I am that person who has a dozen airtight containers taking up room in my fridge because I just can't bear to throw out food.
I save spoonfuls of cooked rice, a couple of broccoli florets and half-used tubs of tomato paste.
Sadly, however, a lot of them sit there for so long that they have been rendered utterly unrecognisable by the time I get around to throwing them out.
I ended up clearing out the fridge feeling like an abject failure. That food could have been put to good use, if only I was more organised. Something had to change. And that something was me.
With a mixture of better planning, research and dogged determination I have drastically reduced my kitchen waste. Yes, there is a little extra effort involved, but if I can do it, anyone can.
I am going to share my most successful waste less kitchen hacks and a much-loved family recipe for chicken and corn noodle soup that is everything you need as winter approaches.
Ready to crumble
Don't throw out bruised apples, over-ripe pears or berries past their best. Ever. Just don't. Use them to make the most beloved of cool weather desserts – the crumble. I like to dice the apples and pears, cored, but with skin on, then I simmer for 10 minutes with some cinnamon, ground ginger and a dash of water. Meanwhile, whip up a crumble topping out of oats, flour, seeds, nuts, coconut, sugar and some more cinnamon and ginger, all massaged with a little butter. I then pop my fruit in the bottom - adding berries at this point if I have them - sprinkle on your crumble topping and bake for 15-20 minutes. You want your fruit to be bubbly and your crumble toasted and crunchy. I also think there is a strong argument that crumble, topped with natural yoghurt, makes an excellent breakfast.
The end of bread
Does anyone eat the end pieces of a loaf of bread? I am sure some people do but I have never met anyone who admits to it. In fact, according to Love Food Hate Waste NZ, bread is the most thrown out food item in our rubbish. We reject the ends, we let it go stale or, more likely, it goes mouldy. In my house I have a three-day rule - if a loaf of bread is still sitting there after three days it goes either a) straight in the freezer or b) into the oven to dry out for breadcrumbs. If I go for option b, I store it in the fridge as I find homemade breadcrumbs still have a high moisture content and can go mouldy. My favourite way to use the crumbs is atop a gratin or as a rustic finish to pasta, alla pangrattato.
For a flavour-packed pangrattato:
2 large handfuls of breadcrumbs
Zest of half a lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh herbs such as thyme, basil or parsley
1 clove of garlic, minced
Add ingredients to a skillet on a medium-high heat and toss gently until lightly toasted and crunchy.
Unharden that cheese
This tip comes from a very close friend of mine. I have a pet hate for cheese that hasn't been wrapped properly so the edges go all dry and translucent. Cheese is so wonderful, it doesn't deserve to be treated like that, but it happens.
The next time you reach for the block of parmesan only to realise it's as hard as a brick, don't despair and don't throw it out. Dampen a clean tea towel, wrap it around the cheese then cover it in foil and place it the fridge. In about 24 hours your cheese should be rehydrated and ready to be enjoyed. I have also heard of people who have revived it by immersing it in water and microwaving it – in the water – for a few minutes, but I haven't tried that one myself. Most hard cheeses also freeze really well, but to get the best use out of it you will need to grate it first.
There are so many ways to use up old rice that it is practically criminal to throw it away. Instead, store it in an airtight container in the freezer. You can then either defrost it to make fried rice, add it to soups, whip up a rice salad to take to work, stuff it into capsicums or make a Spanish-style rice stew.
I get very frustrated by the seasonal nature of my favourite herbs. My biggest pet peeve is basil. With basil it is either feast or famine. At the moment my basil plant is hanging in there but I can tell by the flower buds forming that it is about to go to seed and abandon me for another year. I have already prepped a huge batch of pesto, which is now bunkering down in my freezer, but what to do with the rest? A lot of people swear by freezing basil leaves in ice cube trays, covered in oil, then kept in the freezer in an airtight container. That does work, but I feel tired just thinking about going to that amount of effort. Instead, just grab your beloved basil leaves, put into a snap lock bag, squeeze out the air and freeze. Then simply break off bits of frozen basil anytime you need it.
