Oh the shame! But here's the rap. I broke the first rule of fresh produce which is:
Don't buy more than you can use in a week!
This goes against my nature, but it is an absolute truth - you simply cannot "stock up" on fresh produce.
If you're gonna go buy fresh produce, you should have a plan to use it within a few days to a week depending on what it is. I bought the asparagus on Thursday hoping that it would be OK until Monday when I had a nice dinner planned for CatMan (asparagus being the only vegetable that he actually likes.) I was wrong. Sigh.
Trick number two is quite similar, but plays more to the psychology of the deal:
Don't save it as a "special treat"
I'm not sure if this issue is unique to me and/or my upbringing, but when I was a kid vegetables came from a can and fresh fruit was mealy red "delicious" apples (which really aren't terribly delicious except for when they're fresh and in season) or dry oranges. Salads were iceberg lettuce with a few wedges of flavorless store bought tomatoes, and if you were really lucky you got a few slices of cucumbers on top. Fresh veggies were reserved for Christmas & Thanksgiving, and fruit like peaches, cherries and grapes were a very rare treat.
So when I became an adult and was suddenly allowed to buy as much fresh produce as I wanted, I really had to re-train myself. My instinct was to treat it as something very special, which, to me meant that it should be saved and not squandered all at once. Unfortunately this strategy completely backfires when it comes to fresh produce. So this is one area in life where I've decided that it's OK to be as greedy as I want. Dive in and enjoy folks, because otherwise it just ends up going to waste!
OK... so these next tricks also have a bit of a psychological twist. I don't know about y'all, but for me there is a massive psychological difference between "food" and "ingredients." When I look in the fridge and see something ready to eat, my reaction is something like: "Yes! I've got food!"
If, on the other hand, I look in there and see a bunch of veggies in their whole state, I tend to think: " Oh no... Work."
Soooo... these next two tricks involve getting the produce from the "ingredient" stage to the "food" stage as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Use things in whole units.
I used to have a veggie drawer full of half used cucumbers & peppers etc. I'd pull them out when making a salad, chop off what I needed, wrap the rest in a plastic bag and often it would turn into mush before I got around to using up the rest of it. I actually stumbled upon a better way not out of a desire to waste less, but because I was trying to stop using plastic bags in my kitchen.
I discovered that if you just chop up the whole cucumber, or pepper, or whatever, you can store it in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Mine generally don't last that long because when I look in the fridge and see veggies that are already chopped and ready to use, it's really easy to just toss together a salad, or eat them as snacks, and I generally gobble them up in a day or two. I seriously don't think I've wasted any salad veggies since I started using this method. The only thing it doesn't work well with is tomatoes, so I generally just eat up the whole thing once I cut into it.
This method also works well with fruit, especially stuff like melons that are hard to eat all at once.
Make something from it quickly.
I used to buy a lot of produce with good intentions, and then it would go bad because I never got around to using it. But I find that if I just go ahead and prepare something from it... even if I don't have a specific meal in mind - it generally gets used up pretty quickly.
So, I'll often buy broccoli, cauliflower, or whatever and just steam it or roast it and stick it back in the fridge. I find that I am MUCH more likely to eat it up if it's already prepared and all I have to do is warm it up and toss some onto my plate. It's sort of like having half of the meal already prepared, and all I have to do is add some source of protein to the plate and I've got dinner.
This also works with salads. Instead of letting a head of cabbage linger, I'll chop it up and make a big bowl of coleslaw. Even leafy things like spinach will get eaten quickly if I've already tossed them in a big salad. Day-old salad might not seem terribly appetizing, but it's great when piled on a sandwich or stuffed in a wrap. If I have a ton of peppers, I chop them up, add some corn & beans and make a southwestern salad. You can get creative with this sort of thing, and it works with fruit too. A big bowl if fruit salad will get eaten in no time around here! I find that if I get creative with my definition of "salad" it really helps.
And the final two tricks are meant to deal with the inevitable, when all else fails:
If it's getting near it's end, make soup or compote.
Sometimes even with all of my other strategies, fruit and veggies will get past their prime in my fridge. When this happens, I generally try to make them into something cooked where you won't notice that it's gone a bit soft. Soup is a great option for veggies. I'll often just chop them up, cook them in some chicken stock and blend it all together with my handy dandy immersion blender and viola, cream of whatever soup!
And for fruits, I usually chop them up & toss them in the microwave for a minute or two with a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg to make a nice fruit compote. You can add some brandy if you want to get fancy, and top it off with a dollop of yogurt or whipped cream for a nice dessert.
If you don't have time to deal with it, freeze it.
Sometimes, even with all of the above mentioned strategies, I end up just having too much stuff to eat. When this is the case, I just chop it up and stick it in the freezer. This works with just about everything except for salad veggies. It's sometimes not exactly ideal because you lose the "freshness" of it, but it's a much better option than letting it go bad.
So that's it! Those are my strategies, and the vast majority of the time (last week's asparagus notwithstanding) I'm able to avoid wasting fresh produce!
So how about you? What are your strategies when it comes to fresh produce?