Beans, beans…

At the beginning of the pandemic, the panic-buying highlighted issues in our food supply chain. In response, there were so many posts online about self-sufficieny.

Whilst I’m sure most of these were well-intentioned, I think it’s unrealistic to expect that people who’ve never attempted gardening before could support themselves completely. That said, there are lots of awesome things you can do to supplement your food shopping with delicious home-grown vegetables, even if you just have a windowsill.

Before I start, I just want to say – I’m not a gardener. This is the first year we’ve tried harvesting more than some herbs, perennial fruit,  and what we can forage. We built the raised beds last November – prior to the pandemic – and have tried to fill them as best we can this season, using what we had on hand (as seeds and seedlings were hard to come by).

So, without further ado, here are the things we grew from the store cupboard.

Garlic

By putting a bulb of garlic in the fridge for a few weeks, and then planting the individual segments, we managed to start 2 rows of healthy garlic plants. When the plants start to wilt a little, I’ll cut the leaves, chop them and freeze them for a milder garlic taste that I can add to stir-fry etc. Then I’ll let the bulbs dry and store them somewhere dark, and cool, and dry.

Corriander

I have a large stash of herbs and spices, and basically anything called ‘seeds’ are exactly that (which took me far too long to realise!). I’ve been growing corriander seeds on the window ledge in the kitchen for months now and they’re doing really well.

Peas

The peas that I grow are from a packet of dried store-cupboard peas, gifted to us in the early 2010s by Husband’s Norwegian colleauge when she moved back to Norway. I couldn’t think of a way to use dried peas that anyone would actually eat, and my eldest was going through a phase of planting things so I let nature take its course with that one…. and got the most wonderful, prolific pea plants I’ve ever come across. I’ve been growing from them ever since, and even though they’re now (at least) ten years old, they still reliably germinate. In short, don’t overlook dried legumes – they’re a wonderful way to plant from your kitchen.

Beans

This one was actually a little mind-blowing (to me, because I’m a numbers nerd)…

A pack of beansprouts at Tesco (correct at the time of writing) costs 70p for 300g, or £2.34 per kilo.

You can buy a bag of dried beans for £2.25 a kilo (already slightly cheaper than the sprouted counterpart).

To sprout beans yourself, all you need is a jar, some cloth, an elastic band, and some water (and some beans, obviously). To be honest, the cloth and the band aren’t 100% necessary either.

Cover the bottom of your jar in beans. What you can see above is around 25-50g, or between 7-11p worth of beans.

Soak them in water for around an hour…

Fix the cloth onto the top of the jar with the elastic band, use it as a seive to remove the excess water and place on the window ledge.

After 24 hours, I could see the start of germination. I added a little more water…

After 48 hours, they looked like this.

After a week, they looked like the picture above! It’s amazing how they can go from just covering the bottom of the jar to filling it.

At this point, just as the first leaves are forming, I normally put the jar in the fridge. This slows growth and make them keep for longer.

The finished sprouts weigh around 200g, which means that per kilo – if my maths is correct – they cost around 35-55p. That’s a lower price per kilo than for 300g of pre-sprouted beans.

If you can buy the beans from a refillery – which I’m lucky to be able to – this results in zero waste sprouts. I use them as a base for winter salads, as texture in summer salads, in stir-frys, and on sandwiches. If you’re meal-planning anyway, it’s very little extra effort to put some ‘beans on to sprout’, and potentially save yourself a few pennies and a plastic carrier.

Even if you can’t buy the dried beans free from plastic, you’re still saving a lot of packaging from landfill. Let’s say – for the sake of easy numbers – that you sprout 50g of beans a time. This means that the 1kg back of beans will give you 20 sproutings. Each sprouting will give you around 250g (I’m saying 250g for easy maths, plus I’ve used the large example of 50g so the resulting sprouts will be slightly heavier). So that’s 20×250=5000g, or 5kg. The equivalent 300g packs of pre-sprouted beans would come in 16.6 plastic bags.

That’s effectively 15-16 plastic bags that you’ve saved from landfill, depending on whether you bought the dried beans loose or packaged.