Banana tea for the garden
Bananas are packed with potassium and magnesium, both of which your garden loves, especially your citrus trees. You can take the time to dry out your banana peels then grind them up to scatter over your garden, or, try this easy trick: keep a bucket of water just outside your back door, and each time you eat a banana toss the peel in the water. After approximately four weeks you have "banana tea", which can be poured liberally on the garden, encouraging leaf growth and fruit ripening.
Peppered with flavour
I love those odd vegetables you can get in supermarkets sometimes. Things like misshapen carrots or, my personal favourite, ugly capsicum. Why do I love them? They're so cheap, and when I can grab them I take them home and do one of my favourite things with them. I slice and core them, place them on an oven tray and roast until they're very brown and caramelised. I then peel a few garlic gloves, pop them in a jar, add my now roasted capsicum and cover with olive oil. My roasted capsicum strips last for months in the fridge. I blend them up and add to tomato-based sauces, use as a topping for pizza or toss through a salad.
Bendy carrot resuscitation
I usually put bendy carrots into my freezer to add to my vegetable broth (see below), but a friend recently told me about a trick that works on most root vegetables. Take your bendy carrot or parsnip, place in a bowl of cold water and leave for 24 hours. Your vegetable will rehydrate itself and be ready to eat.
Waste less vege broth
This one was a game changer for me. I save every vegetable peel, carrot end, broccoli stem and onion skin and add it to a large snap lock bag that I keep in the freezer. When the bag gets full, I then use all of that vegetable goodness to make an incredible vegetable broth. The broth draws every last bit of goodness out of those vegetable bits and pieces and you are left with a soft mush at the end that will take up a fraction of the space in your rubbish bin - or, if you are so inclined, it will break down perfectly in your compost.
It is also a great excuse to raid the vegetable draw in your fridge and toss in anything that is past its best. Really, anything goes in this broth - I even toss in store-bought frozen vegetables if I don't have enough scraps saved. This week I had some fresh thyme past its best, so I added that and used the broth as the basis for a hearty minestrone. You want to have a balance of flavours, though. I go through what you need for the perfect broth below.
To make the vege broth you will need:
Roughly 4 cups of frozen vegetable scraps
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp peppercorns
6 gloves garlic, smashed
Enough water to just cover the vegetables
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot. Put the lid on and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, adjust the lid to allow steam to escape and let it simmer for at least two hours (you don't need to watch it, just set a timer so you don't forget).
Place a mesh colander over another large pot and pour the broth over slowly. Push down on the now-soft vege with the back of a spoon until all of the liquid has been released. Remove the colander, allow the vege to cool and then dispose of.
Place the broth in two airtight containers and freeze.
Use for soups, curries, casseroles and more.
Chicken and corn noodle soup
I have two very opinionated children who behave like mini MasterChef judges every time I try to serve up anything new or "unusual" to them, but this soup is a hit every time. Using my homemade vege broth makes me feel like I am getting so much goodness into them, without them even realising, which is about as good as it gets as a parent. Rest assured, though, even big kids will like this one. And if you make the broth ahead of time it only takes about 15 minutes to whip up.
4 cups vegetable broth (see above)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp Chinese five spice
2 nests of dried egg noodles, broken into pieces
1.5 cups of corn kernels (frozen or tinned work well)
1 large cooked chicken breast, shredded
Spring onions to garnish, optional
1. Add broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, five spices and vinegar to a large pot. Bring to a simmer.
2. Add broken up noodles and cook for 5-6 minutes or until al dente.
3. Add corn and bring back to a simmer. Add chicken and stir. Remove from heat.
4. Whisk the egg in a small bowl along with a tablespoon of cold water (you want to thin it out). Stir your soup with one hand and slowly pour in the water and egg mixture until combined. The egg should form "threads" in the soup.
5. Season to taste, but give it a test first as the soy sauce may have added enough salt and you don't want to overdo it.
6. Ladle into large bowls and top with chopped spring onions, if desired. I sometimes also add a dash of Sriracha sauce to my bowl when serving - the little kick is delightful.