Garbage in, supper out.

My apartment smelled delicious last night after I threw the following into a pot: chicken stock from the freezer, organic chicken stock from a carton, a bunch of spices, a little balsamic vinegar and half a can of tomatoes.

While it simmered, I diced carrots and cooked them along with frozen corn and peas. I added some pasta to the stockpot; after it was tender, I added about a third of a cup of leftover quinoa and the strained vegetables.

And wished it weren’t hours past suppertime. I wanted soup. But I had to wait until the next day, except for the few spoons that I tasted in order to, um, adjust the seasonings.

A nice thick soup, served with crackers or “calypso bread”and fruit, is just the thing for a raw winter evening. It was a frugal recipe, too:

  • The freezer stock had been made with the bones and pan juices from chicken drumsticks (69 cents a pound) simmered overnight in the slow cooker.
  • The organic chicken stock was 29 cents a quart thanks to double coupons.
  • The pasta cost about 8 cents.
  • The on-sale frozen vegetables plus fresh carrots were about 35 cents.
  • The canned tomatoes were among the last survivors of a three-for-a-dollar stockup.

All in all, nearly as frugal as “garbage soup,” a recipe once discussed by MSN Money readers. The basic premise: Over a period of weeks or months you toss any leftover bits of veggies, meat, poultry, rice, mashed potatoes or gravy into a bowl or bag in the freezer. When full, it becomes “soup starter.”

Each batch is unique

Garbage soup is frugal because it uses up those last couple of bits of uneaten food that might otherwise get tossed. You can limit sodium (as in, don’t add any salt) and the fat content (if you go easy on the gravy or omit it entirely).

And it certainly keeps your dinner partners guessing. By definition, each batch is unique. It can never taste the same way twice because its ingredients vary so widely.

Here’s how you work with potage de garbage. Simmer stock and seasonings, and maybe some tomatoes (or maybe not). After 15 or 20 minutes, add the frozen soup starter. Once the thawing is done and the mixture is about to boil once more, adjust the seasonings if needed.

Dinner is served.

Should that particular batch be light on veggies you could add a few of whatever you have on hand. You could also add a can or two of rinsed and drained beans to make it an even heartier stew.

It’s in the bag

Mine wasn’t garbage soup per se, although the stock came from bones, vegetable cooking water and defatted pan juices – things that some people toss out.

The only reason I haven’t made garbage soup is that I’ve never met a leftover I couldn’t use. But for those who hesitate to save the last two spoons of green beans or a quarter-cup of unused gravy, garbage soup makes sense.

If that’s you, then get your bag working and keep some stock, homemade or prefab, on hand at all times. A few artistic touches and you’ve got a very fast meal.

Bonus: Your place will smell as good as mine did.

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18 Comments

  1. My husband John never met a scrap of food he could not turn into something. Growing up in England after WWII, he remembers eating many things that I would have to be pretty hungry to try. I was surprised to learn after moving here that they were still rationing some foods such as meat until the mid-fifties. He’s great with garbage soups.

  2. I hated this soup growing up! Sometimes it worked and sometimes it really really didn’t. (Go easy on the cilantro and the bean sprouts!) We had to eat it anyway. My father was a depression baby and also lived in Europe during WWII.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Nicole: We never had anything like this growing up because in a family of six, every freakin’ scrap gets eaten. :-P If there were ever leftovers, they were eaten the next night along with whatever else was cooked.
      I’ll keep the cilantro advice in mind, though.
      Thanks for reading.

  3. MaryLambert

    I have 3 containers in the freezer at all times. One each for bits of left over chicken, beef & veggies. We love garbage soup!

  4. Cynthia McClure

    I’ve always called this ‘leftover soup’, I don’t like the mental image of garbage! I actually plan to fill my freezer soup bowl and often will throw in a bit of beef stew or pork roast before I ever serve it the first time. A couple of spoons of leftover mashed potato works as a great soup thickener, and adding a spoonful of pearled barley gives it more body and fiber.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Cynthia: I call that “engineering leftovers” — before you put the meat loaf on the table, cut off a slice and put it in a container in the fridge along with a spoon or two of mashed potatoes and of vegetables. That’s your lunch for tomorrow. If you put out the entire meat loaf, it would probably be polished off — people tend to eat what’s put in front of them.
      On that note, an MSN reader mentioned that instead of serving individual steaks to her family, she cooks several and cuts them into strips, serving them on a platter. Everyone takes a fair amount. Win!

  5. Sherry H

    We usually plan to use leftovers, most often for lunches the next day, but I’ve been known to do SOB soup. (That’s what my husband’s family called it, because “you throw in every SOB in the refrigerator.”) Dried potato flakes make an excellent soup thickener, especially in the slow cooker where I’ve found flour roux and cornstarch don’t work very well for me.

    Fried rice is another good way to use up odds and ends of vegetables and cooked meat.

  6. Cathy Sullivan

    I agree with Cynthia. I like the idea but not the term. I’ve also heard of garbage bread where cheese, meat or vegetables are cooked into the dough. Good food, bad name.

