Category Archives: Zero Waste

Porkie pies

This weekend I fulfilled my year-long plan to make my own pork pie from scratch.

I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe from River Cottage Meat. Well… sort of. I used his recipe for the pastry, but screwed around with the meat content quite a bit.

Over 2 kilos of meat plus herbs. Hmmm... meaty.

Over 2 kilos of meat plus herbs. Hmmm… meaty.

Hugh calls for 1kg of pork shoulder, 250g belly pork and 250g salt pork. Well, I didn’t have any belly or salt pork spare, but I did have a pig’s head that needed using up. So I followed the recipe for making brawn right up to the point just before you set it in jelly, then added that to some pork shoulder we had left in our freezer. Making the brawn was actually the longest part of the recipe, as it’s 24 hours soaking in brine and 4 hours simmering in stock. I ended up with about 900g of lean shoulder meat, 900g of fairly fatty head meat, and 250g of fat from the head.

To make up the meat mix, I finely chopped all of the above – the head meat pretty much as finely chopped as if I’d minced it, the shoulder cut into roughly 5mm cubes. (That sentence barely describes the work involved – that’s a *lot* of chopping.) Then mixed with herbs and spices and a little salt.

You probably can't tell how weird this pastry is from this picture, but trust me. It's weird.

You probably can’t tell how weird this pastry is from this picture, but trust me. It’s weird.

Making the pastry was pretty easy. A 50/50 mix of butter and lard is added to some water, and melted over a gentle heat, and then mixed with some beaten egg into plain flour. It’s a pretty weird process – there’s something kind of disgusting about melting lard and butter together, and it gets worse as you stir it into the flour, which looks like it is sort of curdling before your eyes. But if you press ahead and keep mixing, it comes together nicely. The dough is pretty strange though. Texture-wise, it’s light and springy like bread dough, and very moist, almost sweaty, in a way that normally would call for more flour to stop it sticking to your hands – but in this case, it doesn’t stick at all.

After all that faff, it was pretty plain sailing. After an hour in the fridge, the pastry is rolled out and used to line a tin, the meat is packed in and then a pastry lid put on the top. A couple of hours in the oven and it’s done – a crisp, crunchy pastry and savoury meat filling. Yum!

25mm miniature added for scale.

25mm miniature added for scale.

A few of things merit further comment. First, although I had about 50% more meat than the recipe called for, I ended up needing more than double the amount of pastry. I’m not sure if I was just generous in how much pastry I used for each pie, but I ran out on the first batch and had to do a second.

Second, the brawn substitution seemed to work fine. However, the filling’s structural integrity wasn’t all that good. The meat crumbled a bit when the pie was cut. I have no idea whether that is what would have happened with the basic recipe.

Finally, I followed the traditional advice, to pour pork stock in to fill the gap that was supposed to develop between the filling and the pastry lid as the meat shrunk during cooking. The idea is that it fills the gap and then sets as jelly. What actually happened was that I poured the stock in, until it seemed to have filled the gap (a lot of stock used), and left it in the fridge. When I cut the pie open I discovered there wasn’t any gap to fill – evidently the meat hadn’t shrunk at all – and the stock had apparently been absorbed by the pastry, making it look a bit soggy and uncooked. On the second batch I didn’t bother with the stock, for this reason.

One of the disadvantages of spending hours on end processing a lot of pork, especially meat from the head, is that I end up feeling a little over-porked, so to speak. I probably won’t feel like actually eating my pork pie for a while. Nevertheless, it feels like quite an accomplishment.

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Zero Waste Week: Use it or Lose it

This week has been zero waste week, I’ve been remiss in marking it on the blog but not at all remiss in observing my part of it at home

I think I might even be an Ambassador for ZWW which makes my shame all the greater.  Quick go over there and check out the cool stuff I keep forgetting to blog about!

The view from our local park.

The view from our local park.

I chose to focus on food because whilst I work hard to reduce waste there are always things I could do better and new tips and tricks to try out. This culminated in an ultimate Zero Waste Meal that I am incredibly proud of because almost all the ingredients were grown or made by me!

