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Monday, 10 July 2017

Leftover Pie news and the APSRG on Food Waste

Blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground from me lately, with the work involved in publishing Leftover Pie, so I thought I ought to get back into the swing of things, while I have a short breathing space between publishing the ebook, and the next step which is to get the paperback ready for launch on 8th September.

Last week I went to the All Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group's meeting,  Food waste: next steps for the new government.

I really don't think that I had appreciated how important an issue food waste is until I started researching Leftover Pie, so knowing this discussion was going on in parliament, I really felt I needed to find out what is being talked about at the parliamentary level.

By the way, this was my first visit to the Houses of Parliament and I managed to get told off for taking a photograph where I shouldn't! Oops. I then kept my camera firmly tucked away, which was a shame, as I missed a photo opportunity with Dean Pearce, one of my wonderful recipe contributors, who I had the great pleasure of meeting in person for the first time.  What a day of firsts! First visit to parliament, first telling off in parliament,  and first plastic free July failure in a cafe putting the world to rights with Dean. Anyway, back to the meeting...

There are great things going on all around us to help reduce the food waste mountain, examples of which I highlight in my book.  Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, who chaired the meeting, described this as '1000 flowers blooming',  but I can't help thinking that we are lacking some big legislative support for those 1000 flowers.

Image: WRAP

The food waste hierarchy, which it seems surprisingly few people even know exists,  is a legal thing, but it seems it isn't 'policed' very well, if at all. Councils and businesses are supposedly obliged to take the food waste hierarchy into consideration, but that doesn't always happen.  Not all councils have separate food waste collections.  I, personally,  think this causes huge confusion and also an excuse for people to ignore food waste collections when they do have them.  As I explain in my book, this causes huge financial issues, when people who are offered food waste collections don't make use of them.  We need to solve this problem.  It is something that I am plugging away at as much as I can when I do Love Food Hate Waste events and talks, explaining the importance of separate food waste and explaining the cost implications of not separating waste, but I can't help feeling that the message would get out there quicker and more efficiently if there was legislation that enforced this.   There would still be those that wouldn't bother -but at least if there was a clear message that legally we should be separating our food waste, more people, likely would do so.

It was good to hear from Mark Glover, CEO of WRAP, that they are working on a "set menu" of options for separate food waste collections for local council and they hope that all councils will then choose from this set menu.  But there are councils who have already tried food waste collections before and not had sufficient uptake to cover the costs, which would be covered by the savings if most people then used the service.  So ... we are back to the issue of legislation again.

Tim Smith, of Tesco, talked about the efforts they are making to reduce food waste and Tesco was praised by the APSRG for publishing their food waste figures, and it is hoped, of course, that other supermarkets will follow Tesco's lead and publish their own food waste statistics.  It was commented that recently the amount of food waste appeared to have risen, but Tim Smith explained that at the outset, they weren't very good at measuring their waste, and that in reality it is improvements in how they measure waste that lie behind the apparent increase rather than an actual increase in waste.

I was, however, very surprised to find that other supermarkets haven't yet started to publish their own figures.  Surely they will?

One of my concerns about all the recent wonderful awareness raising that has been going on and the mainstream media coverage of food waste as a problem, is that people often think that it is mainly the fault of the big supermarkets that there is so much waste.  In fact, we know that over half of all food waste in the UK is actually wasted in the home.

It is this home food waste that I concentrate on in Leftover Pie, looking it why and how it arises and giving practical solutions to help people reduce food waste at home.  With 101 recipes - some mine and some from my wonderful army of chefs, food writers, food waste campaigners and lifestyle bloggers, as well as some general practical tips, there is something for everyone.  From those who are struggling big time, with a regular mountain of rotting veg at the bottom of their fridge right through to chefs who are already running a resource efficient kitchen, there's a recipe for you.

Leftover Pie is available now as an ebook and from 8th September in Paperback.  I hope you enjoy reading it and reviews are greatly appreciated.

For more news of Leftover Pie and talks and events go to the Leftover Pie Facebook page.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Guides cook up a feast

Yesterday evening 2nd Kidlington Guides were challenged to cook up a feast from the food they could find that needed using up in their fridges.  It was suggested that they bring any leftovers or odd vegetables and that the idea was they shouldn't buy anything specially.  This was about foraging in our fridges or cupboards to make a meal from what we already had, with the idea that we could reduce waste as we did so.