Hhmmm… I got excited about beans there…

Moving on.

Brocolli & spring onions

Something to bear in mind while storing brocolli and spring onions:

Putting the stem of brocolli in water whilst in the fridge will keep it fresh for far longer. It is the flower of the plant, and needs treating as you would any cut flower.

Spring onions, meanwhile, usually have their roots which means they can effectively be used as ‘cut-and-come-again’ vegetables. All you need to do is pop them in a glass with water on your window ledge, then when you need some, cut down to the leaves, stopping as the colour begins to change to white.

I’ve heard you can do the same thing with leeks, but I’ve never tried it. They don’t last that long in my house. I’m a big lover of leeks…

Regrow?

Finally, I thought I would touch on those videos that seem to be everywhere just now, implying that you can regrow all sorts of things from food scraps. I’ve heard that lots of the ideas don’t work, so I thought I’d test them by putting a lettuce nub in the ground… I’ll let you know how that pans out…

Don’t be discouraged, though. In the past, I’ve had great success as a result of Plants from Pips – specifically with avocado stones.

And that’s all, really.

Have you tried growing anything from kitchen scraps and seeds? I’d love to hear about any successes, either here or on Twitter.

Nettle Soup

Nettle soup is one of those ‘literary’ dishes. It sounds like something lifted straight from Beatrix Potter, or something that Merry Men would ‘sustain’ themselves on whilst hiding out in the forest. I think that’s why I loved it, to begin with – because I could pretend to be romantic and windswept and Tess-of-the-D’Urbervilles-y frugal.

Except that now, it’s just a thing that I eat, because we have nettles and I’m too lazy to go shopping.

To make a hearty bowl of nettle soup you need: 
– some nettles (obviously). I find around two big, fat handfuls works. Try to take the leafs from the top of the plant. You want the small tender ones.
– some kind of oniony taste (slightly-sprouting back-of-the-cupboard onions are fine, as are spring onions, leeks, garlic, and chives)
– some stock (I use a chicken OXO cube or some veg stock I made)
– possibly some diary – I like stinky cheese rinds, but these aren’t essential

I fry off the oniony-component in a little oil. As I’m doing that, I put a seive over a bowl, pop the nettles in the seive, and then pour boiling water over them to rid them of all stingy parts and any muck from outside. Once that’s done, I add the nettles to the onions. (I let the water in the bowl cool – it’s going on my house plants.) To the soup-pan, I add my stock and enough water to cover the nettles. When these have cooked through and gone tender, I blend them and add any dairy leftovers – a teaspoon of soured cream, some creme fraiche about to turn, some grated stilton rinds…

If I want something thicker, I like to add potato to the mix. Leftover mash is ideal, but tiny cubes cook quickly and really help to thicken things.

The taste is earthy – a bit like spinach – and wholesome. And if you grow your own chives and otherwise use up your leftovers as you make it, nettle soup can be one of those oh-so-rare free meals.

If you try it, I’d love to hear what you think. As ever, you can get in touch here or on Twitter.

Soap from fryer oil

IMPORTANT: The contents of this post are NOT intended as a tutorial so do not contain a soap recipe. They are a record of my own experiences. I take no responsibility for any soap related mishaps readers might have after having read this post! 

I’m not going to lie – I love our deep fat fryer. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Proper chips.

That said, it uses a lot of oil. Much as I half-heartedly justify the extravagence as preventing me from driving to pick up a take-away, I do feel bad about the quantity of oil it eats through. Being honest, we don’t actually use it that often, but I still can’t get over the 5 litre bottles we have to pour into it – bottles which would last us at least 6 months otherwise! And that’s with using oil as a butter replacement in pastry and cakes!

Anyway, with the local recycling centres closed due to Covid 19, I’ve been trying to come up with ideas for the used oil that’s currently in our house. We’d been meaning to take the bottle to the tip for ages, but never got around to doing it and now, for obvious reasons, we can’t.

I’ve read a lot of lovely posts about how to turn used cooking oil into candles, but as we have an enormous supply of these, inherited from my mother in law, it hardly seems like a useful way to employ this resource.

