Thursday, May 25, 2017

How to Handle Imperfect Produce

It seems to me that, although I've mentioned clearance sale veggies and what I do with them many times, I've never really said just how I go about it. 

The first thing to do is "triage" the vegetables--see what needs to be used or cooked first.  The more damaged the veggies, the faster they need attention.  And you've also got to think sensibly about what will save you the most work in the long run.

When I brought my veggies home, it was immediately apparent that two of the tomatoes were in big trouble (bruised and going soft) and the yellow pepper was on the verge of it (fuzzy mold starting on the bud end).  There were several things I could have done (like making a sauce of the tomatoes and pepper) but I decided that the best way to get the most meals from them was to stuff the large tomato and the pepper; the smaller tomato would be added to the stuffing mix.  Since I'd be making just one stuffing for both, that would be simple.  Also since the pepper had to be cut in half long-ways to get rid of that bad area on the bud end, I could make two meals out of the pepper instead of just one.  I'd have the stuffed tomato for supper because I've learned (the hard way, of course) that stuffed baked tomatoes don't freeze too well.

Because the oven was heated up anyway, I also decided to cook all of the white sweet potatoes as well.  (Many folks don't know that all sweet potatoes were once white or pale yellow; they only became orange when they were crossed with pumpkins.)  I'm inclined to forget that I've got some veggies in the fridge and I've learned (again the hard way) that sweet potatoes are easy to ignore until it's too late.  Cooked, they can be sliced and frozen in portion sizes.  I prepared six servings to freeze and one to use for making squash biscuits. 

Squash biscuits (which are actually a type of yeast roll) normally call for winter squash but sweet potatoes work fine for them as well.  And if you'd like to have my Great-Grandmother Caroline's recipe for Squash Biscuits, you can find it in this post.  Caroline was born 101 years before I was, so you can imagine that this is quite an old recipe, and it is one that I've never discovered elsewhere.  By the way, that old post will tell you how to roast a pumpkin, too.

Having taken care of the primary veggies, it's time to think about the others.  I know that I can always change my mind about what to do on the items that can wait a day or so but it's good to come up with a basic plan of what would be best. 

At least half of the bananas are not yet ripe enough to be made into banana bread, so they can wait.  And I enjoyed two of the bananas already--fried, one of my favorite treats.

The apples need to be taken care of sooner than the bananas.  Since there are some large bruises, I'll pare and slice most of the apples for baking into a sort of applesauce that can be stored in portions.  The others will be chopped and added to a fruit cake (if you didn't know already, let me warn you that I Love good fruitcake) that I was already preparing before I went shopping.  It's Barm Brack Bread (recipe is in this post) with dried fruit that needs soaking for 24 hours.  Fresh fruit can be added to the batter just before baking.

The russet potatoes and the summer squash will become soup for the next day's supper.  The red potatoes will also be cooked the next day, then diced for frying later, and they can be frozen for later meals. 

Although bruised, the eggplant and six of the tomatoes will be fine in the fridge overnight.  Four of the tomatoes will be cooked into tomato soup.  Two will be added to the eggplant when it is cooked.  At least that's the plan for now.....I'm wondering whether I ought to make Pretend Ratatouille (recipe in this post) instead.  (I secretly hate eggplant but Pretend Ratatouille is pretty good stuff.)

After thinking carefully about what is on hand, there are some food substitutions that I can make (like dried onions) and some I can' milk.  I really do need some milk for baking banana bread but since the bananas aren't fully ripe, I have a couple of days to remedy the lack or decide another way to keep the bananas (like possibly drying them in slices).

So, as I wrote this, I already had two meals from my food haul and I got containers ready to put in the freezer and the fridge--enough for 8 meals and for making a batch of biscuits.

Handlling imperfect produce isn't really difficult:
  • triage & prioritize
  • make simple plans using what you have on hand
  • cook
  • eat or store
  • and don't wait too long to take care of it.

It's surprising how far $6 can go.  And I will feel ever so much happier knowing that there is some good food waiting in the freezer.

I've gotta keep cooking.
Life is good.

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