The meal was Potato and Kale stew and my ingredients looks liked this:

DSC_0776

Shallots (grown by us)

Garlic (grown and preserved by my Dad)

Cavelo Nero (grown by us)

Potatoes (grown by us)

Borlotti Beans (grown by us)

Parma Ham (grown and made by us)

Leftover shredded chicken (remnants of 4 chicken carcasses I used for stock)

2 cubes of chicken stock (made by me, reduced until concentrated and frozen in ice cube trays)

1.2 litres of whey (leftover from cheesemaking I used it to rehydrate the stock cubes)

Smoked Paprika (shop bought)

Olive Oil (shop bought)

The method was pretty simple after that..

Fry the shallots and garlic in the oil until softened and add the potatoes and ham.  Then add the paprika, chicken, whey and stock cubes and simmer for about 20 mins or until the potatoes are done.  Then add the cavelo nero (destalked and roughly chopped) and the beans – cook for another 10 mins.  Voila!

DSC_0779

It was incredibly flavourful and highly nutritious with all the extra protein from the whey and of course that Superfood darling – Kale!

DSC_0780

Growing your own food is really waste saving in so many ways, there is no packaging and no air miles, you only pick exactly what you need so nothing rots in the veg drawer and any trimmings can go on the compost heap to be put back into the soil.

Over the week I’ve been looking out for more food waste saving tips to pop down here:

1. Chillis – my chilli plants failed this year so I’ve had to buy them from the Supermarket.  I always get more than I need in a pack.  So I read online that you can just throw chillis straight in the freezer in a container and when you need them, get them out and use them as if they were fresh.  I have about 4 chillis in the freezer right now!

2. Milk – I over ordered milk recently and ended up with double what I needed.  I froze one of the bottles and use the other to make Paneer Cheese.  I used this blog post and the final recipe in it is for Queso Blanco which (as it turns out) is the same as paneer!  I used some of the whey in the above stew instead of water and the rest I’m freezing in portions for baking.

3. Preserving – as a Gardner with a lot of fruit trees at this time of year I am rushed off my feet trying to preserve the harvest.  Currently I’ve made two plum cakes, 7lbs of Damson Jam and nearly 3 litres of Blackberry Cordial.  There is much more to come this weekend.  There are lots of good jam and chutney recipes online and if you use homegrown or foraged produced they will often cost pennies.  Our 3 litres of Blackberry Cordial cost under a £1. I can’t bear to see blackberries rotting in the hedgerows near to a supermarket where they are being sold at £1.75 for 150g!

4. Pizza Sauce – I love this idea by A Girl Called Jack for making pizza out of leftovers.  I often have a couple of tablespoons of veggie stew, chilli, bolognese leftover and nothing to do with it.  How come I didn’t realise I could use it as pizza sauce!

The Art of Recipe Substitutions: Hummous.

I’ve been writing my use it or lose it posts for some time now – long enough that they have their own page!

When I write a use it or lose it recipe I try hard to come up with something that doesn’t need you to buy a lot of extra ingredients.  To me that defeats the purpose – when I realise I need to use up some yoghurt I don’t want to have to go out shopping and buy lots of new things just to use something else up before it goes off, that is an inefficient use of my time and might lead to more waste.

To me Use it is or Lose it is about making a complete meal or most of a meal, or something you can put in the freezer

But there are times when instead of building a quick store cupboard recipe around a Use It or Lose It item I just substitute something I have that is about to go off for something else.  I want to use up the tiny bit of leftover yoghurt instead of opening a brand new pint of milk.  Once I’ve opened the milk the clock starts running before it goes off, so I want to put that off for as long as possible. And if I don’t the yoghurt up now I’ll probably have to throw it away.

