Wednesday, August 10, 2011


What do you do with your leftovers?  I'm sure if it is a chunk of steak or a hamburger it gets reheated and eaten for a snack.  Or you might be one of those barbarians that eats cold pizza for breakfast.  But your kitchen generates more leftovers than you think, most of which probably goes in the garbage or down the drain.

Bacon Grease Container
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My mother, like most women of her generation and further back, saved all her bacon fat.  She kept it in an aluminum can on top of the stove.  The grease at the bottom of that container was probably 20 years old.  But this is what she used to grease her cast iron skillets whenever she had other foods to fry.  Hamburgers, fish, chicken, pork chops, you name it and she fried it in bacon grease.  It cost nothing except our health I guess.  Because of that I am pretty partial to the bacony flavor and usually cook some (Turkey) bacon just before I fry potatoes. I love real bacon but very rarely eat it anymore.  Maybe a piece or two a year when dinning out.  I got 105,000 hits when I did a Google search using the term "Bacon Grease Container" so obviously this is still being done by many people.

The best liquid base for any gravy or sauce is the water from whatever starch (potatoes, noodles, rice) you are going to eat with your meat.  Cook your starch before you make your gravy and use that water stirred in to your pan drippings, butter, and flour.  The starch in the water helps to bind and thicken the gravy and you get whatever nutrients cooked out of your starch, especially potato water, added to your gravy.  If you like to make sauces from scratch get in the habit of freezing your starch water in one cup increments to use later.

When you boil vegetables, like most people do, first thing to remember is to just use the bare minimum amount of water.  Then save that water to use when you cook starches later.  When you boil foods you boil out most of the water soluble vitamins and minerals.  What you are left with is some fiber, sugars, and residual starches/proteins/trace nutrients.  The only way to recover the vitamins and minerals you THINK you are eating to reuse the water to cook something that absorbs water such as rice, beans, instant potatoes, or noodles.  It adds a nice flavor and you recover what would otherwise be thrown away nutrients.

I save all the liquids left when I cook meats in a covered dish in the oven (roasts and chicken mainly).  I also save the gravy left in those convenient frozen meat entres. I only buy these when they are on sale and I have a coupon but I often find pretty good deals on them.  Normally I advocate cooking whole foods mostly from scratch but these products are really convenient and flexible.  Anyway, I save the gravy that I don't use and store it in a never ending container in the freezer.  The plasticware looks like a parfait with all the different layers of gravy and broth.

If you have been a college student, military member, hiker, or just really down on your luck it is highly likely that you have eaten some version of Ramen noodles.  I can tell you that Soldiers never seem to tire of them.  At 15-20 cents a pack they have been the basis of many fine meals in my house.  But what do you do with all the broth left over?  Some of you drink it but I find it a bit too salty for that.  So it too goes in a container and in the freezer.  I'll use it later as the water in my instant potatoes or noodles and get a second helping of the flavor.  Truthfully there isn't too much nutrition in the water (trace amounts of a lot of different things so it is not an empty food) but it tastes good in potatoes and noodles.

Garbage Soup/Stew.  Living by myself I don't actually have too many leftovers.  I cook single servings or I'll cook enough to split up into containers for two or three meals.  But when my wjole family was together we always had some leftover vegetables and small pieces of meat.  I would save these in the freezer until the cold weather came and then make a big batch of what some people call Garbage Soup.  To make my soup I only
need to buy two things, a can of beef broth w/onions and a can of diceed tomatoes with garlic.  Since I could buy these anytime and store them on the self until it was soup day I generally got these for less than 65-75 cents a can.  I put my big soup pot on the stove on low heat and poured in the diced tomatoes and beef broth.  To these I added the contents of all my never ending plastic containers of leftovers; vegetables, meat scraps, beans, and gravies.  Sometimes it was necessary to add more of something (potatoes, onions, etc.) to get the balance right but not usually too much.  I let it cook for hours, added some gumbo file` powder  (a seasoning/thinkener made from sassafrass).  My wife will tell you that the secret to a good soup is the file' and you generally can only find it in the south.  She always knows when I have forgotten the file`. (My dad, who grew up in Tennessee, clued us in to this stuff.  He also makes outstanding soup.) We were almost out of it and searched high and low.  Finally, when we visited our son stationed at Fort Campbell, I was able to buy two jars at the local Piggly Wiggly store.

I am sure there are many other things that fall under this heading but as always, I only talk about things I have actually done (unless otherwise noted).

Cook Cheap!


  1. Yeah, I am using Google Chrome and got right into comments! I'm not a gravy fan. Fact is the mere thought of it causes tightening in my chest. :o) I have been know to put the slightest amount on turkey breast just to moisten it during the holiday season and I do like stews so I guess that is gravy. I call my soup "freezer soup". It has saved me many times when the pennies were tight and I continue making it because it is just plain good. If needed I will add some chicken broth. It has to have diced tomatoes or better yet whatever is left in the salsa jar. I hadn't thought about using the veggie water when I make rice. I usually use a small amount or prefer my veggies steamed. Leftover water goes in the soup container but I will have to try it next time I make a rice dish.

  2. I don't do gravy too much either. Donna and the boys like to float their food in a bowl of gravy and they all like roast beef sandwiches with gravy; too mushy for me. I will put a little bit on potatoes or noodles. Now, I will lick the plate clean when it comes to German gravy and sauces, especially if there are pommes frites (German fries) involved.