It’s a good week to do some tree hugging: just in case you missed it, Saturday was Earth Day 2017. This annual celebration of loving our planet comes at an important time with the world feeling a bit politically wobbly and a certain leader, whose name starts with T and ends in Rump, attempting to derail a lot of recent international progress that’s been made around environmental issues.
The good news is that there’s lots we can do on a personal level to support a greener planet. And a good place to start is in your cupboard. As well as making some more conscious choices about the types of products you buy (for example, choosing what’s in season), there’s also the big hairy issue of food waste.
It’s easy to blame big business and restaurants for throwing away too much food, but we do also have our personal responsibility to reduce the impact of throw away food. Did you know, for example, according to WRAP we still throw away 24 millions slices of bread in the UK alone? We can also end up with unused ingredients in our cupboards, including half used bags of flour – and this is just what I’ve used in this week’s recipe.
Fortunately there are some fantastic brands taking innovative approaches to using up surplus food. This includes brands like:
– Toast Ale who make beer from leftover bread
– Chic P‘s tasty hummus dips with surplus veg
– Rubies In The Rubble with their relish and ketchups (they even sent me a banana ketchup to try this week!).
Food waste is just one of the topics that we’re discussing in the upcoming The Joy Of Sustainable Eating event in May. I’m really excited about having Lorna Hall of the eatmyythoughts blog on the panel for this. Lorna is a champion of a more minimalist approach to living and eating, which includes managing over-consumption and being more considered with how and what you purchase.
I also spoke to Lorna recently as part of The Joy Of Eating course and I love her accessible approach to everday eco-friendliness. The good news is that there are some small acts you can incorporate in your day to day living to help reduce your waste impact. One of Lorna’s includes planning your meals at the beginning of the week so you just buy what you need, but here are some further tips…
Taste, don’t waste – some simple tips for reducing throwaway food
1. Make soup not war – soup is a great way to use up veggies that are past their best. Floppy carrots, saggy lettuce and slightly shrivelled beetroot are all great ingredients to add to soups.
2. Use your freezer – it’s a life saver and lots of foods, including bread and milk, freeze well. In fact, your freezer works more efficiently when it’s full. Freezing is also a great way to store in-season vegetables or fruit so you can eat them out of season.
3. Get to know your ‘use by’ versus your ‘best before’ – there are definitely certain ingredients, like meat, fish and some dairy, that you need to be careful with and follow the use by date on the label. However for ingredients like vegetables or fruit I do the smell and look test; if they still look good and don’t have anything odd growing on them they’re normally okay! In comparison to use by, best before is a recommendation and for ingredients like flour, herbs and spices it just means they are a bit past their best after that date. Again you can normally tell by sight or smell if there’s something wrong with them.
4. Check what you have before you buy something more – I’ll admit to ending up with multiple packets of stock cubes after not realising I already had 3 packets hidden in my cupboard. Before you head to the shops, a quick glance into the cupboard and fridge will confirm what there’s rather than guessing (and ending up with 6 month’s worth of stock cubes). This also connects to the next point…
5. Don’t buy too much in the first place – it’s easy to get sucked into multi-buy offers at the supermarket, but these offers aren’t such great news if a load of it ends up in landfill. And if your cupboards are stuffed full, you can’t always see what’s in there. Making at least some version of a shopping list can help you more easily stick to what you need.
Using what you have…
When you do start doing a bit of cupboard discovery, you might find you have all sorts of things you didn’t realise were in there. Therefore over the weekend, in the spirit of making the most of what I already had, I experimented with a loaf of what I’m calling ‘bag-ends’ bread.
I love making bread, but it’s not something I’ve done much over the past couple of years. A bit of relaxing kneading was what I used to do in my study breaks at university and I even worked in a bakery at one point (behind the till rather than with my arms in the flour bins).
I hadn’t particularly been planning to make bread this weekend, but after a few weeks away from the kitchen I felt a need to create and was going through my cupboard to check what I had left. I discovered lots of part bags of different types of flour, so I thought I’d try a bit of an experiment and mix them together. To be honest, I actually wasn’t sure if it would even result in a great loaf of bread.
With my trusty River Cottage bread book and a few less traditional techniques espoused by the great baker, Dan Lepard, I pulled together a bunch of flours (not the floral kind), a few herbs and a handful of some seeds and other stuff hanging around on my shelves – and got mixing.
This is a patient type of bread, that enjoys a few rises. For the best texture you’ll need a decent portion to be strong bread flour, but explore what you have and see what you think (I’m also a big fan of dense doorstop bread not just the fluffy stuff). For the first loaf I used a mixture of organic white bread flour, type 00 pasta flour, rye flour and a handful of chestnut flour. I also tried a second version with 50% rye which was a little heavier, but still lovely and chewy. The recipe below has the proportions for the loaf that you can play around with for the ingredients.