One thing I have done in the past, however, which needed a lot of oil/fat is soap making.

I’ve made soap from all sorts of different fats before now – lard, beef dripping, coconut oil, beeswax… All of them have been a success. As it’s a waste product I’m using anyway, all I have to lose is a little water and some caustic soda.

TLDR: We have a lot of waste sunflower oil. I’m going to use it for soap.

First of all, I filtered the oil.

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You can really see in the above picture just how much… material… there is in the unfiltered oil on the right. After filtering, there was still a slight pong of chips so I went up to the bathroom cabinet and selected some essentail oils. Usually the soap-making process does away with any of an oil’s natural scent – this was especially surprising when I used lard –  but just in case, I chose rose wood, cedar wood and grapefruit oils. I didn’t actually buy there specially for soap making – I use the cedar wood to keep moths out of my clothes, picked up the rose wood by mistake in an effort to buy cedar wood, and I use the grapefruit to scent my cleaning vinegar. If you don’t have any essentail oils to hand, you could hypothetically use a perfume, but only add these lovely smells at the end of the process – just before you’re due to pour the soap into a mould.

Anyway, where was I?

After I had filtered the oil and knew how much I had, I weighed it using the Husband’s coffee scales. To do so, I zeroed the scales with a bowl on them, then added the oil. It’s really important to be accurate when making soap – right down to the gram. Once I knew how much oil I had, I entered the quantity into SoapCalc. This is an absolutely incredible online resource which tells you how my lye (or caustic soda) you need to make soap from your chosen types and volumes of oil.

The method is fairly simple. Obviously, your recipe will be completely different to the one that this tutorial details, but the order in which you do things is exactly the same.

Personally, I don’t use plain water with my lye – I use a mixture of ice cubes and water so that it doesn’t take too long to cool down. Also, just to reiterate I ALWAYS ADD THE LYE TO THE WATER. I once did it wrong and nearly melted my kitchen, so take it from me – DON’T DO IT. I am also much too impatient to wait for the lye solution to cool so… yeah. It’s a pretty fast process when I do it…

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Anyway… moving swiftly on. When the soap mixture reached ‘trace’, I added my fragrance and poured the mixture into my mould. This isn’t technically a soap mould – it’s a square bit of polystyrene packaging which I really like to use because it insulates the soap in addition to shaping it. Win-win all round.

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After I’d done that, and simply because I could, I sprinkled a load of dried flower parts on top – some lavender, and some rose petals, as well as some tiny little white blossoms that I don’t know the name of…

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After this, as per the video, the soap needed keeping cosy, so I used an old selection box insert – left over from Christmas and which I sometimes use as a soap mould – as a lid and wrapped the whole thing in a towel to sit in my bathroom over night.

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Interestingly, the soap was still soft when I got up the next morning. I mean, it wasn’t liquid, but it wasn’t hard soap, either. I guess the best comparison would be the texture of warm toffee – pliable. I tried to cut into it and internally, it looked almost crystalised. I don’t know if this was because I used only one sort of fat (where usually I use a mixture) or because it was entirely oil based. People have said on various forums that olive-oil soap tends to take longer to set so I removed it from the mould and placed it on top of my freezer in the open air in an effort to dry it out somewhat…

A few days later and the soap remained the same ‘chewy’ consistency so I consulted a book about soap making. Apparently, the caustic soda I used in this batch wasn’t of a particularly high quality (not my usual brand on account of Covid 19) and leaving the soap around 3 weeks longer than usual – 9 weeks in total – will leave me with bars which have a higher fat content than those I’m used to. This is no bad thing – hopefully it’ll make the soap more moisturising for my youngest child’s somewhat fussy skin.

Despite the obvious setback, I’m really pleased with how this turned out. Obviously, in this instance, I didn’t use a lot of oil – around half a litre – , but I still got a lot of soap out of it (or will do, when it finally sets). Whilst I can use some of the fryer oil in this way going forward, it won’t be something I can do with all of the spent fat.

But oh-my-goodness it’s such a cheap way to get soap!

I’ll send you an update on how the soap is doing when it has finished ‘curing’ in 9 weeks’ time!