We talked a bit about the food waste issue and the extent of the problem.   It was encouraging that 17 out of 27 households were using their kitchen caddies for their food waste, keeping it separate from general waste.  We discussed some of the reasons behind why others didn't use their kitchen caddies.  Three families didn't have one, so I suggested that they contact the local council to ask for a kitchen caddy as they are free to all households and they can ask for one to be delivered. Another family didn't use a caddy but put any food waste always straight into the outside brown compost bin, so that's perfect.  Maybe the others might have a think about whether they could use their food caddy too.  There are people who don't like the idea of using food waste caddies in their kitchen. Putting their food waste straight into their outdoor compost bin after every meal might be a solution for them.

On to the cooking...

We had a table full of ingredients to work with and the Guides split into four groups each picking some ingredients and talking about what they would make with those ingredients.

We had dried egg noodles in various forms - clearly a popular store cupboard essential.  These made a great base for various dishes.  We had some leftover cooked vegetables which included mashed potato, peas and carrots.  We had an iceberg lettuce, 5 tomatoes, two thirds of a pepper, about three quarters of a cucumber, some fresh broccoli florets and stalk, a potato, one and a half avocados and half a lemon.

We had some tinned carrots,  part of a tin of sweetcorn - correctly stored in an airtight container rather than in the tin and a pack of chopped tomatoes.

We had some cauliflower and broccoli cup-a soup, some pancake mix, some Orio cookies and some white chocolate chips and a box of cheese crackers.

I brought the green leafy ends of some leeks, some green ends of spring onions and a box of assorted vegetable peelings which included onion skin, the core and seeds and stalk of two red peppers, some celeriac, swede and carrot ends and peel.

Here are some of the things that were made:

Dips with crackers and potato wedges
This group made an avocado dip and a yoghurt dip to eat with the crackers and some oven cooked potato wedges. They made sure they scraped out all of the avocado from the skin before putting the skin ready for the compost bin.
The potato wedges were cooked in a little oil with a sprinkling of sea salt.

We missed a trick here as a perfect accompaniment to the dips would have been the stalk of the broccoli. You peel off the tough outer edge of the stalk and then cut the inner bit into strips like you would cut carrot, celery  or cucumber and it is delicious and very good for you.

Avocado salad
The avocado salad was made from mashed up avocado, chopped tomato, lemon juice and chopped up ends of spring onion.  It was very tasty.

Pasta salad
This was made from a "mug shot" instant pasta dish combined with some chopped ends of spring onion.  The spring onion really added to it visually and taste wise as it gave it a lift. A good twist of black pepper was a nice addition to this too.

Pancakes with Orio cookies and white chocolate chips
The pancakes were using up a packet of pancake mix, which was a just add water kind of recipe, but it became so much more with the addition of Orio cookies and white chocolate chips.  Some interesting lessons were learnt here.  The cookies turned the mix a light brown colour.  This meant that it was hard to tell when the pancake was cooked.  The girls doing the cooking also had their doubts about whether it would be nice.  The colour didn't look appealing. We decided we needed to taste it, so I was the guinea pig.  On tasting I could tell the pancake wasn't cooked enough.  So we cooked it some more and then I tasted it again and it was good to go.  The girls weren't totally happy with their creation, so I suggested they cut up small pieces and take it round to people to taste.  The came back saying people loved it.  Taking a small piece and tasting meant people were judging by taste not look and they enjoyed what they tasted so that gave the girls confidence to cook two more pancakes to share round.  "Don't judge a book by its cover" was an important lesson here and we talked about the importance of tasting your cooking as you go.

Noodle soup with sweetcorn
The base for the noodle soup was a packet of super noodles with a stir in sauce. Then the vegetable peel stock and some of the leftover peas and sweetcorn were added. Some carrot was peeled and pre-cooked in the microwave before adding into the soup.  I heard the word delicious get mentioned but didn't get to taste it myself.  It did smell very good.  I added the carrot peel to the vegetable stock.

Mixed Salad
The mixed salad was chopped iceberg lettuce, cucumber, tomato and sweetcorn.

I took on the challenge of making sure nothing got wasted from what was left. Here is what I have made so far.

I mixed the rest of the yoghurt - about a desert spoonful - with some porridge oats for breakfast.

I used one of the packets of pasta in sauce and cooked the rest of the broccoli.  This made a tasty lunch.

Last night I kept the remaining stock and added in the mashed potato, the rest of the peas.  There were a few stray noodles in the stock as we used the same colander to strain the noodles and then the stock.  There were a couple of loose florets of broccoli on a chopping board as we cleared away so they went into my soup pot and there was some of the cooked carrot left, so that will be a nice addition to give sweetness to the soup.

