Honey and mustard sauce

This recipe could be adapted as a sauce, dip, condiment or salad dressing.  I served it alongside gammon and roasted root vegetables and it worked a dream.

I had some creme fraiche to use up – I’d flavoured some the night before with harissa to go with Moroccan-style cod – and wanted to use the rest with the gammon and the flavour combo had to be honey and mustard. Bur, alas,  I had finally finished the (two) jar(s) of mustard that had been in the fridge since goodness knows when! Then I remembered the mustard seeds bought so long ago for a singular recipe and since forgotten about. But no longer! I am never buying mustard again after this little bit of magic.

image

Ingredients:
50g creme fraiche
1tsp honey
1tsp black mustard seeds
Lemon juice

Method:
Crush the mustard seeds and mix into the creme fraiche along with the honey. Add lemon juice to your taste.

Food stuff used up:
Creme fraiche * Lemon

 

Tips:
I always buy creme fraiche for a recipe and never know what to do with the rest but it is so versatile. Try adding curry powder/paste and a squirt of lime juice, or to serve with a pudding a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. Pureed/mashed fruit and vegetables also make a good dip or dessert.

Earth Day, every day

Everyday seems to be dedicated to something or other with some being more celebrated and recognised than others. Yesterday Facebook greeted many of us with ‘Happy Earth Day’ and suggested we think about our impact and make a positive change, but who actually acknowledged this or would have even been aware of it if it wasn’t for social media?

I saw some lovely photos from a friend in the USA whose daughter’s school were really getting their hands dirty and learning in the most literal way by planting seeds, tidying their school grounds, making insects out of recyclables, and – you’ve got it – learning about compost and worms.

But what about me? I was at work doing the same things I always do and Earth Day made no appearance in my day bar that Facebook greeting and a few posts by ethical companies, food campaigns and individuals that I follow.  But does that matter? At the bare minimum I think about our impact on the Earth every time I sort the food waste at the end of lunch service, and through my Masters, my volunteer work, this blog and my own consumer behaviour I am trying to make a positive change.

So do we really need a day when every day is,  or at least should be, ‘Earth Day’? Likewise,  Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St George’s Day (and the days of other patron saints)… Are these days necessary to show our appreciation for our parents, and our love for one another, and our country, when these are things we should be doing everyday?

On the whole, I think yes. I remember last Remembrance Day standing beside one of my favourite customers, a woman full of unconditional advice and compassion, and sharing the two minutes’ silence with her. For two minutes everyone was still, silent. And it didn’t matter what you were thinking, if you were praying, remembering loved ones, being thankful, or just waiting for the moment you could begin again. What was important was that we stopped, just for a moment.

There is so much going on in this world, and so much information in our heads, that dedicating a day to a person, a place, a cause or an ideal means we can focus our thoughts on one thing, even it is just for two minutes once a year.

Not everyone will have acknowledged Earth Day but then there are people who acknowledge it everyday and work to make a difference, likewise with the numerous other ‘days’ that exist. We all have our priorities – for example, I know of several people running the London Marathon, and other events, and they are all doing so for different worthwhile causes. But, just like they are all raising awareness and making people think, dedicating a day to something or someone does the same. And, yes, people are free to ignore these, but more people will take note than if they didn’t exist at all and hopefully be motivated to help and make it part of their everyday life.

Benefits of home composting

‘My better half and conscience does it for me’ was my husband’s response to the question on my previous post: Do you compost? Why/why not? He deleted the comment, but he did raise a good point. A common reason why people don’t compost is that they don’t feel they need to, or indeed that they should, because someone else does it. They pay their council tax, part of which goes towards refuge collection and waste management, so why should it be their responsibility? However, this argument also leads to a common motivating factor for taking up composting: many councils have started to charge for green waste bins and composting is an ideal way of avoiding this charge.

The reasons for composting tend to fall under three categories:

  • Benefits to you
  • Benefits to your garden
  • Environmental benefits

 

Benefits to you

These are primarily money saving – not just in terms of not having to pay for a green waste bin, but because, in the long term, you will save on purchasing fertilisers, soil conditioners and potting compost. Segregating your waste also makes you more aware of what you are throwing away and will influence the way you shop, cook and plan meals. Waste collections in many areas are not as frequent as they used to be and through composting you will not fill up your general waste bin too quickly, therefore minimising the risks of bad smells and pests.

