how cut food waste, cut bills and see the back of your fridge

How often do you eat?  I rest my case.  You will spend a LOT of time in your fridge and larder (or food cupboards or wherever you keep the food that doesn’t live in your fridge, please don’t email me, larder is an easy word that you all understand 🙂 )

Is your fridge full of little bowls of leftovers, unidentified things in silver foil?  Do you take one look and think it would be easier just to pop out and buy a couple of chicken breasts for dinner?  How much money are you wasting on food?  Combine decluttering with the essential post holiday belt tighten and clear out your fridge.

Give it a really good clean whilst you are at it (a paste made from water or water and vinegar and bicarb is an excellent cleaner and gets rid of any unwanted smells).  Put back all the regular essentials (milk, butter, fruit juice etc.) and have a good look at what is left.  Divide it up into OMG how long has that been there , it is no longer recognisable as food, and the rest.  You can chuck the former.  This is the only time you will do that.  From now on there will be no more UFOs (unidentified food objects) in your fridge.

The rest needs to be sorted into what you have to eat fairly quickly, the open packet of bacon for example and what can hang on for a while yet, that hard heel of cheese.  Take the first group and work out what you could cook with them.  I tidied my fridge after the Christmas holidays, it was full of bits of leftovers and was driving me nuts.    The last bits of cooked ham, some cold boiled potatoes, some rather dried out sausages and the end of homemade terrine (ie I knew what was in it) was chopped up and added to the butchers scraps and cooked up for the dogs.  We had crunchy topped  cheese and squash bake using only leftovers from the fridge.  1 elderly and slightly worse for wear squash, 1 bowl of dried breadcrumbs, the remains of a pot of creme fraiche, the open packet of bacon and all the left over and rather hard heels of cheese from the holidays.  It was delicious.

If you really can’t think of what to cook with your assorted ingredients then hit the internet.  “Cabbage and cranberry recipes” alone brought up pages and pages of recipes.  So now you have tonight’s supper sorted you can put those ingredients to one side and look at the rest.

Again sort them into order of decay – i.e. use the ingredients that will last longest last.

Hey presto!  You have cleared your fridge AND written a menu plan for the next few days and you haven’t even spent a single penny.

If you are feeling brave you really ought to combine a fridge clear with a freezer clear.  With careful jiggling and swapping of ingredients you can take the hassle out of “what are we going to eat tonight”, save a fortune on groceries and find order in your kitchen.  What’s not to like?

I plan menus every week, it makes life so much easier and cheaper.  I don’t subscribe to the 15 (or whatever) circulating recipes.  How boring that must get.  Instead I start my shopping in my pantry and freezer.  Then I get out 2-4 recipe books and look for new recipes to try using the major ingredients I have found on my “in-house shop”.  I have planned every meal this week without having to purchase a single ingredient.  Last night we had pan fried steak and cranberry sauce using the left over cranberries and two rather small steaks from the freezer.  We are a family of five so cut the steak into strips after I cooked it, laid it over a mound of mashed potato, poured the sauce over the top and added lots of veg.

Once you have your recipes  allocate them to days of the week, taking into account any evenings where you will have to serve at different times to accommodate other people’s commitments or will have little time to prepare.  Baked potatoes and pasta (not together!) are our” no time to faff in the kitchn”meals.  The shopping list is made on the basis on the ingredients I need which are not in the pantry or freezer.

And this is what our fridge looks like now.

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Yes I know there are still some foil covered bowls.  One is the last of the brandy butter and my life is not worth living if I don’t keep that, but I know it will go.  The other is the meat from the remains of a game pie I made which I am keeping to pill Meg (an elderly springer spaniel not my daughter – she has six tablets twice a day and it can be a bit of a challenge persuading her to take them).  Oh and you know those little plastic punnets that you get with soft fruit?  I keep them and use them to hold little things like garlic, chillies, ginger, cherry tomatoes, shallots etc.  It stops them rolling around in the vegetable drawer and means I can see exactly how much I have left of anything.

Tonight is cauliflower cheese by the way 🙂

frozen

It is hot today, well certainly for the north of England.  Currently 25 degrees (about 73 for those working in farenheit)  and stuffy.  I can’t believe I used to live in the tropics, I must have been made of much sterner stuff when I was younger.  However, it did mean that today was the perfect day to sort the freezer…..