Sometimes we have a guest who is vegan, gluten free, or has a dairy allergy and substitutions need to be made.  It is fairly easy to substitute a part of a meal on a plate swopping out pasta for potatoes if someone is gluten free.  The tough challenge comes when you are substituting an ingredient like eggs, or you have some sour cream about to go off and you are about to make a recipe with a more complicated set of chemical/biological processes like bread.

The key to substituting is understanding the role that the ingredient plays in the recipe and then choosing something (or a combination of things) that will do the same job.

I think there are 5 ingredient roles:

1. Flavour (e.g. garlic, cheese, herbs, spices)

2. Texture (e.g. lentils, potatoes, pasta)

3. Structure (e.g. gluten)

4. Binding agent (e.g. eggs, chia seeds, sometimes just water/milk)

5. Raising agent (e.g. bicarbonate of soda + acid, baking powder, eggs)

(This is a theory in progress, I’m sure I’ll end up changing this list. If you think of anything then let me know!)

I’ll show you how I do it with a very simple case study: Hummous

Hummous – this is a great one for substituting and an easy starting point.  Here is the basic recipe with the ingredients broke down into roles.

A) 1 tin of Chick Peas (Texture, Flavour, structureA)

B) 1 tablespoon of Tahini (Binding and Flavour)

C) 2 tablespoons lemon juice (Flavour)

D) Olive oil to blend until required consistency (Binding, Texture and Flavour)

E) Seasoning to taste (Flavour)

F) Clove of garlic (Flavour)

Put all the above in a food processor and blitz until you get your desired texture.

Here are the ways you can substitute. You can pick almost any combination of these as long as the flavours work together and you use the same  – it might not be true “Hummous”, but it will be a tasty, homemade recipe that will be nutritious and enjoyable and hopefully avoid waste or an extra trip to the shops.

Substitute Hummous

A) Any tinned beans like butter beans, cannellini beans, black beans, kidney beans (not baked beans or anything in a sauce), dried chickpeas or beans (soaked and cooked), defrosted frozen broad beans/peas or cooked fresh broad beans/peas.

B) Any nut or seed butter e.g. peanut butter, almond nut butter etc. Here is my recipe on how to make your own nut butter so you could go a step further and substitute this step just with nuts and oil as long as you make it into nut butter first.

(bonus tip: you won’t have to wash the food processor in between!)

C) Any fruit juice that is a bit sharp (but not orange or grapefruit – that would be too weird a flavour with the garlic) I’ve used pear, apple and pineapple with great results but you could use water in a pinch. (Thanks to Free Our Kids for this tip – everyone loves the apple juice version!)

D) Any oil.  I’ve use Rapeseed with great results.  I also think this is a good place to use up the fancy oils you buy for a recipe that needs 1 tsp and nothing more or the oils you get bought in those posh salad dressing gift sets.  Because of this I’ve tried walnut and hazelnut and they have both been lovely!

E) Pick herbs and spices that go with the juice and beans you have chosen, we have a low salt diet because of R at the moment so instead of salt I’ve used lemon rind and fresh coriander, fresh mint and smoked paprika.

F) this is the garlic bit, you could substitute a garlic flavoured oil at D above, or add garlic chives or even just chives.  But in a worst case scenario leave it out.

Obviously how the above combine will matter. If you make a “hummous” with peanut butter, chick peas water, olive oil and no garlic it will taste completely different than if you use broad beans, lemon and mint.  You do need to develop a sense of which flavours go together and I started to do that by just switching out one ingredient at a time and seeing what worked.

Also use your imagination if you can imagine the combination of garlic and orange tasting pretty unpleasant then it probably will be (at least it will be to you!)

Some of the substitutions might just stick.  Now I make Hummous with almond nut butter and apple juice as standard because everyone prefers it that way here at Westwick.

The Undisputed Champion of using up food and making substitutions is of course the amazing Jack Monroe from A Girl Called Jack.  She is one of my favourite bloggers and has such a great mind for thinking sideways and using ingredients really creatively. Go and check her out!

Knitting with Leftovers

I knit a lot and virtually every day.

