A Use-It-Up Challenge (or What We Ate Last Week)

Forgetting to bring your money before you head out shopping can provide a great opportunity to re-examine your shopping list—and in the case of grocery shopping, prevent food waste.

The Sunday before last, I arrived at the farmers’ market late. Once there, before even opening my purse, I realized I had neither money nor my bank card with me. If I rode home to get some money, by the time I rode back, the market would have been closed. At the realization that I would buy nothing, I felt a small hunger pang, turned my bike around and pedaled home, empty-handed.

Back in my kitchen, I did a quick inventory—and found lots of food.

The Inventory

  • Tomatoes, shallot, garlic, onion, avocado, cucumber and poblano pepper you see in the pic above.
  • My older daughter bought some potatoes before she went back to school and we hadn’t eaten those.
  • My younger daughter brought home two bell peppers from work on Saturday.
  • A generous student in the sourdough bread class I taught on Saturday gave everyone freshly picked pears from the farm where she works—Farmaggedon in Pescadero.
  • I had several jars of frozen squash and pumpkin in the freezer, so I thawed a couple of those out.
  • Oooh and what about that bag of dried hominy corn in the pantry? After soaking overnight, that cooks quickly in my pressure cooker. (Click here if you wonder just what exactly hominy is.)
  • I hadn’t sprouted anything for a while, so I decided to sprout some black beans, which reminded me…
  • I have a small jar of broccoli seeds for sprouting that I had yet to use! Those prolific seeds make a pile of micro-greens… I can grow a bit of food in my tiny kitchen—without dirt! (Click here for how to sprout beans, grains and seeds.)

After I took the picture, I decided to pull out a few other things from the freezer. I was bound to find something good and I’ll also need space in there for all the roasted tomatoes I’ll prep within the new few weeks.

  • I had a small jar of lime juice that I froze before a trip last month. The limes, while still perfectly edible, had seen better days and likely would not have lasted while we were away. So I juiced them and froze the juice.
  • As an experiment, I also froze all the of the ginger bits from a ginger bug I had recently strained off to make natural sodas. Would previously frozen ginger bits ferment natural soda well?
  • I always keep a jar or two of vegetable scraps in the freezer to later make broth and took out a jar of those.
  • I had homemade bread in the freezer as usual and took out a couple of loaves over the course of the week.

After conducting my inventory, I spent some time figuring out a new menu plan for the next several days—the old plan went out the window.

Some of the Things We Ate

Roasted potatoes

I roasted the potatoes in olive oil and tossed them in some of the leftover pesto. If you have a cast iron pan, do yourself a favor and roast your vegetables in it. Washing glass pyrex dishes I’ve roasted vegetables in is not my favorite thing. Roasting in cast iron makes cleanup incredibly quick and easy. (Click here for how to maintain and revive cast iron pans.)

Cleanup takes no time when you roast vegetables in cast iron

Refried beans

I almost always have pinto beans on hand. I soaked some for about six hours, cooked them in my pressure cooker and used the rest of the tomatoes to make delicious, filling, satisfying refried beans. We ate them with rice. (Click here for the refried beans recipe.)

Three sisters soup

The Iroquois and other Native American groups grew the “three sisters” crops together—corn, beans and winter squash. The tall corn supports the beans, the beans add nitrogen to the soil and the large leaves of the squash plants cool and protect the soil for all three crops. These crops also happen to taste delicious together. I used the frozen squash (after thawing it out), hominy corn, black beans and homemade vegetable broth to make my soup. After polishing the refried beans off later in the week, I had a small amount of rice on my hands and threw that into the remaining soup. 

Dairy-free chocolate-avocado ice cream

What can you do with one avocado, a bit of cocoa powder and the small amount of coconut cream your daughter sneaked into the kitchen? (This is how my daughter rebels…sneaking in a can of food…I don’t think I need to worry about her too much…) You make dairy-free chocolate-avocado ice cream. I tasted frequently as I went along, so the following ingredients are approximate only. I’ll post a more accurate recipe soon.

  • 1 avocado, peeled and seeded
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder (it’s all I had left)
  • 1.5 ounces semisweet chocolate chips chopped almost into a powder (to make up for the scant amount of cocoa powder)
  • 3/4 cup coconut cream
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon homemade vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup water

Combine everything in a food processor or blender and freeze in an ice cream machine according to the machine’s directions. However, an ice cream machine is not necessary. Just spread this in a loaf pan and stick that in the freezer until it hardens.

This froze very hard, so I took it out of the freezer for a few minutes to allow it to soften for easier scooping. The next time I make this, I’ll add more vanilla extract (vodka + vanilla beans) or vodka or both. Because alcohol doesn’t freeze, fewer ice crystals will form with this addition. But don’t add too much alcohol or your ice cream won’t freeze.

This tasted fantastic—like fudgesicles. I feel justified in calling it ice cream. It contains coconut cream. I froze it. 

Dairy free chocolate-avocado ice cream

And now I must tell you about my new-to-me ice cream maker…

Two weeks ago, I texted my pastry chef daughter some pics of cookbooks I had borrowed from the library. One was for ice cream, sorbet, granita and so on. MK texted back that she planned on buying an ice cream maker when she graduates from school this winter.