Do you have any suggestions for what I could do with the next batch of oil? I would absolutely love to hear them, either here, or on Twitter.

Broccoli soup

As I said in a previous post, this was written before the COVID19 outbreak but it seems even more pogniant now…
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One of the best things we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to be careful with the food we eat. One of the most wasted items of food – that I see, in any case – is the broccoli stem.

I’m not really sure why this is, to be honest. I mean, sure – if you boil it with the florettes, it ends up stringy, but there are loads of different ways to cook it.

Rather than throw it out, I collect mine in the freezer. When I have 4-5 stalks chopped up and in a bag, I buy a brand new florette and make broccoli soup. Admittedly, you can absolutely make it without the whole, new broccoli head, but it can look a little bit pale and anaemic.

Anyway, here’s what I usually do.

Ingredients:
3-4 broccoli stalks
1 whole head of broccoli
1 onion
1 stock cube (I use OXO chicken/beef as it’s plastic & palm oil free, but if you want vegetable stock, you can make your own too)
Water
A dairy product – optional (this is ideal for using up the ends of soured cream, for example, or cheese rinds).

Method:

  • Chop your onions and fry them off in a little oil. I tend to use the oil from sun-dried tomatoes for frying things off in as it adds a little flavour and uses up something you’d otherwise throw out.
  • After your onions have softened a little, add the chopped, frozen stalks to your pan, along with your stock and enough water to cover. (Some astute readers might note the asparagus ends and celery in the frozen veg below – I just tend to freeze odd scraps that are about to go off, so I can use them in soup . This lot ended up in with the broccoli.)
  • After these have softened a little, add your fresh broccoli.
  • When it’s soft enough, use the stick blender to mush the lot. Or, if your family likes to actually chew their food (unlike my youngest), blend until there are chunks of your preferred size in there. Afterwards, add any dairy that you’re going to add.
  • Serve, and enjoy.

In the interests of total disclosure, my kids like this more than my husband and I do. I feel like there’s a depth of flavour that’s lacking (which may or may not be improved by the use of ham stock…). That said, in terms of affordability and uses of food waste, this is definitely a winner. And it doesn’t taste bad. Not by any stretch of the imagination – it’s a warming, hearty soup. I’m just used to being thoroughly spoiled with what I get to eat. I married a wonderful cook.

Do you make use of your broccoli stems? I would love to hear what you do! As ever, contact me here, or on Twitter.

Experiments with Aquafaba

A while ago, a friend of mine told me that you could make Scotch pancakes/Bannocks/Drop Scones with aquafaba instead of all the other wet ingredients.

 

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So I thought I would try it. It didn’t go perfectly, but did go better than it might have done.

Ingredients;
225g self raising flour
2 cans worth of aquafaba – in this case, half from kidney beans and half from chickpeas.
Optional – rose water and poppy seeds.

Method:
Mix everything together. Fry in a pan on a low heat.

It’s the cooking where this method begins to fall apart – in short, the outside cooks far quicker than the inside, even with the pan on the lowest possible temperature. What I think I need to do is use less liquid and whip it into fluffy peaks.

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This is the point at which you would flip ‘normal’ pancakes, however with these, the underside wasn’t even solid.

I waited until it was, but even then, the centre was doughy and moist. In the end I baked them in the oven for a time. They were edible, but still not the fluffy pancake that I was hoping for.

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As I say, next time, I’m going to try a few things differently. What I am absolutely going keep about this recipe, however, is the floral flavour combination.

Oh my goodness, the rose water and the poppy seeds are absolutely glorious together – sweet and aromatic, perfumed and light. These pancakes taste like the height of summer, and when eaten with sticky bramble jam, they’re so evocative of balmy days foraging in the hedgerows Down South.

So, watch this space – I am definitely going to experiment some more with this!

Do you have any other use for Aquafaba? I’ve already used it in chocolate mousse and meringues  but I’m keen to find other ways to make use of it! As ever, contact me here or on Twitter. 🙂

The Garden

I touched on our plans for the garden a long while back, whilst chatting about my kitchen. Since then, we’ve been busy scheming, and now that the new year is on us, it’s time to get to work.

