"Most of us are guilty of going to the supermarket even when we have a freezer or cupboard full of ingredients which could be used to make a meal. So this challenge stems from the desire to use up stuff before buying any more".
Thrifty Ways For Modern Days edited by Martin Lewis
Although today is the first day of a new calendar month, it marks the middle point of our own financial one. Just after Si' gets paid we tend to do a bit of stocking up and each month it will be on something different. In March, we went to Lincoln Farmer's Market and bought several different cheeses and on the way we called at a farm that sells their own Aberdeen Angus beef for a few bags of stewing steak for the freezer. However, by this stage in the month I am always getting just a little concerned about staying within budget and I naturally seem to adopt a little belt tightening. Even before we downshifted, I tried to keep an up-to-date list of the freezer contents. I've now extended this to listing the contents of my store cupboard and the various other little stashes of comestibles I have around our home. Lest I sound worryingly squirrel-like in my tendencies, let me explain. Each autumn I gather large quantities of walnuts from a tree locally, partly because I really like them but also because I cannot bear to think of them going to waste. Once the shells have dried out they live in stackable baskets, that once held mushrooms, in the cupboard under the stairs. They will keep like that for months or even years. Then I have to hide any chocolate in various 'safe places' away from the nose (and claws) of the Chocolate Monster. I am not naturally secretive and often I cannot remember which of the many spots I might have hidden them in! As the kitchen inevitably gets hot during cooking, as a rule I try to store things in other rooms to ensure they keep well. For example, the jams and chutneys live in a big store cupboard in the relative cool of the dining room. I've also read recently that it's a good idea to keep a list of the contents of your fridge, with the use-by dates, stuck to the front. That way, if things get pushed to the back, you will still know that they are there and remember to use them up.
The idea of the Storecupboard Challenge as described in Thrifty Ways... is to plan one (main) meal a week using only what you have to hand in your storecupboard or freezer. (I'm presuming that you can include the contents of the fridge, too). I am bending the rules slightly here, for this month, so that all main meals must have something we already have as their main ingredient. If we can find the remaining ingredients at home, too, then so much the better. For tomorrow, I have some pork chops in the freezer, bought from Tesco for half price as they were nearing their sell-by date. I have a little double cream, left from another recipe, in the fridge. Also in there are some mushrooms and some lemons, minus their zest, that I used for the banana and walnut bread on Saturday. That gives me all I need - plus flour and butter from my staple basics - to prepare Delia Smith's recipe of Pork Chops with Cream and Mushrooms (see Recipe page). I also have a lot of blueberries in the freezer and some buttermilk I bought to make blueberry muffins. The buttermilk needs using this week so blueberry muffins are definitely on the menu, as well. Naturally, I will still need to stock up on things that don't keep so well like milk, bread, eggs and fresh fruit and veg but it should keep my food costs down nicely, as well as using up things that I've had a while, before they go off.
I found a brilliant website today called LoveFoodHateWaste. Did you know that in Britain we waste 6.7 million tonnes of food a year and that this is the equivalent of throwing away one third of all the food we buy? Although some of this is inevitably peelings, cores and bones, most of it could actually - at one stage - have been used. Once in landfill it produces huge amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and cutting that waste would have the same impact on carbon emissions as taking one in five cars off the road. I think that's what they call food for thought! We are no saints ourselves; only this morning I found some gravy that I'd taken out of the freezer for the dogs (whilst compiling my freezer list last Friday) right at the back of the fridge. Hence I will be sticking my fridge-list in a prominent position tomorrow morning. The site has some really good ideas, though I swear they've been spying on me through my kitchen window as I already use a fair few of them! It also has a great list of recipes and you can search by the left-over ingredient you want to use up. Below is a quick list of some of our own family favourites for using up leftovers or things that are getting past their best:-
Bananas - make a lovely Banana and Walnut Bread or a great thickener for smoothies
Mashed Potato - combine with a little beaten egg and flour and shape to form Potato Cakes (which can be cooked the next day or frozen) or use it as the topping for a Shepherd's or Cottage Pie
Chicken Carcass - either cook in the pressure cooker or on the hob to make Basic Chicken Stock, useful as a base in many other recipes
Tired Looking Fruit - use to make smoothies or lemons and limes can be squeezed and the juice frozen in ice cube trays till it's needed.
Egg Whites - brilliant for making meringues or frozen for use at a later date. It's usually the yolks I'm left with as I make a lot of pavlovas and meringues as presents. Our dog, Zephyr, can hear an egg cracking in the kitchen from wherever he is in the house at the time; I'm sure I don't have to elaborate on how our egg yolks are used up!
Odds and Ends of Fresh or Frozen Veg - choose from the many recipes on the internet for making soup. You could even freeze it in portions, once cooked, to de-frost and heat up in the microwave when you're in a rush. Much healthier than most ready-meals. Click here to go to the Recipe page for our family-favourite soup recipe.
I was thinking of compiling a list on this blog of 'using-up' recipes but since LoveFoodHateWaste have already started, I would encourage you to send your recipes to them to create a resource that everyone can use. Now I think I've just remembered where I hid that Easter chocolate ...