There’s been quite a bit of press about reducing waste recently. And rightly so. In a country where many are struggling to make ends meet, those of us at the more fortunate end of the scale are throwing away 79kg of food scraps per year. Which is a lot when extrapolated out over our population. To be precise, enough to fill 213 jumbo jets, or enough to feed Dunedin for two years.
The Love Food Hate Waste movement has gathered momentum and is raising the profile of this issue, to educate us about how we can make better use of the scraps we have left over. Their website has a huge number of recipes and ideas for how to better use our leftovers, and features such high profile names as Al Brown and Lauraine Jacobs.
Waste reduction takes some thinking and mindfulness to be honest. When you find a lemon going soft and stinky in the back of the fridge, willpower is needed to not just turf the whole thing into the bin. And it can become a chore to constantly find ways to use up that crust of bread or that rind of cheese.
There are some habits we can easily get into though which will keep our food waste down. These are some of the things I do:
- Shop for fresh food daily – I know this sounds like a major hassle when you’re working full time. It’s a habit I got into because I can never decide what I want to eat for dinner in advance, so I decide on the day. We also run out of different things at different times (bread, eggs, milk, bananas) so it’s not really much more effort to pick up the few extras I need for dinner at the same time. The benefit has proven to be that I throw out far less food because I don’t buy any more than we need. When I was shopping weekly, vegetables and fruit would go bad before I could eat them. Now I assess what I have on a rolling basis and buy just what I need.
- Invest in a worm farm or compost bin – My worm bin is one of the best investments
we’ve ever made. It’s the perfect eco-system, which I got from Hungry Bin. The worms multiply in relation to the amount of food scraps they have to eat. More scraps, more worms. It means I’m not putting food scraps down the waste disposal unit (another ecological nightmare), and any fruit or vegetable scraps that are mouldy or soft can go to the worms. I have been told they don’t like citrus or onions, but I’ve had no issues with those. After the course of a few weeks or months, you can put their casings onto the garden as fertiliser, while the “worm wees” can be used as liquid fertiliser (so long as you dilute it with water). If worms leave you cold, a compost bin will have the same result, with the added advantage of being a great place for your garden refuse.
- Bake a cake – There are many recipes for cakes incorporating overripe fruit or vegetables. Banana cake is an obvious candidate, but carrots, apples, lemons, pears and even courgettes make delicious cakes. This is my favourite banana loaf from Helen Jackson, in A Treasury of New Zealand Baking
BANANA CHOCOLATE-CHIP LOAF
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup natural yoghurt (make your own here)
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup mashed, overripe banana
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups standard flour
- Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 24cm loaf tin and line with baking paper
- Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition
- Combine the yoghurt with the baking soda and banana
- Stir the chocolate chips into the flour
- Add the flour mixture and the yoghurt mixture to the creamed butter mixture, alternating between the two. Pour into the prepared loaf tin.
- Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin.
- Turn leftover roast vegetables into a salad – This goes for any leftover vegetables really. Cold roast vegetables, mixed with fresh salad greens, fresh tomatoes, chopped herbs and the protein of your choice (eggs, chicken, tuna) make a delicious lunch the next day. A simple vinaigrette made by whisking together 1 tablespoon of vinegar with 3 tablespoons of olive oil will top it off nicely.
- Or make a soup – Soups are a fantastic way to use up vegetables that have been
cooked already or leftover roast meat. All you need is some stock, some herbs and an extra onion, carrot and a stick of chopped celery, and you have another meal ready to go. Just saute the chopped onion, carrot and celery in a little olive oil until soft. Add your left over vegetables and a sprig of thyme, rosemary or a bayleaf (or a combination of the three). Top with stock and cook until fragrant and the vegetables very soft. Remove the herbs, blend until smooth and season to taste. Stir through shredded roast meat if desired.
- Make stock – I use stock all the time. It’s quite expensive to buy the good stuff and
super cheap to make yourself. This is a great way to use up bones from roasts, chops or chicken, any left over herbs, or offcuts from vegetables. I use the ends of carrots, the skins and ends of onions, the tops of fennel bulbs, wilted celery and any other vegetables looking past their best. Just throw it all in a pot, top with water and cook for as long as you wish. Stock will freeze for about 6 months or until you need it.
- Make stews – A leg of lamb is often way too much meat for a family of four. Turn it into a stew with some sauteed onion, carrot and celery, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, a bayleaf and sprig of thyme, a cup of wine and some beef or lamb stock. For a bit of extra flavour, add a couple of rashers of chopped bacon to the pan with the onions. Once those have all cooked together, add the cooked diced lamb (or chicken, or beef, or pork) and cook until the meat is very tender. Stir through some spinach or other winter greens if desired. Thicken with cornflour and season to taste.
- Use the stew to make pies – I bought a Sunbeam pie maker a few years ago and have
never looked back. All it needs is ready rolled puff pastry and I can churn out any number of pies to use up left overs. I’ve made pies from coq au vin, spaghetti bolognese, smoked fish pie (complete with mashed potato) and pulled pork. The pies freeze brilliantly and come back to crisp perfection from frozen after 30 minutes in a 180°C oven.
- Freeze leftovers – this seems obvious, but freezing is definitely worthwhile doing. So long as you keep track of what you have in the freezer!! I freeze leftover meals, half loaves of bread and milk (low fat milk freezes better) for emergencies, egg whites (see how to use leftover yolks and whites), and bits of cake that are in danger of going stale. Most things come back well and it gives me a ready store of dinners for the days I just can’t be bothered.