk I used recently.

sfrye
added 7 months ago

I quit buying buttermilk years ago. I couldn't get find a second use for it after the recipe I bought it for. Now I use milk & vinegar as a substitute. Always have both on hand & don’t end up with leftovers that will go bad!

Smaug
added 7 months ago

If you're using it for baking, powdered buttermilk works very well.

Catya Durnell
added 7 months ago

Casseroles containing stsrches

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mgac
added 7 months ago

Celery. I use it in some soups and an occasional salad. It is a natural source of "salt" and I am watching my salt/sodium intake.

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zeldie
added 7 months ago

I am good at using everything up. I learned from my mother to buy prudently and wisely. Most important: don’t overbuy. Make a general plan of meals. I share herbs, spices and items that don’t get used up with family and friends. At the end of the week I make a frittata w all leftover veges and herbs. Fruits get poached or puréed into applesauce or baked into muffins. My European Mother taught me to use everything and not waste food.

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Martha
added 7 months ago

Green peppers and celery are my two veggies I have problems using up. Thanks for the suggestion of chopping celery and carrots and freezing. Never done that. As for ginger, I’ve always frozen it as recipes call for so little.

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arielcooks
added 7 months ago

Easy: cilantro and scallions!

Even in Kenji Lopez-Alt's recommended container type, cilantro doesn't last as well as parsley does. And green onions -- I now keep them in cloth bags, and they'll dry out but not slime out, which is an improvement.

For ginger, I slice it into coins and drop them into a mason jar of dry sherry. This preserves them for a long time! And the sherry is good for adding to dishes and concoctions.

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Windischgirl
added 7 months ago

For some reason, I always get stuck with fresh pears (what’s with that?). They go too soft before my family will eat them. Lately I’ve been poaching them in red wine or juice, and that seems to improve the consumption rate. My other solution is to dice and freeze, then add to smoothies or baked goods (instead of mashed bananas, etc.). Yesterday I made Alice Medrich’s Buckwheat Persimmon Bread, only with mashed pears and made into muffins. With a dash of frozen cranberries in each serving, they are delicious!

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ktr
ktr
added 7 months ago

I've never been able to use up a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. This thread got me thinking because I had just opened a can. I did a quick online search and decided to mix one into some homemade mayo with my immersion blender. It was great on a burger topped with avocado last night.

I also tend to have small amounts of various sauces in my fridge that I can't seem to use up before they go bad. I think I need to get more creative with them to try to use them up because I can't stand tossing out food.

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BerryBaby
BerryBaby

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added 7 months ago

I agree with the sauces, but have made some great salad dressings using them up. Salsa for a taco salad, mixing soy sauce with sesame oil, the marinade from green olives makes a great salad dressing, if it’s in the fridge, it gets used.

scruz
added 7 months ago

you can also freeze in ice cube tray

Smaug
added 7 months ago

You can buy powdered chipotles, which keep pretty well and are easier to deal with than the canned variety. Writers use the adobo in their recipes because it's there- it's really just adding small amounts of vinegar, garlic and tomato along with some spices; if these things are necessary to the dish, the tiny and random amounts found in the adobo sauce aren't going to do much; they'll have to be added separately. Gives you better control over what you're putting in your food anyway.

ktr
ktr
added 7 months ago

Thanks for the tip Smaug!

Sharon
added 7 months ago

I solved the chipotle problem years ago. Just save those small jars that marinated artichoke hearts or pickle relish come in, or the short ones that Lee Kum Kee Chinese sauces come in; Black Bean, Hoisin, etc. Wash and sterilize the jars and store the chipotle & adobo in one. I store my homemade harissa the same way. Just be sure to never dip into them with your finger or a dirty utensil and they will last for eternity in the fridge. I've been doing this for decades and haven't had a jar go bad on me yet. Also, pay attention to those cute little jars that people so wantonly throw out. They're fantastic for storing just about anything!

MMH
MMH
added 7 months ago

I have a great trick for peppers of any kind when they’ve seen better days. You can roast them in the oven alone or with onions. I slice them in half & roast them under the broiler until they are charred. Put them in a bag to steam and then skin them. You can do 2 things. 1) you can freeze them until you make salsa. 2) marinate them with olive oil, garlic & basil and serve them with a baguette on an appetizer platter.

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Lindsay-Jean Hard
Lindsay-Jean Hard

former Community Editor

added 7 months ago

Thank you all so much for weighing in (and sharing suggestions with others!)! In case you haven't seen it yet, I wanted to share the video that resulted from this thread, we share a few ideas for putting hard-to-use-up items to good use: https://www.facebook.com...

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Nancy
Nancy

Nancy is a trusted home cook.

added 7 months ago

@Lindsay-Jean. Usually you or other editors use a thread like this a base for a feature article. Surprised not to see some editorial coming out of this. Or is it something to do with your forthcoming book on cooking with scraps?

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Lindsay-Jean Hard
Lindsay-Jean Hard

former Community Editor

added 7 months ago

You're right, they often are used in articles, this time was a little different as it resulted in a video, tied into the Let's Get Scrappy feature, which you can find here: https://www.facebook.com...

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