It’s Freezing!

We’ve all seen the figures. In June 2019, the Environment Journal reported that UK households are throwing away a whopping 281,000 tonnes of edible vegetables every year. In total, every year, we bin millions of tonnes of food that could have been eaten.

There are some fantastic projects aimed at redistributing food surplus to those who desperately need it, and it’s great to get on board with those if we can. There are also plenty of ways that we can reduce our own food waste. I hold my hands up here – I’m guilty of throwing perfectly good food away, partly through laziness and partly because I didn’t know how to preserve it properly.

The great news is our household freezer is capable of so much more than we thought possible! Did you know you can freeze eggs, bread, cakes, cheese, cake & biscuit dough for example? All it needs is a little know-how as to the best way to go about it. If we have food that is getting near the end of its life, or we want to batch cook to save time & energy, our freezer is our friend.

Bread, cakes, biscuits, muffins… Pretty much all baked goods can be frozen. I slice up our sourdough bread and freeze it immediately after cooking. It’s so easy to defrost individual slices and it means we never throw away stale bread (which we used to do…). Most cakes can be frozen whole or cut into slices, and the same goes for pretty much every type of biscuit.

Homemade stock: You can freeze chicken bones and bits until you have enough to make a homemade stock. It’s brilliant for soups and tastes so much better than stock cubes. Alternatively, if you’re cooking a roast chicken, make a stock from the bones after you’ve finished the chicken, and freeze it into ice cube trays to add to casseroles etc. I also freeze vegetable peels and waste to make vegetable stock. You can use carrot ends, green beans that are a bit soggy, onion ends, tomato cores, asparagus ends, cauliflower stalks, runner bean ends – the list is endless. When you have enough, put them in a pot with water (they will shrink down a bit when cooking, so you don’t have to cover them completely). Add some herbs and seasoning. Simmer for about half an hour, then strain the liquid.

Cheese: Freeze lumps of cheese whole, or grate, freeze and use as required. If you’re grating the cheese, a tablespoon of cornflour or flour in the container will stop it sticking together when it thaws.

Eggs: If you want to use them for baking, separate the eggs and whites into the compartments of an ice cube tray. Otherwise, crack the eggs into a bag or container and freeze. Thaw them out in the fridge and use as normal.

Potatoes: You can make frozen homemade oven chips, all ready to use. Part boil in salted water, drain and cut into wedges or chips. Freeze them on trays before putting into a container. You can add oil and seasoning into the container before freezing if you like – then they’re completely ready to go. When you want to cook them, take them out and cook for 20 minutes or so in a hot oven. You’ll need to spray them with oil before they go in if you didn’t freeze them with oil. If you can, keep the skins on – it’s healthier.

Fruit: Raspberries and blackberries freeze very well. I just put them on a baking tray (see top picture) to freeze and then transfer to a container when frozen. They defrost brilliantly. Some other types of fruit, such as strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrants tend to go soggy when defrosted. I just use them in smoothies, jams, summer pudding and other desserts. For apples, I always peel, chop and cook them with a little honey and freeze in containers. I use the apple ‘stew’ on porridge, with yoghurt or as an apple sauce with meat. Bananas can be frozen whole and defrosted to use in banana cake. Otherwise, peel and chop and freeze in a container.

More ideas in my next blog post and I’ll also be talking about plastic free freezer containers.

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Dried Red Tomatoes…

So it’s harvest time at the moment, and we’re busily trying to squirrel away our excess produce for the winter. Even if you don’t have a vegetable garden or allotment, now is a great time to buy seasonal local produce, which is often at reduced prices in many farm shops around the country.

One of the challenges is storing all this bounty. Last year, we cooked up pans of onions, garlic and tomatoes and froze them to add to winter casseroles. This year I thought I’d try something different. We were given a dehydrator for a Secret Santa Christmas present a few years ago (see last post), and I’ve not really tried it out until now.

A couple of days ago, I dehydrated cherry tomatoes and blueberries with it (we have five blueberry bushes which are heaving with fruit) and the results were fantastic. I cut the cherry tomatoes in half, and placed them cut side upwards (the image at the top shows my trial batch – after that I really filled the layers in the dehydrator as much as I could), and I also stabbed the blueberries with a knife so that the excess moisture could escape. It took a while (a day or more) for them to fully dehydrate, but it’s definitely worth the wait. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use an oven on a very low heat.

