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11 Often Discarded Parts of Meat and Produce That You Can Eat

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When I lived in London, I was shocked at how expensive food prices were compared to the U.S., but even more astounded by the high percentage of food waste there. As I am an obsessively cheap individual loathe to waste, being resourceful at cooking things that most people would consider inedible and throw away became a compulsive pursuit.

Back in the U.S., however, food waste is also a huge problem, with the USDA citing 133 billion pounds pounds of food wasted in 2010 alone. In California, where food is seemingly in abundance, being vigilant about food waste may not be a priority for many of us, but if you're under a tight food budget amid rising food costs or just trying to minimize food waste in your home, here are often discarded parts of meat and produce that can be saved and eaten.

1. Fish heads and collars
Despite London being the capital of nose-to-tail eating, I found out I was the only person to ask my local fishmonger for the fish heads and bones (besides the lady who would give the scraps to her dog). It never hurts to ask for cuts that would otherwise be thrown away. For seafood lovers, fish heads (especially from large fish like salmon, tuna and snapper) are a goldmine: the heads can be fried then braised as a stew or the cheeks simply carved out and pan fried. Just make sure to remove the gills!

The collar is often still attached and should be cut off for its own special preparation. I consider this the best part of the fish, especially with salmon and yellowtail, because the collar is high in fat and crisps up deliciously when grilled, especially when prepared shioyaki style -- salting them and left to sit for at least 30 minutes before grilling.

2. Bones
It always felt like Christmas when I bought meat because the butchers near my flat would throw in a bag of chicken backs and beef bones for free when I came in (butchers are also lovely in that they'll sharpen your knives if you ask nicely). For butchers who are proud of how and where their animals are raised, I'm almost certain they appreciate that someone wouldn't let the bones go to waste either (although with the new bone broth trend, it may not be possible to get them for free anymore). Then I would joyously go home and cook stock and store it in the freezer. And don't forget to save the carcass to make a quick soup the day after a roast chicken or turkey dinner.

3. Vegetable stems and leaves
My Indian landlady was brilliant in the kitchen, teaching me home cooking techniques that would make most professional chefs scoff. She never used a chef's knife, instead opting for a paring knife. When making cauliflower pakoras, she would deftly cut off the florets for the pakoras, and pare off the leaves and stems for the next day's meal. I now find that holding a vegetable in one hand and a paring knife in the other helps to cut off the most fibrous parts while feeling for the most tender parts. The vegetables will not look very symmetrical or pretty but let's be honest: this is about salvaging a piece of the junked part of the vegetable! The stems and leaves of cauliflower and broccoli make an amazing curry. I also save beet leaves, kohlrabi leaves and anything else green that's attached to a root vegetable to stir fry as these scraps are often the youngest and most tender part of the vegetable.

4. Green onions
It's really satisfying to watch a young, healthy green onion sprout from what once seemed like an old, limp green onion doomed for the compost. Simply put the root-side into a jar filled with water. It grows quickly enough that I can take a few snips to garnish a dish, allowing for a new layer to sprout in just a few days.

5. Bruised and overripe fruit
My host family in the Rhones-Alps kept apples from their orchard in a cellar, keeping the fruit from last season going for months.The apples sometimes looked sad and wrinkly on the outside, but peeling these parts away would reveal crisp, juicy flesh. If you're faced with overripe fruit, it's perfect for stewing or baking into a fuss-free crumble (I pre-make crumble mix, store it in a ziplock plastic bag, and keep it in the freezer for an impromptu topping.) If you need some guidance, try this blueberry crumble and substitute any overly-ripe fruit.

6. Limp vegetables and scraps
There are many ways to save limp vegetables, which only need a little resuscitation. Carrot peels and celery leaves can also be saved for soup stocks, as it's all strained out anyway.

7. Cream
Recipes often call for a cup and a half of heavy cream but it's usually only sold as a pint. Instead of tossing those last few ounces, pop it in the freezer (making sure to keep it in an air-tight container). While I wouldn't recommend using it again as whipping cream, it does the job for quiches and savory tarts. Just defrost it and reincorporate it into your batter as you whisk it in with the eggs.

8. Cheese
At a cheese shop where I worked, once the moisture started to go on a piece of cheese, it had to leave the counter. That meant I amassed a collection of odd bits of cheese in my freezer. When I finally had enough, I would melt it into a bechamel for mac and cheese. My mac and cheese adapts to most recipes: sometimes it would be a mac and cheese with 24-month-old Comté with Colston-Bassett Stilton or a seasonal mac and cheese with Vacherin. A restaurant would easily charge at least $30 for a mac and cheese of this caliber, but it costs nothing if you freeze leftover cheese and the uneaten rinds (except for the plastic ones, obviously). Parmesan rinds can also give soups and sauces extra depth in flavor. Take care to wrap cheeses well when storing (I wrap it in cheese paper or parchment paper, then wrap it again tightly in plastic wrap).

9. Stale bread
Old bread has many uses. It's obligatory in gazpacho recipes. Homemade croutons always stand out from store-bought versions. You can also make bread crumbs for topping, coating, and battering by putting the bread through a food processor, storing it in a ziplock bag, and freezing it until needed.

10. Wine
As soon as an opened bottled of wine hits that dodgy point where it starts to turn, use the wine to make vinegar since it's going in that direction anyway. You just need a "mother," or starter culture, and once it gets going, you will never buy red wine vinegar from the supermarket again.

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11. Animal fat
While working at my friend Claude's restaurant in Paris, she gave me jars of duck fat left over from making confit that I would stockpile in my fridge and freezer. The French believe that animal fat is actually healthy -- I am doubtful, but I do know that crispy duck fat potatoes and green beans sauteed in duck fat is one of the best treats for Sunday lunch. Rendering fat from duck, chicken, or bacon and using it later for stir-fry or roasting is a rare indulgence that I highly recommend.

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