Thursday, 21 December 2017

G is for... grains

Recently I was reading the results of a survey (which, annoyingly I can't find now) about why we waste so much food, and it turns out that a significant proportion of people don't like eating leftovers. They'd rather just throw them out. They have a horror of eating the same meal two days in a row. Personally, I love leftovers. They solve the problem of what we're having for dinner, and I tend to cook enough for several days so that there are several days when I don't have to cook. (I love cooking, but not all days lend themselves to serious efforts.) This week we made a fondue for the first time, and spent a happy half hour dipping bread and raw vegetables and some leftover scraps of party nibbles into hot cheese. The recipe we followed made more fondue than two people could eat in one sitting. The following night it reappeared as pasta sauce on freshly cooked pasta. On night 3 we reheated it as pasta bake. That was three meals involving leftovers, all different, all tasty and all on the table pretty quickly!

Apparently that makes us, and people like us, unusual. According to a survey by Grundig, "20% of Brits throw away leftovers after a meal, compared to an average of 8% across other countries".

Leftover fondue probably isn't making up much of the £13bn of food we throw away every year, so this month I thought I'd focus on Grains.

Oryza sativa

There's a widespread fear of reheating rice, which is not completely baseless, as cooked rice can cause food poisoning. The problem is that uncooked rice can be contaminated by spores of a bacterium that survive being cooked. Once rice is cooked they can start to multiply. The key with cooked rice is to refrigerate it quickly, and not leave it in the fridge too long. It's not the reheating that is the problem.

The Kitchn has some tips on the best ways to reheat rice for people who haven't tried it. In our house leftover rice is usually turned into fried rice, but it can also be used to make rice salads, or to add heft to soups and stews. Risotto I tend to reheat in the microwave, but one day I will get around to upcycling it into Italian arancini. You can also use leftover risotto/rice/rice salad to stuff peppers.

The Spruce has a good article on what to do with leftover rice, which includes recipes for all these ideas, and some more. The Guardian has 22 recipe ideas for leftover rice.

Of course, not all rice is savoury. BudgetBytes has an idea for turning plain cooked rice into dessert rice pancakes, which are then drizzled with syrup and melted butter. Apparently it has become a tradition to serve rice pudding on Christmas Eve in Norway (and also on Saturdays...). Leftovers are then used to make riskrem, rice porridge blended together with whipped cream and sugar to make a fluffy pudding. It’s served with an incredibly vibrant red berry sauce. North Wild Kitchen is taking that one step further this year, and turning leftover rice pudding into rice porridge ice cream. I'm pretty sure no one would complain about eating those leftovers....


British cuisine isn't heavy on eating grains in their natural state, but Culture Cheatsheet has 7 easy recipes that use leftover rice and grains that include ideas for quinoa, bulgur, barley and farro. For the most part, the ideas I've given above can be easily adapted to work with different grains.

Interestingly, if you Google recipes for leftover grains, you get a lot of ideas from home brewers, who thriftily want to make the most of the spent grains leftover once they've made their beer. If you have a beer maker in your life producing spent grains, you can turn them into beer bread, cookies and dog treats. Food52 has an article on how to cook with spent grain. Commercial breweries are starting to get in on the act, turning their waste products into food, drinks, or even paper.

What's your favourite way of making the most of your grains, or upcycling your leftovers into new meals?

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, 20 November 2017

F is for... fruit


We’ve all been there - we put the fresh fruit out in the fruit bowl, we have one of those weeks, and the next time we look at it, it’s less than appetising. It’s easy to throw it in the bin and start again, but we’re throwing away 1.4 million edible bananas EVERY DAY, and it’s costing us £80 million a year (not to mention the environmental problems it causes). Other fruits fare no better, so it’s time we get fruity to avoid food waste.

In some ways, fruit is one of the easiest things to store or use up, even if it’s past its best. A quick peel (perhaps) and it can be tossed into a smoothie, or sliced up into a fruit salad. After a few hours soaking in syrup (and I tend to cheat if I’m in a hurry, and add a tin of fruit in syrup, rather than making my own...), it’s transformed into a dessert few people can resist.

Or it can be quickly cooked down with a bit of sugar to make a fridge jam, or compote, and will delight drizzled onto toast or over ice cream. Or it can just be eaten with a spoon.... If you’ve got an ice cream maker then a nice fruit compote and a carton or two of yogurt makes a delicious fro-yo that will keep for weeks in the freezer. In the unlikely event you end up with leftover compote, freeze it in the ice cube tray and you’ve got ready-made fruit cubes for your next smoothie.


