It’s hard to be a food consumer these days. We’re constantly chastised, barraged with advice as to how and where to shop, what to buy and what not to buy. No matter how hard we try, nobody’s perfect, and sometimes an organic, locally-produced, sustainable and home-cooked meal concocted from whole-food ingredients bought from small independent shops just isn’t going to happen. Sometimes you really, really want that avocado, even though you know it’s travelled halfway around the world to weave its evil spell of seduction from the shelf. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you’re inevitably going to find yourself in the chip shop ordering a cheeseburger. Sometimes you need a second burger because that first one was so good. Don’t judge me.
Despite these pitfalls, many of us are working towards better food choices every day. A lot of this is hard work, but there is one area in which we can all improve with very little effort involved and much to be gained. I’m talking about food waste. Most of us in Western culture are blessed with enormous amounts of available food, and many of us are wasting as much as a third of it. In Ireland alone, one million tonnes of food waste is disposed of each year. A MILLION TONNES! There are less than five million of us in the country! Around a third of this comes from households, meaning that each one of us here is throwing out about 80kg of food waste each year. Figures from the UK and the States are no better. I’m not one to sit at the dinner table harping on about how-can-you-not-eat-that-carrot-when-people-are-starving-in-Africa, but this is insane behaviour, and should go against everything our hunter-gatherer survival instincts tell us.
Okay, I’ll put my hands up here: I love leftovers. I am a leftover fiend. My boyfriend has watched me eat everything from chilli con carne to smoked mackerel pâté for breakfast, always with palpable disgust (mingled with reluctant respect.) Cottage pie, roasted veg, soups, curries… nothing is sacred. If any part of last night’s dinner is sitting in the fridge, then it’s gonna be my morning feed. (Especially if it’s mashed potato.) Having seen others react to this, I know that not everyone relishes the unconventional breakfast as much as I do, but hey – there’s always lunch. And dinner. And snacks.
Cutting down on food waste means you’re doing your part to save the planet, and that feels pretty good. Y’know what feels really good though? When you realise that the same actions are saving you money. Lots of money. The Environmental Protection Agency here in Ireland reckons that each of our households is essentially throwing out €700 each year. (Lads, we’re broke! Stop throwing out good money!) The most basic tips to cut down on waste include:
- Buy less. Plan ahead and really think about how much food you need.
- Store food properly. This will keep it fresh and give you more time to use it.
- Freeze it. If you’re not going to use it before it goes out of date, pop it in the freezer until you do need it.
- Start composting organic waste. If you don’t have green fingers, give the compost to someone who does.
- Eat your leftovers. Leftover food can be amazing, either just as it is or repurposed into a new meal. Tupperware is your friend.
Because I’m most often found with my head in the fridge and my face in the cheese, I’m baffled at how anyone could have leftover dairy products, but apparently it happens. Here’s a list of suggestions for recipes for using up any cheese you might have hiding in the back of your fridge, perhaps after throwing the kind of party that involves a cheeseboard, hosting a girls’ night cheesefest, or taking a pre-menstrual trip to the shops (hey, we’ve all been there.) There are easy ways to incorporate cheese into other meals: most cheeses work well in various pasta dishes or added to omelettes. Many can be used as pizza toppings and – let’s face it – a salad is always more interesting with a bit of crumbled or grated cheese on top. Here are some other tasty ways to use up your cheese for lunches, dinners or snacks.
Stuffed baked potatoes. Bake some spuds, cut them in half and scoop out the flesh. Mix the flesh in a bowl with a spoonful of cream cheese and whatever other leftover goodies you have lying around – peppers, onions, bacon, ham, mushrooms, scallions, cooked chicken – whatever seems like a good combination. Refill the skins with the mixture, mounding slightly over the tops. Top with some grated Cheddar and stick them under the grill for a couple of minutes.
Parmesan cheese crisps. Grate some Parmesan onto a lightly-oiled baking tray and cook in a 180°C oven for about eight minutes until crispy. Leave to cool and then break into pieces. Use as a fancy garnish or a tasty cheesy snack.
Extra-special scrambled eggs. Adding a little grated Parmesan to your beaten eggs before you scramble them makes them silky-soft and gives an added savoury taste.
Blue cheese butter. Use a fork or potato masher to mash 225g room-temperature unsalted butter with 90g blue cheese until softened. Roll up tightly in cling film and freeze; when you want to use some, just slice a piece off. Use the blue cheese butter to stuff chicken breasts, melt over steak or to sauté mushrooms.
Stuffed Portobello mushrooms. Finely chop the stems of some large mushrooms, and fry gently with sliced onion and garlic until softened. Add back into the mushroom cups, cover with a couple of slices of goats’ cheese and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake in a 200°C oven for 10 minutes, until mushroom is cooked and cheese has melted.
(…or make some goats’ cheese tartlets.)
Feta and beetroot pasta. Crumble leftover feta over a bowl of cooked pasta and add some chunks of roasted beetroot and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts. Crack over some black pepper, drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, and toss to coat.
If you have any other tasty ideas for using up cheeseboard leftovers, leave a comment below.
[All images featured via Shutterstock.]