Want to start a Zero Food Waste challenge in your home? Darina Allen has all you know to know – leftovers will be a thing of the past.
Zero Food Waste: even for those of us who are super committed, it’s quite the challenge, so in 2019, let’s redouble our efforts to do what we can to reduce food waste, right here in our own homes.
We know the stark statistics – the numbers continue to grow daily. At a time when one third to a half of all food produced in the world (depending on who you read) is being binned, a billion people are starving and more than a billion are suffering from obesity.
Countless factors, from the field to the market place contribute to the accumulation of food waste. However, the media focus on the topic is helping to raise awareness and force change.
Consequently, both in the UK and over here, many of the supermarket chains have brought forward initiatives in response to severe and growing criticisms from their customers not only about food waste but also about excess packaging.
Supermarket policy could be a game-changer but there are several easy steps we could take in our homes to reduce food waste. High on the list is to have a clear understanding of the difference between ‘sell by dates’ and ‘use by dates’ which is still super confusing to an alarming number of us. In a recent (unscientific) straw poll here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, I discovered that in excess of 90% of us are still ‘woozy’ about the difference between one and the other and whether they refer to food quality or food safety.
So lesson number one, treat ‘use by dates’ with scepticism, they are always conservative. Supermarkets are understandably terrified of poisoning their customers, they have calculated the dates for the worst possible scenario — food being left in hot cars for hours on end and/or stored in dodgy fridges. So let’s relearn to trust our senses in the time honoured way — observe, smell, taste, if you can hear it bubbling, it’s time to throw it out unless it’s fermenting…
Ironically, the whole cheap food policy has contributed hugely to the waste problem. Research has clearly shown that we find it much easier to bin without guilt when an item doesn’t cost much.
‘Buy one, get one free’ has also been counter-productive plus, many customers are still unaware that is not the supermarket out of the goodness of their hearts who provide the free item but the producer who is ‘encouraged’ to donate, and rarely if ever gets the credit and we are tempted to buy more food than we need.
However, once we decide to take up the zero waste challenge at home it can quickly become a fun obsession. Regard it as an opportunity to be creative, instead of seeing waste, see it as a chance to create a yummy snack or dinner.
A change in mindset quickly results in savings which can be reinvested in sourcing more nutrient dense organic and chemical free food.
Chefs too are increasingly concerned about the levels of waste in their kitchens, Michelin starred establishments, where it’s often just the choicest morsels that are served, are by their own admission, guiltiest in this regard but many are resolved to review the situation. Dan Barber from Blue Hill at Stone Barns located north of New York city kick-started the discussion when he brought his thought provoking food waste Pop Up — WastED to Selfridges in London in 2017.
At Ballymaloe House Myrtle Allen, who came, as I did from a generation for whom waste was not an option imbued us with a ‘zero waste’ culture long before the term was coined.
So as we settle into 2019, let’s resolve to take on the challenge of reducing our food and packaging waste to as close to zero as possible. Happy New Year!
Let’s think of food groups one by one — start with bread. Buy less but better quality. Family members with gluten intolerances will find they can eat every scrap of natural sourdough (but beware of ‘faux sourdough’, there is lots of it around).
Better still bake your own bread as often as possible, you’ll be much less likely to throw even a crumb of your crusty loaf in to the bin. The end of a pot of yoghurt can be added to a soda bread mix for extra deliciousness.
One way or another, there are a myriad of ways to use up left over bread, make bread crumbs, use fresh or freeze for stuffing, gratins, French toast, eggy bread, Tunisian orange cake, bread and butter puddings… Freeze ripe bananas for banana bread.
French Toast with Ripe Bananas and Maple Syrup
French toast is so good that you forget how economical it is. The French don’t call it French toast. They call it pain perdu or “lost bread”, because it is a way to use up leftover bread you would otherwise lose. This recipe also uses up ripe bananas simply and deliciously.
1 egg, free range if possible
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon of sugar, (maybe use Rapadura or Barbados)
1 ripe banana
2 slices white bread
A little clarified butter
Best quality yoghurt chilled
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
Maple syrup or honey
Whisk the egg in a bowl with the milk. Add the sugar.
Mash the banana well with a fork and add to the mixture. Alternatively whizz the whole lot together in a liquidiser or food processor. Pour onto a plate and dip both sides of the bread in it. Melt a little clarified butter in the pan, fry the bread on a medium heat, when golden on one side turn over onto the other. Put on a hot plate, top with the sliced banana and a blob of chilled yoghurt, drizzle with maple syrup or honey and scatter with a few chopped walnuts. Serve immediately.
