Friday, 11 August 2017

C is for Crumbs

I used to make rather nice fishcakes, from a mixture of cold mashed potato, tinned tuna and sweetcorn. Assembled into rough burger shapes, coated in beaten egg and then rolled into breadcrumbs, they were fried until the coating was crisp and brown and they were warmed right through. Served with a side salad, they were surprisingly filling. A little messy to make, though. I used to make the breadcrumbs specially; these days I’m a bit more savvy and leftover bread gets turned into crumbs and stashed away in the freezer. (The main reason I don’t make these anymore - I really should - is that, for inexplicable reasons, we have less mashed potato now, and I would have to make that specially!)

If you’re not a fan of fish, then of course you use other things. We’ve found chorizo potato burgers to be especially tasty.

In the UK we waste 24 million slices of bread everyday - enough to lift over 26 million people out of hunger. And that’s not even the worst of it. 34% – 44% of bread produced in the UK is wasted (only half of it in homes). Cereals are lost in the field due to crop damage, cancelled orders and other unforeseen circumstances. Sandwich makers discard the ends of loaves. Retailers dispose of loaves that are damaged or past their sell-by-date.

Why we’re producing bread waste on this scale is a mystery. I imagine every civilization that used bread also developed recipes to use up leftover bread. There are some stunning examples in peasant cuisines from around the world, and this is one area where British food doesn’t disappoint either. When I was a kid my dad (who was the cook in our house) used to turn leftover bread into two hearty desserts - summer pudding and bread pudding - both of which I hated with a passion I haven’t grown out of. But I did love his sage and onion stuffing, which I make myself now, and his bread-based crumble topping is a personal favourite. I keep meaning to try a savoury version for fish pie.

Spanish migas are a classic way to turn stale bread into a meal, and of course who doesn’t love crunchy croutons (baked or fried) for their bowl of soup? Pangrattato is the breadcrumb version of croutons. Combine crumbs with herbs, crushed garlic and lemon or orange zest. Lightly oil a pan and then toast the mix until golden, and you can use it as a crunchy topping for pasta, gratins, soups, salads or anything really.

A River Cottage recipes suggests replacing the nuts in pesto with toasted breadcrumbs, which could be a useful fallback if you suddenly discover you’re out of nuts. There’s also one for marmalade pudding (which sounds intriguing), although my go-to dessert recipe for breadcrumbs would be a classic treacle tart. Which I have never made, despite it being one of my favourites (and so often massacred in the supermarket versions). And if I’m reading it right, this recipe for Saffron bundt cake with pears uses breadcrumbs to stop the cake sticking to the tin!

And I’ll leave you with one more idea, from Nigel Slater, that might be particularly useful at this time of year: fried courgettes with dill hummus, which looks absolutely divine. I don’t know about you, but now I feel I need to buy a loaf just to turn it into breadcrumbs! What’s your favourite way of using up leftover bread?

Further inspiration for using leftover bread/breadcrumbs: BBC Food Delicious magazine The Guardian Fine Cooking Taste Jamie Oliver Epicurious

Local waste reduction expert Anna Pitt has put together a book on reducing food waste. Leftover Pie: 101 ways to reduce your food waste is currently available for Kindle for £6.99, with the paperback coming out in September. If you pre-order from Anna by 21st August 2017 you can get a signed copy for £10 inc. P&P, and there’s a FB group to go with the book.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

B is for Broad Beans

Broad beans in pod
The broad bean season is largely over now (unless you invest in the new autumn-cropping variety, Luz de Otono), but every time I pod my beans I ponder how much waste is going straight onto the compost heap. Broad beans have to be some of the best packaged seeds in the plant world, with a thick pod filled with fluffy wadding. There are various ways to make more of the broad bean harvest:
  1. Pinch out the leafy tops and eat them as spinach. This is recommended as a way of discouraging black fly, and apparently the greens are nice raw when they're very young; I prefer mine lightly fried. Remove any excess stem, it's a bit too fibrous to be pleasant.
  2. Eat some of the flowers. This will cut down on your bean harvest, but they make a pretty addition to salads in the spring. I prefer to leave them for the bees, though, they're a good source of nectar. Have you taken a sniff? They're fragrant, although you have to get in close.
  3. You can eat the whole pods young, the bean equivalent of mangetout, although they have a softer texture rather than a crunch.
  4. Eat the pods. Once you've shelled beans, you can eat the pods, and there are various recipes on the internet to show you how (some are listed below).
  5. If you miss any pods and end up with overly mature beans, then dry them and use them for sprouting - you can eat broad bean shoots in the same way you'd use pea shoots.
  6. Broad beans fix nitrogen. You can dig the remains of the plants into the soil as a green manure, rather than removing them to the compost heap.
Broad bean pod recipes