One other little tip is your bowl covering… as you need to cover your bowl with plastic at various times to help with the rise, rather than using cling film each time, I use a clear shower cap. The one I have is from a pizza making session at Bread Ahead bakery in London which I keep in a drawer in my kitchen. It’s nice thick plastic and means you’re not throwing away lots of used up cling film.
Making bread is a good Saturday job to start in the morning and check in on during the day. If you time it just right you can have a lovely afternoon snack of freshly baked bread slathered in the best organic butter. And if you have little hands in the kitchen, they can help with knocking back the dough and watching the bread grow!
Next stop in my cupboard clearing is my rye sourdough starter which has been hibernating at the very back of the pantry. With spring in full bloom it seems a good time to bring it back to life. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Beautiful ‘Bag Ends’ Bread
(adapted from The River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stephens)
Makes 1 medium loaf
The basic bread
500g organic flour (for the lightest texture at least half should be strong bread flour)
350ml tepid water (it should feel just warm to the touch – if it’s too hot it will kill the yeast!)
8g Himalayan pink salt or finely ground sea salt
7g instant yeast (I use Doves Farm)
A couple of teaspoons of natural yoghurt
A good glug of extra virgin olive oil or organic rapeseed oil
A decent sprinkle of herbs, seeds or seaweed flakes
Half a handful of pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
Half a handful of dried vegetables (e.g. sundried tomtaoes, pumpkin pieces) or dried fruit
Extra flour (preferably rye) for coating
1. Measure the flour, yeast and salt into a large bowl. Stick your hand in the bowl and mix everything together so all the ingredients are well distributed. This is also a good way to get the flours nicely warmed up. Keep one hand in the bowl and the other to pour the water. Pour the water in bit by bit, all the while mixing it into the dough until it’s fully incorporated. Ideally your dough should hold together well and I prefer mine to be just a bit sticky. Add your yoghurt if using, oil and any herbs or spices, and, in the bowl, knead it lightly through. Leave the mixture to sit for a few minutes for everything to be absorbed.
2. Give your hands a clean and pour a touch of oil on your work surface. Tip your dough out on the surface and knead for about 10 minutes until it’s smooth and has a nice stretch to it. Stretch out the dough, sprinkle over your seeds and dried fruit or vegetables, and fold the dough in half to cover them. Gently knead for 30 seconds or so, so that all the additions are distributed through the dough.
3. Next shape your bread into a round. Do this by patting out the dough into a round. Pick up an edge and press it gently into the centre. Turn the dough about an eighth of a circle, pick up the next corner edge and press it in. Repeat until all the edges are pressed into the middle. Flip the dough and gently place your hands under each side, turning the dough in a circle so that it shapes into a round. Put this back into your bowl and drizzle over a little oil (this stops a dry crust forming while the dough rises). Cover with plastic – or a shower cap – and leave to rise somewhere warm until the dough has doubled in size. This could be anything from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours depending on your kitchen.
4. After this first rise, gently tip your dough onto a lightly oiled surface. Lightly press it all over with your fingers to ‘knock it back’. Shape it back into a round and repeat the rise and press process 2 to 3 more times. After this, flour your bench a little, shape the round again and leave it covered in plastic / shower cap for 10-15 minutes. Press it out lightly again, smooth side down, and shape into a round for a final time (and this time a little more tightly). If you have a proving basket place the loaf in this and sprinkle over some rye flour to coat. You can also place it on a lightly floured board. Place the loaf back in the warm place for one more rise until the loaf doubles in size (30 minutes to 2 hours depending on your dough).
5. Towards the end of the final rise, turn on your oven to the highest setting and place a baking tray in there (make sure you’ve removed extraneous shelves so the bread can rise). Also place a baking dish on the bottom of the oven and boil up some water in the kettle. When the loaf has risen sufficiently, take the tray out of the oven (making sure you shut the oven door afterwards) and lift your dough from the basket or board onto the hot tray. Use a serrated bread knife to cut a line across the centre (1-2 cm deep); this will help the bread rise in the oven. Sprinkle a little water over the top of the loaf. Have your boiling water ready to go, open the oven door, place the bread in there and quickly pour boiling water into the dish at the bottom of the oven and shut the oven door. The burst of steam will also help with the rise and crust.
6. After 10 minutes turn your temperature down to 170° C (fan-assisted so reduce another 10-20° for standard ovens). By this time your loaf should have a nice brown crust. Cook for another 30-35 minutes. To check if your bread is ready, gently lift the loaf and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow your bread should be ready. Take it out and place on a wire rack to cool. Don’t try to cut it while it’s too warm, but you could rip bits off if you really can’t wait (which I normally can’t!). And remember if you don’t eat your bread within a few days and it’s getting a bit stale, slice it up and pop it in the freezer.
What could you create with ‘leftover’ ingredients your cupboard?
Join me at The Joy Of Sustainable Eating event on Tuesday May 9th, 7pm – you can buy tickets here