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Using Allotment Month by Month, by Alan Buckingham as our main source of information, I sat down one night and tried to make a month by month plan of what we could realistically achieve within a year as total novices.

Hardback cover of Allotment Month by Month

Then yesterday, with help from our absolutely amazing neighbours at the farm, work began.

Firstly, the conifer hedge at the back of the property came out. I’m not normally one for removing trees, but I’m going to call this one a win – the maintainence of this border was getting increasingly difficult given the trees’ height, it was interfering with the farm’s electric fencing, and now it’s gone, I can plant a variety of native trees and bushes which will flower and provide food for us and various wildlife.

The plan so far is to purchase a ‘Scottish Mix’ of trees from the Woodland Trust.  This includes a holly, a rowan, a silver birch and a juniper. I had also hopes to plant a yew, however it’s potentially unsafe for grazing animals on account of the apparently toxic alkaloids in the foliage and seed-coats (if anyone knows more about this, I would love to hear from you – I’m just reading things online!) so for now, the yew will have to go on hold.

Without the constant maintainence of the hedge to worry about, we can devote our time outdoors to raised beds, which is precisely what we intend to do. Husband planned and built the containers from a mixture of scrap wood and new, treated timber, and we have – so far – filled them with a mixture of shredded branches and rotted manure from the farm up the track.

The next stage – roll on pay day! – will be buying some (peat free) compost as the top layer and planting all manner of exciting things. Because of the chippings and the manure, I shouldn’t need to bring in an awful lot of compost. Eventually, I hope we’ll be able to keep topping this up with our own from the compost bins we’ve managed to source but for now, I’ll be prioritising large sacks and recyclable plastic.

In addition to the compost bins, I hope to purchase a wormery so that the cooked food waste and dog poop can also be processed here – less to transport off site on bin-day. Obviously, you can’t use the resulting soil on food beds (because dog poop), but I’m sure this new earth would be welcome beneath the little bee-buffet I’m trying to cultivate around our deck.

At some point, we absolutely want to get a greenhouse, but as with so many other things, money is a (huge) factor. I think, to begin with, we’ll see how we go with the raised beds and assess the greenhouse situation after that, but given the climate in the north east of Scotland, in all liklihood, we’ll need glass to grow anything beyond potatoes…

I will keep you updated on our progress over the coming months. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that what I’m doing here is far from a tutorial – we have absolutely no idea what we are doing! – so please don’t copy me! In fact, feel free to comment with ways we can up our gardening game to avoid complete failure!

As ever, please feel free to get in touch below, or on Twitter, with ANY suggestions!

 

 

RHS Plants from Pips by Holly Farrell

RHS Plants from Pips By Holly Farrell

RHS Plants from Pips by Holly Farrell is a great little book which everyone in this house has greatly enjoyed.

Not technically an ‘eco’ book, but definitely worthy of mention for so many reasons, this little tome is a wealth of information regarding regrowing plants from the seeds in our foods.

My mum originally gifted it to my children with a view to helping them learn where their food comes from, but it’s also a great way to produce food from what is largely considered waste -imagine  homemade compost, growing seeds we would otherwise throw out, planted in recycled containers, all producing delicious things to eat with zero food miles? It doesn’t get much better than that, really. And don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusions that my growing army of house plants are going to somehow tip the carbon scales back in our favour, but they’re definitely not hurting! Imagine if everyone who ate an apple planted the pips – the world would be a vastly different place…

The instructions in here are clear, concise and accurate. So far, 4/5 of avocado pips we’ve planted have resulted in fledgling trees and we’re all delighted. My youngest is so taken with the idea that he’s even started coming home from nursery with carefully gathered kiwi seeds from his afternoon snack…

There’s not a huge amount more to say about the book – in short, if you can get hold of a copy then do. It’s pretty, it’s accurate, the instructions yield results even when undertaken by two under-tens and an adult with a genetic pre-disposition to destroy plants by looking at them… you can’t really ask for more, can you?

Have you tried planting any seeds from your supermarket vegetables? Did you have any success? I’d love to hear about your results – avocado or otherwise!

