Talking about food waste

Yesterday, I had my first talk of the year.  I was invited to speak at The Bush Club, a volunteer-run weekly lunch club for the over sixties in Bampton, Oxfordshire.

This is the third time I’ve been asked to speak there. On my previous visit, I demonstrated one of my family favourites for Sunday lunch dessert, a Tiramisu made from stale cake – something I sometimes have leftover from making  tea for my local cricket club.  At this talk I also explained what happened to food waste in Oxfordshire and talked about the importance of separating food waste, recycling and other waste in order to make best use of it and minimise impact on the environment. It was interesting to hear that many of the members did separate their food waste, but didn’t actually know why they needed to do so, and what happened to the food waste after collection. Less surprisingly, I found that many members said they hated to see food wasted and rarely wasted anything themselves.

Although I was asked there to talk about my new book, Leftover Pie, I wanted to do something a bit different for them. So I decided to turn things around and ask them how they thought we had got to the stage we have got to, that I unreservedly call food crisis point. We had a great discussion and so I thought I would outline some of the opinions and suggestions that came up during our talk.

We talked about one of the big issues of our day, lack of  time, but we also thought that this was in many ways a modern perception:

  • “I am too busy to cook anything from scratch.”
  • “I am too tired when I get in from work to make a meal for my family.”

Looking back at their own childhoods, most did say that there was someone who went out to work and someone at home whose job it was to look after the home and prepare meals for the family. We discussed the fact that change does bring new challenges, but there’s always a solution if we look for it. We then got onto the subject of quick and simple things to cook from scratch like omelette, “quicker than a takeaway or a ready meal”.  We also covered batch cooking. This is certainly nothing new, they said, and was a regular thing they used to do years ago. The precursor of the ‘Ready Meal’. If you are making one meal, why not double the quantities and make one batch for the freezer so you save time and effort another day.  That way you have a ready meal, that you know exactly what you have put in it.  It will most likely have less salt and less sugar than many shop bought ready meals, it will be the right quantity because you know how much you eat and it will have no packaging. Another thing that was mentioned was finding balance.  Why are we so rushed that we can’t find time to cook a meal?  For our health and wellbeing, don’t we need to take a good look at our habits and check that we do have balance in our lives?

It is not unusual that several people felt supermarkets were a big part of the problem, specifically because of the way produce is packed.  Someone mentioned tangerines packed in a net so you are obliged to buy six.  She said, “By the time I’ve got through three of them, I often find at least one has gone mouldy.” Another mentioned that she found it hard to buy single portions of anything, which was annoying and occasionally she ended up buying more than she could use.

Someone else mentioned the ‘Buy One Get One Free’ offers in supermarkets and said they felt people grabbed two without even thinking that they wouldn’t be able to use both.  WRAP have been working hard to change this and many supermarkets have now agreed not to make these offers on fresh short life produce.

Another big issue I had to agree with, from what many people share with me, is that young people these days aren’t taught cookery enough at school.  Many of my audience yesterday spend a whole day every week learning about food and cooking when they were at school.  They also felt that they spent time learning cooking skills from family.  From my own experience, my daughters both had cookery lessons for an hour a week for half a term when they were about 14.  Time was fairly pressured after school so they rarely helped out in the kitchen.  We used to do a lot of cooking together when they were at primary school, and they did a fair bit of cooking in the time between finishing school and going to university.  They can both cook.  But many of their fellow students knew very little about how to prepare and cook food from basic ingredients.  Again, this probably results in a diet of food that is more expensive, higher in sugar and salt, and producing more packaging waste than a diet of meals cooked from scratch from fresh ingredients.

People felt that shopping more often for less food was also a good thing we should perhaps go back to.  That used to be the normal thing, they pointed out, before the days of fridges. Food was just kept in a larder and you only bought what you needed.  Simply buying too much food was thought to be one of the big problems of the day.  Shopping locally every few days, like they used to and their parents used to means you have a better idea of what you have, you can see it all more easily and things don’t get forgotten and then wasted.  There was a lot less packaging too.  We have gone packaging crazy these days.

