Improvisation is Key to Reducing Food Waste: May 1-June 9

It’s been six weeks since my last post. A lack of blogging, yes. A lack of cooking, no. So what does a month and a half of seasonal cooking look like? We’ve had a record-breaking rainy season in a region already known for lots of rain. That means I’m thankful (once again!) for my well-stocked freezer. It’s also been a busy couple months with family celebrations and weekend outings. I use limited time to cook and eat good meals by skipping the shopping.

Yay for the Freezer

Start Monday off easy with quick breads for breakfast or a snack. (This one’s also thanks to mom.)

Cranberry Quick Bread and Coffee

Homemade quick breads make an easy breakfast or teatime snack. Pull a loaf from the freezer, thaw and serve. We ate sliced cranberry bread with coffee.

It’s a dessert first kind of month so I give you two easy desserts made with a mix of winter storage and frozen fruits.

Pear, Cranberry and Rhubarb Butter Cake

Pear Butter Cake made with frozen rhubarb and cranberries. Ready for the oven (left) and baked and sliced (right). Recipe adapted from Northwest Bounty. Omit the whipped cream and serve it for brunch with or without yogurt.

Rhubarb Anise Upside-Down Cake

Rhubarb Anise Upside-Down Cake made with frozen rhubarb and buttermilk. Recipe adapted to reduce the amount of sugar and butter in both the topping and the cake.

Remember these homemade hamburger buns? I may have made my first cheeseburger ever. (I know, I know.) I might as well tell you now I’m also not a french fry person so … yeah, salad.

Homemade Cheeseburgers and Salad

Homemade hamburgers are a treat with grass-fed ground beef and made-from-scratch buns. Burgers topped with an aged cheese from Tieton Farm & Creamery. Finished with fresh heirloom tomatoes and red butter lettuce from the farmers market.

But extra hamburger buns doesn’t have to mean more hamburgers. I made these Berlin-inspired sandwiches with the last of the frozen buns. These are my best attempt at one of my favorite Berlin memories: Nürnberger sausage sandwiches with sauerkraut at the Thursday market. These were worth shivering in the cold for. I used breakfast sausages from Skagit River Ranch because they were in my freezer, but same idea.

Breakfast Sausage Sandwiches With Sauerkraut, Apricot Mustard and Kale Salad

Breakfast sausages cooked in home-canned apricot mustard (inspired by this recipe). Served on toasted hamburger buns with raw sauerkraut from the farmers market. Complete the meal with a raw kale salad tossed in olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

Where there’s burgers, there’s pizza. (Actually, this isn’t usually true. But at home, it can be!)

Homemade Pizza Two Ways: Mozzarella and Kale, and Tomatoes and Green Garlic

Whole-wheat, thin crust pizzas make easy weeknight dinners. Top with whatever ingredients are in season. Try tomato sauce, mixed hearty greens and fresh mozzarella (left). Or spring onions, green garlic, smoked mozzarella, slow-roasted tomatoes and anchovy butter (right). Don’t be afraid to pile on the fresh spring onions and green garlic!

You can put almost anything on pizza. Same goes for frittatas:

Vegetable Frittata With Sliced Almonds and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Load up your frittata with veggies. I used green garlic, leeks, celery, chard, beet greens, hot red chiles, and tomatoes. Sautéed vegetables finished with fennel seeds and spicy pecan vinegar before adding eggs. Baked frittata sprinkled with sliced almonds, smoked paprika and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese before serving.

And also true for pasta. But the great thing about any of these dishes is they’re also tasty when made with only a few ingredients. Remember though, top-quality ingredients are the key to success.

Penne Pasta With Homemade Marinara Sauce Served With Radish Salad

With frozen summer tomatoes on hand, you can make a simple marinara sauce before the pasta is even cooked. Add olive oil or butter, and garlic or onion (or all four) for more flavor. Penne finished with Parmigiano-Reggiano and served with a radish salad.

Here’s why everyone in your household should know how (or learn) to cook:

Couscous With Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, Celery and Peanuts

Simple couscous salad made with frozen celery (including the leaves) and slow-roasted tomatoes. Garnished with pan-roasted peanuts.

I had absolutely nothing to do with the planning or execution (or photography) of this dish. Sick in bed, I was happy to avoid all cooking and cleaning that night. I did eat some though and will vouch for the tastiness of this simple meal.

Finally, I admit, this one’s pretty esoteric. Happen to have frozen masa dough from a tamale-making class? Then give these cheese-stuffed snacks a try.

Masa Dumplings Stuffed With Mozzarella

Gorditas-inspired, baked masa balls filled with mozzarella. I added flour to the thawed masa dough, rolled the dough into balls, filled with cheese and baked until crisp.