Benefits to you can also be more personal – even if it is only to the end of your garden, composting gets you outside in the fresh air, walking a little bit further than perhaps you otherwise would. Even if you are not a keen gardener, composting may actually inspire you to try and gardening is therapeutic in its own way. Composting is also a fantastic way of getting children involved. It is not only educational, but it is fun, particularly if you have a dirt-loving, creepy-crawly-loving kid on your hands. My children have picked up what to do really quickly (when I was first explaining to Harry what composting was he stopped me mid-sentence and said ‘like Peppa Pig did’, referring to this episode).

 

Benefits to your garden

One response to my question last time was that the respondent was keen to start composting because they needed to improve their garden soil. There is no question that composting offers benefits to your garden. The process itself is returning nutrients to the ground which feeds the creatures that keep the soil healthy, and provides nourishment for plants. In addition, it improves the condition of soil itself – for example, heavy clay soil becomes lighter which means it drains better, and light soil has more body so that it retains necessary water much easier – and helps protect plants against pests and diseases. Composting also eliminates the need for incinerators and bonfires, which are now banned in many places and are not effective use of resources anyway.

 

Environmental benefits

There is a misconception by some that sending waste to landfill only slows down the process of decay but because landfill is without air decomposition is an anaerobic process, a side effect of which is methane, a major greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. With the Landfill Directive giving targets to reduce the quantity of waste going to landfill, with the eventual aim of zero to landfill, we not only have an environmental responsibility but also a legal responsibility to find other ways to dispose of our waste (the mantra being: reduce, reuse, recycle, recover). Furthermore, the Sustainable Development Goals place emphasis on everyone to do their bit: governments, businesses, but also individuals. Composting is a way that we can independently recycle around 40% of our waste.

In addition to cutting landfill and reducing greenhouse gases, composting also benefits the environment by providing habitats for wildfire in your garden, and also by not using peat (read the pack of various bags of compost in the shops and it is incredible to see how much peat these contain, even when they state ‘low peat content’!). The problem with using peat bogs is that extracting peat disturbs a diverse and rare population of plant and animal life, and also releases one million metric tons of carbon dioxide (another contributor to global warming). This can be avoided by buying peat-free compost, but even this is more resource and energy-intensive than making your own.

***

(Another aspect, which I have not mentioned, are the potential social benefits – for example, the social cohesion of a community that sets up a communal compost heap to enable those who live in flats or temporary accommodation (students are a good example for this) to compost their waste. I will be writing about community composting at a later date.)

***

However, it would be unfair to solely look at the benefits of home composting, because there are disadvantages too. Key concerns are the risk of smells, pests and disease and it would be silly to say this doesn’t happen because if composting is not done properly then they can. Likewise, home composting might not be the most convenient option, perhaps because of a health problem or where you live, but again, this does not mean it should be ruled out because there are so many different ways to compost that enable anyone to do so.

But the other thing is that although composting enables us to tackle our waste head on it does not explicitly address the route of the problem. Are you only composting unavoidable food waste (such as banana skins, egg shells and teabags)? What happens to your avoidable food waste (leftover meals, or out of date produce)? There are composting systems available which enable you to compost cooked food, as well as raw meat, fish and bones, but do these systems make the composter address the problem of food waste or do they become complacent because they think ‘at least it is getting recycled into compost rather than going to landfill’. From a catering industry perspective, food waste is collected and used to produce energy (the ‘recover’ stage of the above mentioned mantra, otherwise known as the waste hierarchy), but surely it is better to redistribute this food to those in food poverty, as some businesses do, or to somehow prevent the waste in the first place?

***

(I think it is important to note here that the definition of food waste is various and wide, partly because of so-called unavoidable food waste. From a composting perspective waste does not just include food waste – be it cooked, uncooked, unavoidable – but also garden waste and paper/cardboard. My next post will look at what you can actually compost, and you may be surprised!)

***

Each of us if likely to read the above and place more emphasis on certain points and less on others. For me, garden benefits are currently not very important, whereas the educational aspect of composting is somewhere in the middle, and the environmental aspects, particularly in terms of waste disposal, are nearer the top. Most of all, is the organic nature of composting. If ever I had to explain why I breastfed my children I would say ‘it is what nature intended’. Composting is the same. Anything that has lived has the microorganisms upon it that enable it to decay when it dies, and return it to the ground from whence it came. It’s just common sense.

Pink Pasta

Tonight’s dish was an amalgamation of two recipes: my take on BBC Good Food’s festive red salad, and leftover beetroot penne, a recipe from one of Abel & Cole’s cookbook. The quantities below are enough to serve 2.

 

The festive salad part:

¼ red cabbage, thinly sliced, ½ red onion, diced, ½ apple, diced, 60g beetroot, diced, and a squeeze of lemon juice (to keep it fresh and soften the cabbage a tad).

Simply mix all the ingredients together.