I always think we can learn so much from looking back a bit, rather than always rushing forward. Maybe we have taken a few wrong turnings?  It is perhaps time we slowed up a bit to have a think about what we can learn from our parents’ and grandparents’ less wasteful lifestyles. And let’s take the best bits back into our lives today.




Did you make the most of your turkey?

The festivities are behind us and what remains of the turkey carcass is in the food waste bin ready for collection.  But we made sure we got the most out of it first.

Boxing Day lunchWe have a lot of people to feed over Christmas and New Year and our turkey was a big beast, weighing in at 8 1/2 kilos.  It fed 15 on Christmas Day as the main event for lunch.  Then 15 of us again had turkey and stuffing sandwiches in the evening.  On Boxing Day, we fed 22 along with an array of salads and, of course, bubble and squeak, so before I even started stripping off the carcass we’d made 52 meals from our noble bird.

turkey carcassBut then it was time to see what else we could get from it.  As you can see we did a pretty good job of using up the breast meat and the yellow plate shows all I could scrape together – just enough for a couple more turkey sandwiches if you go easy on the turkey and heavy on the stuffing!

There was plenty of dark meat left though, which is ideal for curry and stews.  We went with the curry option.  The first pass had the accompaniment of Brussel sprouts – which may have seemed an unusual choice of veg for a curry, but was delicious.  This did dinner for 6 on 27th.  The rest went in the fridge for making more curry to stock up the freezer.  The curry is now made and we have 10 portions in the freezer so that the daughters can take some back to uni with them and we will have a few portions too.  This curry was bulked out with lots of sweet veg like parsnip, carrot and butternut squash to make sure everything was used up, and then I added in some red lentils to make it go further.  A few other little surprises in there were the cooking water from making candied citrus peel and a rinse out of the remains of a jar of sweet chilli sauce.  I’m looking forward to that turkey curry very much.

Once the meat was entirely stripped from the bones, we popped the carcass and the skin and knobbly bits and pieces of joints and tendon and all that into a huge stock pot and covered it with water.  We added in some onion peel from the onion I used in the curry, plus the tops and tails of the carrots, parsnips and the butternut squash peel.  Mr Pitt has been making daily soups for us and I’ve put some ready for the freezer, plus plenty more for tomorrow.  My estimate is 22 bowls of soup consumed so far, and another 15 bowls full ready for the freezer.  Have I totted this up correctly? … our turkey has made 105 portions of food over the week.  That is what I call making good use of the turkey.





The 5:2 Diet

I recently bought a copy of Jacqueline Whitehart’s 5:2 Diet Cookbook with a view to having another go at this diet as part of my training for the Bath Half marathon.  I did the 5:2 diet a couple of years ago and was hoping that Mr Pitt would join me.  I enjoyed following the diet and found it fairly easy to do.  But Mr Pitt decreed that 500 calories just isn’t enough to function on – and maybe he is right!  Being on my own on the diet though, I only did about four weeks and lost a couple of pounds. I am not very much over weight, and the less you have to lose the harder it is I think.  But there are definitely a few more pounds that could go!

So when I came across Jacqueline Whitehart’s new twist on the 5:2 diet I felt like giving it another whirl. This new version of the diet still has you eating normally on 5 days of the week and fasting on two days a week, but with 800 calories rather than 500.  I reckon we can both do that!  The book gives meal plans for the 800 calorie days so that makes it easy to do.

Jacqueline and I got into conversation about writing books and calorie counting recipes and Jacqueline agreed to calorie count my favourite dish for the 5:2 diet which I featured as a Store Cupboard Meal in Leftover Pie.

Here’s the recipe:

Bean Casserole

Serves 4

  • oil or butter (for sweating the onions if using)
  • 1 onion, chopped (optional)
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped (optional)
  • 1 leek, chopped (optional)
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tins of any kind of beans such as borlotti, aduki, kidney beans, butter beans or 2 tins of mixed beans
  • chilli flakes or chilli powder (unless your beans are already in chilli sauce)

If you are using onion, leeks and/or celery, sweat them in the oil/butter. Once the onions are translucent, add the tinned tomatoes, and stir together, then add the beans and the chilli flakes/powder and heat everything through. Once it is all piping hot taste, season and you are ready to serve.