This is one of our most shameful areas.  I have tried all sorts of strategies to keep on top of it but none of them have lasted much longer than a month or two.  We have three freezers. A small freezer below our fridge in our kitchen; a chest freezer and a small freezer in the outbuildings.

The fridge in the kitchen is the main daily use freezer.  The one I use first when  working out what we are going to eat the following week; the one the ice cream lives in; the ice box and any herbs I have frozen for over the winter.

The chest freezer is meant to be for fish (my husband is a trout and salmon fisherman) and whole or half animals bought direct from the farmer; freeze ahead meals (especially over the Christmas holidays); leftovers sufficient for another meal for at least 2 people; bones and meat for the dogs; odd stuff my husband buys when he is let loose in the farmers’ market on his own.  Though as I bought an alpaca steak last time I went to the Hexham market I can’t really complain about the Desperate Dan Pie he bought.

Finally there is the small freezer used for fruit.  We have a lot of fruit bushes and trees gooseberries, redcurrents, blackcurrents, apples, damsons, plums and quinces. We also have raspberries, strawberries, cherries and blueberries, but they never last long enough to make it to the freezer!  Everything comes to harvest at once and I can’t can and jelly it all in one go so it goes straight into the freezer along with any foraged fruit (sloes, rosehips, elderberries) and I do bulk sessions at my leisure.

In theory it should work well.  In practice it is chaos, not even of the organised kind.  So out it all came. There was a shocking amount that fell into the unidentifiable category and combined with the dog meat and bones which had got wedged under a whole side of smoked salmon the dogs will be well fed this week.  Then there were the soups.  Now I like soup as much as the next man.  My husband should have married the Soup Dragon.  He makes soup by the gallon, thick broths and lentil soups made using a ham bone from a mutated pig the size of a shire horse and so thick they could be served by the slice.  The one kind of soup I can’t stand.  The problem is he makes it,  bags it up and then forgets about it and makes some more.  Henceforth he is banned from even mentioning the word “stock” until he has eaten at least 2/3 of the soup lake in our freezer.

The most interesting bits were the unused cuts from the whole lamb we get each spring.  I am the only person who likes heart so I usually have that braised on a cold night whilst everyone else wrinkles their noses at me and snaffles some kind of dubious takeaway.  I have plenty of recipes for skirt and breast and all those other cheap cuts that nobody else wants but even I was baffled by these.

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I have added them to the dog pile.

Finally the leftovers. ” Bolognese sauce for 5″ is brilliant; “lamb hot pot for 2” could do my husband and I for lunch; unidentifiable meat dish dated October 2010 I thought could probably go.

So now I have this

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All sorted neatly into bags

this

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Meat drawer

and this.

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Fruit waiting to be jellied

But more importantly what I have learned and what will I do differently?

  • Bags – sorting stuff in the big freezer by bag avoids loosing dog food under the salmon.  I have a raw meat and fish bag, a cooked meals, soup and stock bag and a breakfast bag (bacon, black pudding, white pudding, fruit pudding and kippers).
  • All menu planning to use existing stocks in the kitchen freezer before going to the outside freezer and finally the farmers’ market.
  • Nobody is allowed to put anything in the freezer except me (because I am the only person who labels anything!)
  • Cut down on game purchases.  Only my husband and I really like game, I can sneak it in to casseroles for the girls but they have been suspicious ever since they discovered “dark beef” was venison and “dark chicken” was pheasant!  We do get given game by friends who shoot and my husband has brought the odd animal home himself but they tend to get eaten immediately.  It’s the partridge picked up at the farmers’ market that just never gets eaten.  The venison liver, which to be fair looks delicious but again as only my husband and I eat liver and game it’s not going to see the light of day on a regular weekday evening.
  • Leftovers.  Is the reason there is so much left over because I efficiently cooked twice the amount, because unexpectedly half the family were out for supper or because it wasn’t a great recipe?  In the latter case there is no point putting it in the freezer because nobody is going to eat it.  A rather odd chicken and chickpea curry fell into that category.
  • Never put milk in the freezer.  Nobody ever remembers it is there.
  • If I’ve not turned it into jelly or canned it by December I’m never going to do it.

PS loved the fact that WordPress spell check doesn’t recognise kipper or chickpea – foodie philistine!