I brought all this mix to the boil,  and then simmered it for 15 minutes to let the flavours come together and then whizzed it with a hand blender.  The next important step was to taste it. It needed some seasoning so I added about a teaspoon and a half of salt, tasting after each half teaspoon, and a generous amount of black pepper.  I then added in the egg noodles, cooked carrot and leek ends that one group had prepared.  The soup was lovely and I now have two portions in the freezer and one in the fridge for tomorrow.

This evening I am cooking another batch of soup using the cooking water from the broccoli I cooked for lunch and the salad off-cuts from Guides.   I have also put in the ends of some asparagus that I had in the fridge.  The ends take a long time to cook, so I always trim them otherwise you get either overcooked asparagus tips or chewy bits on the end.  I think the ends work better blended in a soup.  

I have added the remaining lemon juice to a lemon cake and then I put the lemon in the freezer as I will candy the lemon peel when I have a few more used lemons.

I read the ingredients of the remaining pack of pasta and because it contains cream powder I can't eat it due to an allergy. When you find yourself with food that you can't use for whatever reason you can offer it on the food sharing app Olio

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The cupboard clean out

In the second week of the decluttering challenge, Zoe has tasked us with clearing out our store cupboard and trying to use up those items that are still ok to eat after the best before date.
Here is my cupboard this morning.

I know more or less what is on it, Including a couple of things that I know are way out of date. I have no idea why they are still unused.
One ageing item is a time of evaporated milk. I used to use this to make ice cream as I can't eat cream.  I haven't made ice cream for a couple of years now but I have certainly made it since the purchase of this tin so I can only assume poor stock control as the reason it is still lurking at the back of my cupboard.

I am going to do some research before deciding whether my tin can be turned into ice cream or whether it is better off in my wormery. One thing is for certain I will definitely not be 'binning' it. I will at least open the tin and if the contents aren't edible then I will get the remaining value I can from the milk and the tin.

As for the rest, I found a few items nearing their bb date so I packed them up to take them on holiday with me next week.

Then after cleaning the cupboard I put anything open or dated in 2017 on the bottom shelf, the 2018 on the next shelf up and 2019 and beyond at the top.  If I do this once a year all should be well.

Spot the difference?

Want to join in the declutter? There are plenty of ideas being shared on the facebook group. Here is the link.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Reducing your food waste with help from Facebook

I have recently joined a new Facebook group run by Zoe Morrison, author  of Eco Thrifty Living blog, with a little bit of help from me.

The Facebook group is for anyone who is interested in wasting less of their food and making even the food that many people might regularly throw away into something tasty.

Tomorrow, Monday 6th March, Zoe is introducing a challenge:


Zoe is challenging the Reduce Your Food Waste Facebook group members (and readers of her blog and mine!) to have a clear out and use up anything that is approaching or beyond its 'Best Before' date.

Starting on Monday 6th March, the areas to be tackled are:

Week 1: drinks - both dried and in liquid form e.g. tea, coffee, alcohol, juice and so on.

Week 2: tins, jars and dried goods e.g. flour, rice, pasta, herbs, spices.

Week 3: Freezer foods and/or the condiments in your fridge

Week 4: The food you keep outside your kitchen - e.g. in your office drawer, in your car, your secret stash of munchies :)

I decided to get a head start on next week's challenge and just have a look at the drinks, starting with the tea and coffee drawer.

I had no idea that I had 5 tubs of cocoa powder.  I do make a lot of cakes as I make cricket teas throughout the summer. So I know that this will get used up. Two of the pots were no doubt brought home from the Junior and Senior Daughters' houses and each had less than half a tub. So I decided to set to work and use some of it. We were going for dinner at a friend's house so I made some truffles to take with us. I had an ageing but in date tin of condensed milk, so I used three table spoons of cocoa powder in the tin of condensed milk, which I heated up until it bubbled, then added about 50g of unsalted butter, which you stir in until it melts. Then when the mixture is cool enough you just roll it into balls with your hands. It is surprisingly mess free.  I then rolled the balls in more cocoa powder and I coated a couple with some candied peel I made last weekend.

They went down well last night and I have more for after roast dinner today.  Gutted, Sis, that you can't join us today. I will try to save you a couple.

These used up the two tubs that were started.

However, I think I need to get a bit more chocolate cookery done as I have some dubious looking packets of drinking chocolate that look past their best and a tub of Nesquik that my nephew brought here a couple of years ago. Now what am I going to make with that? Ideas please.

Here is the link for anyone who would be interested in joining our Facebook group.

Reduce your food waste!386 members

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Five-of-your-ten-a-day soup

After hearing last week that a recent study is suggesting we all eat 10 portions of fruit and veg every day for the good of our health I keep hearing people say they used to struggle with even 5-a-day.