There are some recipes that involve cooking broad beans (also known as fava beans) in their pods, and then shelling them once they're cooked (a bit like edamame), but these are recipes for eating the pods themselves:

Have you tried eating broad bean pods? How do you cook yours?

Monday, 12 June 2017

A is for Avocado


Here in the UK we haven't experienced 'avocado mania' in quite the same way as the US, but the fruit is becoming more and more popular. Imports of fresh avocados to the European market have increased from 186,000 tonnes in 2011 to 343,000 tonnes in 2015,according to the CBI, with the upward trend driven by demand for convenience and health food. There's plenty of information available on the health benefits of eating avocados; there's also some about the environmental damaged caused by avocado cultivation.

In 2009 the UK imported 39.1kt of avocado (Persea americana) [WRAP], mainly from Spain, South Africa, Peru and Chile. Smaller quantities arrived from Israel, Kenya, Mexico and the USA.

The problem with avocados is their tendency to go from unripe to overripe in the blink of an eye, which means they contribute to about approximately 54,000 tonnes of stone fruit food waste a year, of which 32,000 tonnes is avoidable [Guardian]. Whilst we love compost, we'd rather not feed edible food to our heaps, so let's look at how to reduce avocado waste!

Stuffed avocado
Storing avocados

Generally left on the side to ripen up at room temperature, storage doesn't become an issue until you've got half an avocado to deal with, or ripe fruit you're not going to use. There are various discussions about the best way to store half an avocado, which are (quite frankly) contradictory. So you'll have to do your own experiments! Start by reading Say No To Food Waste, Zero Waste Week and Love Food Hate Waste NZ for their suggestions.

If you've got ripe fruit you can't use before they go over, you can freeze them. Again, opinions vary, but try the Huffington Post and the Greedy Vegan for ideas.

Using overripe avocados

Any parts of the fruit that have turned brown aren't nice to eat, but green flesh is still good even when it's gone mushy. In fact, some people think an overripe fruit is better for making guacamole. You can also use avocados in smoothies, and I've turned an overripe one into soup, which I quite enjoyed!

Other suggestions include:

Plus, if you think beyond food to beauty products and cosmetics, avocado is apparently very good for your skin. You can use it to make a variety of natural beauty products, from face masks and scalp conditioners to shaving cream.

Stone me!

You can even eat the stone, although it needs to be ground first, or you'll break your teeth! One Green Planet has information on why you should eat that avocado seed and how to make it tasty, as well as instructions on growing avocados from seed for those of you who don't fancy that. (Avocado seeds being notoriously long lived on the compost heap. Note that your avocado tree won't ever fruit, and will eventually grow quite large. They don't survive outside (except in very sheltered London gardens).)

How appealing?

There aren't many recorded uses for a scooped out avocado peel. You can try applying it to your face as a face mask. And some researchers have investigated turning it into tea, which did surprisingly well in their taste tests.... Perhaps it's one part we'll feed to the compost heap, for now.


And you may be interested to know that the avocado is considered to be an evolutionary anachronism, a fruit that has survived the death of its 'megafaunal dispersal partner'. In other words, it evolved for its seeds to be spread by a large animal that is now extinct.

Over to you!

Have you got a good tip for working out when your avocado reaches perfect ripeness? A perfected method for storing avocados, or a lovely recipe for using them up? Or even a fascinating fact about avocados? Don't be shy! Leave a comment and share your wisdom.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Free Food Waste Caddy Liners

At the Master Composter training day last Saturday, Eiles gave us a heads-up about something that's happening across most of Oxfordshire in the next few weeks. In a bid to increase the amount of food waste that is put out for food waste collections - rather than in the landfill bins - councils are sending free food waste caddy liners to residents.

There's a little bit about it on the OCC food waste website, complete with glaring typo ;)

What the web page doesn't say, but Eiles explained, is that these free food waste caddy liners are going to be non-compostable plastic. There is a reason for this. The food waste collections are sent off to the anaerobic composting plant (which some of us have visited, I believe!), and compostable bags tend to gum up the works and cause problems. Normal plastic bags can be separated from the waste on arrival.

