Wasting food really bothers me. And I mean REALLY bothers me. Aside from those gut-wrenching adverts for starving children on the tele and my self-confessed romance with food, I hate wasting money. Plus there is something else. In a time when less and less of us are sufficiently green-fingered enough to cultivate our own veg, it seems to me we are inadvertently – and somewhat reluctantly – becoming more reliant on greedy money-making supermarkets. Not only do I think that their perfectly-formed, fresh produce often lacks flavour (I love a misshapen vegetable), but also the combination of pre-packed goods and money saving “deals” mean we buy more than we need. And therefore, we waste more.
If anyone watched the BBC’s Eat Well For Less programme a few months ago, it was fascinating to see how much an average family wastes. I aspire to buy what I need and shop locally, but this isn’t always realistic in terms of budget or ease. Wherever I end up shopping, I want to minimise my waste. I read this week that it is estimated 15 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK. 15 MILLION tonnes! That’s incredible. In fact it’s quite shameful and just generally really rubbish (no pun intended). I truly believe a few small changes can make a big difference. Not only to the amount we waste but also to the meals we make. So I’ve compiled my top five tips for minimising waste and making the most of what you’ve got.
I’ve chosen these five because I can pretty much guarantee at least one of them (if not all) will appear in every kitchen and therefore be really useful.
There is not a person in the land who has not thrown out a solid block of once fresh bread. Don’t do it, I feel myself screaming. That brick could contribute to so many wondrously delicious dishes it is crazy. Of course this does not apply to bread that is growing a winter coat or displaying hues of green. Generally fresh loaves will not undergo this delightful transformation, only the prepacked breads. Just another advantage of buying a lovely crusty loaf! Instead of lobbing your past-its-prime loaf in the bin, get your best saw-like bread knife and chop it into small chunks. Now bung it in your food processor and whiz away. It could take a good few minutes to get it to a fine crumb but it’s worth it. If you don’t need the breadcrumbs that day don’t worry, just freeze them. Our freezers are such a valuable commodity. They should be full of titbits and morsels that help create tasty meals in minutes. So, simply put your breadcrumbs in a resealable freezer bag (or several if you have a lot) and mark clearly with the date. The breadcrumbs will keep in the freezer for 3-6 months and defrost really fast when you need them. Fish cakes, pasta bakes, meatballs, stuffed mushrooms, the options are endless. My favourite use for them at the moment has to be scotch eggs. Perfect for a summer picnic! Click here for my Scotch Egg recipe.
Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m slightly obsessed with eggs. So perhaps it’s no surprise that my next no-waste tip is for these glorious little ovoids. Often a recipe will call for just the whites or yolks, which always irked me. But not anymore because I’ve discovered you can freeze eggs. By the way, freezer management is really important in reducing waste. My big tips are to invest in some decent freezer bags, to buy a good quality permanent marker and to always make sure your bags are free of excess air before freezing. Personally, I prefer the zip lock type of bag but each to their own. Back to my eggs. Whites can be frozen as they are. Yolks should be whisked lightly with a pinch of salt, before freezing. Mostly I freeze left-over whole eggs that have been whisked and used for an egg wash. Obviously I mark the bag really well with what they were used as a wash for (to avoid cross-contamination) but that’s it. Egg. Bag. Freeze. Easy peasy.
People can be really nervous about making their own stock. Don’t be. This is – by a country mile – the best way to use up all your left over root veg. After all, what’s the worst than can happen? You bin it. Oh, hang on…that is what you were going to do with it anyway. This does not apply to any furry or sludgy veg, but stuff that’s just a bit limp and past its best? Abso-freakin-lutely. The stock I make most often is chicken but you can do this with almost any kind of veg, meat bones or even fish. After you’ve picked the carcass (the cook’s prerogative) of your best roast chicken, I guarantee there will still be loads of goodness left in there. So here is my recipe.
Fabulous Chicken Stock
- Remove all the chicken skin and excess fat and put the carcass in a large saucepan (cut it in half if it won’t fit whole).
- Add an onion (cut in half), a large carrot, a couple of celery sticks (leaves too), a bayleaf and a teaspoon of peppercorns.
- Fill the pan with water until everything is just covered (don’t drown it!)
- Bring to boil, reduce and simmer gently for 1-2 hours depending on how much you have.
- Sieve the stock through a strainer and allow to cool.
The stock will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for about 5 days and in the freezer for months. And here is the glorious bit. If you’ve just prepared a Sunday roast, the chances are you’ll have loads of great bits of root veg floating around. By that I mean carrot tops, onion trimmings, maybe even some herb stalks. Chuck them all in. The only rule is no starchy veg like potato or swede. It will just turn to mush and ruin your stock.
You can use the stock in so many things, from fancy boulangere potatoes to a mid-week spag bol. My favourite use is a simple home made soup. There is nothing more satisfying.
Spicy Butternut Squash Soup
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 tablespoons Olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- 1 litre chicken stock
- In a large, deep saucepan, soften the chopped onion with the olive oil.
- Add the garlic and chilli flakes and stir well for 2 minutes.
- Mix in the squash and finally cover with the chicken stock.
- Bring to the boil and reduce to simmer for approximately 40 minutes.
- Allow the soup to cool a little before using a hand blender to whisk until smooth.
So on the subject of soup, have you ever made your own? If not, why not? You don’t need a cook book, you basically just need some veg and some water. If you want to make it more substantial, here is my next no-waste tip: Collect up all your bits of left over pasta, bash them up and add them to your soups. Whether it is a lonesome lasagne sheet, a few random rigatoni or a couple of cannelloni, don’t waste a single one. Store all your pasta paraphernalia in a single container (you can even throw in any uncooked rice if you want to), and store ready to add to your next batch of soup.
Overly yellow, brown freckled bananas make me itch. You know when their skins have become really thin and the fruit is cloyingly sweet? Yuck. As soon as a banana has not a hint of green to it, it becomes a no-go zone for me. Well that was until I started making breakfast muffins. Now I purposely leave one in the fruit bowl! I’ve tried banana bread but to be honest, it doesn’t rock my world as the cloying sweetness is still too evident. But breakfast muffins do. And they are now my default use for over-ripe bananas. Check out my Breakfast Muffin recipe.
So there you go. They aren’t exactly radical but if you aren’t already thinking about minimising your waste, then they could be a good start point. There is so much great information available on the internet about freezing food and avoiding waste. I highly recommend that if you haven’t done so already, you have a little read. Here are a few of my favourites:
Oh and just one more tip;
When they are too soft and past their eating prime but still packed with flavour, put all your left over strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and black or red currants in a pan, with a sprinkle of sugar and dash (literally) of water. Simmer for about 10 minutes to make a delicious cake filling, buttercream flavouring or sieve for a fruit coulis. Again, if you don’t need to use it right away, freeze it. Ok, I’ll shut up now…..