Berries can be frozen on a tray for a couple of hours, and then bagged up for later use. Or make them straight into muffins and watch them disappear. And nothing gets people to wolf down fruit quite as quickly as crumble. My dad’s wartime crumble recipe makes use of breadcrumbs, too, if you’ve got a crust or two to polish off. It makes a nice change from the normal floury version.

Once we’ve mastered the basics, there are other options. Fruit leather turns fruit into non-perishable, portable strips. Ideal for quick snacks and lunch boxes, I imagine it’s one of those things that takes longer to make than it lasts once you’re done.

Banana bread is a classic for using up overripe bananas. I like to slice mine, fry them off in a little butter and then drizzle them with syrup instead (and add a splash of a fruity liqueur for a grown up version....).

And, of course, there’s always the option of using your fruit to flavour some booze, steeping it for 6 weeks or so, and then inventing your own food waste cocktail. Sloes and damsons are classics, but there’s no reason why other fruits won’t be just as nice!

For Food Waste Masters, there are advanced options, making use of bits of fruit we’d normally not consider. Anna Pitt has a prize-winning recipe for banana skin curry that has to be made to be believed.

Sainsbury’s have 12 ideas of things you didn’t know you could do with apples, and a way to turn apple scraps into refreshing tea.

There are a surprising number of ways that watermelon rind can be used and eaten, if you’re so inclined. And the core of that pineapple can be turned into crisps.

So, whether you’re a food waste apprentice, journeyman or master, there’s no reason to fail your fruit.

What are your favourite ways to use fruit up?

Saturday, 21 October 2017

E is for eggs... and eggshells

Egg Parade

We all know from school that hydrogen sulphide smells like rotten eggs, but I wonder how many of us these days have encountered that smell from an actual egg? With use-by dates and fridges, it seems unlikely that we would encounter a truly rotten egg, especially since we waste 660,000 of them EVERY DAY, and the production of each of those used about 50 gallons of water.

Whole eggs

The first step to avoiding egg waste is to learn more about them. Delia has some useful advice on how to tell if an egg is fresh, and the best ways to make use of very fresh and not-so-fresh eggs.

The next step is to have some ideas up your sleeve for when you discover an ageing egg or two in the fridge that needs using up. There's always a quick lunch of scrambled eggs on toast (or boiled eggs with buttery toast fingers, if you're feeling indulgent). You can jazz eggy bread up into a lovely brunch, or turn your hand to a surprise batch of muffins or cupcakes. There's always an omelette or quiche, or adding a sliced hard boiled egg to a curry or kedgeree, or making egg mayonnaise as a sandwich filling.

Unless you keep chickens (or other egg-laying birds), you're unlikely to be faced with too many ageing eggs to deal with. But if you do find yourself with a glut then a classic recipe that uses a lot of eggs is lemon curd (other curd flavours can also be made). Northwest Edible Life has plenty of other ideas, including make-ahead breakfasts and some thoughts on how to freeze eggs for later use. The Prairie Homestead has a list of 50+ ways to use extra eggs, which includes pickling and making bread.

Whites and yolks

It's slightly more tricky when a recipe uses just eggs whites or yolks, and leaves you with half an egg that needs using up quickly. Scrambled eggs can easily absorb an extra egg white or yolk or two. Sweet/ savoury scotch pancakes use more whites than yokes, and you need egg whites for meringues. You could always try your hand at candying flower petals, or homemade marshmallows.

Waitrose's parsley pasties make use of a hardboiled egg and an extra yolk, and are good picnic food. You could also try making pasta, or a custard tart.

BBC Good Food has more ideas on making use of leftover egg whites and yolks, whereas BBC Food has separate recipe lists for egg yolks and egg whites. The Kitchn usefully arranged their list of egg yolk recipes by the number of yolks needed, although they didn't do that for the egg whites.



When I kept chickens, I used to wash, crush and bake eggshells before feeding them back to the hens as a calcium supplement. It’s possible to eat them yourself, by turning them into a powder and adding them to other foods. Empty eggshells can be crushed and go on the compost, or be laid as a slug/snail barrier, or be used as miniature plant pots. If you don't have a garden then they should go in the food waste bin. The prairie homestead has another list of things to do with eggshells. And if you have kids there are always egg shell and egg box crafts to while away rain days!

Over to you...

It's your turn! What are your favourite ways to use up eggs, preserve them, or make use of the shells?

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


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.