Standard recycling procedure dictates that you give everything from jelly jars to yogurt containers a rinse before you toss them in the recycling bin. I used to wonder whether the amount of water required to rinse a peanut butter jar of its sticky residue made the whole recycling effort a little less sustainable in the bigger picture.

Then, about 20 years ago, my extended family held an inaugural Fourth of July picnic at my parents’ new lakeside camp in western Massachusetts. That first summer the kitchen equipment included neither a whisk nor a suitable vessel in which to make the dressing for the Spicy Peanut Noodle and Broccoli Salad I’d brought to share.

But I did have a jar of peanut butter. I’d brought its half-full contents as an ingredient but ended up using the jar itself as a kitchen tool, shaking the sides of the peanut butter jar clean as I shook the salad dressing ingredients into an emulsion. The rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, lime juice and a bit of hot water thinned the peanut butter to a pourable state, and cleaning the jar for the bin was a breeze.

While this make-do moment certainly didn’t earn me a Golden Goose Award, it does mark the point at which I began to waste very little water rinsing out glass or plastic jars of anything before they land in the recycling.

For example, I find jarred tomato sauce to be too thick for my daughter’s favorite pasta alla Norma dish. After dumping the tomato sauce into a pan of sautéed eggplant and garlic, I ladle a cup of pasta water into the jar, affix the lid, give it a shake and add it to the sauce just before tossing it with al dente pasta into the pan to finish cooking. The “rinsed” jar is ready then to be recycled.

When I want the last bit of honey in the jar to sweeten my tea, I pour a couple tablespoons of hot water from the kettle into the jar. As the tea steeps, the water melts the honey. After a couple of shakes to loosen the honey from the bottom, the mixture flows neatly into my teacup like water.

Similarly, when there is only a teaspoon of hoisin and pho is on the table, I ladle 1/4 cup of broth into the jar, give is a shake, and pour the result into my bowl to sweeten the soup to my taste. One cup of mayonnaise shaken in the jar with 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey and 1/2 teaspoon celery seed will easily dress a head of shredded cabbage for coleslaw.

The remnants of a pint container of Greek yogurt or sour cream container can be mixed in situ with buttermilk, lemon juice, garlic and herbs to make a DIY ranch dip that can be dipped into (and wiping the container clean, in the end) with anything from a chicken wing to a carrot stick. The drier bits in the spent mustard jar, when mixed with minced shallots, vegetable oil and white wine vinegar in a 3 to 1 ratio, and a pinch each of salt, pepper and sugar will yield a well-emulsified French vinaigrette.

The bottom line is, if you’ve got a near-empty jar or carton of anything in your fridge, before you run the faucet full throttle to prepare it for the recycling bin, think creatively about what you can add to the container and do as pop star Taylor Swift suggests in her hit song  “Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. I shake it off, I shake it off.”

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sauce

This recipe calls for just a half can of sweetened condensed milk. Freeze the remainder for up to three months or double the recipe if you want to feed a crowd.

Vanilla ice cream with DIY peanut butter sauce make in the peanut butter jar. Photo by Eliza Rudalevige

Since the recipe calls for heating the mixture slightly, I prefer to use peanut butter that is packaged in a glass jar. If you don’t have a microwave, you can place the jar in a pan of simmering water for a couple of minutes.

Makes 2 cups

1 cup peanut butter in its jar

3/4 cup (half of a 14-ounce can) sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in the jar. Place the uncovered jar in the microwave and heat it on high for 30 seconds. Screw the lid tightly onto the jar and shake it for 30 seconds. Remove the cover and return the jar to the microwave for another 30 seconds. Screw the lid tightly onto the jar and shake it for 60 seconds. At this point, the sauce should be warm and pour easily over ice cream.

Leftover sauce will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. Just reheat and give it a good shake each time you want to use it.


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