If you have the time let it heat gently, as that allows more of the flavours to come together. It works with or without the onion, leek and celery. If I have any I use it because I feel that adds in a bit more veg.

You can serve it with rice or with crusty bread if you are not calorie counting but I found it filling enough without.

I am looking forward to finding out how it measures up with Jacqueline’s calorie counting. This was my “go to” once-a-week recipe last time I did the 5:2.  But what will the expert have to say, I wonder?  I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, check out Jacqueline’s prize draw – do it now as there are just a couple of days left!  You could win four of her lovely books.

4 book JW collection

Let me know how you get on if you plan to join in with the 5:2 this January.

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup

I am always surprised when people tell me they didn’t realise you can eat all those pumpkins that get carved into lanterns at Halloween. Of course you can – flesh, pulp and seeds. It is all good. You can use any basic soup recipe but this one is vegan and includes making emergency stock just from onion peel, so it is very cheap and efficient.

Making pumpkin soup at Cogges Farm Pumpkin Day

To make a large pot of soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 onions
  • 1 or 2 pumpkins – flesh and pulp scraped out – keep seeds for roasting
  • 2. litres of water
  • a selection of herbs, such as parsley, lovage, celery leaves, fennel leaves, thyme, rosemary, any combination and amount
  • cayenne pepper or chilli powder

Firstly peel and chop the onions and pop the peel and the ends into a pan large enough to hold 2. litres of water. Add the water and bring to the boil.

While that is going on, sweat the onion in a frying pan for a few minutes and remove from the heat. Chop up your pumpkin flesh into chunks so that it cooks a bit quicker, then go foraging in your store cupboard or the garden for whatever herbs you can find.

Once your onion peel is boiling, turn down the heat and allow to simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes. Strain this into another large pan and discard the onion peel in your food waste bin or compost caddy.

Split the liquid between your two large pans and add half your fried onion to one and half to the other. Split the pumpkin chunks, pulp and herbs between the 2 pans, bring them to the boil again, then turn down to simmer. Add in the cayenne pepper or chilli powder. You might want to be cautious at first and add just a teaspoon as you can always add more.

Cook until the pumpkin is soft, which will be around 20 minutes. Stir and taste every now and then to check for spiciness and add a little more if you want to increase the heat. Remove the herbs before blitzing with a hand blender: if you mix green and orange you get brown, and I think that pumpkin soup looks nicer when it stays orange.

Taste the soup and season with salt and black pepper and a little more spice if needed. You can sprinkle some chopped herbs on the top and some people like to add a swirl of cream too.



Judges go bananas over banana skin curry

Last weekend I was invited to take part in Low Carbon West Oxford’s ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ style competition at their ‘Beet the Waste’ 10th anniversary celebrations at Tap Social in Oxford. My fellow competitors were cooking professionals, Christina from Relish and Sandra and Marie from Waste2Taste.

I hadn’t realised that I was supposed to be a team on my own.  I thought I was joining one of the other teams, so I had only brought one frying pan, a chopping board, one knife, some spoons, some spices and a big bunch of herbs I’d picked from my garden.  When I was shown to ‘my station’ and saw the two gas burners I was a little daunted.  What was I going to cook with just me and my one pan?

As three competing teams, we had an hour to select our ingredients from the food surplus at Oxford Food Bank, and then cook up a feast with what we found.

The first thing I noticed was a box of black spotty bananas and I thought, ‘They really need to be used,’ so I decided to cook a variation on Shane Jordan’s banana skin curry and to make banana peel crisps to garnish the curry and chocolate banana nice-cream, both of which are recipes from Leftover Pie.

As the hour was progressing I was laughing at myself, just making one simple main dish and a very simple pudding. Meanwhile the ladies either side of me were making tray after tray of amazing food, all beautifully presented. I have been at several events with Christina and with Sandra and Marie as we are all campaigning to reduce food waste. I’ve tasted their wonderful food so I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing, feeling that I couldn’t possibly win, and so I just wanted to come up with something fun.