Some of my knitting uses thrifty, frugal options, but some of it includes luxury handspun alpaca. It is my hobby and whilst I do try to source eco-friendly alternatives (I never buy standard cotton for dishcloths because it’s eco-footprint is so bad) I have bought some wonderful expensive and luxury yarns for my hobby over the years. I’ve even bought a few and had them posted from the US because Socks that Rock is really the best sock yarn I’ve ever used and you can’t buy it in the UK (I’m weaning myself off this habit though and haven’t bought any yarn for over 6 months – I’m pleased you agree that is a REALLY LONG TIME!)

I wanted a nice little text overlay here with the title of the post... far too many colours to make that a reality :(

I wanted a nice little text overlay here with the title of the post… far too many colours to make that a reality 😦

But I never throw any yarn away.  I am a master at stretching out yarn and finding ways to use up the leftovers once a project is done.  Like with food and garden prunings there is no such thing as yarn waste.

This post is a list of my 3 tips for using up yarn and 3 patterns which are really good at making the most of every scrap.

1. The Beekeeper Quilt –  by Tiny Owl Knits. This is a paid for pattern, but it is worth every penny. Not only because I love this design, it is modular and therefore easy to knit whilst out and about, but of all the patterns I’ve ever knitted, this is the best pattern for using up leftovers.

A hexapuff waiting to be stuffed.

A hexapuff waiting to be stuffed.

Firstly it is made of tiny hexapuffs knitted in sock yarn.  In my knitting career I’ve knitted about 90 pairs of socks (I know!) that is a lot of leftover sock yarn.  Some of my leftover sock yarn went into darning but darning doesn’t use it all up.  This project is perfect because I can knit hexapuffs out of all my fabulous colours put them all in a basket and only start to make up the blanket afterwards at which point I can pick the colours and place there where I want to.  I’m not limited in placing colours next to each other in the order in which I complete my original projects that generated the leftovers!

Not only do I knit with the leftover yarn but the teeny tiny scraps of yarn which get snipped off after sewing in the ends… they get used to stuff the hexapuffs.

AND… I fill some of the hexapuffs with dried lavender from my garden to give the blanket a lovely smell and keep the moths out.

This is the ideal pattern for using up things and just look at how gorgeous it is!

A sea of little hexes.

A sea of little hexes.

2. The Oddball Spiral blanket – by Sarah Bradbury (free pattern). This is my current big project.  Up until recently I had a huge bag of leftover Aran weight wool and no idea what to do with it.  I tried to knit a stripey vest but I couldn’t get enough colour repeats out of the yarn I had left so I ripped it out for this blanket.  There are only 9 live stitches at any time and the pattern is easy to memorise.  You will end up with a giant blanket if you keep going (like me) and I’ll probably finish this in the Winter now as it is too hot to work on.  But if you don’t mind the blanket looking a bit mismatched then use long and short colour repeats where you have bigger and smaller partial balls of yarn.  I think because of the geometric design you can pull off irregular colour patches which only makes this pattern more brilliant.

The blanket is growing.

The blanket is growing.

3. Baby Trousers – by Mini Magpie (free tutorial).  This is not a knitting project.  This is what to do when knitting goes wrong… so horribly wrong.

Many moons ago, before I was as wise as I am today, I knitted a wonderful Hoodie in Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran.  The pattern was incredible and I will knit it again one day. The yarn was super soft… but that was the only good thing about it.  It pilled (went bobbly) and looked terrible after I’d worn it precisely once.  I kept wearing it because it was warm and I’d worked so hard on the amazing patterned cables.  And one day in a fit of helpfulness Josh washed it for me.  Pure wool, 20% cashmere in the washing machine.  I think you can imagine what happened (I won’t describe it for the delicate amongst you but let’s say it involved, felting, shrinking and a lot of swearing).

It is a testament to my stubborness that I’m still wearing it about 7 years later despite the fact it is clearly a couple of inches too short, everywhere.  The yarn cost a fortune, the jumper took ages to knit I wasn’t going to give up on it that easily.  But I think the time has come to say goodbye.

