A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

I hate wasting food — I have a thing about it. I suppose this stems partly from being brought up in a strict and frugal Methodist household during those times of austerity just after the War. My parents spent little money on food, and their diet was simple — but healthy. They grew their own fruit and vegetables, and bartered for other foodstuffs with local farmers. They baked their own bread, cakes and biscuits. Eggs came from their own chickens and milk from their small herd of Jersey cows. Every so often half a pig would mysteriously appear in the chest freezer. Needless to say, every single part was eaten: the tongue, the trotters, the offal. 'Nose to tail' cooking they call it in restaurant circles.

Today, of course, food is more varied, more plentiful and more readily available in our privileged and self-indulgent western world. But I still like to keep a close eye on what I buy — its cost, its value, its provenance. Occasionally you hear stories of families regularly throwing away half the perishable food they buy as they buy too much and leave it to rot in the fridge. The very thought of this fills me with horror! I'm afraid I'm the kind of person who steals the scraps from other people's plates, eats food past its sell-by-date as long as it smells ok, and converts slightly stale or wilted leftovers into new dishes.

So, in this new age of austerity, here are a few tips for recycling those bits and pieces of tired food, and saving money in the process.

1. Old fruit and vegetables can always be used up in soups and curries. Only the other day I found at the bottom of the fridge half a packet of mixed watercress, rocket and spinach leaves which were too droopy for a fresh salad. So I added some frozen peas for bulk, taste and texture, and made a simple soup out of these ingredients — plus an onion, a celery stick, some garlic, milk, stock and seasoning. The colour was a stunning verdant green, and it tasted absolutely delicious. (You can glamorise this soup as much as you want by stirring in some double cream at the end, perhaps with some croutons and chopped chives...)

2. Talking of croutons, we love herby garlic bread here — which we make with a baguette and a mixture of garlic, chopped fresh herbs (basil, parsley), seasoning and olive oil/butter. What to do with any leftovers? Why not dice them up into small squares and toast them in the oven until they are golden? Instant croutons, which can then be frozen and used as and when! You could do this, of course, with any stale bread, or you could make breadcrumbs, which can also be frozen.

3. And since we're on the subject of stale bread, this is an ideal opportunity to make one of the easiest and most scrumptious desserts ever: bread and butter pudding. Spread slices of white bread with butter, cut into small squares and place half into a buttered ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with currants or sultanas and caster sugar. Add the remaining bread, more sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. Finally top with a mixture of two beaten eggs and a pint of milk. Allow the bread to absorb the liquid, then bake in the oven for three-quarters of an hour until set.

Anyone have any more tips and ideas?


Sabine said...

After reading Hugh Fearnley-Whatshisname Vegetable cookbook, I discovered that you can roast anything into a delicious meal, even ancient carrots and mealy apples (yes in combination, plus garlic and rosmary).

Obviously, a compost bin is a great thing to have.

Rachel Fox said...

I find just shopping carefully is enough. Plan meals, write lists, shop for the number of people you are feeding and avoid tempting 'buy 5 get another 5 free' offers. Works for me!

Ruth said...

These are delicious and creative uses of scraps, Robert! I confess that I am not as good at cooking up what we have due to fatigue at the end of a work day. I need to get back to it (see below). But I tend to only buy what's needed for a day, and not for a week or two weeks at a time as a result. I do love leftovers though, more than anything actually, especially soup.

I like to put all remaining veggies from the fridge onto a tray and roast in the oven, as Sabine suggests. The flavor after roasting is fabulous. Then I often put them into soup, in the broth I make on the wood stove on Saturdays. The roasting makes more flavorful soup.

Past-their-prime fruits go into smoothies! Just a bit of milk, yogurt, fruit, honey and whatever else sounds good. This is where I also add kale or spinach to for some healthy greenery.


The Solitary Walker said...

That roasting veg idea is a good one, Sabine. I love the flavour of roasted vegetables. We do a tasty dish with shallots, parsnips, sausages, thyme, maple syrup, ketchup and chilli sauce — all roasted together in the oven. Great to make your own 'oven chips' too by roasting thinnish slices of potato.

Yes, I hate those offers too, Rachel. It's best to try to stick to a list, rather than be tempted by all the so-called bargains.

