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?