Sifting through the hard, clear, plastic organizer in the refrigerator whose bin displays a white sticker labeled ‘CHEESE,’ there sat an assortment of parchment wrapped remnants from the holidays, in particular, lots of leftover cheddar.
Not so much that I had all these irregular sized jagged blocks remaining, as was being purposely cognizant on their use, attending to their ‘no-waste.’ And I did, using up the last of the cheddar thus preparing today’s Large Shells Mac and Cheese, ‘no-waste’ cheddar. ‘No-waste’ foods is a topic you will likely see lots about in the upcoming year among many food writers, addressing it in any variety of forms from the concrete, to creative, perhaps even spun to sexy. It will involve some thought and ingenuity in order to address the awareness of not wasting food, while providing ideas for assorted leftover ingredients into something that will inspire readers on how they might put their food products to good use with relative ease.
It’s easy to do, wasting food that is, particularly when you have a family, or even work full time. Plans change, activities happen, along with perhaps just a plain old bad day that come dinner hour makes it easier to just call to the local pizzeria, but ultimately causing one to not really consider the grocery bill of all of the fresh, hopeful ingredients that had been enthusiastically purchased for meals on the last shopping trip. Sometimes we may even purchase a fresh ingredient that looks wonderful at the time, but in its storage gets pushed to the back of the frig and forgotten.
Last week’s webinar with the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) featured Dana Gunders, lead scientist of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and, author of the book “Waste Free Kitchen.” Dana shared with us some staggering statistics on food waste in our country and proposals currently presented in Congress on working to reduce food waste, including the important tagline: How America is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill. Staggering statistic isn’t it?
I hope to share more with you shortly, not only statistics, but also, some inspiring ways to effectively and creatively use up some of our fresh ingredients in flavorful ways utilizing the ‘no-waste’ effort. As I write now however, I’m off to lunch with Aunt Betty, perhaps she too will have some tips to share, for at 89, when it comes to food, cooking, and ‘no waste’ tips she is quite extraordinaire.
- 1 pound box large shell pasta, macaroni, or another smaller shaped pasta already in your pantry
- 3 cups milk
- 1 onion, peeled, cut in half
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 peppercorns
- 2 stalks celery, cut in half
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups, more or less cheddar or combination of any leftover cheeses, shredded (except blue)
- couple pinches nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
- coarse kosher salt
- cracked black pepper
- 1 greased casserole dish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small pan on low heat melt two tablespoons butter, sprinkle in panko bread crumbs, stir, and cook for two minutes until well blended, just before turning golden color, turn off heat, set aside. Pour milk into a medium sized saucepan along with the onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, and celery, heat mixture on very low heat for around ten minutes, turn off heat and let milk set for another ten minutes or so for flavors to infuse. Heat a large pot of water to boiling, add pasta and a couple good pinches of salt. Strain milk and return to saucepan, keep warm. Add 3 tablespoons butter to skillet on medium low heat, melt, stir in the flour and cook for two to three minutes until the scent of the flour diminishes. Reduce heat to very low, ladle some of the infused milk into the butter and flour mixture and whisk until well incorporated, add another ladle whisking well again, increase heat a bit, and pour remaining milk into the flour mixture whisking well until very smooth, stir in the cheese and melt through, add a couple pinches nutmeg, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper, stir. Drain tender cooked shells, sprinkle through another pinch or so of salt to taste, then tumble into the cheese sauce. Stir well to evenly combine the mixture. Transfer mixture to a greased casserole dish, cover with aluminum foil, cook for around twenty minutes until heated through. Remove casserole from oven and take off aluminum foil, sprinkle with the panko bread crumb mixture, return to oven and cook until hot all through and lightly golden browned on top. Serve straight away.