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.

Dandelion Cake

We have an abundance of dandelions in our garden. I love that they bring some much-needed colour after winter bleaches the Scottish landscape, and that they feed the bees which seem to happily inhabit our garden… but they really do take over huge swathes of ground.

I play a game of chicken with them every year – how long dare I let them flower? Too long and they release clouds of seed across the ground, but no long enough and my polinators go hungry.

And I really don’t like just (compost) binning them. The dandelion is a versatile food source – roots and leafs and flower are all edible. What a waste of food to simply pull it up and throw it away.

Lots of people make salads, dandelion wine, vegan ‘honey’*,  root ‘coffee’, or Greek radikia, from various parts of the plant, but I wanted something quick and child-friendly so I settled on a 2-egg Victoria sponge with petals in it, baked in a loaf tin.

Some notes: I don’t actually use a recipe when I’m making Victoria sponge. I weigh my eggs, add the same weight of self-raising flour, the same again of sugar, then half that weight of vegetable oil and half of milk. I use the veg oil/milk combination  because it’s cheaper than the equivalent quantity of butter, and because I don’t need to buy an extra ingredient i.e. margarine. If you go down this route, vegetable oil and sunflower oil work beautifully. Extra virgin rapeseed oil is awesome for nutty cakes like carrot, or coffee and walnut, but not so much for fluffy sweet things. Whatever you do, don’t use olive oil or sesame oil – trust me. Just don’t.

In case you’re not an egg-weighing person, I roughly used 120g sf flour, 120g sugar, 60mls milk, 60mls oil and 2 eggs for this cake – plus the 2 eggs and the dandelion petals.

To get your petals, all you need to do is pick some flowers – or have small, helping hands do that for you – and chop the green bits off.

It doesn’t matter if you leave a few stray greens in – it’s all edible – but too many will leave a bitter taste.

In total, you need around a cup of dandelion petals, but you can add more or less depending on your personal preference. I’m not a precise cook so I would absolutely encourage experimentation.

Bake the cake for around 40 minutes at 160C, or until a skewer comes out clean. Once you’ve done that, leave it to cool and slice when ready. If you can bring yourself to, though, I would recommend leaving it for 24 hours for the flavours to mature a little. You’ll get more of the sweet, honey undertones that way. The texture is also much more stable, and therefore willing to carry more butter. Just saying.

And there you have it. A tasty way to reduce the spread of weeds in your garden.

Have you tried eating dandelions? What are you favourite recipes? I would love to try them out! Contact me here, or on Twitter.

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*Which I’m sure my 90+ yr old friend said was what most people would have used during WW2 if honey wasn’t available, though I could be wrong.

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. 🙂

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.

 

Red cabbage rescue

So, you’ve had your festive feast and made sure to save any spare cooked vegetables for classic leftover dishes like bubble and squeak. But what about the vegetables which didn’t make it to the pan – the half red cabbage, for example?

Cabbage is actually one of the easiest vegetables to save from the rubbish bin. Unappetising in a soup – unlike most other vegetables – it makes the most amazing fermented preserve (I’m told by German friends and relatives that I can’t technically call this sauerkraut because it’s red cabbage, but it’s definitely sauerkraut-adjacent).

First, you need to very finely shred your cabbage.

As you can see from my picture, I did not ‘very finely’ shred my cabbage. This doesn’t really impact on the taste, but when you’re grabbing handfuls of it, covered in salt, it’s much easier if it’s thinly cut.

You need to add around 1 tbsp of salt per half a small cabbage (accurate measurements there), then grab handfuls of the cabbage/salt mixture and effectively knead it in the bowl. Eventually, the cabbage will begin to give up a brine. If this doesn’t happen after around ten minutes of kneading then you probably need to add a little more salt and keep kneading.

To store the cabbage during fermentation, you will need a jar, and a weight that fits inside the jar. Please excuse my laziness in not properly removing labels from re-used jars – they do come off on their own eventually…

Decant the cabbage/salt/brine mixture into the jar – the cabbage should have reduced significantly in volume by now. Add any spices you think would be nice – we really like mustard seeds, fennel seeds, corriander seeds and nigella. Mix them all together and then begin to compress the cabbage until all strands are sitting below the level of brine.

When you’re happy with your cabbage/brine arrangement, you need to weigh it down so that the cabbage doesn’t escape as the liquid evapourates.

At this stage, sensible people would add weight inside the glass ramekin…

I am not a sensible person, so I put a jar of rosehip jam on top… Job done. But only because you shouldn’t close the jar lid as the cabbage ferments. If you do, you could end up with a build up of pressure from the gas created by the fermenting process. Place your jar somewhere room-temperaturey (again, very technical instructions) and check on it regularly to make sure no cabbage is escaping the brine.

After about 4-5 weeks, start tasting your cabbage. When it’s ‘sauer’ enough for you, remove the weight, give it a good stir, decant into another jar and put the lot in the fridge. This will then slow subsequent fermentation.

Serve as you would any pickle, but it’s especially good on a creamy oat cake.

How are you using up any leftovers this year? I’d love to hear suggestions here, or on Twitter.

Every scrap.

So, before I start, I just want to tell you that I took SO MANY pictures to go along with this post.

Only two survived, though, and I honestly don’t know what happened.

Which is sort of heartbreaking, because I did everything I possibly could to make sure as many edible things as possible survived the making of my dinner tonight (see what I did there – nice link into the subject matter, eh?)

