April 9, 2012

Want Not, Waste Not: Using Up Leftover Ingredients

Don't you just love it when a recipe calls for 1 cup of buttermilk or a 1/2 cup of heavy cream, and you're left with a quite usable portion of an expensive, valuable ingredient and nowhere for it to go?

In a caterer's kitchen, this is a regular state of wonder, especially during what we consider our "slow" season. This is that time between the winter holidays and Easter, when people aren't quite ready to get back on the treat wagon and start chowing down on decadent desserts. Everyone's still into their New Year's workout regimens, and heavy cream isn't even in the average vocabulary at this time of year. I may get an order here, a small delivery there, and in between, I'm left with odd amounts of rich ingredients I just can't bring myself to throw out. And admittedly, I am hard-pressed to throw out any type of ingredient in this economy!

If you're ever in a similar situation, here are some ideas to help make the best use of random leftover ingredients in your kitchen. I've included ideas for the ingredient's main use, followed by something you can make with the leftover amounts.

Heavy Whipping Cream

Main Recipe Uses: Ice cream, custards or whipped topping for pies, chocolate ganache for truffles, thickener for heartier soups or bisques, caramel candy or caramel sauce
Leftover Uses: Homemade mascarpone, butter

No kidding! You can make mascarpone from scratch, which can serve as an indulgent bagel spread, lasagna filling, or cinnamon roll frosting--basically anywhere you'd normally use cream cheese or even ricotta cheese. Follow this tutorial on making your own mascarpone. It requires some time overnight in your fridge before use, so it's not faster than going to the grocery store and purchasing some if you need it, but it is cheaper. Mascarpone can cost upwards of $5 for 8 ounces, so if you have heavy cream on hand from a previous recipe, make it yourself, and you'll taste the difference in your tiramisu. As for butter, Joy the Baker provides a great tutorial with images here. You can even flavor your homemade butter right in your stand mixer or mixing bowl using herbs, honey, jam--you name it!


Main Recipe Uses: Acidic liquid for cakes, ice cream or sorbet, biscuits or bread
Leftover Uses: Mashed potatoes, waffles or pancake batter, homemade ranch salad dressing

Use leftover buttermilk in place of any liquid (milk, chicken broth) you would normally add when whipping or ricing your mashed potatoes. To use in waffle or pancake batter, you'll want to reduce the baking soda in the recipe by at least a half teaspoon, since buttermilk is acidic as it is. As for homemade ranch salad dressing, which will fast become better tasting to you than store-bought, Eating Well has a tasty recipe I've made with leftover buttermilk for years. It's also a great way to use leftover herbs of which another recipe might have only requested a twig or two.

Tomato Paste

Main Recipe Uses: Pasta and pizza sauce, flavor and color to soups and bisques
Leftover Uses: Homemade ketchup!

How many times have you opened a 6-oz can of tomato paste and used 1 mere tablespoon? Drives you crazy to watch that can grow a fuzz of mold, despite tightly wrapping it, over the next week or so. Try this homemade ketchup recipe, containing vinegar and sugar, which serve as preservatives that can keep mold at bay and more natural flavors in play. Most commercial-grade ketchups contain high-fructose corn syrup or other unnatural sweeteners. Once you start making your own ketchup, it'll be hard to go back to Heinz. This recipe calls for the whole 6-oz can, so if you're using a partially used can of paste, just reduce the additional ingredients accordingly. For example, there are about 5 tablespoons of tomato paste in one 6-oz can, so if you're down a tablespoon. just reduce all the other ingredients in this ketchup recipe by 20%.

Cream Cheese

Main Recipe Uses: Too many to count!
Leftover Uses: Cream cheese frosting, "cooking cream"

I've done my fair share of recipes that call for either only 3 ounces of cream cheese (the tiny, higher-priced package in the dairy case) or half a regular 8-oz brick of cream cheese. Buying the 3-oz package at a higher price-per-ounce doesn't make sense when there are so many additional uses for the leftover 4 or 5 ounces from a regular-size brick. Philadelphia Cream Cheese has gone so far as to create a new product line called Cooking Creme in sweet and savory options. Granted, the recipes on Kraft Foods' site call for a 10-oz tub of their famous Cooking Creme, but in general, if you just want to bring a creamy consistency to an average pasta dish, a few tablespoons of cream cheese makes it happen. Season according to taste; you don't necessarily need Philadelphia's Cooking Creme flavor profiles, especially if that standard pasta dish already has seasonings you've always enjoyed. I like to debunk the food industry's method of making you believe you need to start buying something you've always had around your house in a simpler form. And when all else fails, just throw that half brick into a bowl with a stick of softened butter, a pound of 10x confectioner's sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla and beat on high until smooth. Voila! You've got cream cheese frosting, which by the spoon, between a couple layers of cake, or atop a cupcake is always a delectable treat!

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