Zero Food Waste 2015, Week 3: Sharing

Fzero food waste challenge 2015or anyone just dropping by, I’ve taken a vow to stop wasting food, and I’m doing a weekly series where I track how that’s going and give a recipe. This week: no-waste food tip #2 (sharing); my grocery shopping (much better than last week!); and a recipe for polenta with vegetables and eggs.

No-Waste Food Tip #2: Sharing is Caring (about food waste)

Since I batch-cook and typically plan to eat most meals four or five times, a frequent downfall of mine in the past has been figuring out that I actually *can’t* eat whatever I’ve cooked that many times in a row. The last serving or two has frequently languished in the back of the fridge until I give up and throw it out. It turned out that last week’s chickpea recipe, while delicious, was not a thing I could eat for five sequential lunches. I also got invited to attend a lunch event on Thursday. So, on Wednesday I texted my friend who works two floors down to find out if I could feed her. (She’s vegetarian, so luckily so was the recipe.) She said yes, I brought down the two servings I’d packed, and we had a little picnic in her office. Result: no wasted food; one very happy friend (who as luck would have it had forgotten her wallet at home that day, too!); and I got a social hour and the warm glow of doing something nice for someone.

Weekly Grocery Shopping Report

We have an exchange student from Europe working in my department this semester. She arrived a few days ago and I offered to take her grocery shopping with me on Friday night. She was pretty overwhelmed by the big grocery store near here (sort of Walmart-like) — “there’s just so much!” — and it made me resolve to make it through this no-waste year all over again.

Grocery store:
Scallions, $.89
brown sugar, $.99
Shallots, $2.49
Mushrooms, $2.99
Steel-cut oats, $2.99
Walnuts, $6.99
Total with tax: $17.34

Whole Foods:
Milk, $2.39
Kale, $2.00
Parsley, $1.50 (this is a lot, but the grocery store didn’t have any)
French green lentils, $1.94
pickles, $2.99
blackberry & oatmeal scone, $1.99 (I guess I should really figure out how to make these and just do it myself. They are so delicious and I’m a little addicted.)
Total with tax: $12.81

Farmer’s Market:
Carrots, $3.20
Eggs, $2.50
Fingerling potatoes, $2.00
Total: $7.50

Grand total: $37.65

This is good; I spent every dollar I had in my wallet by the end of last week, leaving me with only $60 for this week before I take out more cash for February. A $20 and some change ought to do it for coffee, the movie I’m seeing, and anything else small that comes up.

Polenta with Vegetables and Eggs

This is a very flexible, peasant-food “recipe” which you can adapt with whatever vegetables seem good to you. It makes a huge difference to have real, honest to God, authentic balsamic vinegar; if you don’t have the real thing, I wouldn’t bother. You can use tomato sauce instead, or make some kind of pan sauce with the vegetables, say with some wine. I’m going to have this for several dinners this week and will pre-make everything but the eggs; to serve later, heat up bowls with polenta and vegetables in the microwave, then drizzle on the vinegar and top with a just-fried or poached egg.

Coarse cornmeal (about 1/4 cup per serving)
a little butter and some salt, maybe parmegiano cheese if you have it
Shallots, mushrooms, and carrots (or whatever you like)
Balsamic vinegar
Eggs (one per serving)

1) Make the polenta. I do it this way because I like a slightly loose, richer polenta, but if you have a family recipe, by all means go for it. Stir in the butter and, if using, the cheese towards the end. You can also let people add their own cheese as they serve themselves.

2) While the polenta is cooking, dice your vegetables. With the shallots and carrots you’re going for fairly small pieces; mushrooms I generally cut into quarters. Saute them in a little olive oil, starting with the carrots and/or other hard vegetables and ending with the quicker-cooking mushrooms, although honestly, I often just toss everything in together and it usually works out ok. Anyway, you want them browned and delicious. If they get there before everything else is done, no worries; just leave them in the pan and before serving turn the heat back on for a while until they’re hot hot hot again.

