Wednesday, 13 September 2017

D is for Dregs

It’s easy to confront your food waste when you’ve got a pile to put out for collection, or to dump onto the compost heap. But what about the bits and pieces that end up being ditched down the sink? It’s 'out of sight, out of mind' for those, and yet over time those dregs will definitely add up.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that cooking oil and grease should not go down the sink, because they clog up the sewers and cause massive fatbergs. But we need to think twice about other liquid foods, and whether we could be making use of them rather than swilling them away. For example, we throw away 29,000 tonnes of milk a year, despite the fact that sour milk is a useful ingredient in its own right.

Cornish tea on the patio

Fewer people are brewing tea in a pot these days, but if you do end up with cold tea to dispose of, Tea Happiness has some ideas of how to use it, including polishing wood, cleaning windows and watering plants. Of course, you can always get crafty and use cold tea to ‘age’ paper or for dyeing experiments. If you prefer an edible use, then how about soaking some dried fruit in your cold tea and making a tea loaf? It works just as well with herbal teas as it does with black tea. Apparently you can also use leftover tea to marinate meat, add it to soups and stews, or freeze it into ice cubes that won’t dilute your iced tea.

If coffee is your brew of choice, then of course you can use leftovers to flavour coffee cake to go with your next cup. There are more imaginative options, including mocha overnight oats and coffee smoothies to start your day with a caffeine boost, or iced coffee cocktails to end it with a buzz.

As we’re moving onto the hard stuff, it’s worth looking at alcoholic liquids. It’s probably best to throw away that inch of beer in the bottom of the glass from last night, but if there’s some left in the bottle/can then you can freeze it and save it to add flavour to casseroles and stews - beef in beer is a classic combination. So is pork and cider. There’s a surprising variety of recipes involving lager, including sweet waffles, and beer bread is lovely (even if you don’t like beer).

Freshly baked beer bread

We were recently given a bottle of white wine that turned out to be a bit ‘meh’, so rather than drink it I turned it into a slow-cooked chicken casserole, which was much more enjoyable! Plenty of people think leftover wine is a myth (like leftover chocolate), but if you’re not one of them then the Dinner Doctor has some great recipes for making the most of the rest of the bottle. It’s common advice to freeze leftover wine in your ice cube tray, so you have it to hand for when you’re cooking. I don’t find it freezes well like that (and red wine stains the ice cube tray), so I reuse plastic containers from take-aways instead, which has the added advantage that you can write the contents and the date on the lid.

In amongst these more recognisable liquids, my freezer often contains a pot labelled ‘casserole juice’, which is the excess liquid from a casserole. It’s great for adding flavour to the next one, or to a homemade soup. The same is true of gravy, if you live in a house where it doesn’t all get slurped up.

RedLove apple juice on the Lubera stand at the Garden Press Event 2017

And what of sweet liquids? Fruit juices can go in smoothies, of course. I recently made a simple syrup for something or other (it pains me that I can’t quite remember what!) and had some left over. It sat in the fridge in a clean jar for a few days, and was then perfect for the water/sugar content of a homemade fruit compote. It could just have easily been the base for a cocktail. Fizzy drinks that have lost their sparkle are basically flavoured syrups and can be used as such, and Nigella’s gammon in cola recipe is legendary (although as it needs two litres, that’s a lot of leftovers!). The Dinner Doctor has other ideas, including pulled pork and jellies for grown ups.

More liquid leftovers: Cooking water can be used for stocks, the liquid from cans of beans (or their soaking water) can be turned into a vegan egg replacement good enough to make meringues (!) and the leftovers from your jar of pickles makes tangy marinades and vinaigrettes and salad dressings.


What’s your favourite way of reusing leftover liquid foods, and what are you still throwing down the drain?

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

Avocados

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.

Avocado
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.

Really?

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!