What to Keep on Hand

To summarize, the long list of freezer contents contributing to the above meals is as follows:

Note that freezing dairy products changes their texture. They are best used for baking. I supplemented with long-keeping fridge and pantry staples, such as:

  • baking supplies
  • whole grains
  • pasta
  • cheeses
  • butter
  • eggs
  • sauerkraut
  • mustard
  • oils
  • vinegars
  • nuts
  • spices

Spring produce from the farmers market brings freshness to all this freezer cooking:

  • lettuces and other greens
  • tomatoes
  • radishes with greens
  • green garlic
  • spring onions
  • leeks
  • pears
  • fresh mozzarella (not produce but often available at my local market)

Leeks are actually harvested year-round. While pears are a fall crop, some varieties store well and are sold at farmers markets through spring. The same is true for apples.

A Well-Stocked Pantry

Second to a loaded freezer is a well-stocked pantry and fridge. For example, say you don’t have any quick breads in the freezer. Throw this together instead:

Walnut Raisin Bread With Cream Cheese

Walnut raisin quick bread served with cream cheese. Based on a recipe for pecan currant bread. I adapted it to add whole-grain flours (graham and amaranth), and less sugar and butter (instead of oil). I also used flaxseed meal instead of eggs and added ground cloves, cinnamon and ginger for flavor. This version is not vegan—it contains both butter and milk. But flaxseed meal mixed with water is a useful substitute when you’re out of eggs. Use 1 tbsp of meal + 3 tbsp of water for each egg.

Also good for any time of day is granola. I like to make my own because most commercially-prepared granolas are too sweet. Making two sheet pans means it should last you a while. (Unless you give most of it away on Mother’s Day like I did.)

Homemade Granola Served With Yogurt and Bananas

Making homemade granola amounts to measure (or weigh), mix and bake. First, mix rolled oats, nuts, seeds, spices, oil and liquid sweetener (top left). Bake until toasty, turning once or twice. Add dried fruit when cooled (bottom). Keeps for weeks for a quick breakfast with fruit and yogurt (top right). Whole-Grain Mornings includes a template to make your own creations.

I mentioned weighing ingredients in the caption. There’s often a lot of ingredients in granola. It’s not precision I’m after with the weighing. It’s ease. Seriously, if you want to bake more often, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to buy a digital scale. (Also, don’t hide the baking ingredients behind the chips, crackers, and cookies.)

I make corn tortillas using masa harina. Once you learn the technique, it’s quite easy. But some nights call for nachos. They feel like dinner by adding beans, quinoa or veggies. It’s more nutritious, and there’s a better chance for leftovers. Perfect for a simple and tasty breakfast.

Migas Made With Leftover Quinoa Nachos and With Turnip Greens and Tomatillo Salsa

Migas-inspired scrambled eggs with leftover nachos. Made with tri-color quinoa nachos (left), and cheese nachos and turnip greens (right). Both dishes finished with tomatillo-based salsas.

The ingredients for these dishes are a lot of the same staples I’ve already mentioned. Additional ingredients I tend to keep around are:

  • dried fruit
  • cream cheese
  • flaxseed meal
  • rolled oats
  • seeds
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • yogurt
  • masa harina
  • tortilla chips
  • dried beans
  • salsa (both frozen and home-canned)


While all this convenience is great for getting through the week, don’t forget that it’s spring. Many farmers markets are open (if they ever even closed) and their offerings are a welcome change. Make sure to indulge.

Spring Dishes

The fresh foods of spring. Mint martinis, halibut tacos with chard and radishes, and penne with mussels and mint pesto (top row). Strawberries and yogurt on hot cereal, stir-fry pasta with asparagus and turnips, and bundles of asparagus (bottom row).

A word about asparagus. Farmer’s often bundle it by size. Different sizes gives me thick spears for roasting and thin ones for salad or stir-fries. I break off what I need and keep the bottom stalks for later. These fibrous ends stay fresh longer than the tips but need more prep and longer cooking. Peel the white part of thick spears for roasting. Cut the end off and shred or mince the thin stalks for braising. Don’t want to do any of that? Throw them in the freezer and save for stock.

One Final Example (Okay, Three)

To prove how far you can take pantry cooking and reduce food waste, I made a flavorful pasta dish from food scraps. The ingredients that usually get tossed:

  • bottom ends of asparagus
  • green tops of spring garlic
  • reserved fat from cooking hamburger
  • crumbs from slicing bread
  • whey from fresh mozzarella container
  • rind of hard cheeses

All trash treasures for a quick and tasty meal.

Asparagus Stalk and Green Garlic Fusilli Pasta With Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Shredded thin asparagus ends and green garlic braised in reserved beef fat and whey. Vegetables tossed with fusilli pasta. Garnished with slow-roasted tomatoes, cheese rind ends, and crumbs collected while slicing bread.

Speaking of things you might be tempted to toss—don’t do it!—remember everything you save contributes flavor. Repurposed food waste also reduces the cost of cooking. So I hope these videos inspire you next time you have leftover fish or a ripe banana.

These rice balls might require a fork. For sandwich-style onigiri, I recommend wrapping them in seaweed. If you get hooked on this easy lunch option, get even more filling ideas from this podcast.


If you’d like more information about any of these late spring meals, leave me a comment.

Read more about my “Week in Review” posts.

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