Preheat the oven to 150C (300F/gas mark 2)
Slice staleish baguette diagonally into the thinnest slices possible. Dry in a low oven until crisp and dry, about 15-20 minutes. Store in an airtight container. Serve with pâtés, cheese or just as a snack slathered with something delicious, or with soup
Get on the totally trendy ‘root to shoot’ mindset, and use every scrap of every vegetable, all parts are super nutritious. At present, we throw out more food than would feed whole nations.
Think broccoli stalks (grate for coleslaw), cauliflower leaves (roast or use in a soup or cauliflower cheese), green leek leaves (great in a soup), turnip tops (delicious melted and slathered in extra virgin olive oil. Leftover roast vegetables are great added to frittatas or a pasta bake. And how about this cool way to use up potato peelings:
Potato Peel Crisps
Scrub the potatoes well. Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer or in a pan with at least 3cms of oil. Dry the peelings as best you can.
Drop one into the hot oil to check the temperature, it should sizzle and rise to the surface.
Cook the remainder of the peelings in batches until golden brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a kitchen paper, or a towel.
Sprinkle with pure salt and maybe a little chilli powder or dry roasted cumin powder for extra fizz.
Roast Cauliflower with many toppings and flavours
Roast cauliflower is a brilliant vehicle for a myriad of flavours. For minimum effort just scatter the hot roasted cauliflower with chopped parsley. Sprinkle on a generous dusting of freshly grated Parmesan or frozen blue cheese. A fresh herb laced butter or olive oil is also super delicious but try this version and have fun with the variations and then create your own. Don’t be afraid to use the leaves too.
1 fresh medium cauliflower, 1.4kg approx.
75-100g butter and 2 teaspoons of thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
50g piquillo pepper, chopped (or ripe cherry tomatoes, chopped)
15g anchovies, chopped
4-6 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
20g toasted flaked almonds
1 x round 22cm x 10cm high casserole.
Remove the outer leaves and trim the base. Chop the leaves and stalk into 4cm pieces. Cut a deep cross in the base of the cauliflower. Pour 2cm of water into the casserole. Bring to the boil, salt generously. Add the leaves and stalks and pop the cauliflower on top, cover, return to the boil and cook for 5-6 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 8.
Remove the lid from the casserole for the last couple of minutes so all the water evaporates. Remove the cauliflower and leaves to a plate.
Melt the butter in the casserole and allow to become beurre noisette, add the thyme leaves. Add back in the leaves and cauliflower. Baste the head with the thyme butter and pop into the preheated oven uncovered for 15-20 minutes. Regular basting, though not essential, makes it even more delicious. Pierce the base with a skewer to test for doneness.
Mix the topping ingredients together, add the olive oil and stir. Spoon the topping over the roast cauliflower stalks and leaves. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and serve with crusty bread.
Make stocks and broths from bones and vegetable trimmings. It’s the nourishing and delicious basis for soups, stews, casseroles not to speak of a comforting drink to warn off cold and flu and top up your calcium levels.
Chicken stock is really indispensable. For soup making, sauces and gravies it really has no substitute. There are a couple of important rules to remember when making chicken broth and they apply to all stock making. Choose a saucepan that the ingredients fit snugly into. If your saucepan is too big, you will have too much water and as a result will end up with a watery stock that is lacking in flavour. Always pour cold water over the ingredients as the cold water will draw the flavour out of the bones and vegetables as it comes up to the boil. A rich and well flavoured chicken stock can be achieved in two hours and I find that cooking the stock for hours on end makes it too strong and the sweet chicken flavour becomes too strong and some of the delicacy is lost. The stock will keep in the fridge for a few days or can be frozen.
2-3 raw or cooked chicken carcasses or a mixture of both
giblets from the chicken, i.e. neck, heart, gizzard (save the liver for another dish)
3.4 litres (6 pints) cold water, approx
1 sliced onion
1 leek, split in two
1 outside stick of celery or 1 lovage leaf
1 sliced carrot
few parsley stalks
sprig of thyme
Chop or break up the carcasses as much as possible. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring slowly up to the boil and skim the fat off the top with a tablespoon. Simmer very gently for 3-5 hours, uncovered. Strain and remove any remaining fat. If you need a stronger flavour, boil down the liquid in an open pan to reduce by one-third or one-half the volume. Do not add salt.