Chandra and I hopped back on our bikes, rode back toward his house and less than an hour after receiving MK’s text, found an ice cream maker by the side of the road—a bright yellow, working, like new (if not new) Cuisinart ice cream maker. I couldn’t believe my eyes (I still can’t…). We snatched it up. I texted MK a picture of it and told her to ask the Universe for other stuff she needs or wants.

Pasta with creamy squash sauce

I cannot tell a lie. What I cooked was not macaroni and cheese despite what the recipe I followed adamantly claimed. It tasted good—we polished it off—but it was not macaroni and cheese. It was a tasty vegan side dish of pasta with a creamy and savory squash sauce. The sauce consisted of onion, garlic, cashews, squash and some spices. If I make it again, I’ll post the recipe.

Naturally carbonated limeade

I made some fermented limeade with the lime juice and ginger bits strained from my ginger bug. It tastes amazing! After straining my ginger bug and adding the liquid to a drink like ginger beer, I have a bunch of ginger bits left over. These are covered in good bacteria and yeast. I will usually make a second drink with this ginger, such as fermented hibiscus soda. But sometimes I don’t want to do it at that very moment. Sometimes I want to sleep!

I wondered how a fermented drink would turn out if I froze the ginger bits to use later. As I discovered, it turns out very well! (Click here for the basic fermented lemonade recipe, which I adapted by adding mostly ginger bits and very little ginger bug.)

Naturally carbonated limeade

Sourdough pancakes

We eat these often and had them for breakfast on the weekend. I ran out of maple syrup—it all went into the ice cream—so we ate these with jam. Yum! (Click here for the sourdough pancake recipe.)

Eleanor, my sourdough starter

Stuffed peppers

Charlotte hollowed out the peppers she brought home, cracked pastured eggs into them and baked them for breakfast one morning. They tasted delicious.

Apple crumble

As the week progressed, the food dwindled. On Wednesday, I decided take some pictures of our community orchard—Instagram needs constant feeding! While I snapped several photos of one very prolific apple tree, a few apples fell to the ground. I picked these up along with some others that had fallen and took them to the community kitchen, where my neighbor told me to take them home. She had already picked a bunch of apples earlier in the day for the kitchen.

During apple season, I buy apples at the farmers’ market every week but of course couldn’t last week without any money. Apples nonetheless still rained down on me. I used them to make an apple crumble. (Click here for the apple crumble recipe.)

Just one section of one apple tree in our community orchard
Free fruit

Lots of fruit on urban fruit trees goes to waste. If you don’t have access to fruit trees but would like to snag some free fruit, check fallingfruit.org for fruit trees all over the world that you can pick for free. And if you notice your neighbors who have fruit trees don’t harvest the fruit, they may be very happy to let you help yourself. My neighbor scores kumquats this way on our street. 


The broccoli seeds took about a week to sprout, so we haven’t eaten them yet. The black beans sprouted a bit faster but I haven’t done anything with them yet either. I’ll add the sprouts to salad or sandwiches or both.

Broccoli seeds and sprouts
I use very basic equipment for sprouting
Sprouted broccoli seeds

Forgetting my money last week forced me to get creative and use up everything I could find. This is my favorite way to cook. And who doesn’t love to save money? I usually spend between $60 and $80 at the farmers’ market. Last week, I spent $0 on groceries and we ate well all week long. And now I have more room in the kitchen for this week’s farmers’ market haul.

Sunday’s farmers’ market haul

14 Replies to “A Use-It-Up Challenge (or What We Ate Last Week)”

  1. I’m so inspired by your blog, I cannot do as much as you but I always read to get recipes or ideas. I love the idea of juicing/chopping things and then freezing. I did a veg soup the other day which included random cut offs of previously bought veg which would have just been junked otherwise. Thank you 🙂

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you 🙂 That is the best kind of soup! When I cook and prep, I try to set sometime aside (like your cut offs) for the next dish. It makes life so much easier. Enjoy your soup.
      ~ Anne Marie

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you 🙂

  2. Wow! What an excellent post! I’ve become increasingly concerned with food waste, so this is a very timely reminder.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Danielle,
      Thank you! I’m glad you found the post helpful.
      Anne Marie

  3. This post makes me smile 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks Kelly. I’m glad you found it inspiring 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  4. Amazing post! I never thought of sprouting beans/seeds before – thanks for the inspiration! I love your optimism – it really shines through. My boyfriend and I are moving soon so we will be doing the same sort of living for the next couple weeks.

  5. Thank you for the potato tips – both the recipe and the baking method! Will try this tonight

  6. I loved this post! We are moving in three weeks and I’m trying to use up some of the things in my pantry, as well things in the freezer. You have inspired me not to hit the stores for the next week. I’m having fun checking my stock and trying to figure out interesting meals with what’s on hand!

  7. […] chefs and laypeople who decided to go waste free. The Zero Waste Chef did something called the Use-It-Up Challenge, and it really aligned with what I was planning for my week (or however long it takes to eat the […]

  8. My parents are used to certain things (the conventional, not so-low-waste-things) and as they both have a fulltime job and aren’t such cookers, they are never going to cook the way you do. You inspire me though to do it different than them in the future, when I live alone (or more independent). For now though, I’m just a 17-year old girl that’s really admiring the way you cook!

  9. […] you follow me on Instagram or read my last blog post, you may have seen the practically new (it looks brand new) Cuisinart ice cream maker I found on […]

Leave a Reply