 

A much-too-long essay about meal planning

Meal planning is something that is spoken about often when it comes to reducing food and financial waste. The idea is simple – plan what you’re going to have to eat in advance, then purchase what you need in the quantities required.

In practise, it can be a hard habit to get into – especially if you’re used to wandering the supermarket without a list. I think the biggest difference I found to begin with wasn’t the price (though that was vastly reduced), but the quantity of food. I had everything on my list, but my trolley contained only around a third of my usual items.

Hopefully, if you’re new to meal planning, the information below will help you begin to save money, and prevent waste. The following is based on an article I wrote back in August 2012 for another blog, but I’ve updated it to focus on the environment.

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I try to approach meal planning with the 5Rs firmly in mind – refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle & rot.

So, first step – we need to eat, so how can we refuse food?  In this case, we refuse to buy items we already own.

To begin with, I check the freezer and the cupboard, then make a list of what’s there. It usually becomes evident at this point which foods I can easily make from the ingredients I have, and what I can make by adding just a few extra things. This forms the basis of my meal plan.

So, for example, if my cupboard yields 3 complete meals and 2 incomplete ones, I would write down the ingredients to complete those 2 meals which are missing components.  Then, for the remainder of the 7 dinners, I would use the ingredients already on my list as my basis.

When it comes to reduce, this is the part where you assess what you actually need. This could involve questions such as

– ‘Do I need the BOGOF box of cereal?’ (If I don’t, should I simply buy one, or donate the extra non-perishable item to the food bank?)
-‘Do I need to buy snacks on top of any baking I’ll do at home?’
-‘Do I need to drive to the shop – can I car-pool, walk, or get a delivery? Can I use public transport, or call at the shops whilst running another errand?’
-‘Do I need to go shopping at all? If I start to put milk and bread in my freezer/switch to a milkman, could I plan cleverly and shop every second week /monthly ‘.

Reducing whilst shopping also covers our aims to reduce the packaging we bring home. Is it possible to make your own version of something to cut back on plastic, or using alternatives to plastic store-supplied packagaing such as your own cloth bags for loose bakery products and vegetables, or selecting frozen over fresh when the frozen goods are packed in cardboard.

In terms of financial savings, if there is a choice between a premium brand and a supermarket equivalent, it’s well worth considering the value/basics ranges – presuming the packaging is the same. It’s also worth noting that the class 2 veg available at some supermarkets is both fantastic value and helps to prevent food waste.

Another financial point to make is that it’s worth checking the kilo price of food too – remember that one can of sweetcorn costs around the same as a massive bag of frozen. Admittedly that frozen bag is usually plastic, but in terms of shipping costs – carbon and financial – and wastage, the plastic is going to be better, especially if the can contains a plastic lining which renders it unrecyclable. You can also use weigh out exactly the quantity of frozen sweetcorn that you need and then save the rest indefinitely for a longer period – unlike when you open a can, use half, and forget about the remainder at the back of the fridge… ahem.

If you have a bread machine, or are up for making your own bread by hand, there are further financial and environmental savings to be had. You can buy small cans of fast-action dried yeast, but Tesco bakery sections will provide fresh yeast for free (and you can take your own packaging) and Morrisons sell small packs of it for very little money. If you don’t want to have your oven on for long periods, you can also bake your loaf in a slow cooker. Once you’ve cracked a plain loaf of bread, pizza dough isn’t a difficult second act. We’ve had great success with making and then freezing pizza bases – saving on packaging and money – for use on busy days.

There are some amazing posts online about low waste snacking (and my own offering, here), so I’ll just cover a few basics now. If you can get reduced fruit juice you can make some pretty good ice lollies. Just pour the juice into a mould and freeze. Or alternatively, you can make something which tastes exactly like a Feast by blending 2 tablespoons of Nutella with some soya milk. Mmmm…. By reusing your own lolly moulds, you save the individual wrappers from landfil, the box from recycling, and the shipping cost of frozen goods. It’s also miles cheaper and you know exactly what you’re eating.

