Gourmet Scraps: Who Wants Compost For Dinner?

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Vv Magazine’s west coast editor, Alex Gill, explores how we can re-use food scraps in gourmet recipes thanks to a compost-friendly cookbook by Canadian author Cinda Chavich.

Shame on us! The disgusting facts and figures about food waste are so shocking, they nearly spoiled my appetite.

“Imagine going to the grocery store and leaving with three bags of food, then dropping one in the parking lot and driving away,” writes Canadian author Cinda Chavich in her new book, The Waste Not, Want Not Cookbook. “We do the equivalent of that every week of our lives.”

Fortunately, the book’s 140-plus recipes – organized by ingredient and packed with brilliant tips to use every last wilted beet top and soft cucumber – inspired me to transform a fridge full of leftovers into a delicious meal.

It isn’t Chavich’s first time to the publishing rodeo. This is the seventh cookbook for the lifelong food writer, formerly of Calgary and now living in Victoria. Some of her early locavore-themed books, including the multi-award-winning High Plains: The Joy of Alberta Cuisine, were a few years ahead of the curve.

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Nowadays, the frugal kitchen is hot. Gwyneth Paltrow is shopping on food stampsNew York City chef Gabrielle Hamilton devoted a whole chapter to garbage in her best-selling cookbook Prune, and food scraps are being served at Manhattan’s upscale Blue Hill restaurant. Chavich’s new book is perfectly aligned with the zeitgeist. “It’s exploding right now and I’m not sure why,” she says by phone. “I really only heard of it a year ago and I’ve been a food writer all my life.”

It was what they call a life-changing moment. Chavich was at a food conference in Portland, Oregon, sitting in on a seminar with Dana Gunders, project scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The numbers she revealed were shocking,” Chavich recalls. “Only 60 per cent of the food Americans produce is consumed, which means a full 40 percent is wasted, even while kids across the country go to school hungry.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I thought, ‘Okay, I have to write something right now.’ Usually it would be a magazine piece. I thought this needed more.”

Most of that wasted food ends up in landfills, where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that’s far more dangerous than CO2. “If food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet, after China and the United States,” Chavich explains.

Composting is better. “But as one guy said to me, it’s a really expensive way to make dirt.” Garborators aren’t exactly benign either; the ground food goes into the regular water supply, leading to algae bloom and dying lakes.

The best way to save the planet one meal at a time is to avoid food waste. And this new book is full of smart strategies that will also help you save money and eat better.

The first section is a list of common produce, from apples to zucchini. For each fruit and vegetable, there are tips on how to buy, store, serve and recycle them into simple snacks, along with a few delicious recipes.

Looking to load up on asparagus at the farmer’s market this weekend? Chavich includes a handy primer, one of many in the book, with tips on you how to buy, store and serve each vegetable in a multitude of ways.

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The companion asparagus risotto recipe is what Chavich calls a mother recipe, like omelettes and gratin, that everyone should know, because it can be adapted to any type of vegetable leftover.

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The second section uses the same format for staples such as bread (foil over the end helps it stay fresh longer), bacon (freeze what you don’t need) and eggs (don’t believe those grocery store best-before dates – eggs can actually be kept in the fridge for up to a month.)

The third section, The Weekly Feast, explains how to recycle a Sunday roast into a new meal every night of the week. Hello Monday (Panang chicken curry), Tuesday (tortilla soup), Wednesday (speedy Thai chicken salad).

Granny’s frugal kitchen has never tasted so hip.

Recipes, photos and illustrations courtesy of TouchWood Editions. 

Will you be using your food compost in future recipes? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.

Alexandra Gill

Alexandra Gill

Alexandra Gill is the Vancouver Editor at Vv Magazine. The West Coast restaurant critic for the Globe and Mail, she has covered every imaginable topic – from fashion and gossip to arts and business – in her long, illustrious career. She is currently writing a motion picture screenplay and developing a reality television show. Follow her on Twitter @lexxgill.
Alexandra Gill