After a while, Marie from Waste2Taste noticed my one overflowing pan and offered me a bigger frying pan and a saucepan in which I was then able to cook some rice.

While the judging was going on I was being questioned by a whole lot of children who were very interested in my banana skin crisps and were also eyeing up the chocolate banana nice-cream (of sorts – we had none of these Masterchef type facilities such as super fast chillers, so it was more of a chocolate banana mousse.)

I was trying to listen to what the judges were saying about the delicious food on offer either side of me, whilst also trying to answer all the questions about banana skins, giraffes, chimpanzees etc that were being thrown at me by all the children lining the front of my station.

Then I got a dig in the ribs from one of the judges standing next to me. She said, “You need to pay attention over here for a moment.”

I couldn’t believe I won!!

I guess my secret weapon was a head full of recipes from my new book, Leftover Pie which features contributions by Thomasina Miers and Tom Hunt as well as Lorna Hall’s banana peel crisps and Mandy Mazliah’s banana nice-cream, that were part of my ‘winning’ feast. Christina from Relish has also contributed a recipe to Leftover Pie and Waste2Taste are featured as a case study. I suspect it was the quirkiness of using banana skin as an ingredient that really swayed the judges. The food that was produced was all delicious and really highlights the fact that so much great food is often wasted. Oxford Food Bank saves over £1 million worth of food from being wasted every year.

Here’s my version of banana skin curry inspired by Shane Jordan’s recipe from his book Food Waste Philosophy.

Beet the Waste Banana Skin Curry

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 17.04.57

1-2 teaspoons chilli flakes
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
3 shallots – diced
2 large carrots – diced
1 sweet potato – diced
1 tin of lentils (use the liquid too)
2 courgettes – diced
1/2 cup water
4 banana skins cut into strips about 4 cms long
Rape seed oil for frying
Parsley and coriander – roughly chopped
Rice to serve
1 tablespoon of coconut oil to fry the boiled rice
Salt and pepper to season

Heat the rape seed oil in a pan and add the chilli flakes and curry powder and stir for about half a minute then add the diced onion and heat until the onion starts to go translucent and is well coated with the spices.  Add the carrot and sweet potato and drain the liquid from the lentils into the frying pan so that you have liquid to steam the sweet potato and carrot.  Add in the water if necessary.  Stir fry this until the carrot and sweet potato are soft then add in the courgette and 3/4 of the banana skin strips, then add the lentils.

I boiled the rice just in water – it was just ordinary long grain rice -but it needed a little help, so I then fried it in a little coconut oil and added salt and pepper then sprinkled the coriander and parsley on top of the curry and the rice.

I fried up the rest of the banana skin in salt and pepper and a few chilli flakes to serve as crisps on the top.

For pud – I mashed up the bananas and mixed them with a couple of small sachets of cocoa powder (like the banana nice-cream in my book).

It should be said, though, that I’d have used a larger range of spices if I’d had them – e.g. mustard seeds, cumin and coriander – and I’d have made it a little hotter, but I was surrounded by a lot of children and I didn’t want them all rubbing their eyes from the spicy fumes coming off my frying pan. So to my mind I did a very low key under spiced curry, really, plus I didn’t have a teaspoon so it was all approximate. The next one I make will be a little spicier, I think, but the key to any good curry is to ‘taste as you go’, add in a little more spice as your taste buds guide you and don’t stop until you can’t stop tasting it because it is so yummy. No double dipping with that spoon though!

Leftover Pie is available to order at Blackwells, Waterstones and Amazon.  You can order signed copies directly from this website too (but these may take a little longer). Click the buy-the-book link here.

Foraging fortnight

Autumn is a great time for foraging.  I’ve been picking apples, blackberries, pears and plums from my garden and hedgerows.  I’m planning to go blackberrying again and I’m hoping to add in some elderberries too.

Veg garden

We are also lucky to have a vegetable patch which is producing carrots, spring onions, beetroot, courgettes, celery, beans, and spinach at the moment.

But it isn’t just the outdoor foraging that I want to invite you to think about.  Now is a really great time to go foraging in your fridge and freezer.  What better time to cut down on spending than after your summer holiday and before you start thinking about Christmas.