 

The beetroot penne part:

150g pasta of your choice (it doesn’t have to be penne), cooked beetroot (about a handful per person), diced, 1 crushed garlic clove, 150ml cream, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

While the pasta is cooking, fry the garlic in a little oil then add the beetroot. Cook for a few minutes to warm it through, then slowly add the cream. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add some herbs if you like. Drain the pasta and mix into the sauce. Serve with cheese and a sprinkling of walnuts.

 

IMG_20160412_202451[1]Which leads me to the pink pasta amalgamation:

I basically fried the festive salad in a splash of oil until soft, then I stirred through my leftover beetroot penne (actually, fusilli) until hot and finished with a grating of cheese.

 

Why not trying adding:

A hint of spice (I fancied some cumin on mine)

Some toasted nuts (walnuts are particularly good with beetroot)

Some cheese – perhaps a soft goat’s cheese or crumbly feta

 

Food stuff I used up:

Leftover beetroot penne and half the festive salad (the second half is reserved for this recipe).

Real Junk Food Project – Leicester

My almost six-year-old son, Harry, and I were going to Leicester today, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to visit the city’s Real Junk Food Project café if it was open. But before I had a chance to check the opening times I opened my latest Wonky Veg Box, and what was in it but a leaflet about one of the charities they support through food donations: the Real Junk Food Project in Leicester!

20160408_162349[1]

Cafes like this are donated food by supermarkets, local shops, allotments, food banks, restaurants, events, and so on, that would otherwise go to waste, and they use this food to prepare delicious and healthy meals (like all other food providers in the UK they must abide by the same Environmental Health regulations so you should not be worried about food safety of ‘waste’ food). The café in Leicester is based in the LCiL West End Neighbourhood Centre and is open Thursday evenings between 7.00pm and 8.30pm, and Friday and Saturday lunchtimes between 11am and 3pm. So, (being a Friday) after Harry and I had got the train to Leicester and paid a visit to the dinosaurs and mummies at New Walk Museum, we set off in search of the café.

It was a 20-25 minute walk from the museum, not including the map-checking, and a brief park-stop (with the biggest slide I have ever seen), but we found it easily and it was worth the trip. I had a fabulous aubergine curry which I would happily eat over and over, and Harry had a simple pasta with tomato and vegetable sauce. While waiting for our food we both had banana milkshakes. Then, following our mains we had banana ‘cookies’ (more like warm cake) with chocolate sauce, which were also yummy and Harry’s favourite part of the meal. I paid £10 for our meals. I could have paid less if I wanted, or more, because that is how it works.

Real Junk Food Project have cafés globally which all operated on a Pay As You Feel basis. At the café in Leicester, there are a couple of donation tins and customers pay what they can afford, or they can pay by volunteering, playing music or washing up. Food that is leftover at the end of service is donated to local food banks. There is also a basket of waste food that customers can help themselves to – in today’s instance, a selection of supermarket-baked bread and bananas with black spots. There was a constant flow of customers from all walks of life. My only criticism was that because it is so well-established there is a bit of awkwardness if you haven’t been there before because you don’t know the ‘right’ way to order. It was also not very clear where to go within the community centre without asking someone. A café along the same lines has recently opened in Loughborough and because it is so new there are leaflets on the table telling customers about the project, and table service which gives the server the opportunity to share this information verbally. However, the café in Loughborough is much smaller so this is more practical than it would be in Leicester.

It is worth checking to see if the Real Junk Food Project operates a café near you. (And if there isn’t anything in your area have a search online because there might well be a similar project that operates independently of the Real Junk Food Project.) They are doing a great thing not just in terms of the redistribution of food waste, but also socially. They are for everyone, not just the homeless or those in food poverty, and in my opinion it is important they stay that way as I believe this normalises it: when we sit beside one another sharing a meal it just shows that we are all equal.

 

Home composting – anyone can do it

Around 40 – 45% of household waste can be composted, yet in the UK only 25% of households are currently composting their kitchen and garden waste. Do you compost? If so, why? And if you don’t, why not? I would love to receive your comments below.

As for me, I only started composting relatively recently. I had wanted to for a long time but I didn’t think I could. My experiences of composting were my grandma’s compost heaps, hidden away in two different corners of her very large flower- and veg-filled garden, and a compost tumbler at a youth hostel I worked at. In both cases, the resultant compost was scattered on the gardens. I live in a flat with a small gravel- and paving slab-style garden (but a garden nonetheless). I didn’t have space for a compost bin. And even if I did I only had a few measly pot plants to use the compost on. And then there was the start-up cost…

But, I found a way. I made space, I added a few more pots, and it didn’t cost me the earth (in fact, it is possible to do it for nothing). This was the result: a pair of bokashi bins that take not just vegetable peelings and coffee grounds, but also cooked food, meat, fish and dairy, and a collapsible composting bag which fits neatly out of the way and does not look intrusive.