The dehydrating process concentrates the flavour – both the tomatoes and blueberries are bursting with sweetness and have a real kick to them. I’m intending to use the blueberries for my Christmas biscotti biscuits, but I’m not sure they’ll last that long. The tomatoes will be put into casseroles and sauces. They’ll both keep for weeks, if not months in airtight jars.

There are plenty of other foods that can be dehydrated – bananas, melons, mangoes, strawberries to name a few. You can make crisps with potatoes, kale, carrots, parsnips and so on. Or why not try a fruit leather? Take some ripe fruit, add a spoonful of honey and some lemon juice, whizz in a blender, spread on a baking sheet and dehydrate in your oven’s lowest setting for about 6 hours.

And if you don’t fancy dehydrating, you can always make chutney, pickle, ketchup, soup, pesto, jam, bottled produce or jarred in olive oil. It’s great keeping the summer going into the winter!

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Cunning Courgette Ideas

If you grow your own vegetables, or subscribe to a weekly vegetable box, you’ll know all about seasonal gluts. It’s a question that comes up a lot on the allotment and zero waste forums I belong to. The challenge when you grow vegetables or buy a locally sourced vegetable delivery is that it’s difficult to stagger the harvest of some vegetables, so you end up with a lot of one type. At the moment, we are swimming in French beans and courgettes.

Today I’m going to focus on courgettes, as when they get going, boy do they produce a haul! And if they’re not picked regularly, they become giant marrows, which tend to taste watery and nothingy (in my opinion). So, here are a few ideas for your courgette cornupcopia.

The brilliant thing about courgettes is that to be honest, when they’re cooked in something, they’re pretty tasteless. Why is that good? Because you can use them as a cunning way to get vegetables into your veggie-hating kids (or husband). They also add moisture when they’re added into baked dishes – perfect for this chocolate courgette cake shown above. There are any number of recipes for chocolate courgette cake on the internet, so I’ll let you pick one that suits you best. All I can say is that it tastes delicious and freezes brilliantly.

There are plenty of other ways of subversively adding courgettes to dishes – grate into spaghetti bolognese and other pasta dishes, grate and squeeze out the water and add to cake or bread recipes (courgette lemon drizzle cake is ace) or simply put into quiches or stews. I tried courgette and cheese muffins a couple of years ago and they worked a treat.

If you’re happy for the courgettes to take more of a starring role, try courgette and feta or courgette and sweetcorn fritters – Nigella has a fabulous recipe here. Other ideas include courgette and hazelnut burgers, courgette and tomato soup, ratatouille, mushroom and courgette curry. One of my favourite ways to eat courgettes is to oven roast them with peppers, sweet potato, onions, garlic and tomatoes and add them to couscous.

They’ll freeze brilliantly when combined with tomatoes and other veggies as a ratatouille and are perfect for adding to winter stews. If all else fails, and you end up with super marrows (I planted eight courgettes last year so it was a bit of a challenge dealing with them) – pigs love them. We have a lady in our village who keeps pigs and was happy to take any amount of giant marrows off my hands. Happy porkers…

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Make your own: Dishwasher Tablets

I’m such a sucker for zero waste recipes, and I’ve tried a huge amount in my time – some of them were total flops. So I promise you, I will only ever post recipes that work (for me at least). I came across this formula for dishwasher tablets recently, and as I had all the ingredients here, I thought I’d give them a go. They worked perfectly. You can buy cheaper – Wilko sell a cardboard box of 30 dishwasher tablets for £1. But, these really aren’t expensive and it’s very satisfying to make your own. I buy my bicarb and citric acid in cardboard boxes, so zero waste for those ingredients. Here’s how to do it. You’ll need:

  • 1 Cup of Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1/4 Cup Citric Acid
  • 1 Tablespoon Dishwashing Liquid

Add the bicarbonate of soda and the citric acid to a large mixing bowl and stir together. Pour in the washing up liquid and mix all of the ingredients together thoroughly. I used my hands, but you could whisk it if you preferred.

Then, push lumps of the mixture into small silicone ice moulds. They will froth up a bit – this is normal (see image below). Just wait ten minutes or so and level them off with a knife. I put the excess into an empty mould space. This recipe made 24 tablets.

Leave them to harden for about four hours, or overnight. Then gently ease them out of the mould and store in an airtight jar. Place one tablet in your dishwasher compartment and you’re good to go!

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