Pinto bean chilli and taco shells

Growing up, my mother struggled to get me to eat my greens, and if anything had even the slightest fleck of spice or herb, a food tantrum would ensue.  Over the years, I've managed to introduce so many vegetables and flavours into my diet that I'll now happily eat meals that contain purely vegetables without complaint.

This dish here is made with a whole host of leftover vegetables but the main star of this dish is the dried pinto beans which are a good staple to keep in stock for bulking out meat free dishes into cheap, nutritious and protein filled dinners.

INGREDIENTS

  • 200g pinto beans
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 x garlic cloves crushed
  • 6 x mushrooms chopped
  •  1 x carrot diced
  • 1 x red pepper
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 1x green birds eye chillies
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1-2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 300 ml veg stock
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD

Soak beans overnight & cook according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile cook the onion and garlic for 2 mins before adding the spices and chilli and continuing to fry for a further 2 minutes

Add all of the other ingredients and cook for 2 mins before adding the vegetable stock. Stir well and scrape all of the spices off the bottom of pan.

Finally add the tomatoes, oregano and bay leaf, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

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Limp lettuce

Lettuce!!! I love a crispy iceberg, but nothing upsets me more than when it's started to turn brown and limp its way towards the bin.

I thought hey, there's got to be a solution, and according to the internet there is. Ideas range from storing your lettuce in water (too messy), separating all the leaves and storing each layer between kitchen roll (too fussy) and my favourite…cooking it!

Now this sounded weird to me at first but I thought id give it a whirl, there's various recipes in this excellent Guardian article such as lettuce soup, lettuce pesto or my personal favourite – stir fry.

Lettuce stir fry sounds strange but really what's the difference between a Chinese cabbage and a lettuce? In the grand scheme of things, absolutely nothing.

So I followed recipe number two from the above article and to test out its success, I served it to my better half without mentioning the secret ingredient, and guess what – approval all round.

Never again will the be a limping lettuce in my salad drawer again.

Ice Ice Baby – Freezer Benefits

In an earlier post, Sausage, Chilli & Tomato Pasta, you probably noticed that a lot of the ingredients I used had been frozen.

Now I’ve spent a large proportion of my adult life in shared housing where I’ve had to store my entire grocery shop on one lonely fridge shelf, and freezer space was nothing but a luxury to dream of.

It’s only in the last couple of years where I’ve had the very grown up pleasure of not only my own flat but also access to a fridge & freezer that’s all mine.

The benefits of having a freezer came instantly, I was suddenly allowed to take advantage of supermarket offers that I never could before such as Sainsbury’s meat, poultry or fish 3 or £10 which is one of my most purchased offers.

Batch cooking and the ability to freeze leftovers has also been a huge benefit. If I cook 4 portions of Spaghetti Bolognese, no longer do I have to spend an entire week eating it as the wonders of Tupperware mean I can freeze it for a later date. For days when I’ve got caught back late at the office, it’s great to come home, not have to cook and still be able to eat a nutritious home cooked meal that’s awaiting me in the freezer.

Recently, since I embarked on my food waste frenzy, I’ve started to freeze even more stuff, not just fresh meat and leftovers. Half of the stuff I wasn’t even aware you could freeze.

Ice cube trays have become my new found friend, I’ve used them to freeze home-made stock, the left-over dregs of an unfinished wine bottle and the end of bunches of those pesky supermarket herbs which never get used up in one portion. Once frozen, you can tip the ice cubes of stock, wine etc. into a freezer bag, label up and keep until a later date when a recipe calls for the ingredient. Freezing items such as stock & wine, not only stops you throwing left-overs out, it reduces the need to buy big packets of these ingredients when a recipe only calls for a small amount.

In my experience, a lot of what you do and don’t freeze comes out of habit, for example I’d never thought to freeze items such as butter and milk but I’ve tried both recently with no adverse effects. The butter I’d taken advantage of a 2 for 1 offer and the milk I’d picked up a couple of pints only to arrive home to find my partner had done the same. In days gone by, both of these ingredients would probably have lingered on my fridge shelf, past their best and been confined to the bin, but the freezer came to the rescue.

Other items I’d never dreamed of freezing were fresh fruit & veg, but my foray into food waste has taught me that a lot of fresh fruit & veg can indeed be frozen with little detrimental effect on the ingredient. So far I’ve frozen chillies, celery, lemons and peppers. The advice seems to be in all instances to chop up the veg first and then freeze in freezer bags. The ingredients probably won’t be up to being used in a nice fresh salad but for stews & stir-frys etc. I haven’t noticed any negative effects on the flavour or the texture. I suppose if you think logically, you can already buy a lot of frozen vegetables so what’s the difference in doing it for yourself.

