The three R’s — reduce, reuse, recycle — don’t only apply to plastic bottles and textiles. Wasting less food not only saves money but also reduces our carbon footprint. When we throw out food, we waste the water and resources required to produce, transport and package it. Then, as it fills up landfills, it produces methane, a long-lasting greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, further contributing to climate change. So before you toss out your stale bread or old berries, try some of these tips to revive or recycle them.
Darkened guacamole is a huge disappointment. Fear not, however, because there are a few tricks you can take to save your exposed avocado from oxidation. The browning that appears when avocado flesh is exposed to the air is the same chemical process that darkens apples and bananas. Enzymes in the fruit react with oxygen in the air, which converts them into another type of enzyme compound that manifests as a brown pigmentation to the avocado flesh. It is a defense mechanism for the fruit to ward off bacteria in order to slow the rotting process.
The first course of action to take if you are not using the whole avocado is to keep the pit in place! The pit is large and heavy enough to keep at least some of the leftover avocado from darkening. However, the exposed areas of the avocado will begin to start the enzymatic browning reaction. So, try to cover the rest of the avocado as best you can.
Next, there are several theories surrounding the best way to keep guacamole green. Some suggest having a layer of acid sit atop the guacamole in a sealed container. Some chefs like to put a layer of water on top, as this also would block oxygen from reaching the delicate flesh. Of course, when it comes time to eat the guacamole, simply drain off the water. It’s a strange method, but it tastes the same. My foolproof way is a combination of these tactics — for which I must give credit to my father. Inside a sealed container, spread a thin layer of acid (typically lime juice) atop the guacamole and cover it with plastic wrap.
A hardened loaf of bread is almost equally as depressing. But, again, there is a quick fix for this.
Dampen a towel with warm water and wrap it around your loaf of bread. Place the swaddled bread on a baking sheet or heat-safe dish. You can pop this in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 350 F or in the microwave for 10 seconds. Though this method truly revives stale bread, I would not suggest doing it more than once.
Of course, another use for stale bread is croutons or fresh bread crumbs. Toast or bake the sliced bread as needed. Then, process the bread in a food processor or simply break it up with your fingers. I also suggest adding a few spices to your bread crumbs or croutons while they are still warm, such as paprika or cayenne pepper.
Hard Cookies and Clumped Brown Sugar
If your cookies have gotten hard or a little stale, a quick fix is to store them in an airtight container with something from which they can absorb moisture. A glass of water does nicely, as does a slice of fresh bread.
This method also works wonders for clumped, hard brown sugar. If not stored in an airtight container, brown sugar loses moisture very easily. But, when stored with a slice of bread, it is quickly rejuvenated.
Of course, hardened cookies can also make for a delicious, crumbly topping for ice cream, or your dessert of choice. Depending on how hard your cookies are, you may need to use a meat tenderizer or hammer to break them apart.
If you have 100% pure honey, it will harden and crystallize over time due to its naturally occurring properties. The pollen present in genuine honey catalyzes the binding of glucose to fructose and the substance begins to crystallize. While this is completely safe to eat, in order to restore your honey to its drizzling state, try giving it a bath in hot water. Simply fill a bowl with warm water and place your honey jar inside. The sugar crystals should quickly begin to fade.
Burning food is never fun for a chef, and it is also very rarely done discreetly — the smell, the smoke and the fire alarm will make sure everybody knows of your mistake. Sometimes, however, there is some salvaging possible.
First, try to move the food into a new pot so that it stops cooking. The reason being is that even if you turn off the heat, chances are — as cookware is made with highly conductive materials — the pan is likely still emitting heat. In the new pot, drape a damp towel over the food and let it sit for a few minutes. The goal is to rehydrate the food.
A quick tip for burnt toast is to rub the darkened pieces against each other in order to remove the burnt parts. Though there might still be a slightly burnt taste to the toast, depending on the bread type, you won’t be eating the darkened bits.
However, not all mistakes are fatal. There will be times that the food can actually be served as is. For example, scorched rice can be particularly tasty, and it is a cuisine that is enjoyed around the world. In China, scorched rice is called guōbā, and it is a commonly used ingredient in Sichuan cuisine as it can take on the flavors of rich soups. Likewise, in Iraq, hikakeh is a scorched rice dish that’s served overturned onto a plate so that everyone can have a piece of scorched rice with fluffy rice on the inside.
When revival is not an option, here are some delicious tips on how to reuse and recycle produce!
Disclaimer: This method only applies to non-ultra pasteurized milks (such as fa!rlife or Horizon Organic). There is an important difference between sour milk and spoiled milk. As long as the milk is not past its expiration date, it is safe to assume that the milk has naturally begun to ferment and sour.
Sour milk can serve as a substitute or helpful addition to a multitude of foods. You can use sour milk as a replacement for buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream. Buttermilk pancakes or waffles taste just the same as those with sour milk. You can also dilute the milk with water and pour it onto plant beds. Its calcium-rich qualities should be beneficial to plants, especially tomato plants.
Berries are some of the most versatile foods when it comes to recycling options — the first of which is freezing them. If you know you won’t be able to eat them all, try freezing them to thaw later or to add to smoothies and ice cream.
My favorite method for reusing my berries is to make fresh jam. Fruits have naturally occurring pectin, a thickening structural acid that gives jelly and jam their jelled texture. In general, you will need about ¼ – ⅔ cup of sugar for each pound of fruit (this is also about 1-2 tablespoons of sugar per 1 cup of fruit). Let the berries sit in the sugar for a few hours, up to overnight.
After letting them rest, mash them up a bit before bringing them to a boil in a saucepan. At this point, add about a tablespoon of an acid of your choice — lemon, lime, grapefruit, vinegar, etc. — and reduce the heat to let it simmer.
Make sure to taste the fruit along the way and add sugar or acid as necessary. The acid will help to activate the pectin, and after it simmers for several minutes, you should notice it thickening. This process should not take more than 10 or 15 minutes for a small batch of jam. Pour your jam into a jar or container and let it come to room temperature before refrigerating it. It will stay good for about a month in the fridge.
Bananas are almost as versatile as berries — perhaps because they are also a type of botany berry. They can be used as replacements for dairy or to thicken oatmeal. Bananas can also be frozen for a great addition to a smoothie.
Or, if a trip to obtain some Gone Bananas! from Trader Joe’s seems like too much work, you can recreate them with only three ingredients: bananas, chocolate and coconut oil.
First, slice the bananas and let them chill in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Mix together melted chocolate and coconut oil (approximately 1 tablespoon of oil per cup of chocolate chips). Drizzle — don’t dip — the chocolate atop the bananas and let them rest in the freezer until solid.
Fatty acids like coconut oil have a higher melting temperature than those of most other foods, causing coconut oil to be solid at room temperature (around 68 degrees F). When melted, it helps to thin the chocolate for prime chocolate-on-banana coverage. Most importantly, however, when the warmed oil touches the chilled bananas, it immediately begins to harden, creating a chocolate shell.
Save the climate, spare your wallet and treat your taste buds. It’s a win-win-win situation. Send your success stories to @ucsbonthemenu on Instagram.