Ditto what I said about veg to Sabine, Ruth! It's nice, isn't it, to make stews, casseroles, meat sauces etc. to last a couple of days or more — as the flavour does improve. Your smoothies sound fantastic.

The Solitary Walker said...

PS Sabine, after redesigning our garden recently, we now have a raised-bed veg plot and a fabulous big green compost bin! Bliss.

George said...

Great suggestions, here, Robert, and I applaud your creativity and frugality, both of which are steps to "the simple life" that is a lodestar for many of us. I am a peasant at heart, and my favorite meals are usually soups, stews, or casseroles that are created with more imagination than step-by-step design. Like others who have commented, we frequently roast a variety of vegetables with herbs and a light drenching of olive oil.

ksam said...

Damn you!! :-) After eating breakfast, made of simmering left over brown rice and grain mix for half hour with a bit of milk to make a porridge (Delish!) YOU have me hungry!

This year, in addition to waste not want not, composting and growing...I've decided to add some chickens to the mix. Feeding them leftover bits will also help assuage any guilt of things not eaten!!

So here's to yummy discoveries as we try to to waste!

The Weaver of Grass said...

A man after my own heart Robert - I made such a bread and butter pudding today! Sticks to your ribs as Malcolm used to say. Delicious - and plenty left for tomorrow.

The Solitary Walker said...

George, I love 'peasant', country food, as I myself am a country boy, not only at heart, but also by birth! Would never say no to a five-course haute cuisine meal though...

Karin — great to hear from you! I knew the subject of food would bring you in ;)

I thought you might approve of this post, Pat! Bread and butter pudding — so delicious.

Anonymous said...

have you read this?


it's got a recipe for frumenty - and for rook pie (no horse for some reason)


The Solitary Walker said...

I didn't't know this country recipe book, Andy — but if Elizabeth David says it's classic, then that's good enough for me. I shall get a copy. It looks beautifully produced, too. Frumenty looks rather wholesome — even more appetising when washed down with a slug of rum, apparently. But I'll forego the rook pie!

Dominic Rivron said...

Haven't had bread and butter pudding for a long time. I feel like some now.

Talking of things culinary, I've recently developed a taste for Vegemite. I feel slightly traitorous.

Vagabonde said...

You share some good tips. After cooking for so many years I am pretty good at knowing how much to buy, so we rarely have anything to throw away. I don’t cook the American way much, but more the French Mediterranean way, with lots of fresh veggies and herbs. If I have some veggies left over I usually create a new recipe, stir fry them with some added things – that happens at least once every other week. The problem is that if I don’t write them down I forget what I cooked and if we liked something then … it’s gone.

The Solitary Walker said...

Pat has some left, Dominic (see above). Go visit! Vegemite? Oh dear!

The Solitary Walker said...

'The French Mediterranean way' — oh yes.

You're the first to mention stir frying — such a great way use up all those odd bits of cabbage, carrot, celery etc. in the vegetable rack. And after the chopping it's so quick. Plus you can add in oddments of leftover, cooked meat near the end, if you wish!

Grizz………… said...

I missed this post the other day but still wanted to comment because I'm so pleased to find out I'm not alone in an ingrained horror against wasting food. My parents never wasted food either, so I guess it's partly upbringing. But I expect it's also my frugal nature and the fact that a lot of food items past their prime, while wilted or otherwise not looking their best, are still usable and just as tasty.

Like you I regularly employ such veggies in soups and stews, which I love and make often. The fruits go into compotes and the like. I also make croutons with leftover bread (chop in small cubes, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on salt, pepper, garlic powder, and various dried herbs, and bake or toast in the oven, turning until all side are brown, then cool and store in containers in the freezer) which I use on salads and as topping for those soups. Stale quick breads are often just chopped into fairly large hunks and frozen, to be used later in stuffing or dressing for chicken and pork dishes. But I have to got to try that bread and butter pudding of yours because it sounds wonderful!

Anonymous said...

While I will happily eat vast quantities of bread and butter pudding, I must say that I prefer bread pudding. This is also easier to carry when walking (although possibly not if you are worried about the weight in your pack).


The Solitary Walker said...

Not sure of the difference, Andy!

The Solitary Walker said...

And thanks, Grizz, for your own comment. Looking forward to your report on the bread and butter pudding!