What do you do with your food waste?

Meet my latest ally in the war against food waste: Chipie, aka Goaty McGoat Face. Handsome, isn’t he?

A goat eats food waste in France

Goaty and his two allies have been an unexpected bonus of my current (temporary) home in rural southwest France. I’ve never been terribly fond of goats, but I’m warming to these three every day. They’re becoming increasingly keen on me too, mostly because I’ve become the bringer of unexpected treats. I used to think goats would eat anything, but these ones are quite discerning (they are French, after all). They don’t fancy egg shells very much, are a bit sniffy about orange peel and look askance at onion skins. However, they LOVE leftover rice or pasta, adore stale bread and are quite partial to apple cores. I think they might be my spirit animals.

Food waste is a major issue in France, as it is in much of the world. The UN estimates that about one-third of all the food produced in the world is thrown away or wasted. People in industrialised countries waste around 222 million tonnes of food every year – which is about the same amount of food as produced in sub-Saharan Africa. To me, this is appalling.

In 2016, France was hailed as a world leader in reducing food waste after it passed legislation that required large supermarkets donate unsold food to charities. This is a good start in a country where industrial food production is an art form and one that many other countries could emulate. I fear that the real problem is that commercial food production has changed the way people eat so much that food is no longer valued in any way. How do you expect people to respect what they eat when they’re being urged to ‘buy one get one free’ at every turn? At that price, it doesn’t matter if the item goes off or you don’t eat it, does it? Then again, most things that are offered in this way are so denatured that they’ll probably never go off anyway. But I digress.

Even if you eschew commercially produced food there will be food waste of some sort. Sure, you can make radish leaf pesto and find 101 uses for a stale baguette (this is a life skill that I am particularly proud of, especially now), but what about vegetable peelings, three-day-old leftover rice and tomato stalks? At the moment, this is where the goats come in. Unfortunately, I won’t be in a position to take them with me when I return to New Zealand later in the year, but I do have a few other ideas.

Thanks to The Very Green Gardener, my Wellington garden is home to a worm farm that deals with the bulk of our food waste. Worms aren’t as cute as goats and they’re also a bit fussy (they don’t like citrus, onion skins or meat). But boy, they are certainly efficient! If you want to know what true smugness is, feed your worms the peelings or ends of vegetables that you grew yourself, nurtured by vermicast and worm wee that your own worms produced. Worm farms are ideal for people who fear that a compost bin will turn into a rat hotel (that’s me) or those with not much space. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

The most obvious thing we can all do starts well before the food turns into ‘waste’. I feel anxious when I read reports claiming that people no longer have the interest or skills to cook because I believe they are losing connection with the natural world, with social heritage and with what should be a basic human skill. If you can’t feed yourself or those around you, what hope do you have? Being able to cook means being able to liberate yourself from Big Food and shrinkwrapped food that bares little or no resemblance to anything natural. Being able to cook means knowing how to shop so you’re not wasting money or time. Being able to cook means you can stretch not much into dinner.

The photo above is a case in point. It’s not fancy – an onion, some lardons and a ripped-up stale baguette fried in a splash of olive oil, tossed with some spaghetti and a handful of ‘haricots beurres’ (along with a splash of the pasta cooking water) – but it was fast, delicious and cost about 3 Euros to make. The goats ate the bean ends and the onion skin will hopefully break down to nourish the earth. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Creamy parsnip soup

I’m currently trying to get to grips with a range of different French idiomatic expressions involving food, such as ‘raconter des salades’ (literally: to tell some salad – to spin a story), and ‘la moutarde me monte au nez’ (literally: the mustard goes up my nose – I’m getting really angry).

This has reminded me of two things – one, teaching a Khmer colleague in Cambodia the New Zealand expression that ‘it’s all going to custard’ and two, of the English saying that ‘fine words butter no parsnips’. The former is a way of saying that everything is going wrong, but the latter is somewhat harder to explain. I think it means that fancy words mean little, but I’m not entirely sure. However, I am much more certain about this parsnip soup, which is entirely fine and yet contains very little butter. I’m not telling you any salads, I promise.

Creamy parsnip soup

Serves 4-6

60g butter

2 tsp olive oil

2 large onions, finely diced

3 large cloves garlic, finely sliced

1 kg parsnips (about 8 large ones), peeled and cut into chunks

1 sprig fresh thyme

4 cups chicken stock

Juice of one lemon

½ cup cream, plus a little extra for drizzling

Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onions and garlic, and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsnips and cook for a further 10-15 minutes, until softened and starting to turn golden. Add the chicken stock and simmer gently for another 5-10 minutes, until the parsnips are soft. Remove the thyme, and puree with a stick blender or a mouli. To make it really silky, push the puree through a sieve (tedious, but worth it). Stir in the lemon juice and cream, then return to the heat and warm through (don’t let it boil) before serving.

If you’re in the mood for more winter soups, check out my latest crop of recipes on bite.co.nz.

Blackcurrant quinoa porridge

How do you define a superfood? The venerable Oxford Dictionary says it’s “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”. Whether you buy into the superpowers of so-called superfoods is a matter of personal choice and/or susceptibility to clever marketing. I think there’s also room in your daily diet for things that make you feel super-happy, or that you just really enjoy eating. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a superfood can be all those things.

Take blackcurrants, for instance. The small-but-mighty blackcurrant, with its powerful burst of tart, purple juice, has superfood status thanks to its high levels of vitamin C and calcium. Blackcurrant skins also contain impressive levels of antioxidants. Recent studies point to blackcurrants having beneficial impacts on mental and physical health (a brand of New Zealand blackcurrant powder is also endorsed by several athletes, who claim it boosts their recovery time and performance).