Popcorn is the classic low waste snack – buy the kernels, pop them at home and flavour yourself. Make in advance and pack in Tupperware, or used paper flour bags for packed lnches. Even if you can’t get this package-free, it’s still far less wasteful than bags of ready made stuff, bags of crisps etc. and it’s quick and easy – plus you can flavour it with whatever you like.

Reusing in terms of food comes down, once again, to examining our intake and the packaging our food comes in. If we plan our meals well, pay attention to portion size when we’re cooking (and by this I mean, what will we realistically eat – different people have different appetites and that’s ok), and don’t over-purchase perishable items, there shouldn’t be a huge amount of leftovers to reuse. Obviously, though, we’re not perfect, and plans change, so periodically this will happen. That’s Ok – just do a quick search online for ‘X leftover recipes’ and see what you can come up with. If you’re not going to use the food in question straight away, put it in the fridge – either in an airtight container (and here you can reuse old jars or yogurt tubs etc), or in a bowl with a plate for a lid.

The packaging from our food sort of crosses between reuse and recycle. We can reuse it – as stated above – to store other items, but we can also employ it an any other number of ways. A personal favourite is to use food packaging to grow plants in. Rather than buy new plastic trays, I like to use the hard-to-recycle black plastic trays to start seedlings in, sometimes with a clear plastic tray over the top. I particularly like planting things in old treacle tins, like this avocado pip:

I’ve spoken in the past about how much I love enamel as a material, but old food tins are a close second when it comes to household objects. If you’re not sold on the idea of them as pretty things in your home, try searching Pinterest for ‘vintage tins repurposed’. From cake-stands to lampshades, there are ideas aplenty.

Packaging can serve in other ways too – you can see some old coffee jars here, and some old wine corks which have found new life amongst our toys. A friend of mine even collected Bonne Maman preserve jars for a year and then used them as her glassware. Our own drinking glasses are mustard jars that Husband’s mother purchased over the course of a few years in 90s Germany, and I make jellies and mousses in ex-Aldi-yogurt jars for my eldest’s packed lunches.

More unusual reuse came about when I made soap before Christmas – the bottoms of plastic milk-bottles make superb soap moulds, as do selection-box packages (gifted to us, not purchased by us).

If there really isn’t anything else you can  repurpose your food packaging for, check with your local council as to what they do and don’t recycle.

Which leaves us with rot. There are lots of ways to really get the most out of any remaining food waste – composting at home and local food-waste collection being the two most common. You can, however, use some waste products to create dye, such as onion skins and avocado pips. Other things – such as spent tea and coffee can be used to grow things like cress or alfalfa shoots on.

I hope some of this has been useful. I realise we moved away from the basics of meal planning pretty early on, but hopefully this will help someone start to reduce their shopping waste.

What are your best tips for ensuring we don’t use more than we need in the kitchen? I would love to hear your suggestions.

Low waste treats

When we initially sat down to take stock of what we were throwing away, one item stood out above the rest – snack packaging.

I’ve always been a baker, so cake-packaging was never particularly prevalent, but chocolate bars and crisps featured heavily. Happily, there are lots of chocolate bars out there which come in paper and foil – everything from Green & Black’s Organic, to Lidl’s most basic line. The other expenses of the week dictate which I choose, but the Lidl ones are really good for cooking with.

Anyway, though I love chocolate as much as the next person, there comes a point when you want to have something… other than just chocolate.

Obviously, alternative snack options include the usual unpackaged suspects – fresh fruit, homemade pop corn (ideally from a refillery, but even in a plastic bag, the packaging is vastly reduced), and home bakes are all excellent. Sometimes though, you just want to eat trashy sweets that remind you of your childhood.

So what are your options here?

Well, chocolate fudge is incredibly easy to make. You need:
-500g of chocolate
-a can of condensed milk.

You melt the ingredients together (either in a pan, slow cooker or bain marie), allow the mixture to cool and then slice into blocks. At this point, you can eat it as it is, or cover the blocks in chocolate and enjoy a homemade Fudge bar. All of the ingredients’ packages are fully recyclable, and if it isn’t eaten first, lasts for quite a while in the fridge.