As I said above no wool is wasted.

I’m going to cut the (now felted) jumper up to create the trousers in the above tutorial (possibly even dungarees if I can work it out) and then cut up the rest to use as stuffing in the beekeeper quilt!

 

Use it or Lose it: Cheese

We love cheese – we eat lots of it and lots of different types.  But there often seems to be a little dried out husk in the fridge or even several.  Parmesan and Pecorino are fine, I save the rinds and add them to soups and stews to give extra flavour. But there are so many other delicious cheeses in my life and in my fridge.

Jenga cheese straws

Jenga cheese straws

I originally made these cheese straws for No Plastic July but even as I was making them I realised they were a great way to use up those little hard ends of cheese.

Recipe is here but I have tweaked it as usual.

Cheese Straws

Ingredients

(Recipe says it makes 36 straws.  I got a lot more out of the recipe!)

  • 375g/13oz plain flour

  • 225g/8oz butter, diced

  • 150g/5½oz assorted grated hard cheese (cheddar, double gloucester, wensleydale, cheshire etc.)

  • 50g/1¾oz freshly grated parmesan cheese

  • pinch English Mustard powder

  • small pinch cayenne pepper/paprika

  • 2 free-range eggs, yolks only (beaten)

  • Ice cold water 4-5 tablespoons.

Method

This is essentially a pastry recipe and I am generally very bad at making pastry on account of having hot hands.  So I make all mine in a food processor and the results are always lovely.

Sift the flour and put in the food processor with the butter.  Whizz until it resembles bread crumbs.  If you don’t have a food processor then rub the butter into the flour until it resembles bread crumbs. If you run the mixture through your (clean) fingers for a bit you should be able to feel if the butter is evenly distributed. Add all the other ingredients except the water either to the food processor for a final blitz or just stir into the mixture.

Then add the ice cold water a little bit at a time stirring/blitzing until it comes together in a ball.

Put the ball in a bowl with a plate on top and put it in the fridge for at least 30 mins.

Pre-heat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Take the dough out of the fridge and roll out on a floured surface until it is the thickness of a £2 coin (maybe 1/4 inch if you are not British). Then cut into strips the desired length and width of your cheese straw and place on a baking tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper on it.

Brush a little milk on the tops of the straws and then bake for 10-15 mins until they are golden brown on top.

I apologise about the eggs yolks only instruction – I should definitely do a Use it or Lose it Egg Whites edition soon.  Throwing away eggs whites is a guilty secret of mine, I know I could make meringues but do far I haven’t.

No Plastic July – starts here!

Well today is the first day of No Plastic July and as you know I am trying to lose plastic in 5 areas of our life.

Plastic Free July

Plastic Free July

I’m doing this because plastic doesn’t break down for years and years and years.  When you have single use, disposable plastic we are just putting it somewhere out of sight and out of mind but it still exists.  It sits there in landfill somewhere – but that landfill is filling up and in world with a huge and growing population I can’t think of a more disgusting waste of land. Or worse it is getting dumped into the ocean and damaging the wildlife.

Unlike my compost heap this stuff isn’t being broken down it is just a giant bin which keeps on growing. Recycling just isn’t as good an answer as we think, it isn’t as widespread as it needs to be, it doesn’t cover all types of disposable plastic, it uses more energy (than just not having the disposable plastic in the first place) and reading No Plastic July website it is being recycled in “third world countries with substandard conditions for the world’ poorest people”.

There is a potential impact on our health with BPA chemicals getting out of the plastic and into our bodies and there is a growing impact on the oceans which I had no idea about until recently.

Yikes!

It is interesting to me how issues aren’t just about “the environment’ anymore, there is always a very human impact, often on the poorest and most vulnerable people and BPA affects everyone.  That is why I embrace ‘sustainability’ as a term.  It covers everything and reflects the fact our actions impact in lots of different ways.

So the journey to give up disposable plastic starts today.