Now, not being either a scientist or an athlete, I can’t say with any certainty that blackcurrants are the answer to all your problems. But I can promise you that this blackcurrant quinoa porridge is a nutrient-rich breakfast that will set you up for whatever the day may throw at you. And if you top it with a blob of creme fraiche or mascarpone, you’ll definitely be on to a winner.

A bowl of dark purple quinoa and blackcurrant porridge topped with a blob of creme fraiche.

Blackcurrant and quinoa porridge

You might think you don’t have time to cook something for 10 minutes in the morning, but it’s all a matter of perspective and planning. What I do, when time is short, is set this up on the stove and then attend to some other task (like having a shower, or getting cross at a politician being interviewed on the radio, or making a school lunch). It’s multi-tasking, but at a very gentle level. Just don’t go off to work and forget that you’ve got something cooking on the stove!

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed under cold running water

1 cup water

3/4 – 1 cup milk (dairy or not, as you choose)

1 tsp natural vanilla extract

1/2 cup frozen blackcurrants

Put the quinoa and water in a small pot set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the quinoa ‘tails’ are visible. Stir in the milk, vanilla and blackcurrants and cook over low heat for another five minutes, until the mixture is thick and porridge-like. Divide between two bowls and top with a dollop of cream, creme fraiche, mascarpone or Greek yoghurt. Serves 2.

If you’re interested in New Zealand quinoa, check out this story (excuse shameless self-promo) about The New Zealand Quinoa Company, who are growing and harvesting quinoa in Taranaki.

Kim and Kirsty’s chocolate slab

I’ve had this recipe for more than 20 years. That’s not the same thing as saying I knew where it was – or even that I knew I had it – but I remember exactly when it appeared in my life. It came from my flatmate Kim’s half-sister Kirsty, but where she found it is anyone’s guess. Kirsty came to stay in our tumbledown flat in Mt Cook in about 1996. Kim was doing criminology Masters, Sally was working in a CD store, I was dying of boredom as an admin assistant and Steve was combining his Masters study with driving the cable car. We had no money and lots of good times.

I can’t remember why Kirsty turned up, but she was a curly-haired bundle of energy and a great guest. The flat, a creaky wooden two-up, two-down with a dodgy extension out the back, was the sort of place that felt like it would blow over in a strong wind. Now it’s probably worth a million dollars, but at the time it was pretty rough around the edges (and in the middle).

At some point during her stay, Kirsty produced this recipe, or Kim had it dictated to her on the phone by someone. It’s written on a coffee-stained piece of A4 that contains other, more cryptic, messages such as ‘optometrist, Tuesday’, an address in Howick and a note from Kirsty to Kim about borrowing clothes for tomorrow. Ah, they were simpler times.

Anyway, I still recall how incredible this was to eat – a big, fat slab of chocolate deliciousness. It turns out that it’s just as good as I remember. I thought I better record it here in case the piece of paper disappears (it’s taken me a major clean-out to find it and I’d rather not go through that again).

Kim and Kirsty’s chocolate slab

I know this contains huge amounts of butter, sugar and chocolate (the blessed trinity), but it makes a lot of servings and no one’s forcing you to eat the whole thing in one go, are they?

250g unsalted butter

1 Tbsp espresso coffee powder

1 ½ cups hot water

200g dark chocolate, chopped

2 cups caster sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups self-raising flour

¼ cup cocoa

Heat the oven to 160C and grease and line a brownie tin.

Melt the butter, water and coffee in a large pot set over medium heat. Remove from the heat, then add the chocolate and sugar. Stir until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Add the vanilla. Sift over the dry ingredients and fold together until combined.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 60-80 minutes, until the middle is set. Allow to cool before removing from the tin and cutting into generous slabs. Dust with top with a mixture of cocoa and icing sugar before serving. Makes about 25 large pieces.

Instant gin and lemon fools

Goodness knows the world could use a few laughs right now, but this recipe is no joke. It’s what you make when you suddenly realise you have people coming for dinner and you need to whip up some sort of small, elegant pudding that will round out the night nicely. These almost-instant fools are the answer.

Having spent a somewhat gin-soaked summer – I got three bottles of the good stuff for Christmas (one of them was a miniature, before you plan an intervention) – I’ve been enjoying finding different ways to use them. Mostly we’ve drunk them neat or with a little ice, especially the Little Biddy West Coast Botanical Gin from Reefton Distilling Co and Bloody Shiraz Gin from Four Pillars Gin in the Yarra Valley. The latter is also really good to sip while you’re nibbling squares of very dark chocolate (sensitive souls will need to brace themselves for the resulting headache the next morning).

These little fools, however, I made with the contents of the miniature – Malfy Lemon Gin from Italy. You could use any gin, really, but once you’ve tasted the craft variety the standard gins seem a little rough around the edges. If you’ve got lemon curd stashed away (here’s a super-easy recipe), this takes minutes to make.

Instant gin and lemon fools

Serves 4

1 cup Greek yoghurt

1/2 cup lemon curd

4 Tbsp gin

50g white chocolate, finely chopped (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir until combined. Divide between four small glasses. Chill for at least 20 minutes before serving with little crisp biscuits (this shortbread would be excellent). Cheers!

Like finding creative ways to use gin? These gin recipes might tickle your fancy…