Every last bit

For anyone trying to live a sustainable life, avoiding food waste is really important. But it’s also important for anyone on a budget or wanting to save money. I have written before about this issue of throwing food away, so here I’m going to share a recipe for using up bits and pieces.

I don’t mind giving scraps to the chickens, as that just converts one sort of food to another (although I prefer them to eat snails, slugs and weeds), but I much prefer humans to eat food from the kitchen (and garden). And so, I regularly find myself making Glamorgan Sausages. Now, although I do eat meat, these sausages are vegetarian. For them, you require breadcrumbs, cheese, onion, sage and an egg, plus salt, pepper and mustard if any of those things appeal to your taste buds (I tend not to add any of them).

First, whiz up some bread (any sort, with or without gluten, just nothing sweet) in a food processor. To the bowl, add onion (I usually manage to have half an onion hanging around that needs eating up or I use onion tops or spring onions from the garden) and some chopped cheese (fine if you have a piece of cheese that’s gone slightly dry) and whiz it all around again. Then add some fresh chopped sage or dried rubbed sage and give it a quick pulse to mix it before breaking in an egg (or two if you’ve made lots) and whizzing it again until it’s all combined (adingd seasonings at this stage if required). After this, divide the mixture up and roll into sausages before shallow frying.

Glamorgan sausages with garlic potatoes and lettuce

Glamorgan sausages with garlic potatoes and lettuce

I usually serve them with potatoes (especially good with boiled new ones), lettuce and apple chutney, but you can have them with baked beans, vegetables or in a bun. The mixture is brilliant for making vegetarian Scotch Eggs too. The only problem is that I never measure quantities, so you’ll have to be creative! I can say, however, that I always use a relatively small amount of a strong cheddar cheese.

They are, in fact, too good only to make when I have stale bread and elderly cheese and quite often, chez snail, they are made from fresh ingredients… and they always go down well.

 

 

Glut busting

Some of the ingredients (not in the right proportions, though!)

Some of the ingredients (not in the right proportions, though!)

It’s the time of year when lots of produce is coming out of the garden. In the past week I have made courgette and carrot soup for the freezer, and moussaka with courgettes rather than aubergines as ways to use some of the abundance. Despite this, I still have five or six courgettes in the fridge and many more growing in the garden, so I thought that I would return to a favourite recipe: Mulligatawny soup. The recipe I use is adapted from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery course, although there is a slightly more ‘modern’ version on her Delia Online website.

I make this with olive oil rather than butter as I am lactose intolerant and I vary the curry powder according to whim (the original recipe recommends Madras curry powder, but I don’t think I’ve ever used it).

3 large onions, chopped
75g butter or oil of your choice
700g courgettes, diced
225g tomatoes, chopped and skinned
I large potato, diced
425ml stock or water
1 dessertspoon Worcester sauce
1 teaspoon curry powder
about 200g cooked rice
salt and pepper

  1. Cook the onions in the oil until they are golden brown.
  2. Add the potato, courgettes and tomatoes
  3. Season, cover and cook over a low heat until soft (20-30 mins)
  4.  When cooked, puree the vegetables.
  5. Mix the puree, stock/water and cooked rice together with the Worcester sauce and curry powder (to taste) in the saucepan.
  6. Reheat and cook for 5 minutes.

I love this recipe because, in a good year, all the vegetables are available from the garden at the same time. Sadly this year, I don’t have any onions, but other than those I think I should manage a good few batches using homegrown produce. We have an organic farm not far away who grow onions, so I will be using those and supporting a local farmer too.

This is a lovely warming soup for the winter, so I will be freezing batches of it for use in the cold and gloomy days of November and December.

Storing the sunshine

PV panels are one way to collect the sun's energy

PV panels are one way to collect the sun’s energy

Solar energy can be collected in all sorts of ways: you can use it to heat water, you can have photovoltaic cells installed and generate electricity, you can have a sun porch and enjoy passive solar heating, or you can grow plants. Green plants use sunshine to convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates… that’s how they grow and that’s photosynthesis. So, any plant cultivation you do means that you are collecting solar energy (and making use of a greenhouse gas, but that’s a whole other story) and it doesn’t require a bank of batteries to store it.

The trouble is that in temperate climates we experience seasons. Some periods of the year are sunny and some not, some are hot and some are cold, so our plants are not able to photosynthesise the same amount all year, nor do our solar panels generate the same amount of electricity. Here in the UK we are currently in the middle of summer… and a rather nice one too. The sun is shining and the fruit and vegetables  are growing well (at least they are it we give them some extra water). As a result there is every likelihood that, in our garden at least, we will soon have more produce than we can consume immediately.