Tonight I cooked from the Leon Vegetarian cookbook.

It’s possibly my favourite culinary tome at the moment – the Readers Digest cookery year aside, obviously – and that’s largely on account of the ‘cous cous with seven vegetables’ recipe. I managed to find a copy online, so I would absolutely recommend taking a look, even if you don’t own a copy of the book.

My mission tonight was to save resources in every area I possibly could whilst cooking dinner. Let me talk you through it and I’ll highlight anything I think I’ve done which cuts down on my resource use. You’re possibly doing a lot/all of it already, but I think it’s worth taking the time to recognise when we’re doing well 😉

First of all, this meal was vegetarian, the fresh vegetables were purchased without packaging and the cous cous was bought in a cardboard box from Lidl (though I can now buy it from the plastic-free shop in the village).

Even though the recipe called for plain cous cous, I used some leafs from a cauliflower I had sitting in the fridge – this is a part of the plant people usually throw away, but it’s tasty, valuable food. I fried these with a little garlic and tossed them through the cous cous before adding the water and a stock cube, then setting it aside.

I used the same pan to begin the recipe – see link above for procedure –  and rinsed the tomato can with the 100mls of water to get the most tomatoes possible. Then when I drained the chick peas, I retained the liquid from the can to use in the making of chocolate mousse for my child’s packed lunch.

I placed all of the vegetable peelings in a paper flour bag I saved so that I could put them in the compost bin.

We kept the leftovers to eat for lunch the next day.

In the text above, there are nine seperate uses of bold text – nine seperate times when I chose not to waste resources in a 20 minute period.

If we all did this for every meal, we would go a long way to eliminating food waste.

As I said, I don’t have any pictures of the beautiful finished meal, but I do have photos of the leftoves – a.k.a lunch!

   

If you’re interested in the chocolate mousse recipe, you can find it in my post about Aqua Faba.

What are your favourite ways to reduce your waste in the kitchen? Why not come and let me know on Twitter?

Making Yogurt

On Thursday,  I mentioned that I’d managed to get my hands on some glass-bottle milk.

At £1.20 per litre, this rivals the speciality jersey milk that you get in the supermarkets on price, though on taste, it’s FAR better.

That said, it’s not something I indulge in often. Not because I don’t think it’s worth the money – it absolutely is. The cows are happy, the milking process is literally transparent (with a giant window where customers can watch), and the money goes directly to the farmer rather than a huge corporation. That the bottles are refillable from a vending machine on site and that I can also purchase ice-cream there are the icing on the proverbial cake.

I don’t buy it often because I’m not often passing so close to Aberdeen, and because I’m really mean with my petrol. A round-trip to the dairy takes around an hour and when I’m already spending more on taking the kids to school/nursery than I am on feeding us every month, this is a fuel expense I really can’t justify.

So when I do get it, it’s exactly as precious as all milk should be.

Which is why my heart was honestly in my mouth the whole time I went about making yogurt the other day. I figured, if I could use the refillable milk to make natural yogurt from, then I could do away with another single-use plastic from our lives (and potentially have an excuse to go to the dairy more often…)

The thrift shop my mum volunteers at was selling an old-style Easiyo set, which I bought for £3. Normally, you use sachets of powder with this (which I guess is still a reduction in single-use plastic too as the sachets will be smaller than a yogurt pot and less bulky to transport), but I didn’t want to add another grocery to my shopping list.

I’d read yogurt making tutorials online before which basically involve tossing a couple of tablespoons of natural yogurt into 500mls or so of milk, heating to body temperature and then leaving overnight so I thought I would combine the two methods – I added some yogurt and milk to the Easiyo pot, then followed the instructions on the website

Except I did it wrong. I misunderstood where I was supposed to put the pot and for the first 30 seconds it ended up submerged in boiling water.

It worked, regardless, though the end result is rather thin. I did take a video of it slopping off the spoon, but unfortunately, I can’t get it to load so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The taste is right, the texture – all wrong.

After some internetting, I discovered that keeping the yogurt at a steady temperature for longer is one way to go, so I might try that in future – using my trusty Thermos flasks instead of the Easiyo. This time though, I tried straining it through a coffee filter….

Which is fine, but it does create the waste product ‘whey’.  On this occassion, I’ve used half of the whey as a water substitute in these super cheap tomato scones but this isn’t a sustainable process financially, given that realistically speaking, I’d be throwing this whey out if I were to regularly strain yogurt.

Each 1l bottle of milk costs £1.20 (not counting the fuel to get to the dairy), which means that 100mls costs 12p. I made 600mls of yogurt, so 6×12=72p. But then I strained the yogurt, which meant that I actually got 300mls of yogurt for 72p, and when you can buy natural yogurt at 45p per 500ml*, the whole endeavour becomes something of a moot point.

I checked how much it would be to buy the Easiyo sachets online. A sachet, after all, is less packaging than a bucket-like tub so if I could make yogurt in this way, it would still be a plastic saving. Unfortunately, the sachets cost between £2.50 – £3 and make 1kg of yogurt, which is significantly more expensive than the massive Lidl bucket containing the same amount.

So… what’s the bottom line with yogurt? In short, it’s got to be a rare treat, rather than a staple. Whether I make it myself or buy it in plastic, it needs to be a very rare thing indeed.

Sad times. 😦

If you still eat meat and dairy, do you still consume yogurt? If so, how do you do so sustainably? ❤

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*Prices via MySupermarket – correct at time of publishing.