Learn how to use up left overs creatively, some of our most iconic dishes were repurposed from leftovers: Shepherds pie; rissoles; croquettes…
Everyone’s favourite way to use up leftover cooked lamb from a roast dinner.
1oz (25g) butter
4oz (110g) chopped onion
1oz (25g) flour
15fl oz (450ml) stock and left over gravy
1 teaspoon tomato purée
1 dessertspoons mushroom ketchup (optional)
1 dessertspoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
1lb (450g) minced cooked lamb
2lb (900g) cooked mashed potatoes
Melt the butter, add the onion, cover with a round of greased paper and cook over a slow heat for 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook until brown. Add the stock, bring to the boil, skim. Add the tomato puree, mushroom ketchup, chopped parsley, thyme leaves, salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the meat to the sauce and bring to the boil. Put in a pie dish, cover with the mashed potatoes and score with a fork. Reheat in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 for about 30 minutes. Garnish with parsley.
Ballymaloe Cheddar Cheese Croquettes
This is a brilliant recipe, our ‘go to’ for using little scraps of grated cheese, delicious!
Makes 25 - 30, depending on size
We get into big trouble if these crispy cheese croquettes are not on the Ballymaloe lunch buffet every Sunday. They are loved by children and grown-ups, and are a particular favourite with vegetarians. They are not suitable for vegans. Make tiny ones for canapés and provide cocktail sticks to eat them and Ballymaloe country relish as an accompaniment.
450ml (15fl oz) milk
few slices of carrot and onion
1 small bay leaf
sprig of thyme
4 parsley stalks
200g (7oz) roux (see recipe)
2 egg yolks, preferably free range
225g (8oz) grated mature Irish Cheddar cheese
a pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached
fine dried white breadcrumbs
Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion and herbs, bring slowly to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to infuse for about 10 minutes if you have enough time. Strain the flavourings, rinse them and add to a stock if you have one on the go. Bring the milk back to the boil, whisk in the roux bit by bit; it will get very thick but persevere. (The roux always seems like a lot too much but you need it all so don’t decide to use less.)
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes on a gentle heat, then remove from the heat, stir in the egg yolks, cheese, pinch of cayenne, mustard and optional chives. Taste and correct the seasoning. Spread out on a wide plate to cool.
When the mixture is cold or at least cool enough to handle, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball or 25g (1oz) approx. Roll first in seasoned flour, then in beaten egg and then in fine breadcrumbs. Chill until firm but bring back to room temperature before cooking otherwise they may burst. Just before serving, heat a deep fryer to 150°C/300°F and cook the Cheese Croquettes until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with a green salad and perhaps some Ballymaloe Country Relish.
Note: Cooked Cheese Croquettes can be kept warm in an oven for up to 30 minutes. They can also be frozen and reheated in an oven.
To Clarify here are the definitions of Use By, Sell By and Best Before Dates from the FSAI.
“Use-By Date”: This label is aimed at consumers as a directive of the date by which the product should be eaten; mostly because of quality, not because the item will necessarily make you sick if eaten after the use-by date. However after the use-by date, product quality is likely to go down much faster and safety could be lessened.
“Sell-By Date”: This label is aimed at retailers, to inform them of the date by which the product should be sold or removed from the shelf. This does not mean that the product is unsafe to consume after the date. Typically one-third of a product’s shelf-life remains after the sell-by date for the consumer to use at home.
“Best before”: Dates are about quality, not safety. When the date is passed, it doesn’t mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture.
Lough Neagh Smoked Eel
I’m loving the Lough Neagh smoked eel, it’s wild, caught and shipped to Holland to be smoked and comes to us frozen yet it is super delicious. It’s moist and succulent and I’m amused when people are some times reluctant to taste. We still seem to have a phobia here in Ireland about anything that looks like a snake – we served it at the welcome lunch for our Spring 12 Week students from 11 different countries last week and got a tremendous response. Check it out on www.loughneagheels.com
Irish Country Furniture 1700 – 1950
Irish country dressers laden with crockery, china, spongeware pottery and mugs, furnished Irish kitchens for generations, These and many other pieces of our vernacular furniture are an important and treasured part of our culture. Who better to give us a greater insight into our rich heritage than Claudia Kinmonth, author of Irish Country Furniture 1700 – 1950. Make your way to the West Cork Skibbereen Hotel at 6.30pm on Saturday, January 26, for an illustrated talk in aid of the Save our Skibbereen Campaign.