  7. I am so sorry, but I cannot handle the soup-container-in the-freezer-turned-soup. We went to a church that had a soup supper every year, a fundraiser. The little old ladies (I am officially a little old lady now) talked for months how they ate those green beans until they were sick of them and froze the rest in their soup stuff in the freezer. The dregs of everyone’s meals reheated and served just turned my stomach. What made it worse was that every woman brought at least one gallon of soup already seasoned and ready to eat, and THEN, all the gallons were dumped into one huge caldron that held at least 20 gallons, a machine on wheels. I just ate fried pies, the only other thing served besides a roll. As the minister’s wife, everyone was disappointed I did not taste any. Finally, I had to admit this turned my stomach. Some laughed; some took offense. The fried pies were delicious.

    My second issue is I do not throw out anything from meat except gristle. If I don’t want a mouthful of gristle now, I don’t want it later. When I cook meat, I use the pan drippings one way or another, right then or in planned leftovers that week. Yes, I have about 12 green beans in a bowl in the refrigerator that I will eat.

    Where do I get the leftovers? Anything I drop on the floor goes to chickens if I don’t wash it and eat it myself. The green bean that gets shoved around on my plate does not seem fit for serving to others. I will scrape that bean along with the rest of my meal into a storage container for a meal tomorrow.

    I have often saved lunch for myself for one or several days before it is put on the table. That is a very good tip!

    Yes, I will eat dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables from a dumpster, just not soup from leftovers. Call me a little daft…lol.

  8. I actually prefer leftover stirfry and leftover omelete. Or you know, just leftovers.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Nicole: Most of my meals are leftovers! I follow the “one-pot glop” school of cooking: Fix a big mess of beans or pasta or soup or meatloaf, eat it until it’s gone, then cook some more. If I weren’t as busy, I might enjoy cooking more than I do. Right now, I prefer reheating to eating something new every day.
      That wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for me.

  9. Here’s my favorite “Poor Soup” recipe. Sorta Asian style
    1. A big can, or a lot of little cans of chicken broth (bought on sale and stockpiled, of course)= to about a 49.5 oz can
    2. 1-lb or less package of hot bulk sausage (always so cheap!), rolled into tsp.-sized balls and browned
    3. Add vegetables ( raw pieces work best): brocolli, green onions, mung bean spouts (grow your own even) , cabbage, Chinese greens, spinach, maybe a little carrot, celery or green beans–you can buy little bits of these, or use whatever you have around
    4. Simmer together until veggies are tender.
    5. You can stir in a well-beaten egg or two (like for egg drop soup)
    6. Season with soy sauce, if you wish.
    Pretty darn good. Easy to mix and match the ingredients to suit your taste.

  10. Mmmmmmm, soup! This soup always has a better taste than when you make it from scratch.
    Have a wonderful and warm weekend!

  11. Your description of the soup sounded really good. I have a weakness for soup from the Soupbox, but I figure making the kind of soup that you described would be a lot healthier and a lot less expensive. Not to mention it would taste good, too. I’ve been thinking about buying a slow cooker. It sounds like it’d be a simple way to prepare a meal, which is good, because I’m really lazy when it comes to cooking.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Neurotic Workaholic: I love my slow cooker. And there are tons of slow-cooker recipes online.

  12. Maria6491

    The slow cooker gives you a hot meal but keeps your kitchen cool! Yay!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Maria6491: That’s what I like most about the slow cooker — it uses very little energy and it helps prevent heat buildup. In the summer everybody wants potato salad but who wants to boil potatoes? Bake them in the slow cooker instead.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  13. As a single parent in the ’70 & ’80′s feeding my three children, keeping a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs was sometimes a challenge. I usually had $20.00 to $25.00 to spend on food (every two weeks) to feed four people, three dogs and a cat. I know you are probably thinking “Why not get rid of the animals” but I grew up with pets and thought it would be good for my kids to have the same experience. Some of the things I came up with to stretch my grocery money was couponing and saving every vegetable left over we had…no matter how small. It went into a red tuperware bowl in the freezer. When the bowl was full, it was soup time and my kids loved it. I would also buy a large chuck roast (very cheap at that time), cut it up in small cubes, freezing half for the soup and the other half for the slow cooker mixed with fresh carrots, potatoes and a can of Campbell’s Creme of Celery soup. Another thing I would do is freeze left over brown or white beans. These I would add (mashed) to cooked hamburger meat, taco seasoning, and a can of rotel ( the beans add fiber and stretch the hamburger meat). Add tomatoes, lettuce and cheese and you have a delicious taco meal. Other ways I saved was to buy bread and snacks at the bread store and freeze ( I was lucky to have a freezer), we would pick strawberries in May and fresh peaches in the summer. I would freeze these to make cobblers in the winter. I also went to the farmers market and bought the vegetables my kids would eat and froze them for use in the winter. I couldn’t afford cold drinks so I provided kool aid (a favorite flavor for each child), sweet tea, and milk. (Can you tell I am from the south?) Even though I worked full time (with a lot of overtime) I still loved to bake so I made all my meals from scratch which saved a lot of money. Life is what we make it…all of us have talent of some sort, find yours and use it to make your life better. Whe life get hard….make memoies.

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