Why? Because I hated the fact that my kitchen waste was going into the bin when I could put it to better use. That, and composting looked like fun.

In order to learn more about composting, and also to help raise awareness of ways to reduce food waste, I have become a Master Composter (MC). I have been trained by Garden Organic on behalf of Leicestershire Waste Partnership to:

  • Raise awareness of the benefits of home composting;
  • Encourage more people to compost at home; and
  • Help those who already compost to do so more effectively.

The overall aim is to reduce the quantity of waste going to landfill by changing people’s behaviour in relation to recycling and, particularly, composting.

The beauty of composting is that anyone can do it. And why shouldn’t they? It is nature’s way of recycling the nutrients that exist in all living things and returning them to the soil to feed future generations of plants and animals. Yes, it might seem a bit of a hassle, and perhaps you don’t see what the ‘point’ of it is, but the thing that really stuck with me from my training course was that composting enables us to take responsibility for our own waste.

Waste is like scuff marks on the wall – as soon as you start noticing them you find them everywhere, and you need to get rid of them. It is at that point you realise what is unnecessary – for example, a certain item of food is always getting thrown away – and where you can save money (the average family throws away £60 of perfectly edible food each month). So even if the environmental arguments don’t resonate with you and motivate you to compost, there are personal motivating factors too.  I will discuss these various motivating factors in my next post, hopefully with a little of your help too.

This series of blog posts is going to cover (among other things):

  • Why compost?
  • Different methods of composting (a few examples in the images above)
  • Composting basics – e.g. what can you compost?
  • A particular focus on bokashi composting, wormeries, and other composting methods for those tight on space
  • Composting with kids
  • Useful resources
  • Troubleshooting
  • My personal composting experiences, including a snapshot of my food waste over a period of time

If you can’t wait for me to write these posts and want to know more now, my fellow MC, Joolz, has written an overview of composting here.

If you have any questions, or anything that you would like me to address in these posts, please leave a comment. And don’t forget to answer the question below.

 Do you compost? If so, why? And if you don’t, why not?

 

Root vegetable and sage soup

 

I always put off making soup with leftovers as it seems a bit of a cop out. Surely I can think of something far more exciting than soup? However, I then end up with a stew of some description, or a veggie curry, or stockpiles of veg chilli: a repertoire of leftover standby dishes that make soup seem such a refreshing idea.

I should make soup more often. Not too often or we’d get sick of it, but I don’t think I make it enough. It is one of the few dishes that I can count on each member of the family scraping their plate (well, bowl) clean and is the only way I can ensure we all sit down to eat lunch together at the weekend.

I am a firm believer that when it comes to soup the simpler the better. Think of the classic pairings – tomato and basil, carrot and coriander, leek and potato. Or even simpler, those with just one key ingredient – tomato, mushroom, onion. The list of potential soups is far greater than the number of vegetable types in the world. And fruits too, come to that, as fruit soups have become popular in recent years (perhaps I will trial some this summer, but I am wary to even try feeding my family a gazpacho or vichyssoise so I am unsure how the mere suggestion of a fruit soup would go down).

This soup, taste-wise, was somewhere between leek and potato, and carrot and coriander. The quantities below were enough to feed 2 adults and 2 children.

20160403_122340[1]So, what was in it?

1 small potato

2 carrots

1 parsnip

½ onion

A splash of oil

A knob of butter (optional)

6-8 sage leaves

A pint of stock (chicken in this instance as that was what needed using, but vegetable is great if you want to make it vegetarian)

Method:

Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan (I think butter brings out the flavour of sage better which is why I used both but it can easily be omitted). Chop the veg into smallish chunks and tear the sage leaves. Add them all to the pan and fry until the onion is nicely softened and the sage is beautifully fragrant. Pour over the warm stock and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the veg is soft enough to puree. Blend and season to taste. Add a little extra water if the soup is too thick.

Food stuff finished:

The ingredients in this soup were not leftovers of my creation (bar the forgotten stock cube), but rather from where I sourced them. The vegetables were from my Wonky Veg Box of the previous entry, and the sage was in my freezer, purchased from Sainsbury’s reduced box for 19p as it had reached its use by date.