The other pre-packaged chocolate that’s surprisingly easy to make is honey-comb/Crunchie/cinder toffee. It took me years to attempt it because… well… it just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you could make at home. I wish I’d tried sooner, though.

I followed this recipe, then dribbled chocolate over the top. I’m considering buying a silicone mould so I can make actual bars of this – it’s absolutely delicious. The ingredients come in metal tins (golden syrup), paper (sugar), and recyclable plastic (bicarb), though the bicarbonate of soda can sometimes be purchased in a refillery, or in bulk online. I buy huge quantities at a time because I used it for cleaning, bath bombs and cooking, which reduces the quantity of waste this produces.

I would love to be able to show you some beautiful photos of these things when I finished making them, but they didn’t last long enough for that. They were consumed within minutes. Literal minutes.

My next step in eliminating snack waste will be to attempt making my own crisps. I have a deep fat frier, but before I get involved in that whole endeavour, I want to try out baking potato skins.

Are there any other recipes you know of to replicate store-bought snacks? I’d love to hear them.

 

Minimal Waste Garlic baguettes

One of the things I like to do regarding food, is to see how long I can go between meal-planned shopping trips. This results in less food waste as I’m forced to find ways to use up the odds and ends in the fridge which might otherwise go to waste.

One of the easiest, quickest, most obvious ways of using up wilting vegetables is soup and so we tend to eat a lot of it – I am a lazy cook! That said, it can get a bit samey  if you’re having it a few days in a row. For that reason, I really love to serve it with different things; oatcakes, cheese on toast, porcini bread (more on that later), and the all time favourite – a garlic baguette.

The obvious issue with these is the packaging. Some are better than others, but often you find the bread on a plastic tray within a plastic bag, or two baguettes individually wrapped within a larger bag…

As we were getting through so many of these, I decided to try and find a reduced waste alternative. Unfortunately, I can’t get butter without creating waste, but otherwise, I think I’ve got it cracked!

First, you need your baguettes. You can buy these loose at many bakery counters within the supermarkets. I can vouch for the quality of those from Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco, but haven’t tried any from other outlets. Pictured below are some reduced baguettes I bought for 11p. Yes, they came in plastic, but I’ve been keeping these sleeves after use to freeze loose baguettes so they won’t be destined for the bin for a while yet.

Plus, I’m not going to lie – I’m not going to say no to 11p bread. But that’s a discussion for another time. For now, I’m claiming that my buying them helps to reduce food waste…

In addition to the bread, you need around a third of a pack of butter, a garlic clove and a big handful of parsley. I got the parlsey from the reduced section this time, too, but when my plant outside recovers, I’ll be using homegrown again. I’ve also been known to use dried in the past and it does work though obviously you need less –  I reckon about 1tsp is a good quantity.

First of all, melt your butter. Today, I had some just-boiled water in my kettle from the cuppa I was drinking so I used a bain marie, but you could just toss the butter in a bowl in the microwave for around 20 seconds, mashing it at the 10 second mark.

After your butter has melted, mince/finnely shred your garlic and very finely chop your parsley. Mix the lot together and place this in the fridge/somewhere cool until the garlic butter has the consistency of Mr Whippy ice cream.

While you’re waiting slice across the baguette, but leave about 1cm attached the bottom. I don’t know what’s going on with the above picture, by the way. The bread looks miniature but I swear it’s just the angle…

After the butter has hardened a little, it’s just a matter or spooning it in between the slices. Slip the bread back in its plastic, or in one you’ve been saving, or another recepticle of your choice and then freeze.

To reheat these, turn the oven on to around 160C/320F and allow around 20 minutes. To make the most of the oven being on, I usually cook something else at the same time – a cake/some cupcakes/the soup in a casserole dish, for example.

If I’d purchased baguettes loose, bagged them up in my reusable bags like I normally do, and used parsley from the garden, the only non-compostable waste would have come from the butter packet.

Definitely an improvement on the pre-made baguettes, and a fraction of the price.

I would call that a win! What are your favourite ready made foods? I’d love to see if we can figure out a low waste, super-easy alternative! As ever, let me know either here, or on Twitter.