Behind the Scenes: Getting more out of your holiday dining
November 25, 2012
Now that you’ve enjoyed your 3,000-calorie feast – with about 4,500 calories consumed throughout Thanksgiving Day – no doubt you’re already busy burning it all off on the slopes or in the gym. But Christmas and all the attendant parties loom ahead. While you’re thinking of how to get rid of the holiday season weight, I’d like to give you more tips on how not to waste edible holiday season food. Some of us feel a bit guilty for over-indulging. Just don’t add food waste to your guilt list, and avoid contributing to the 33 million tons of edible food waste Americans produce each year.
Thanksgiving Day, I shared with my readers startling facts about food waste in America. But I left you with some thoughts on how to avoid contributing to the landfills by following a few sensible tips. Continuing with that theme, I thought I’d share more tips for a happy, yet food waste-free, holiday season.
Food for thought
Leftover cookies – We all know graham crackers make wonderful homemade piecrusts, but what about making piecrusts from leftover cookies? Crumbly cookies such as snickerdoodles, chocolate chip, sugar, pecan sandies and shortbread are popular during the holidays. Pulsed in the food processer and mixed with melted butter, leftover cookies can be transformed into perfect crusts. You can freeze cookie crumbs for later use, too.
Sensible food gifts – Baskets of goodies, whether homemade or store-bought, are popular gift items. It’s a good idea to give things you know will be eaten. If you know someone is watching their calories or is gluten intolerant, olive and infused oils and special vinegars such as Champagne and 18-year-old balsamic are great alternatives to cookies, cakes and candies. Or buy bulk extra virgin olive oil at Costco and make infused oil at home. There are several Internet resources, but I found http://www.doityouself.com has useful advice on how to safely make these gift items. You want to make sure you give a gift of oil, not bacteria. Foodies will welcome homemade spice mixes and rubs, unusual seasonings such as black lava salt, specialty coffees and teas. Unleash your creativity and let your mind run free.
Beware of bulk buying – warehouse stores are catnip for bargain hunters. Food marketers figured out a long time ago how to play on Americans’ desire for bargains and our over-indulgent tendencies. But while that big 10-pound bag of sweet onions at Costco may be cheaper than 5 pounds at City Market, don’t buy it unless you’re going to use it all or split with others. I confess, I was a “so what if I have to throw some out, it’s so cheap” shopper once. No more. Make a list before you go and stick to it.
Doggie bags: In Europe, I prefer chewing glass to suffering sneers of waiters and fellow diners when a request for a doggie bag is made. Truth be told, given their portion sizes are generally perfect, there’s no need for me to ask for a take-home container. However, in America, what was once considered only for someone who really had a dog, it has become a somewhat acceptable practice that even advice columnists support. I say “somewhat” because acceptance is not universal. Many high-end restaurants still harrumph at doggie bag requests, although I’ve never encountered such snobbery here. Jan Whitaker, of restaurant-ingthrough
history.com, reports that one Los Angeles “power lunch spot” will oblige, but it requires diners to pick up their “tasteful tote bags” on the way out. Probably a Gucci or Fendi designed bag. But go for it. Ask for a doggie bag. If the restaurants are catering to a demand for large portions, then it doesn’t mean you have to either stuff yourself or waste food.
Appoint a food policeman: In my house, it’s my husband, Dani. I’m quite serious about this. If someone in your home can be especially vigilant about keeping track of what’s in your pantry and refrigerator, it not only will result in more efficient use of product, but it also insures compliance with house rules on waste!
Advice from a chef
Chef Todd Rymer, director of culinary education at Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute in Edwards, gave me some sage advice. Rymer is the force behind the school’s sustainable cuisine program and a strong advocate for sensible, no-waste eating.
Buy only what you need: “People who love food, especially professionals, hate to waste it,” so Rymer encourages everyone to start a no-waste program at home with proper shopping methods. Did you know that before fresh food arrives at grocers that it’s already deteriorating? That means you should use it within a few days. Plan your menus accordingly. In winter, I cringe at having to buy plastic packs of herbs I grow all summer, particularly when I need only a few sprigs. Use what you need, freeze the rest. You can also take advantage of the abundance of herbs at farmers markets in autumn to freeze fresh herbs for winter. A quick Google search will give you advice on freezing different herbs.
Stale bread: Last week, I shared some ideas for using stale bread. Rymer enjoys making panada, a northern Italian bread soup made from leftover bread, eggs, broth and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. This is a delicious “stick-to-your-bones” soup for those cold, snowy days that are surely coming! Being from New Orleans, all my thick soups and gumbos start with a roux of oil and flour. But Rymer advises home cooks to try leftover bread, particularly those with a nice flavor. Whether strained for a refined texture or unstrained for a rustic soup, this is a great technique to use at home.
Watch food temperatures: Rymer encourages everyone to “be adventurous with leftovers,” but also cautions home cooks to be mindful of proper temperatures. Turkey is one of those meats where rare or medium rare are not options. Make sure your big bird is cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool and reheat leftovers as quickly as possible. Use an ice bath to cool soups and gravies before storing in the refrigerator to avoid raising the temperature. I shudder to think when my mom left out food such as oyster dressing for hours to cool, even in the hot Louisiana summer. She said the air conditioning was enough before refrigerated. But we survived, and I don’t recall getting sick. Please, don’t try that at home! I found many helpful resources regarding food safety on the Internet. As always, Google is your friend.
Abandoned pets are not the only things in need of rescue. Perfectly edible food from producers, restaurants and grocery stores can be rescued, too. Whether called rescue, reclamation or recovery, redistribution of edible food to the needy is a growing trend globally.
I hope I’ve left you with some helpful food for thought to make your holiday season delightful for you while doing your part to optimize food use. Wasting natural resources and discarding nourishing food is something we can all easily reduce. Every little bit helps. Please, if you have some tips you’d like to share or questions answered, visit my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/vailvalleysecrets.
Suzanne Hoffman is a local attorney, wine importer and the Chambellan Provincial of the Southwest Region and Bailli (president) of the Vail chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs. She is passionate about all things gastronomique. For more background information on her “Behind the Scenes” series, go to http://www.facebook.com/vailvalleysecrets. Email comments about this story to email@example.com.