talix18 wrote: You cook for more people than I (I cook only for me) and I know you grow some of what you eat, but your response of "spice grinder" made me wonder...how do you make sure that you use what you buy when you shop? I tend to avoid certain things (like fresh herbs) because I end up throwing away more than I use. Are you an extremely organized menu/shopping list planner?
I consider myself a moderately organized shopper/planner. Sometimes things do get thrown out, though we try to minimize that. (Food garbage isn't wholly wasted here, because it goes outside for cats, wildlife, and compost.) These are some tricks for minimizing food wastage...
1) Know who eats leftovers and what kind. My partner and housemate will eat leftovers, although I rarely do. I try to match the servings fairly close to what people will eat up, though.
2) Study how long different ingredients and cooked foods will keep. Berries only keep for a day or two, pears or peaches will keep for several days to a week, but apples will last several weeks. Anything with egg in it is highly perishable, but lentil dal will keep for 7-10 days in the fridge. Foods that are highly spiced tend to keep longer because many spices have antibacterial or antifungal properties (which is why people started using them).
3) Buy foods that store well. I buy very little that is short-term perishable. I prefer to stock ingredients that will keep for a while. So we usually have some potatoes and onions, a freezer with meat, dried beans and boxed pasta, etc.
4) Buy perishable foods sparingly and with forethought. When I do buy something very perishable, I make sure that it has an immediate purpose. Milk, eggs, butter, and bread get used fairly briskly. Fresh fruits are bought for snacking in small quantities; fresh vegetables are bought for specific recipes or if bargain finds are assigned to a recipe on the spot. Convenience foods are bought one or two at a time.
5) Preserve bulk fruits and vegetables for later use. I take advantage of large, cheap or free quantities of food by freezing it. Other people can or dry foods.
6) Communicate about perishable foods. For things that can't be preserved but are suddenly available in quantity -- like Clementine oranges sold by the case -- I make a point of telling other members of the household: "We have a lot of these, and they won't keep very long, so eat them soon." Stuff vanishes a lot faster with 2-3 people eating it than just one person.
7) Stack recipes so that the leftovers from one meal become ingredients in the next. Leftover meat can be put into an omelette, or a pot of beans, etc. so that it's not like plain "leftovers" anymore. This also saves time and energy.
8) Buy things that come in small portions or can be divided. Frozen hamburgers can be removed from their box in quantity to feed the people present. Ground beef can be bought fresh in large flats, then cut into recipe-size portions and frozen in freezer bags.
9) Think before activating a large amount of something. When I have to open or thaw a big package of something, I try to plan several recipes in short succession that will use it, if I can't use it all at once. Usually I thaw out a pound of bacon to make a two-loaf batch of deerloaf. But last time I thawed out a pound of bacon for making omelettes, and we also put some of it over hamburgers.
10) Save leftover vegetables en masse. When there's just a spoonful or two of vegetables left over, I put them into one freezer container. When there's enough in that container, I dump it into the crock for making stock.
11) Preserve excess spices and herbs. In summer I dry my own fresh herbs. But one thing I often have extra is storebought ginger root. I learned that it's possible to scoop the extra ginger mush out of the grinder, pack it into an ice cube tray, and freeze it. It loses a lot of its flavor, but not all -- and then I've got sort-of-fresh ginger to use for spontaneous needs. I just use more of it. Last summer I threw a lot of frozen ginger cubes into large pots of fresh pears, with glorious results.
12) Pay attention to what people like and dislike. They'll eat more of a favorite food, and less or none of something they hate. Some things I don't serve to certain people, or make a point of serving, because of how it influences the amount eaten.
13) Pay attention to what ingredients you use often. One reason we usually have onions lying around the kitchen is because a lot of recipes call for them. If I buy a head of celery, that's not all going into one recipe and it's not going to keep as long. So I'll think about what else I can make with celery, and plan to make some of those things. It's easier to decide whether you can use all of something if you know whether or not it's something that appears in a lot of your favorite recipes.
14) Make a shopping list. This makes it easier to keep important things in stock, like chicken broth or dry spaghetti. When I'm making a shopping list, first I write down things we always need and have run out of. Then I check recipes or cooking ideas, which often goes like: "I want to make a roast for supper on Tuesday; what do I have to go with it? I have beef broth and potatoes. We're out of onions. Mushrooms would be nice to add if they're not too expensive." So I write down "onions" and "mushrooms (? price)" -- or for a farmer's market, "veggies for roast."
15) Write out meal ideas in advance. Adding a housemate to our household complicated things considerably. One change I made to accommodate the variable schedule was to set up a whiteboard for writing how many people will be at supper and what I'm planning to fix that night. I'm still not very adept at this, but the concept is valid.