So for the last week, we’ve been living on what we already have in our fridge and freezer with the aim of running down the stocks, so that we can firstly fill up the freezer again with some of the produce from our outdoor foraging and secondly ready for all the lovely food we want to prepare for party season.

Here’s a run down of my foraging this week…

From the garden

Runner beans for the winter

Last weekend I blanched and froze some runner beans.  I chopped them up, popped them in a pan of boiling water for three minutes.  Scooped them out into a colander and plunged them into a bowl of cold water. Then I dried them with a clean tea towel and weighed out portions of 160g – that is 2 adult recommended portions at 80g each.  These are now in the freezer for use over the winter.

Apple and blackberry crumble (page 141)

We have eating apples on our tree, but I have been peeling and chopping the not so pretty ones to use in crumble.  I pop the peel and cores into a freezer bag, which I’m storing up to make Jareth Mill’s apple membrillo (page 167), and I just put the brown bits into the compost bin.

Poached pears

I have some lemonade left over from a gathering, so I am going to poach some pears in it this weekend.

From the fridge and freezer forage

Bung it all in risotto (page 119)

I had some tubs of vegetable stock – several of them, made from vegetable peelings (page 169), so yesterday evening we managed to scrape a meal together from what seemed like nothing, but turned into a lovely beetroot and feta risotto.  I had half a large beetroot left from what I cooked last weekend for Sunday dinner and for use in the week.  I had a large tub of feta from which I just used two chunks.  Other than that, I added onion, the green ends of some spring onions and a slightly squishy yellow tomato that I found in the fridge, two courgettes from the garden and some of the meat juice from last Sunday’s roasted gammon, which was also languishing in the fridge waiting to be loved.  Knowing that I often forget that drinks are often wasted too, I poured in a little rose wine that had been open a good long while too.  For this I used the sniff test:  it still smelled like rose wine, so in it went.  A cup of risotto rice was the only other ingredient that was required. The whole thing turned out very well and felt like food for free.

Soup for lunch

I felt as though I had started have sandwiches every lunchtime, so I decided to forage in my freezer to see what portions of soup I had in there.  I much prefer having soup for lunch and I think it is probably not only more satisfying but lower in calories.  Probably a good idea for right now, while I am having a little break from my running.  So three days this week I have had vegetable soup instead of sandwiches and one evening when I was on my own I also had soup as I’d had pasta for lunch in order to finish up some cheese sauce from Sunday dinner.

Frugal green soup


We bought nothing at all from Monday through Thursday, and today my shop consisted of:

  • a joint of pork for Sunday dinner,
  • some lamb chops for a family meal tomorrow night
  • some steak for this evening
  • a bag of potatoes (none available loose)
  • two sweet potatoes

Weekends we do meat, weekdays we do veg + leftovers.

I plan to continue my fridge, freezer and garden forage this week but this time I need to get creative with the quantity of jars that always breeds in my fridge.  I think pastry might help with that!

Fridge jars
Ideas anyone?



5 ways to deal with food waste

Food Waste Hierarchy, AP, Apr17

The food waste hierarchy seems to be a well-kept secret.  Yet it is a very important piece of information in the fight against climate change.  Given that food and farming are responsible for such a huge carbon footprint and food waste itself compared to every country’s total carbon emissions, would come in third behind only the USA and China, we really do need to be more familiar with it.

The food waste hierarchy tells you how best to deal with your food waste and here are 5 ways that help you do that:

1. At the top of the hierarchy is to reduce the amount of waste we produce.  Leftover Pie covers lots of ways to do that, from meal planning, better storage, or better use of the bits. Making more of the food we buy is a great way to save money, helps you to get more of the goodness out of your food, and helps you reduce your own carbon footprint.

But even so, everyone will have some food waste.  I certainly do. So assuming you have number one on your to-do list already, what can be done with the waste you still produce?  This is where chapter four comes in.