Five-a-day is doable for me, but 10...definitely  a stretch. Last Thursday with a big effort and a twitter challenge I managed nine, but then for the last few days it has been down at five or six. However, today Mr Pitt made 5-a-day soup for lunch. We thought we were pretty good at making soup anyway, but recently we had a day at the Raymond Blanc Cookery School and this simple soup inspired by Maman Blanc was one of the dishes we cooked.

It is a great was to use up all the veg in your fridge. The basic recipe is to sweat some onion in a bit of rape seed oil (or a mixture of rape seed oil and butter). Chop your veg into pieces of roughly the same size and then add into the sweated onion,  adding the veg that take longest to cook first, adding just enough water to cover the veg. You don't need any stock.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and just before serving add a good handful of fresh chopped herbs. At the cookery school we added chervil, but we don't grow that, so today it was thyme from our pot on the kitchen window sill.

The veg was celery, parsnip, carrot, butternut squash, cauliflower leaves (the white part from the centre of the leaves) and onion. If you want to make sure you are getting your 5-a-day you could weigh out your veg portions, but this is now going to be my go to recipe for what is left in the fridge.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Can you do ten a day?

I was inspired by @SkinnyJeanGard  today to take up the challenge to see if I can eat 10 portions of fruit and veg per day.

I am pretty good at 5 a day and my first thought was perhaps 7 or 8 especially if I snack on dried fruit. But 10? Not so sure.

When my children were young enough to have me guide what they eat we talked a lot about 5 a day and the standard challenge was to have eaten 4 by the end of the school day. One might be eaten with breakfast in which case the lunch box would have to contain three more portions. If no fruit was eaten at breakfast then we tried to put 4 portions in with lunch. So dried fruit or mashed banana with porridge was popular. The lunch box almost always contained carrot sticks, then sometimes peppers, grapes, tomatoes, raisins, dried apricots or mango. Pasta salad is great for getting in 3 portions of veg and the same with rice salad and couscous too. I was very aware of the 5 a day thing and made a game of it with the children.  My Mum died of (hereditary) ovarian cancer six weeks before Senior Daughter was born and my aunt (mum's sister) died of the same, shortly after Junior  Daughter was born. It was then I realised it was probably not a coincidence and did some research.  I had heard of the 5 a day thing back then but when I was told that it was found to protect against cancer (that was the way I interpreted it in my vulnerable grief-filled state) I took it pretty seriously as you might imagine. So 5 a day has been a habit for a long time.

Waking up to BBC Radio 5 Live this morning and at the same time nosying for news on Twitter I heard about the 10 a day thing.

Can I really manage 10 portions a day? I decided to see.

A lot of people wonder about portion sizes. I was just editing my section from my forthcoming book Leftover Pie yesterday covering portion sizes, so it was in my head.  I heard an expert  (apologies for not catching the name) talk about 80g.  For dried fruit it is 30g (as some of that 80g is of course the water content in fresh fruit).

Here goes for my Ten-a-day challenge.

This is 30g of dried cranberries and 30g of dried papaya, which I'm going to mix into 25g oats and three table spoons of plain yoghurt for breakfast.

Two down, eight to go.
While I was weighing out breakfast I thought I'd check what 30g of dates looks like.  It is about five and a half dates.  I usually take 5 or 6 dates (or two or three apricots or some dried mango) with me if going out and about.   I don't always eat it that day, but it stops me cracking and buying processed, packaged snacks.  I think the fact I don't always eat it now, kind of tells me I'm over the packaged snacks urge anyway.  But when I started my Zero Single Use Plastic challenge in 2015 I really wanted to make it a bit easier and not feel deprived.  So that's how the habit started.

When I'm at home, I don't tend to snack as much, so I don't know whether or not I'll eat these.  I think also, because dried fruit is high in sugar - albeit natural, it is probably not great for the teeth to eat on its own.  Still you can't get everything right, hey?

Portion number three perhaps?

For lunch I made a soup testing out a recipe for "Bean Broth, Made Good" by Malou who writes a frugal food blog called Wonky Veg   ( which uses up the liquid from a can of butter beans.  I am going to use most of the butter beans tonight as I'm making butternut squash risotto and if I am going to get anywhere near 10 portions of fruit and veg today, I need to add in another veg (or three) to my usual combo of onion, celery, butternut squash and sage.  But there's not a lot in the fridge!
A portion of veg - cauliflower stalks.  I will
dice them up to add into the bean broth.
Bean Broth, Made Good
The soup was delicious.  As I was making it, I was getting the veg ready for the risotto this evening and using up the bits I didn't need to make my soup.  Normally I would have put in a either a half or a whole onion into the risotto, depending on how much other veg would be going in, but as I am on a "challenge" to get in my 10 a day, I didn't want to cheat, so after chopping my onion, I weighed 2 portions (160g) which was most of the onion, and then used the rest for my soup.  