If you’re unsure about what you can and can’t freeze, Google and the blogging world will come to your rescue. As mentioned the positives of this are not only reducing waste, it also helps to reduce costs as you’ll have ingredients on hand and not have to buy new over-sized packets of stuff and you can take advantage of those supermarket offers that I generally advise against. I’ve also found that I do not have to visit the supermarket quite as often as I regularly find that I have enough ingredients in my freezer to knock up an ad-hoc meal on demand. So don’t be afraid to get cold and get freezing, hopefully you’ll start seeing all the benefits that I have

Every Last Crumb

A week or so ago, I saw a lot of twitter debate about the BBC Food and drink programme entitled Every Last Crumb which involved Michel Roux and Mary Berry offering their own food waste tips. One of the main areas of debate was that more expensive food keeps better and that if food were more expensive, we would waste less. I disagree with this, I personally agree with Michel Roux, who argued that regardless of how much food costs; the attitude to wastefulness is the most important factor in reducing food waste.

Mary Berry who lived through rationing, argued that the reason the younger generation waste more food is down to lack of education and in part I’d agree with this. I’m a self-taught cook, who has learnt how to use up various ingredients through trial, error and experimentation but at the same time I don’t ever remember my mum throwing anything away. Roasts were made to last a couple of days with the left-overs served up on a Monday, the dark meat that no-one wanted to eat was thrown into a curry and a large proportion of the weekly shop went straight into the freezer to ensure that the food was preserved as long as possible.

In part I think that some of the problem comes from the huge choice and availability that we have in supermarkets. As a child dinner was generally meat and two veg, dishes that didn’t require huge amounts of ingredients. The food revolution and the abundance of TV cookery programmes has meant that people have become much more inventive in the kitchen. The problem with world cuisine and restaurant quality dishes is that they often require multiple unusual ingredients that can’t necessarily be used in every day cooking. The act of planning one meal at a time hinders the ability to reduce food waste.

This is where meal planning comes to the forefront of reducing food waste and it was great to hear Mary Berry talk about this. The action of looking through your fridge weekly to see what needs using up and planning a meal with these ingredients before heading out to the supermarket is the key to ensuring that the majority of perishables are used up.

Another key point that came out of the programme was that it’s perfectly acceptable to substitute ingredients. If a recipe calls for a particular cheese or herb, there’s nothing wrong with substituting that ingredient with something that you already have in stock. This is something that I do regularly, for items such as dried herbs, a quick Google will tell you what alternatives can be used for something that you don’t currently have in the kitchen cupboard. Here is a great table to get you started. For shallots I use onions; sometimes a stir-fry calls for chicken but I only have beef or pork in the freezer, the list is goes on. This might not be how it’s done in restaurants and it might alter the taste of a dish slightly but remember restaurants are cooking for multiple diners and buy only the quantities they need. Before you buy a large batch of a particular ingredient ask yourself will you use it? If not, can it be substituted?

Regardless of some of the debates that the programme raised, it’s great to see prime time TV putting a focus on how to reduce food waste. It’s not just the BBC giving airtime to the issue; Channel 4 is now in its second series of Jamie’s money saving meals, where recipes are made from leftovers, the show is also filled with tips on substituting & preserving ingredients.

Also in the media is Sainsbury’s make your roast go further campaign, championed by the wonderful Jack Monroe. With this increasing focus on thriftiness and wastefulness, hopefully attitudes and habits to food waste will change, as we are all capable of making small changes that will help reduce the growing problem of food waste.

Grilled Halloumi and Cherry Tomatoes with Mint Pesto

Despite the packaging on the Basil clearly reading “keep me away from the cold”, the packet of Basil had ended up squished in the bottom of the fridge past it’s prime, alongside a few sprigs of floppy mint and some wrinkly cherry tomatoes.

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Normally when I have left over Basil, I make myself some home-made pesto and as I only had a few sprigs of mint left, I decided to throw them in. I’ve never made any other pesto other than bog standard pesto but I’ve heard adding mushrooms, mint and a whole other host of ingredients can create great variations on the original.

I couldn’t remember the correct measurements so I just threw all the herbs into a blender with two tbsps of toasted pine-nuts, a crushed garlic clove and a good glug of olive oil. I always find pesto takes a while to blend, during the blending I gave the mix an occasional stir and gradually added more olive oil until I was happy with the consistency.

After I tipped the mix out of the blender for a taste test, I discovered my hap hazard approach to pesto making had led to me missing out a vital ingredient…parmesan.

Not wanting to re-blend, I just added grated parmesan to the finished product (probably not how the Italians do it but hey-ho it tasted pretty good).image-3image-4

 The best thing about making any paste from fresh herbs, is that it pro-longs the life of the herbs and can be used for a huge variety of dishes such as pasta sauces, meat marinades or salad dressings.

