Wednesday, 17 February 2016

How to stay away from takeaway

It's like a bulb turning itself on at the back of your head towards the end of the afternoon. At the beginning, maybe, the light is intermittent. You are trying to ignore it. But, as dinner time is approaching, the not-so-visible light has transformed itself into a flashy fluorescent neon light saying "takeaway". Here are my tips to defeat the takeaway craving nine times out of ten.

1. Check the content of your fridge
It's sounds pretty basic, doesn't it? Actually, I need to remind myself to do it on a regular basis. No later than last night, I started cooking some food on the assumption that I had not left over in my fridge. In fact, I had a small bowl of mushroom Stroganoff. Dommage!
Also, if you freeze food, put a label on it. Otherwise, you won't know what's inside the box. Again, it's something I experience now and again. So keep some stickers in your kitchen drawer.

2. Cook the next best thing
You're feeling like having pizza? Why don't you make a Vegetarian power tart, i.e. roasted vegetables with cheese on a sheet of puff pastry? With the VegTarga, it's another recipe invented by my husband, Ben. 

Do you fancy a slice of Veg tart? 

Peeling vegetables does take time, though. So, if you are pressed for time, it's not an option, I guess. However, if you are in a hurry or have very little energy left at the end of the day, there are other things you can cook. I love having poached eggs on bread. With a portion of green vegetables (spinach, lettuce etc.), it makes a good decent dinner, in my opinion. Making a warm vegetable salad is also a good option, I think.

3. Make your own comfort food 
Last summer, I went through a phase of craving Mexican food once a week. (It all started with a vegetarian cooking box I ordered from Riverford which contained a chilli sin carne recipe.) So I got into the habit of stoking up on kidney beans and all the necessary ingredients. After a couple of weeks, I could prepare my favourite dish du moment with my eyes closed in less than 10 minutes. 

A vegetable stir fry I prepared for my parents last year. 

Prior to that, I had gone through a vegetable stir fry period. I always had toasted sesame oil, soya sauce, fresh chillies and lime in my kitchen cupboard. Savoury crêpes or galettes (as they call them in Britanny) can also be a good alternative to takeaway. 

4. Always have some bread in the freezer
Every 2-3 weeks, I buy a big loaf of sourdough, slice it (in toaster-friendly slices) and freeze it. I can guarantee you that the money spent on good bread has saved me lots of pounds in takeaway pizza. 

Having homemade soup may not be the most exciting dinner you can have (although it grows on you, I promise). However, having fresh homemade soup with a nice slice of toasted bread is a totally different experience. It's what I have almost every Sunday night nowadays. I do feel richer for it - and slightly slimmer. Having a light dinner is a good way to keep weight under control.

5. Flex your cooking muscles
The more you cook, the easier it gets. First, inspiration will come to you more easily. You will feel more confident and will adapt recipes. Second, your taste buds may well change. I don't think that I crave greasy food as much as I used to a few years ago. Back then, I wasn't a very keen cook at all. Now, I truly enjoy cooking. Be patient. It takes time.

Chard and mushroom barley risotto made by me. : ))

What do you cook when you fancy takeaway? When you have takeaway, what do you normally have? Let me know in the comment box. 

Monday, 15 February 2016

Ben's VegTarga

Ben's VegTarga is inspired by the Sardinian dish spaghetti alla bottarga. It's traditionally prepared with cured grey mullet roe. My husband's recipe is an attempt to conjure the same sweet, salty, spicy flavour using vegetables. It's a great way to use up beetroot, carrots and turnips. We get those vegs via our veg bag scheme subscription. 

We normally mix the vegs preparation with wholemeal pasta. 

Ben created this dish a year and a half ago after he had spaghetti alla bottarga on holiday. Nowadays, we cook VegTarga on a regular basis. You can serve it with pasta or rice. 

Peeling the vegs and chopping them does take time but it's completely worth it. Trust me. You may want to prepare double the amount of VegTarga and freeze half of it to save  time. 

Serves 2 people.

  • 1 spring onion (optional)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 birds eye dried chilli pepper
  • 1 medium beetroot
  • 2 turnips (optional)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 and 1/2 table spoons of capers (KEY INGREDIENT!)
  • decent quality olive oil
  • 160g wholemeal pasta

Step-by-step instructions: 
  1. Dice the carrots, beetroot (very small) and turnip (very small). 
  2. Fry on medium heat in a little olive oil.
  3. After 12 minutes, add the capers with a little more olive oil.
  4. After another few minutes, add the finely chopped spring onion, garlic and chilli with a little more olive oil.
  5. Stir constantly for 5 minutes while adding a generous table spoon or two of olive oil and leave off heat for 5 minutes.
  6. Stir the pasta into the mixture.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

5 tips to reduce your plastic use (even further)

You've stopped using plastic bags. You take a stainless water bottle with you when you go out. Maybe you've invested in a reusable coffee cup and you even use fabric bags to do your food shopping. Below are 5 tips to go even further in decreasing your plastic use and your waste in general. 