2. Make use of your council’s separate waste collection if you have one.  You can read more about why this is important in the book, but in short:

  • it save money
  • it reduces greenhouse gas emissions
  • it turns a problem into a solution.
What’s not to like?  If you have creatures in your food waste, rest assured you’d have them in your residual waste too – if that’s where you are chucking your waste food. They are probably just hidden by all the other rubbish, so you can’t see them.  Most of the time food waste collections are more frequent than your general waste, so it makes sense to make use of it.
3. Composting at home is a great way to deal with food waste if you have the space.  You can get closed composters, open composters and hot composters.  There will be something that suits your circumstances.  Leftover Pie explains the important part of getting the mix right on your compost to keep it smelling sweet. In short, you need to have the right mix of nitrogen-rich greens and carbon-rich browns.  If your compost starts to smell, hold back on the greens. If your compost looks like it is doing nothing, then hold back on the brown while you add a bit more green, to boost it into action.
4. Most people consider that you can’t compost cooked food.  It is not that cooked food isn’t compostable, just that it is considered to attract unwelcome visitors, particularly of the ratty variety. An alternative, that can deal with cooked food including meat is to have a wormery.
5. If you are short on space and want your compost to break down a bit quicker, consider having a bokashi bin.
All of these ways are good ways to deal with your unavoidable food waste (and of course those little mistakes we all make from time to time when life gets a little out of hand).


10 top tips for reducing food waste

I’m often asked for my top 10 tips on reducing food waste, so here you have them.

  1. The big number one tip has to be…  Buy less food! Try to think of each shopping expedition as one where you will buy the minimum amount of food to get by rather than one where you are going to fill your trolley and pack your fridge full to bursting.  It is a small change in mindset that makes a huge difference.Buy Less
  2. Before you shop, use up what you’ve got in the fridge.  Even though your fridge is a device to keep food safe to eat for longer it is actually where most food waste occurs.  A fridge doesn’t stop rot, it just slows down the process.  SO you need to make sure you organise your fridge so that anything that has a short life or has already been opened in the case of packets or jars is at the front of the fridge at eye level. If you have one main weekly shopping day, make sure the meal the night before is a use-it-up style meal such as risotto, stir-fry, soup or omelette. If you run your stocks down it is easier to see what you have and work out what you need.
  3. When you make each meal, make sure you check the Use-by date on other items so you don’t find you are using things in the wrong order.  If you really don’t fancy cooking whatever has a Use-by date today, then take action and put it in your freezer for another time.
  4. If you do a meal plan, which I highly recommend – make sure you plan in meals that can use up leftovers and plan to have store-cupboard only meals on a couple of days each week.  That gives you leeway for last minute invitations or days when your plans just go completely astray and you run out of cooking time or enthusiasm.
  5. Have a read of chapter two of Leftover Pie and get to grips with portion control.  Premeditated leftovers are fab is you are deliberately cooking an extra portion for tomorrow’s lunch boxes.  But unless you know you want extra for a specific reason, then weigh out what you are going to cook.  If your scales are a permanent feature on your kitchen counter then this can become second nature and you will have perfect portions every time.
  6. Avoid plate waste by encouraging people to serve themselves.  Only you can know how hungry you are, so remember only they know how hungry they are.  Encourage your family to be conservative in their estimate of how much they are going to eat, finish it, pause and rest a bit, then go back for more if you feel the desire.
  7. Cool leftover food quickly and put it in the fridge.  You can help things cool more quickly by dividing them up into single portions.
  8. Freeze in a mixture of single or double portions and never more.
  9. Make rules for fridge foragers.  Get them their own shelf and lay down the law that that’s where they pick from first.
  10. Don’t be afraid to write notes in your fridge.
Top 10 tips to reduce food waste
Top 10 tips to reduce food waste

For delicious “leftover” recipes from leading chefs and to find out how you can reduce your food waste, buy Leftover Pie today.

Welcome to Leftover Pie

Carrot in the shape of a pair of trousers

Welcome to Leftover Pie: 101 Ways to Reduce your Food Waste.

With tips, recipes, hints on how to reduce your food waste and much more, this blog will give you practical ideas on making the most of the food you buy, as well as the odd picture of vegetables in interesting shapes.

Share your ideas with us, or let us know if you’d like to write a blog for us.