I decided to go for the old BBQ classic of grilled halloumi and cherry tomatoes, a proper recipe for which can be found at bonappetit.com.

As I didn’t have a BBQ, or any skewers, I continued with my hap hazard approach to cooking by throwing halloumi and cherry tomatoes into an oven-proof dish, and whacked them underneath the grill for 5 minutes before mixing with the pesto.

And hey presto,  a few wrinkly past their best ingredients created a great dish that can be eaten as an appetizer or lightish supper/salad.

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Caerphilly Cheese Scones

On Saturdays’ check of the fridge, I discovered a whole host of dairy products dangerously close to their use by date. A couple of eggs, the remnants of a yoghurt pot and a whole block of Caerphilly cheese that I’d bought (despite all my own advice) in a BOGOF offer.

Lacking in inspiration, the only meal idea I could come up with was a cheese omelette and a high cholesterol omelette at that. Also, following a rather unhealthy few days of eating out, the thought of a cheese filled week was filling me with indigestive dread.

But a quick google search  came to the rescue showing  me that caerphilly cheese and eggs are the perfect base to a delicious batch of savoury scones. I followed the following recipe from  Goodtoknow.co.uk:

Ingredients

  • 200g (7oz) self-raising flour
  • Good pinch of cayenne pepperImage 5
  • 100g (3½oz) butter
  • 125g (4oz) Caerphilly cheese, grated
  • 3 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 2 level tbsp plain yogurt

The best thing about the recipe, was that I had all the items (except the spring onions) already in stock. I opted to buy a bunch to use later in the week,  but I’m sure the scones would still taste great without them.

Now I’m not much of a baker but even for the me the recipe was super simple to follow:

Method

  • Set oven to Gas Mark 6 or 200°C. Sift flour and cayenne pepper, into a bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  • Add just over three-quarters of the cheese and the chopped spring onion, and mix well. Stir in the eggs and yogurt. The dough will be very soft. Knead very lightly on a floured surface.

I got to the breadcrumbs stage pretty quickly:

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However, I was uncertain about the consistency of my  dough. It was super sticky but rather than adding more flour to the mix, I just made sure my work surface and rolling pin was super floured and rolled extra gently.

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  • Pat out dough to about 2.5cm (1in) deep and cut out 5 rounds. Knead the trimmings and pat out, then cut out another 2-3 scones. Put the scones on the baking sheet and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese, and more cayenne, if you like.

I’m also not sure I’m very good at measuring as my scones certainly weren’t 1 inch deep.

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  • Bake for 20-25 minutes. Best served warm with butter and a sliver of cheese

Despite the sticky dough and my inability to measure, the scones turned out super fluffy and light and are a great snack sized portion.

Image The best thing about the scones is that they can be frozen, so 3 ingredients on the edge of their use by date have now become a great savoury snack to be eaten at a later date.

I also can’t wait to sample Goodtoknow.co.uk suggestion of having them as a savoury meal with some poached egg and spinach.

And, if you’re wondering what happened to the rest of the block of cheese and remaining spring onions, I discovered a delicious recipe for some Caerphilly Cheese & Leek Pancakes where I substituted the leeks for the left-over spring onions and half a red onion that I found in my fridge.

So from potential food waste came 2 delicious meals, all costing pennies in additional ingredients, and no boring omelette in sight.

Shop but don’t drop! (How to shop to reduce food waste)

Following on from last weeks blog about the basics of meal planning, the next stage is the shop.

You should already have your list for all the ingredients needed for your planned meals, so make sure that you don’t leave the house without it. Sticking to the list should make your shop relatively easy, although the supermarket can be littered with many potential food waste mine fields.

Now I have the benefit of living very close to a supermarket, this means that I can pick up ingredients throughout the week with little or no effort. I tend to pick up the bulk of my shop on the Saturday but leave any perishables that I know I don’t need until later in the week. I’ll pick up these remaining items later in the week which means they’re fresher when I come to use them and if there’s been any curve balls during the week, with meals being missed, it will help to reduce food waste.

One of the important things about the list is to ensure that you’ve got down quantities needed for the recipes, this will stop you buying bulk ingredients that aren’t needed and will later rot.

The fruit and veg aisle for me is the most likely to result in food waste, I tend to never buy pre-packaged vegetables. Generally the quantities are much higher than needed, you also can’t always assess the quality of the vegetables and quite often pre-packaged fruit is actually higher priced than the individual items.

Another supermarket trick that I find can lead to increased food waste is the BOGOF and multi-buy offers. Now I’m all up for saving cash but in reality, you’re not saving if the food ends up in the bin. Before I take advantage of any offer, I ask myself the following 2 questions:

Will I use it before the use by date?

If not, can it be frozen?