1. Use a spray bottle for washing-up liquid
Right. You won't save tonnes of plastic or money by doing this. But I mention it anyway because it's such an easy step to take that I would feel guilty not sharing it with you. 
Pour 1/4 or 1/5 of the content of a washing-up liquid bottle in a spray bottle (it depends on how concentrated your washing up liquid is, I guess). Fill in with water. Shake. Spray the diluted liquid onto your dirty dishes. 
The chances are that you already have an empty spray bottle in your house. If you do need to buy one, it will cost you about £1. 
Go the extra mile: make your own cleaning products using white vinegar/bicarbonate of soda/essential oils. A few drops of tea tree oil + some water in a spray bottle = a very effective disinfectant (tried and tested!). Don't be put off by the price of a small bottle of tea tree oil. It will last you a long time. 

2. Replace your shower gel with a bar of soap
The old fashioned bar soap is making a come-back. You can buy a soap holder which doubles up as a soap box (such as this one from Muji). So you can take your soap with you when you travel. It will make you wonder why you have ever used shower gel. I know. 

I currently use bars of soap from The Soap Co. 

Go the extra mile: buy shampoo bars from brands such as Lush or Folie verte

3. Stop using cling film
I still have cling film in my cupboard but I very very rarely use it these days. When I have some leftovers, I put them in a bowl/dish and put a plate on them. 
Go the extra mile: stop using kitchen towels and aluminium foil. I can't remember the last time I bought kitchen towels (maybe two years ago...). As for foil, I have some at home but I can count on one hand the number of times I use it over a period of one year.  

4. Buy loose vegetables and fruit. And cook!
You can buy unpackaged vegetables and fruit from farmers' markets, grocery shops and vegetable box schemes. I have a subscription to a vegetable box scheme called Field to Fork Organics (I co-founded it and was involved in running it until October 2015). Every two weeks, I buy a fruit box from Riverford

It's impossible to beat fresh, organic, unpackaged vegetables!
Their colours and taste are incredible. 

Getting a weekly bag of seasonal vegs means that you'll have to cook a fair amount, including vegetables that you may not be familiar with (celeriac, swede, Jerusalem artichokes etc.). I can imagine that this doesn't work for everyone but, if you enjoy cooking and you want to support British farmers, I can only advise you to join a bag scheme. I'll share recipes on the blog to help you with this challenge. Check out Ben's VegTarga recipe

I haven't always been a keen cook but the more you do it, the better it gets.
I love it now. 

Go the extra mile: reduce your meat consumption. Producing meat has a very high environmental impact. 

5. Replace industrial yogurts/desserts/biscuits with homemade versions
First, it's a good way to reduce the amount of sweet things you eat. Second, it's a very effective way to make a dent in the amount of plastic waste you consume. Third, the less processed food you eat, the better for your health. 

Using smaller cake forms shortens the baking time. 

I've bought a yogurt maker last year. I really enjoy having homemade yogurts. Saying this, you don't even need a yogurt maker to make your own yogurts. It's the same for bread. You can make your own bread without a bread maker. I really like this spelt loaf recipe from Doves. I use it on a regular basis - and tweak it by replacing some of the spelt flour with rye flour, for example. 

I sometimes use a proving basket but if it's not necessary.

Go the extra mile: make your own jam, marmalade, chutney etc. Just remember to keep glass jars whenever you finish a jar of jam or else so you don't have to buy any to store your homemade products. You will be amazed by the number of jars you will accumulate in the space of a few months. 

What are you doing to reduce your waste? What do you find challenging? Leave a comment under this post. 

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Zero Waste Podcast - first episode

For the first edition of the Zero Waste podcast, I've interviewed Michelle McGagh and Frank Cunningham, the couple behind London Minimalists. Michelle featured quite a lot in the media at the end of last year after she announced that she was embarking on a no spend year

I had a great conversation with Michelle and Frank at their home in North London at the end of January. We talked about why they had decided to part with most of their belongings as they were renovating their house in 2013, the way they shop (or shopped for Michelle) and how accumulating small useless things can prevent you from focusing on what really matters in life. 

In the podcast, I also mention two different waste reduction/recycling initiatives. One is very new. It's a surplus box called Day Old - a social enterprise based in London which rescues day old bread and bakery items. The other one is a few years old but I've just found out about it. It's called Audition Solidarité. The French charity collects old hearing aids, dismantle them and create new ones for people in need in France and in developing countries. 

Let me know your thoughts and suggestions about the podcast. 
You can listen to it on Soundcloud here.