The Trash to Table Challenge: Transforming Trimmings, Scraps and Leftovers into Delicious Dinners

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May 20, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Melissa Graham

There are lots of hateful statistics: the percentage of American kids overweight or obese, the unemployment rate of Detroit, or the U.S. market share held by just a handful of meat producers. But there’s one statistic that I despise over all others. Here in America, on average, we squander as much as 30 percent of post production food. This waste occurs during processing and transport; at supermarkets and restaurants; and of course in kitchens, both commercial and home. In addition to being morally reprehensible, this waste is a misuse of the water and inputs used to produce the food and results in the creation of methane gas as organic matter decays in our landfills.

We can do our part to reduce our personal contribution to this waste. First and foremost, by making better choices in our buying habits whether that be supporting restaurants that don’t over serve us or participating in CSAs so that farmers’ can produce what they’ll sell and minimize over production. But the biggest personal change that we can make is in our own kitchens.

Once upon a time, we knew how to be frugal. When food was dear, our ancestors at the hearth used every usable part of the plants and animals that they brought into their kitchens. Then food became cheap and time dear, and we all became wasteful. With the exception of the most careful among us, we’re all guilty of it to some extent.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and I want to issue a challenge to myself and to you readers. Let’s rethink our garbage can and compost bin as the last resort. Got herb stems? Throw them inside a chicken that you’re roasting. Got vegetable scraps, make stock. Think strategically about your menus. I’m going to start posting my successful creations and recipes made with trimmings, scraps, and leftovers and I welcome you to do the same. To start, I’ll share with you my recipe for Mushroom Braised Beef, which I made with the leftover Mushroom Broth that used up a bagful of frozen mushroom stems. Together, perhaps we can make a dent in reducing that hateful stat.

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Mushroom Braised Beef
6 servings

2 tablespoon all purpose flour
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 beef chuck roast
1 tablespoon butter
1 large leek, trimmed and sliced (save trimmings for stock)
1 carrot, sliced (save trimmings for stock)
1 celery, sliced
1 thyme sprig
1 parsley sprig
1 bay leaf
2 cups mushroom stock
2 cups beef broth
½ pound crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Mix together flour, salt, and pepper to taste in a shallow bowl. Coat the roast with the flour mixture. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven or slow cooker insert over medium-high heat. Brown the beef on all sides. Remove to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium, add butter and cook leek, carrot, and celery until softened. Pour in the mushroom stock, broth, and add thyme, parsley and bay leaf. Cook over low heat or on the slow cooker for several hours, between 4 and 6 hours or until very tender. Remove the meat to a bowl and refrigerate. Strain the sauce into another bowl and refrigerate overnight. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a sauté pan and cook ½ of the mushrooms. Repeat with remaining ½. Remove the fat at the top, reserving a tablespoon. Heat the tablespoon in a medium saucepan and add flour stirring until the flour is lightly browned. Whisk in sauce until it thickens. Add the beef and sauteed mushrooms and cook until heated through. Serve on mashed potatoes, turnips, or noodles.

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