Of course, an abundance in the garden means an abundance on the farm too, so seasonal produce is likely to be cheap at a time when we don’t really need to buy it. The answer is to stock up on the sunshine now, or at least the products of the sunshine, and keep them so that you can enjoy them later in the year. The best fruit and vegetables in this respect are those that can be stored as they are harvested – potatoes in paper sacks, beans dried in the air and stored in jars, onions hung in strings and winter squashes ripened in the sun then kept in the cool dark attic. However, many crops require a little more work.

In the middle of processing the apple glut of 2011

In the middle of processing the apple glut of 2011

I posted the other day about bottling peaches, and ages ago wrote about dealing with the High Bank apple glut in 2011 (another is promised for this year). And, thus, I store the sunshine: bottling and freezing are the two main routes I take for produce that will not keep unprocessed. I know that many people make preserves, but we honestly don’t eat much in the way of jams and chutney, so it seems a waste to make these in abundance.

In many ways, freezing is the easier option – there is little chance of produce going off (unless your freezer fails) and there are many things that need no or little preparation before they are frozen. For example, raspberries can go straight into the freezer and, once defrosted, can be eaten as they are. Other things, such as runner beans or mange tout, require blanching before freezing (i.e. plunging into boiling water for a minute or two) and cooking when they are required, but these are very simple processes. Some vegetables and fruit do not freeze well: courgettes, for example. However, even these can be fried in olive oil and frozen for subsequent use in Bolognese, casseroles or on pizza.

But, part of me balks at storage that requires continuous energy input, so I really like being able to keep at least some of my harvest in bottles and jars. Of course, there is an initial high energy requirement for sterilising jars, boiling syrups and then heating the processed product in the jar to ensure that it keeps. But, it is possible to time these activities to coincide with the solar panels producing at their maximum rate so that we are using sunshine even more in the process. I only bottle fruit – there is too much risk of botulism with vegetables as they are much less acidic.  I use proper preserving jars and ensure that I follow the instructions (particularly minimum temperatures and timings) to the letter to prevent contamination and spoiling of the food and I find the whole process remarkably satisfying.

Once I have the dresser in the kitchen packed with jars of preserved fruit, I find myself peaking in just to enjoy the sight of all those bottles of sunshine that will be cheering many a dreary February day.

Green shoots

For the past four days we have had sunshine and no rain! It’s cloudy now, but the forecast is for more sunshine over the next few days. This is great news because the winter of 2012/13 has, so far, been very gloomy. Every day we record the amount of electricity that our solar panels generate, so we have a ready means of comparing sunshine between years. These past few months have been rather darker than the equivalent periods in the past two years, so the recent weather has been particularly welcome.

Some rather puny leeks!

It’s not just us people who have been suffering from the dark – the winter vegetables have been struggling. Our leeks, purple and white sprouting broccoli and oriental greens are much smaller than we had hoped and I don’t even want to think about the kale. Fingers crossed that they will put on a spurt of growth as a result of all the recent photosynthesis. To be fair, the white sprouting broccoli is supposed to be a very late variety, so I wouldn’t expect much from it yet, but the purple is described as ‘early’. The sunshine does seem to have encouraged some growth from the garlic and onion sets that were planted some time ago… I was beginning to think that they might have drowned!

Sweet peppers

However, there is a whole growing season to look forward to in 2013. The first batch of seeds that I planted earlier this month have started to germinate, and this is always a good feeling. I use an electric propagator to get peppers and chillies started early in the year. In my experience, they need a long growing season and do best if sown in January or February. Most capsicums germinate best in the UK if they have some gentle heat applied, otherwise they simply don’t do anything or even just rot. I gather that the optimum temperature is in the range 20-30°C (68-86°F), but my experience is to aim for the upper end of this. The only things I have sown so far are the capsicums (hot and sweet), basil (for an early crop grown indoors) and tomato and tomatillo.

One year I sowed courgettes and squashes in February, but I just ended up with leggy plants that I couldn’t transplant outside because there was still a risk of frost. In the end my crop was relatively poor because by the time I could put them in to soil they were too tender and thus prone to slug attack. Mind you, that was in the days before the chickens when our slug problem was much worse. Anyhow, the curcurbits will wait a while before sowing… I will just have to enjoy watching the things I have up and running and getting some “Wizard” field beans in soon now it appears they won’t either rot or float away!

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