I only had around 80g of celery so by the time I took some of the mainly leafy bits for my soup I didn't even have one portion.  Looking at what else was in the fridge, I found some beetroot.  I like beetroot with butternut squash and feta so I weighed that.   I have 94g so I am going to count the beetroot and the celery together as a portion each.  What do you reckon? Fair?

So my soup contained some onion and some celery leaves, but probably only half a portion's worth, and some butterbeans (but I can't count those for lunch because however many portions of pulses you have it only counts as one of your 5 - or in this case 10 - portions per day and I'm including a portion each for tonight's risotto).  So I think for my soup I can perhaps count one and a half portions.  The cauliflower stalks are one portion and the celery and onion are a half portion.

I ate two clementines (1.5 portions as 138g?) after my soup, so by lunch time I have managed 5 portions. I haven't yet eaten the dates!

This evening's risotto will contain

  • butternut squash (a portion each) 
  • celery (half a portion each)
  • beetroot (half a portion each)
  • onion (a portion each)
  • butterbeans (a portion each)
Okay, so that's 4 portions in tonight's dinner - if I eat it all.  There's some leftover apple and blackberry crumble in the fridge, but I'm not sure I'm going to want that after risotto.

Adding it all up, assuming I eat all my portion of risotto, I will have eaten 2 portions at breakfast, 3 portions at lunch and 4 for dinner.  So if I am going to crack that 10th portion I need to either eat the crumble or eat the dates.  Hmm! I'll let you know.  

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Plastic Ocean

On Tuesday, I was invited to speak along with a fellow zero waster, Hannah, at The Oxford Waste Society.

The theme of the talk was cutting down on plastic packaging. Inspired by the horrific facts that she learnt about plastic pollution in our oceans, Hannah took on the challenge of living for a year without using any single use plastic. My own inspiration for my family's plastic free year was a little closer to home. I was upset by the amount of plastic waste in the hedgerows and ditches in our lovely Oxfordshire countryside.

It was great to hear about Hannah's plastic free experience and to see all of the life choices that I have made being embraced by someone else. It was really interesting to hear that even though Hannah has now finished her challenge year she plans to continue, as we have.

"How can I possibly go back?" she said.

I know that we have slipped back in some ways. There were things that were hard or not viable to buy without packaging.  The one think I can think of is frozen peas. We tried to grow peas in our plastic free year but they got devastated by some high winds when they were still not strong enough.
I don't know why I don't want to give them up, but I don't.

The other thing that has crept back into our household is packaged crisps. I have almost managed to give them up. But even I cracked last weekend when Mr Pitt opened a packet of cheesy biscuits and I found myself picking at them.

At this point, I should say that our plastic free year wasn't supposed to be about giving up. It was about finding alternatives that were not packaged. We experimented with making home made crisps from vegetable peel and that works well. I managed to switch to snacking on dried fruit and nuts which I bought unpackaged from SESI Oxford. I haven't stopped doing that. When I  find myself nibbling away at packaged snacks at events I stop.
Home made butternut squash crisps

So reflecting on my packaged snacks nibbling last Sunday at home made me think. When you make a conscious decision about something you feel strongly about, it isn't that hard to stick to it. So I have munched my last packaged snack. That's it. I am done with them.

I can't speak for the rest of the family, but I am going to be strong willed and stick to my principles and I will draw support from Hannah's "How can I possibly go back?"

My single-use plastic collected from one year
When we did our plastic free year we ended up with one "plastic cat-food bag" full of single-use plastic and my view was that we hadn't succeeded in our challenge.  It is only afterwards in talking about it at events like the Oxford Waste Society meeting, that I have realised that what we achieved was in any way surprising.  Imagine if this was the amount of plastic produced in every household in the UK.  It is hard to remember how much plastic we produced before the plastic-free year (2015), but I would guess I may have produced four or five times that amount. I didn't measure our plastic from last year but taking a guess I would say it was probably only double. So I'm wondering if seeing and measuring waste in this way has any effect on consumption.

I had a realisation at the beginning of the year that the only thing likely to be in my bin at the end of the year is crisp packets and the non recyclable wrappers from a bag of Cadbury's Roses that were brought to our house at Christmas.

I still think that this waste will be less than an old style plastic carrier bag full over a whole year.  I plan to check, so I am keeping all the wrappers that are non-recyclable in one of my (recyclable, but also reusable for many purposes) cat-food bags to see what we gather in a year.