Tips:

Soup is so versatile. It can be sipped from a cup. You can dip bread or crackers in it (or anything, really. I might have dipped a pain au chocolat in my soup earlier this week. Or if you are feeling fancy  you may want to ‘finish it’ – a swirl of extra virgin olive oil or a flavoured oil like basil or chilli, a drizzle of yoghurt, croutons or breadcrumbs, crisps of bacon. In the instance of this soup I would fry some extra sage leaves in butter until crisp and scatter them on top.

Wonky Veg Boxes

IMG_20160401_081632[1]I am no stranger to vegetable boxes, having been receiving organic veg boxes from a couple of suppliers for the past 5 years. These boxes do not differentiate the veg – I have broccoli so small they have given me two, and red peppers that I have struggled to fit in the veg basket, but nothing I would describe as ‘wonky’. But what is wonky veg anyway? All it is is veg that does not meet a supermarket’s aesthetic requirements in terms of size and shape – which can account for up to 40% of a crop of vegetables. A curvy cucumber or carrot might make it a bit awkward to peel and cut but it still tastes just as good, and it is still just as good for you. Personally, I like getting a bundle of carrots of different sizes – the small ones are ideal if I am just cooking for my children. Likewise, with potatoes – large ones are great if I’m wanting to peel them and feeling lazy, and small ones are good when I’m being equally lazy and just want to throw them in a pan. Needless to say, when I first found out about Wonky Veg Boxes in Leicestershire I signed up straight away

Wonky Vegetables were set up in February 2016 by Sam Barkshire and Matthew Hewett. (These guys remind me of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s and the guys who set up Innocent – I have read the autobiographies of both these businesses and the enthusiasm, passion and values they send of in these books are the same as the vibes I get from the Wonky website). They are Leicestershire-based and currently only deliver in the county. They sent out their first wonky veg boxes this week fill to the brim with veg that has not been sold by a farm because it did not meet the aesthetic requirements. Wonky’s priority is to supply a box of seasonal produce from local UK farms. They purchase the veg that supermarkets won’t at a fair price and aim to give at least 10% of their extra stock to local charities (for example, food banks). This surplus stock is a necessity to accommodate loss in transit that makes food unfit for consumption. Wonky’s end goal is normalise the purchase and consumption of so-called wonky veg, and aim for a system where fruit and veg are graded solely on whether they are fit for human consumption.

Its early days, but I like what I see so far. Their whole premise motivates me to buy their veg boxes but I would like a bit more information about the veg I receive – for example, its county of origin, why it was rejected (aesthetics, purchaser cancelled an order at the last minute, etc), and what charities Wonky have donated to, perhaps in form of a newsletter each month (I know, early days – maybe they already have this sort of thing in the pipeline). Although their prices are extremely reasonable (4kg for £5, 6kg for £6, and 8kg for £8) the delivery charge of £3.99 may put some people off as it is steep compared to competitors even though the total cost is still lower. My only criticism is their renewal system as your subscription is renewed, and payment for the next box taken, on the same day you receive the first box. In the long-term I do not foresee this being a problem so long as you are organised about skipping a week for holidays, etc. But as a new customer this does not give you a chance to decide if the box you have chosen is the right size and could then lead to surplus veg. I don’t foresee this being a problem for me this week, fortunately.

I ordered a medium sized box which was filled with:

  • Podgy Potatoes
  •  Peculiar Parsnips
  •  Odd Onions
  •  Crazy Carrots
  •  Curvy Cucumber
  •  Abstract Aubergine
  •  Playful Peppers

The only things that are actually a bit wonky were the peppers. The aubergines are the most beautiful colour I’ve seen (and perfect for the lamb moussaka I am planning with the rest of my Easter lamb). The rest are humongous! The box will definitely feed us for the week, and given the size of the produce they will also keep fresher for longer. I just need to get planning that menu…

We are conducting a war on waste and the problem of wonky veg is one item on the agenda. Asda was the first supermarket to introduce a wonky veg range in January 2015 and their wonky veg box trial in February this year proved popular. Following its success Asda have expanded the number of stores offering the boxes. Tesco and Morrison have also introduced wonky veg lines which incentivise customers to buy so-called imperfect veg. Whether this suggests consumers are concerned about the amount of food being wasted or just like a bargain (or both), the popularity of these ranges shows that consumers are not as particular about what their veg looks like as retailers think. Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Waitrose have also all pledged to relax their cosmetic standards on fruit and veg.

I think it is great that a local, independent enterprise are tackling this problem in such a proactive way. I had a quick search for similar schemes across the country but search engines are just full of what Asda are doing and I could not find anything close to Sam and Matt’s Wonky Veg Boxes so they seem to have uncovered a gap in the market and grabbed hold of the veg box trend that is showing no signs of faltering any time soon. I wish these guys the best of luck.