If the answers no to both of these questions, then I leave it on the supermarket shelf.

My final tip would be the food storage, I basically freeze all items that can be if I’m not using them over the next two days. This again means that if any thing crops up during the week and I have to skip any of the meals planned, the products don’t have to be thrown away. Before I freeze the shopping,  I split up the packages into portion sized freezer bags to avoid having to defrost more than needed when it comes to use the food

And to be honest, as shopping tips go, that’s all I have. The meal plan and list really is the key, but I would love to hear from anyone who has their own tips.

Fail to plan, plan to fail (the basics of meal planning).

Now I’m certainly no saint, and food (very occasionally) gets thrown away in my house. This tends to happen when I’ve not planned ahead.

Saturday mornings in my house are spent with a cup of tea, a scurrage around the kitchen cupboards to see what perishable items need using up, and some time in front of my computer planning the meals for the week ahead.

This might not be the ideal Saturday morning for many of you, but believe me, a quick 30 minutes of planning will not only reduce your food wastage, but is likely to reduce your food bills as well.

THE BASICS

Little Miss Hubbard…

The first step in my weekly meal planning is to see what ingredients I already have in stock. These ingredients will form the basis of the following weeks meal plans. Perishable items such as fruit and veg are to be used up first, whilst any items that are frozen or have long-shelf lives can be used if they fit into a recipe that incorporates the “must use” perishables.

Planning ahead…

My partner and I have pretty busy lives and our schedules are never the same each week. Sometimes we’ll be home and eating together every night at 7pm, other weeks we’ll only see each other at breakfast. To ensure that this doesn’t result in thrown away food, I check our expected schedules for the week before I plan the weekly shop. This means that I’m not planning additional meals that won’t get eaten, it also takes into account time available which impacts whether I’m cooking up a culinary storm or emptying a tin of beans into a saucepan.

Where to start…

So, mentioned earlier were the perishable items already lurking in the kitchen cupboard, these will be the starting point for the meal plan. The ingredients might include an onion, some potatoes, cheese on it’s use by date etc…so therefore my recipes for the week have to contain these items. How you plan your recipes is up to you, you might have a full database of recipes in your head, be an inventive chef who can knock up a new invention with the available ingredients, or be like me who uses the powers of the internet and a meal planning app.

The meal plan…

To start, I’ll use the above 3 ingredients as a basis for my meal plan. I’ve got potatoes and onions, and I might have some sausages in the freezer, therefore with a few extra ingredients I reckon I can knock up a yummy sausage casserole. What I have will make 4 portions, therefore I can take left-overs for lunch, save them for a night when I haven’t got time to cook, or freeze for a later date.

I’ve now got some cheese to use up, I probably had to buy some tomatoes for my sausage casserole and cheese and tomatoes sound like a pretty tasty base for a pasta bake. I’ve now used up all the perishables that I had in, but probably had to buy some additional ones for the recipes above. Therefore I repeat the same process for the new ingredients and keep repeating until I’ve got a full weeks plan.

Don’t worry if you’re not a confident cook, the fundamentals of meal planning still apply, whether you cook everything from scratch or rely more on sauces and meals that come out of a jar or packet. However, hopefully you’ll find that introducing new recipes into your meal plan will increase your kitchen confidence.

The List…

The final piece of the plan is the shopping list, write down all the ingredients and quantities needed for your weekly meals, don’t forget the weekly essentials and add any snacks that you want for the week ahead, and hey presto, your meal plan is finished and you’re ready for your shop… 

 

UK families throw away almost a meal a day!

I’ve wanted to start a blog for a while, but could never quite motivate myself to get started. The motivation came last week, when yet another news story broke about the insane amount of food wastage in the UK.

According to statistics in the Guardian, the average UK family is throwing away  almost a meal a day, a cost of £60 a month. When converted to food quantities, the numbers are mind-blowing (86 million chickens, 24 million slices of bread, 5.8 million potatoes….). In a country where food poverty is on the increase, as is the reliance of food banks, it’s staggering to think that the solution to these problems, may partially lie in our own kitchen cupboards.

In my experience, most food wastage in the house occurs due to over-buying, poor planning and a lack of cooking skills. We’ve all seen the Jamie Oliver campaigns on teaching the nation to cook and eat healthy meals, the consumer programmes advising how to reduce food waste & shopping bills, alongside the media criticism of the supermarkets’ contribution to the problem via BOGOFF offers and use by dates.

This blog, on the other hand, isn’t meant to be a campaign or a lecture. It isn’t intended to be a criticism of other peoples habits, it’s simply a narrative of how me, as a busy working professional, keeps food waste to the minimum. I’ll be updating people with weekly meal plans, shopping lists and attempts and failures at new recipes & ingredient combinations, for any one who’s interested in not only reducing food waste but also food in general.