This is despite the fact that the council websites I've looked at this morning (and I haven't looked at them all!) tell you not to put plastic in the food waste bin, and actively encourage us to use compostable caddy bags!

Apparently, paper bags and/or newspaper also cause an issue, in that they take longer to decompose than the food waste, but it's not as much of an issue as the compostable bags.

I'm sure that's as clear as mud now, but the takeaway for us is that the free caddy liners are plastic, and shouldn't be used for waste that's going on the compost heap. In the event that our compost 'customers' ask us about this, Eiles has supplied us with the explanation!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Avoiding food waste at Christmas

Bird Cake

Happy holidays everyone! Now that the big day is almost upon us, here's a festive round-up of ways to avoid food waste and turkey fatigue this Christmas! Apparently, Scotland alone is likely to throw away more than 3.5 million mince pies, 240,000 Christmas puddings and the equivalent of over 100,000 turkeys this Christmas - worth a staggering £3 million!

Hubbub have got a nice article on freezing your food bills, which encourages good use of the freezer to store those food items that aren't needed immediately.

BBC Good Food recommend using leftover cooked vegetables to make Boxing Day soup, which should go very nicely with the turkey sandwiches. And FoodCycle Bristol have turned it into a pretty recipe, too:

Tin & Thyme has a recipe for making your own cranberry sauce, and suggestions on how to freeze and then use any leftover cranberries, stock and nut roast.

We're back to Hubbub for a Moroccan take on leftovers, with a recipe for Turkey cigars.

There's no shortage of inspiration for using Christmas leftovers - the NHS has some (presumably healthy) Christmas leftover recipes, and the Guardian did a 10 of the best round-up a few years ago. There's always potted turkey from the Express, or a collection of equally tempting ideas from BBC Good Food.

My personal go-tos are to turn leftover into a pie, or bird cake for my feathered friends.

Got your own suggestions? Add them in the comments, or start a new thread in the Oxon MCs forum. And don't forget - you can always feed the compost heap!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Oxfordshire Pumpkin Parties

Hooligan F1

There are lots of pumpkin-related activities at the moment, mainly aimed at getting people to recognise pumpkin innards as food! A pumpkin is for dinner, not just for Halloween.... The Oxford Pumpkin Festival is in full swing, with events that continue into November. This weekend (Sat 29th October) a Halloween special at Talking Shop, Sanford is offering a free fancy dress competition and homemade pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie alongside the usual produce market.

At Donnington Doorstep Family Centre they're putting on a family fun day and cooking up surplus food, and St Clement’s Family Centre are running a Halloween Ceilidh with jigs and reels, chaotic dancing and pumpkin themed baking!

Click through to the Good Food Oxford website for these and the rest of the pumpkin-related activities.

Until Monday you can join in the Great Pumpkin Hunt at Waterperry Gardens, looking for the fruit hidden in our ornamental gardens to win a special, seasonal edible prize! This is a half term activity aimed at children ;)

There's also a lot of online activity aimed at reducing pumpkin food waste this year, with loads of great resources. Hubbub have a page on how to eat your pumpkin and join the #PumpkinRescue, with some video recipes and links to events further afield. They're also reminding us that pumpkin flesh can be frozen, and they're debunking frozen food myths at the same time. So if you don't have time to deal with your pumpkin flesh whilst you're engrossed in carving, pop it in a plastic bag (or reusable container) and let it chill out in the freezer until you do.

Our friends at Cultivate Oxford have some lovely pumpkin recipes, including pumpkin carrot cake and squash pasties, which brings to mind a journey on the Hogwarts Express!

I was sent a somewhat unusual recipe involving a pumpkin and porridge and a slightly less odd one creating healthy-looking brownies, and I have a round-up of other pumpkin recipes at the end of my Halloween blog.

When we're down to the rind, the natural instinct of a Master Composter is to throw the rest into the compost heap, but if you can hold off until November 6th then the OxGrow Pumpkin Day is going to turn them into bird feeders, whilst cooking up a feast, playing games and all their usual hijinks.

I'm sure they'll all be composted, when the birds have finished with them. Happy Halloween everyone!

Squash and coconut soup