One of things we are giving up is crackers and crisps and savoury snacks in plastic wrapping.  So today I’ll be whipping up a batch of these cheese straws to eat instead. I want giving up plastic to mean we eat better and enjoy life more whilst saving the planet. There will be dancing (and eating cheese straws) in my revolution!

Alongside my 5 things, I’m also going to be watching some documentaries and learning more about the issues and writing to a few companies to ask them to change their packaging.

A little example – I like to buy organic butter because organic farming is more sustainable and less oil dependent than other types of farming.  But the foil wrappers on most organic butter – (Yeo Valley, Sainsburys Organic and Rachels – I am looking at you!) contain a thin layer of plastic.  So do I go plastic free or do I by the more sustainable organic option!  My solution is to lobby Yeo Valley and others to change their packaging so I don’t have to work out the lesser of two evils.

There are some other amazing bloggers, going even further than me and I’m going to get a lot of inspiration from them over this month.

Check out their links and cheerlead them to the finish line!

Westywrites

EcoThrifty

Plastic is Rubbish

Plastic Free UK

Sustainable Witney

Plastic Free July In Croydon

My Zero Waste

Use it or Lose it: Milk

Today’s Use it or Lose it Post is Milk and it has two recipes for the price of one blog post.

I had a 2 litre bottle of Organic milk which was *cough* a couple of days past it’s sell by date.  But I used my nose and it smelled fine so I set about using it up.

Too much milk!

Too much milk!

My big hitter for using up milk is always pancakes because we always have eggs and flour on hand. I use a really simple recipe:

1 mug flour (any kind)

1 mug milk (any kind)

2 medium eggs

I whisked all of them together and then left it to rest for 30 minutes.  Then fry in butter in a frying pan.  I always fry big crepe style pancakes in a huge frying pan and then cut them in half (you cook breakfast faster that way).

My real recipe here though is Rice Pudding.  I was never a fan of rice pudding until I met Eliza Acton’s Rich Rice Pudding (from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course).  This I love, it comes with a creamy, custardly layer on top.

I have tweaked Delia/Eliza’s recipe to make a chocolate/orange version instead of a lemon/nutmeg version.

Ingredients:

110g short grain rice

850ml milk

75g sugar or 125g of chopped apricots soaked in orange juice and then blitzed in the food processor.

50g Butter

3 eggs

Grated rind of 1 orange

3 squares of dark chocolate

Method

Preheat the oven to gas mark 2/300F/150C.

Butter a baking dish.

Put the rice and milk in a saucepan and bring it slowly to simmering point and heat slowly until the rice is almost cooked (Delia says about 10 mins). Add the sugar/orange and apricot mixture the butter, the orange zest, and the chocolate.  Heat slowly and stir until the chocolate is melted throughout the pudding.

Leave it to cool a little.

Whisk the eggs and stir into the pudding.  Then pour the whole mixture into the baking dish and bake in the oven for 30-40 mins.

Chocolately rice pudding goodness

Chocolatey rice pudding goodness

Serve with cream (always – this part of the recipe is not optional!).

I’ve given two recipes here because although the rice pudding is lovely it contains ingredients you might need to buy.  If you are in a Use it or Lose it situation you probably don’t have lots of other ingredient to play around with like in the rice pudding.  I do find it frustrating when I see “leftovers” recipes calling for a bunch of unusual or expensive ingredients.  If I need to use something up in a hurray I won’t have some other weird and wonderful things. Therefore the pancake mix at least is full of simple staple ingredients.

In other news we dug up our first potatoes.  I think you’ll agree we were a bit early.  We’ll be waiting a bit longer for the next lot 🙂

Earlies are a bit too early :(

Earlies are a bit too early 😦

I also harvested all our redcurrants.  I’ll be making some redcurrant pies shortly to swap with my Dad for some redcurrant jelly.  We got 965g out of the fruit bushes.  I had a quick look on line and the best price I could find for fresh redcurrants was £2 for 150g.  My harvest would have cost us £12.86 in the shops!  That will be some lovely pies in the Winter for just the cost of the pasty.