A long time ago, every homemaker worth their salt recycled their country kitchen byproducts into fodder for future meals. As 1950s convenience and consumerism took hold of American households, fewer and fewer people saw those left over bacon drippings and pan grease as valuable and tasty commodities and instead as something to be chucked aside.
But with food prices rising and the plentitude of resources shrinking, home cooks are turning what was once considered refuse into thrifty kitchen gold. With a little creative rethinking, a few common kitchen throw-aways can save you a few dollars and enrich the flavor of your food.
Despite the protestations of dietary doomsayers, cooking fats are a fact of life. While not all cooking fats can be properly reused there are a few that are not only reusable but actually improve with use. These include your grandmother's favorite, bacon drippings, but extend to nearly any cooking oil or fat that hasn't been used for high temperature, prolonged frying.
To maximize your reclaimed oils and fats, first make sure the flavor of the oil is appealing for general cooking i.e. hasn't been used to cook fish or other items whose flavors may clash with the onions you want to sauté. Second, be sure to cool them separately in the fridge to allow the fat to separate from whatever water may be in the oil. Once cold fat has risen to the top, it can be easily scooped off from the top and placed in a container. Also, if your oil has a lot of floating particles in it you should strain it before cooling.
Most of these fats can be used for standard cooking operations like frying potatoes or sweating aromatic vegetables. Other great and unexpected sources of cooking fats are pan drippings from roasted chickens, pork loins or other roasted item that produce a lot of fat.
Reusing containers saves money and resources. Many foods, like yogurt and sour cream come packaged in durable, food-grade plastic containers that are perfect for storing leftovers or using to take food to work.
Clear polycarbonate peanut butter jars, especially the larger bulk size, once washed and de-labeled are great for storing grains, beans and flour bought in the bulk foods section. Buying bulk and storing in recycled jars not only helps the environment by reducing excess packaging but also saves you money as bulk foods tend to be 20-30% cheaper and bulk is often of better quality. Also, using old wine bottles as fun, shabby-chic cooking oil dispensers with the addition of a pour spout can save you money by allowing you to buy oil in a large 3- or 5-liter size.