On Friday I was back in the chat room on Helen Blaby’s Radio Northampton lunchtime show. This time my discussion topic was food hacks – those little tips and tricks that we use to save ourselves time and money in the kitchen and, more importantly, to save on food waste.
According to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (as reported in this BBC News article), levels of household food waste have reached unacceptable levels and both retailers and consumers have a responsibility to reduce levels of food waste.
There are some terrific projects and schemes around that are helping to reduce the amount of waste produced by food manufacturers and retailers (such as The Real Junk Food Project and our very own Northampton-based Elsie’s Cafe – more on this later in this post…)
But what can we do as individuals and households to help reduce the £10bn+ worth of food waste that is generated each year in the UK? (that’s an average of £470 per household and £200 per individual a year – imagine how much gin you could buy with all that extra cash!)
A great place to start is by using our senses to discern whether the food in our fridges and cupboards are really ‘out of date’ or if they can still be used [safely] in some shape or form. For example, you can *see* if there is mould growth on a food item in your fridge and you will certainly *smell* if your milk or meat is out of date and unsafe to eat!
It is worth remembering that while ‘use by’ dates are there for food safety reasons, ‘best before’ dates refer only to quality. And so while a product with a best before/BBE date may have degraded in quality, it can still be safe to eat.
Retailers are not legally permitted to sell food stuffs that have reached their best before date and so schemes like The Real Junk Food Project rescue this food and invite people to ‘pay as you feel’ for it. Elsie’s Cafe in Northampton creates meals from rescued food in the cafe and also makes it available in its original packaged form at the ’boutique food table’ inside the cafe.
So a very easy way to play a part in reducing food waste and saving yourself money at the same time, is to look up your nearest Pay as You Feel cafe and see what’s on offer that you can take advantage of (and maybe even volunteer if you have some free time).
More tips for reducing food waste
Limp celery – rejuvenate by topping and tailing each stick before plunging upright into a jug of iced water and they will crisp back up again. Failing that, soup them!
Overripe bananas – are just perfect in a banana loaf but if you don’t have time to bake, slice your bananas, place on a baking tray and freeze. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag/box for use at a later date in either a cake or smoothie.
Juicing citrus fruits – squeeze every last drop out of an orange/lemon/lime by rolling it back and forth on your worktop or popping in the microwave for 10-15secs before juicing.
Soft biscuits/crackers – pop them on a baking tray and into a moderately hot oven for a few minutes to crisp them back up.
Potato peelings – wash your spuds before peeling then, then toss the skin peels in a little oil and sea salt then bake in the oven until crisp. Super tasty!
Eggs – if you have more fresh eggs than you think you can get through before they go off (not so much of a problem for a baker!), you can freeze them. Yes, really! Break the eggs out of their shells and whisk lightly until just combined. Transfer to a freezer container labelled with the number of eggs you whisked together. You can also freeze the whites and yolks separately, although you should add 1/3 tsp sugar to each yolk before freezing (it helps to prevent them from gelatinising). Ice cube trays are ideal for portioning and freezing individual egg whites and yolks.
Storing fruit – some fruits emit a gas called ethylene – which speeds up the ripening process – while others are sensitive to this gas and will spoil quicker if stored alongside their gas-emitting counterparts. To ensure your fruit and vegetables last as long as possible, check out this list of ethylene producing and ethylene sensitive fruits and vegetables to see which should not be stored together.
I chatted on the radio about “salad drawer soup”, which is a great way of using up saggy old vegetables and feeding bellies instead of bins! It’s a quick, cheap and easy meal to make and no two pans of soup will ever be the same as you’re just using up what you have in the salad drawer! If you have a pan, a stock cube (and ideally a stick blender for a smooth soup), then you can rustle up a tasty soup with your old veggies. Chuck in some herbs and spices if you have them – and maybe a dash of milk for a more creamy soup. But they’re not essential as the veggies alone will produce a great tasting bowl of soup.
The ‘feed bellies not bins’ philosophy is something that my local Pay as You Feel Cafe, Elsie’s, very much supports with its fantastic ‘binners’ – fundraising dinners where chefs from local Northamptonshire pubs/restaurants create a three course meal based on food that has been rescued from local retailers.
In June, Elsie’s, in collaboration with Northampton College’s catering school, will be hosting a Binner Banquet to raise awareness of, and funds for, the fantastic work they do to reduce food waste locally. And I am honoured to have been asked to create the dessert course for the banquet.
The five-course menu will be designed and made by chefs Adam and Craig from The Bread and Pullet, Alfie and Elliot from Magee Street Bakery, Nathan from My Health Hut / Cheyne Walk Club and me, using food that the team at Elsie’s Cafe has saved from landfill. Between us we aim to make the menu as inclusive as possible and we hope that the event will make many more people aware of the great work that is happening locally to reduce food waste.
The event will be held on the evening of Monday 5 June 2017 at Northampton College. Tickets for the banquet are just £25. To book your seat/table, just email the team at Elsie’s Cafe.