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How to Turn Unappetizing Scraps Into Delicious Meals

Photo: Nemo’s great uncle 

Stale bread, fish bones and bacon grease don’t exactly sound mouth-watering. But you know what they say: One chef’s scraps are another’s treasure.

With a little creative finessing, you can reduce waste, cut your grocery bill and whip up some delicious meals out of some of the most boring (and, let’s face it, unappetizing) leftovers.

Stale bread

Put leftover bread in the food processor and grind until it reaches breadcrumb consistency, suggests Mary Kae Marinac of Andover, Mass. The crumbs will keep in the freezer for three to four months, and make a tasty addition to meatloaf or as a topping for macaroni and cheese.

Poultry carcass

After Frugal Foodie roasts a chicken, she picks the remaining meat off the carcass and tosses the remaining bones, skin and other bits into a stock pot with some chopped onion, carrots, celery, parsley and oregano. Fill pot with enough water to cover the mixture and simmer for an hour. Toss the solid bits and reserve the liquid for a flavorful stock or chicken soup base. (Frugal Foodie usually tops her roasted chicken with chili powder, cumin and a drizzle of honey, which adds a spicy-sweet flavor to the broth.)

Fish bones

Tasting Table recently offered up restaurants that fry fish bones into a potato chip-like snack, plus tips for at-home cooks to try the recipe themselves. If you’re not daring enough, simmering fish bones in water can also create a flavorful stock.

Bacon grease

Save bacon grease in a jar and refrigerate. Use a tablespoon or two in place of oil or butter for frying potatoes or onions, sautéing steak or cooking scrambled eggs or pancakes. It’s salty, so eliminate or scale back any salt in the recipes.

Citrus peels

When you buy fresh limes or lemons, zest them before putting the fruit in the fridge, says Diane Henderiks, a chef and registered dietician based in New Jersey. You can freeze the peel slivers or dry them out on a baking sheet. (If you do this, you’ll need to use the fruit portion within a day or two, she warns.)

Veggie odds and ends

Homemade sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables are an easy solution to leftovers and trimmings, says Jill Nussinow, aka The Veggie Queen. One of her latest concoctions included cabbage, onion, cilantro, parsley and ginger.

Nussinow’s basic recipe: Shred a head of cabbage (about two pounds), reserving one whole leaf. Massage in two to three tablespoons salt until the cabbage is moist. Add in other veggie trimmings — pretty much anything will do — and pack it all tightly into a wide-mouthed jar. Top with the remaining cabbage leaf and weight down the mix with a smaller jar (use a sealed full jam jar, or fill an empty one with water). Place large jar in a bowl to catch any overflow of liquid, and leave out for four to seven days. “You can stop it at any time,” Nussinow says. Refrigerate once the mixture is to your taste.

Cheese rinds

Save the rinds from hard cheeses such as Parmesan and Manchego and Gouda — they add amazing flavor when added to simmering soup, Marinac says. Just be sure to remove the rind before serving.

Root-vegetable tops

If you’re tossing the leafy greens of beets, carrots and turnips, you’re missing out on a simple, delicious side dish. Wash thoroughly. Drop into boiling water for three minutes and then into cold water for two. Or simply sauté them with a little butter (or bacon grease!) until soft.

Watermelon rind

Don’t discard the uneaten rind from watermelon slices. Pickle it! Frugal Foodie’s recipe: Peel off and discard the outer green layer, and trim any remaining pink. Cut the remaining white rind into large chunks and place in a large bowl. You’ll need about four cups. Add a quarter-cup canning (i.e. kosher) salt and two cups water. Put a heavy plate on top of rind in the bowl to weight it down and let soak in the refrigerator overnight.

Drain the rind thoroughly, and then add to saucepan with two cups water. Boil on high until rind is tender. Drain and set aside. In a clean saucepan, combine one and a quarter cups sugar, one cup white vinegar and two cinnamon sticks broken in half. Bring to a boil and then add rind. Let simmer about an hour, until the rind is translucent. Cool and serve. Frugal Foodie likes it with burgers, ribs and other barbecue fare.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner.