After Party Food—No Food Wasted
We hosted our annual 4th of July party here at the Lakehouse last week, full of fun, food, friends, and fireworks. Our little lake community organizes a great Independence Day celebration at the park across the street which ends with an amazing professional pyrotechnic fireworks show over the lake, right in our front yard!
I had a big spread for the afternoon and evening and friends brought more good things to go with. Preparing food for a party can be a lot of work with all that shopping, chopping, and cooking. But you can really take advantage of all that time and effort after the party is over with some smart actions that both sets you up for quick cooking later and reduces food waste.
When planning out my parties, I think about the leftovers, and actually plan to have them. My menu includes things that stay out safely, keep hot in a crock pot, roaster oven, or Instant Pot, are easy to eat, and can be repurposed later. If I’m going to go to all the effort to make a bunch of food, I want it to be safe, delicious, and not go to waste. This menu was no different—here’s what we had:
- Jerked BBQ Jackfruit Sliders with Slaw
- Corn on the Cob
- Vegan Bacon and Blue Cheese Potato Salad
- Crudités with Basil Hummus
- Nacho Mama’s Layered Queso Dip with Tortilla Chips
And we had leftovers—yay! I portioned out the Jerked BBQ Jackfruit into smaller containers and froze them for future use (I’m thinking it’d be amazing in tamales!). I was going to turn the potato salad (my friend, Pam, made this and it is sooo good!) into a chowder, but we ate most of it the day after. Hummus freezes great, so that was portioned and frozen. I cut the corn off the cobs and mixed it with the queso dip into cooked macaroni for a quick Chili Mac the next night. The strawberries and watermelon were all eaten, but if there were any leftover, I would have blended them up together and frozen in Popsicle forms.
But I want to really share what I did with the crudités vegetables and bread.
The great thing about a leftover veggie tray is that you have an abundance of fresh vegetables that are cleaned and cut into bite-sized portions. You can do a lot with this. First, you are set up for healthy snacking. Keep these veggies in sealed containers in your refrigerator and have them be your go-to snack the days after the party. Carrots, celery, and radishes do best if kept in some water, keeping them crisp and fresh. Second, you’ve created a Refrigerator Salad Bar! Making salads this week will be a snap with everything prepped, all you need to do is cut a few things in smaller bite-size pieces and add your greens. Third, make Party Vegetable Soup! The day after a party, I generally chop the crudités veggies and make a huge pot of delicious soup with vegetable broth I made from veggie scraps, adding legumes, pasta, or other grains, like barley. This works great in fall and winter, but it’s summer and I didn’t want soup so…Forth, freeze your veggies!
Frozen vegetables are a great time saver! I’ve always kept frozen vegetables in my freezer, but when we changed to a zero waste household, I realized that I could not find frozen vegetables at any store not in plastic (Central Co-Op in Seattle does sell frozen corn and peas in bulk, but it’s too far away for me to go and I wouldn’t be able to keep them frozen on the way home). Even freezer boxes of vegetables are lined with plastic. So I’ve taken to freezing my own vegetables, which is much easier than it sounds! And using leftover party vegetables takes a huge chunk of time out of the process as they are already cleaned, peeled, and just require a little bit of chopping, if any. You can keep veggies in your freezer for a year.
Quick Freeze Veggies
Some vegetables are super easy to freeze in that there is little prep other than chopping. Others require blanching before freezing, more on this in a moment. Veggies you can freeze without blanching include:
- Onions (scallions and bulb onions)
- Bell Pepper
- Chopped tomatoes
Simply chop your veggies, put into a freezer-safe container, and freeze.
I especially love having frozen celery, onions, and bell peppers in my freezer! It’s a huge time saver if I need to start a dish by sautéing these veggies. You can toss these chopped veggies in their frozen state right into a hot sauté pan and they cook up beautifully. And it’s great with no-oil sauté, as the vegetables will release some liquid and you may not have to add any water or stock to the pan as they cook. These frozen veggies don’t eat well just simply thawed, however, as they will be mushy, but they’re perfect for cooked preparations.
Here’s a cooking shortcut for you. For bell peppers, simply cut the pepper off the stem and core, leave them in those large pieces, and freeze. When you want bell pepper for cooking, pull out as many chunks as you want (you’ll easily see how many pieces make up a whole pepper that way) and either let thaw a minute or two on a cutting board before cutting with a knife OR simply slam the frozen pepper piece on a cutting board with your hand and they break into pieces!
For kale, here’s a game changer! This is my favorite thing!! Wash and de-stem your kale, dry it off. Place the whole leaves into a large cookie tin and pop into the freezer. When you want kale, for in a soup, stew, scramble, etc., pull out the frozen tin, take off the lid, smash down the pile of frozen leaves and they break into perfect bite-sized pieces without cutting! Grab a handful of these broken pieces and toss into your cooking. Put the tin promptly back into your freezer, though, because the leaves will thaw out rapidly!
This works for herbs, like cilantro and parsley, too.
Most vegetables freeze better after blanching, quickly scalding them in boiling water or steam. Not only does blanching clean your veggies of any organisms, it helps them retain their color, vitamins, and minerals that can be lost from enzymatic actions that can occur when freezing them raw. You can choose to water blanch or steam blanch your veggies. I prefer to water blanch because it’s faster than steaming. Blanching time is critical—under-blanching stimulates enzyme activity and is worse than no blanching while over-blanching causes loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals.
You can find a list of blanching times at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website and in the All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving, an excellent resource!
To water blanch, prepare your vegetables and start to boil one gallon of water per pound of prepared veggies. Get a large bowl or sink prepared with an ice bath of cold water and ice cubes. Put your vegetables into vigorously boiling water (a basket or colander makes pulling them out easier) and put the lid on the pot. The water should return to boiling within a minute. You’ll start counting blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil. Pull the blanched vegetables immediately out of the boiling water and plunge them into the ice bath to stop the cooking. When they are cooled, drain them in a colander.
To steam blanch, simply use a steamer basket in a pot with a tight lid and bring the water to a boil. When the water is at full boil, put the vegetables in the basket in a single layer, put the lid on the pot, and keep heat high. Start counting steaming time as soon as the lid is on. Remove the vegetables immediately when time is up, plunge into an ice bath to chill, and drain as with water blanching.
Once the blanched vegetables are drained, they can be frozen. Because I like to be able to get individual frozen pieces out of my containers later, I freeze the blanched veggies on sheet trays before putting them into freezer containers. This prevents them from sticking together in a big clump. Line the trays with a silicone tray liner or towel so you can easily get the frozen veggies off the tray and into your container later. Freeze them for a couple of hours.
You can use any freezer-safe container to store your frozen vegetables. I like to use large mouth mason jars because I have a lot of them and we don’t like to keep our food in plastic. I also use Pyrex Simply Store containers, which stack well.
Veggies aren’t the only thing that I repurpose. Bread tends to get stale after sitting out at a party. But, stale bread is great for making bread pudding, croutons, or bread crumbs. Here’s how I make breadcrumbs.
Put your stale bread into a baking pan or on a sheet tray and bake in a preheated 350˚F oven for about 10-15 minutes, until the pieces are dry and toasted to your liking.
Let the bread cool. This is important, because if you put hot bread into your food processor, the lid will create steam and make your crumbs soggy, which isn’t great for making crumbs.
Put the cooled bread into your food processor and run until you have crumbs to your desired size.
You can season them, if you’d like, too. Italian seasonings, such as basil, oregano, marjoram, and thyme are great, as is a combination of nutritional yeast, granulated garlic, smoked paprika, and sea salt, which I use to top Mac and Cheese. You can store your breadcrumbs in a sealed container in your pantry, but I like to keep them in the freezer so they last longer.
Freezing the leftover veggies and making the breadcrumbs didn’t take much time at all. I spent about an hour or so doing the vegetables as I could reuse the blanching water between batches. Most of the prep work is done already, as the vegetables were already cleaned, peeled, and chopped for the party, other than a quick chop of carrot and celery sticks. I did take a few minutes to shell the sugar snap peas prior to blanching (and we ate the empty pods as snacks). So don’t be afraid to take the time to freeze leftover party crudités or make breadcrumbs. You’ll save yourself more time in the long-run, having beautiful frozen veggies at hand for later cooking, as well as money (freezing your own produce and making your own crumbs is way cheaper than buying them at the store), reduce plastic use, and prevent wasting food. It makes it worth throwing a party!
What are your post-party food tips?
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Cindy wants you to be Trimazing—three times better than amazing! After improving her health and fitness through plant-based nutrition, losing 60 pounds and becoming an adult-onset athlete, she retired from her 20-year firefighting career to help people just like you. She works with people and organizations so they can reach their health and wellness goals.
Cindy Thompson is a national board-certified Health and Wellness Coach, Lifestyle Medicine Coach, Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Behavior Change Specialist, and Fit2Thrive Firefighter Peer Fitness Trainer. She is a Food for Life Instructor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Rouxbe Plant-Based Professional, and Harvard Medical School Culinary Coach, teaching people how to prepare delicious, satisfying, and health-promoting meals.
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