Operation waste not: week three

Categories: Expert guidance

As part of a mission to tackle food waste, Sybil Kapoor expounds the importance of resisting temptation and sticking to the shopping list

I’ve decided that minimising food waste is a bit like going on a diet; you start well and then life trips you up. In the case of a diet, it might be a stressful day at work or an unexpected dinner invitation. In the case of ‘operation waste not’, it was food seduction.

I’d started my week well. The fridge was ordered and the freezer chock-a-block with extra dishes made from last’s week’s excess food. I’d conducted my Friday weekly shop like a military campaign, using my new kitchen notepad as a guide.

I keep it in a kitchen drawer, and jot down any essentials, such as lemons or rice, as and when I’ve nearly finished them. This has significantly cut my shopping bills. In pre-list days, I could never remember exactly what I had, so to be on the safe side, I’d buy extra.

Pride comes before a fall. First, I got tempted into buying extra food at the weekend. I’d already bought enough fruit and veg to feed us for much of the week.

Original meal plan
Second, I kept deviating from my original meal plan. As part of my weekly shop, I buy food for a selection of dishes that I can cook during the week. On Sunday, for example, I’d defrosted some sour dough to accompany a tomato, chive and mozzarella salad for lunch. However, we ended up buying some ready-made Scandinavian cheese and pickle rye buns instead. This might not sound much, but I don’t eat lots of bread (much as I love it) and you’re not supposed to refreeze defrosted bread.

My kitchen started to feel distinctly cluttered. The grapes were wrinkling and the bread was turning stale. A forlorn bag of spinach was sitting in the fridge with a fast approaching ‘best before’ date. Plus, I seemed to have rather a lot of wizened Thai chillies living in a bag in the fridge door.

Package dates are often confusing. According to Love Food Hate Waste’s website, the ‘best before’ date refers to the quality of food, rather than safety. Food is safe to eat after the date, but it may not be at its best. ‘Use-by’ dates, however, mean that it is not safe to eat after the given date, unless you cook or freeze the product before that date. Apparently, the ‘display until and sell by’ dates are for shopkeepers, but I use them as an indication of age and freshness.

Clearly action was needed. The spinach was easy. Once blanched, it can be frozen or it will keep for a couple of days in the fridge—just reheat when needed. I love it mixed into a warm chickpea salad with fried shallots and eaten with grilled fish or meat. It’s also excellent chopped and baked in a tart, or mixed into sautéed sliced spring onions with a little crème fraiche and fresh mint. I usually serve the latter with roast lamb or duck.

Creature of habit
Being a creature of habit, I opted for one of my favourite supper recipes: chopped, blanched spinach missed into sautéed spring onions, garlic, chilli, lemon zest, cream and parmesan, and once hot, mixed into some tagliatelle.

The bread, grapes and chillies required more serious thought. Maybe I could combine some of them? If I turned the stale bread into crumbs, I could make Robert Carrier’s delicious stuffing for chicken: a buttery mixture of grapes, sautéed shallots, parsley and breadcrumbs. Or, I could egg and crumb chicken, veal, pork or fish fillets—perfect for a spring dinner.

Sourdough bread retains its moisture well, so I could toast it and serve with homemade smoked trout pâté or smoked salmon scrambled egg, both simple but good dishes.

If I crusted and soaked some of the bread in milk, I could squeeze it dry and mix into minced pork or veal with egg, sautéed onions, lemon zest and chopped blanched spinach to make delicate meat balls, moist burgers or even a country style pâté. I could spike the former with some of the chillies. Soaked bread gives such concoctions a softer texture.

Fragrant bread and butter pudding
Alternatively, I could make a fragrant bread and butter pudding. Perhaps flavoured with chocolate, or cardamom and saffron? Or maybe some pain perdu—just soak the slices in egg beaten with a little sherry and nutmeg, then fry in clarified butter, sprinkle with sugar and serve with fruit.

The wrinkled grapes were proving more problematic. They still tasted good, but were not exactly pretty. I was torn—my first choice was a chicken and rice salad: cooked diced chicken mixed with basmati rice, seeded, halved grapes, snipped chives, diced cucumber, celery and radish, tossed in mayonnaise and seasoned to taste with lemon, chives and Worcestershire sauce.

Or I could, of course, disguise them by folding the grape halves into a passion fruit cream filling for a soft meringue roulade, or even suspend them in a homemade lime or lemon jelly. In the end I decided that a spiced fruit salad was the answer. It’s delicious, provided you like chillies!

Infuse a light sugar syrup with lemon or lime zest, a fresh chilli or two, a few peppercorns and a vanilla pod, then pour warm, bits and all, over your chosen fruit and add lemon or lime juice to taste. Incidentally, a lemony chilli syrup is fantastic macerated into a rich almond cake for pud!

Spiced dishes and curries
As for the chillies, since they were turning a little tough, I decided to add them whole to various spiced dishes and curries. In my household, there is never a shortage of chilli dishes.

Order had been restored and I was back on track with minimising my food waste. Better still, I was creating new recipes to use up my excess ingredients. If only diets could be such fun!