3) It helps to have two people for this step if you are serving guests (if it’s just you, it’s less complicated.) For a group, person #1 will fry and/or poach the eggs, while person #2 will assemble dishes. If you’re flying solo, you can either pre-assemble a dish with polenta topped with vegetables and a drizzle of balsamic (bonus: allows you to use the vegetable pan to fry your egg) or get the egg in another pan and assemble your dish while it cooks (dangerous if you are a nervous cook and prone to forgetting/dropping/overcooking things, but this is what I usually do myself because I like everything to stay *hot*.)

So anyway, aside from logistics, that’s what you’re doing: making an egg, which I prefer sunny-side-up but you can really make however you please (I suggested two ways with a soft yolk because the polenta is hot and you can break the yolk into it and it’s fantastic) and draping it on top of the rest of the food. It’s really, really, really good.

14 thoughts on “Zero Food Waste 2015, Week 3: Sharing

  1. That’s so nice that you were able to lunch with your friend, not spend any money, and not waste any food!

    Also, you’re reminding me that I love cornmeal. Why don’t we ever buy it?

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I find cornmeal weirdly easy to forget. I love it, but it tends to hang around in my pantry until I remember it exists and suddenly do everything with it for a while. And the lunch with my friend was great — I’m going to have to do it again this spring.

  2. Alicia says:

    I had a friend who spent time in Africa, doing relief work, and when she came back to consumer-central North America, she was so overwhelmed. I cannot imagine going from very locally sourced, smaller stores to the ginormous big-box stores without having that dirt of realization that your exchange student had.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Right? We’re used to it, but by global standards it’s crazy. I don’t feel guilty exactly but I do feel like I want to be grateful for everything.

  3. Good job on keeping your food waste down. It’s hard to believe how much food people waste each year. I would rather keep an eye on it whenever possible in order to save both food and money!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thank you! I’m going strong so far. I’m sure there will be bumps on the road but I’m going to try really hard to make this year work.

  4. Great job! You should start doing separate recipe posts because they all sound so good! Even though it’s not too likely I will try most of them because I’m a shitty/lazy cook! 🙂 I’m still not at 100% zero waste, but lot better than I used to be!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Hee to being a shitty/lazy cook 🙂 I learned to enjoy cooking mostly out of desperation because I hate most pre-prepared food so much. So it’s cooking or nothing since I can’t afford decent restaurant food every night! When I was in college and stuck in a dining hall I literally ate cereal three meals a day some weeks. But I’ve come to really enjoy cooking mostly — there’s something kind of zen about chopping vegetables. I hate running, but when people who like it talk about it, they say the same things I say about cooking so I think there’s kind of a “to each his or her own” thing.

  5. I love the office picnic idea! I think you’ve just inspired me to take a hard look at my own food waste.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I was so pleased with the idea! It was great so I’ll definitely do it again. And who doesn’t like to eat food cooked by someone else? I’m glad I’m being a little inspirational. I’ve been awful about food waste for years so I’m trying to make up for lost time here.

  6. Chonce says:

    I think it’s awesome that you are actively trying to stop wasting food. I struggle with this at times especially with produce because it goes bad so quickly. I’ve only tried batch cooking with food like soup and beans but I think I can expand on this method a little more. Thanks for recipe!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, it’s something I’ve always struggled with, especially produce! It was just time for me to stop. I wish I’d done it years ago but nowhere to go but forward!

  7. Becca says:

    This is such an awesome project/challenge/lifestyle change. I try to be good about menu planning and only buying what I need, but inevitably something comes up and a meal goes uneaten, throwing the whole week out of whack. I love your idea of sharing with a friend. What a treat for both of you!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thank you! And thanks for the visit/comment. I’m really into this project and looking forward to seeing how creative I can get this year. The picnic was definitely something I would not have thought of before but it worked out great and I’m totally going to do it again. We had a great time and I felt awesome both about feeding her and about getting around the likelihood of throwing that meal out!

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