Nothing pains me more than throwing food away. I live alone and have only myself to think about when it comes to mealtimes. I admire the skill and organisations of working mums and stay-at-home dads, or should I say ‘project managers’ on their day-to-day management of a busy home. A food waste documentary I watched recently got me questioning my own food habits. I try and up-cycle as much food as I can — my leftovers get turned into stir-fry’s, frittatas or stored in the freezer. A week’s food plan can be like organising the stock list for a busy restaurant. I tend to shop in bulk, divide, share and freeze.
We also seem to have been driven into a state of ‘food panic’; food labels tell us what’s best before, when to use by and display until — it’s all so confusing. No one wants to serve potentially dangerous food.
So what does it all mean? According to the UK Food Standard Agency, there are three simple codes to follow: USE BY, is about safety, the food can be eaten up to the displayed date but not after. This applies to fresh meat and ready-to-eat salads. BEST BEFORE, as it suggests, is a guideline from the manufacturer, the food is still good to eat but may not be the standard it was when first produced, for example, tinned, frozen and dried foods. Finally DISPLAY UNTIL, this has nothing to do with us as consumers, this is a guide to store workers to do just that. As a rule of thumb, I follow my ‘store as purchased’ rule, wherever the food is in store, chilled, frozen however it’s displayed, I‘ll do the same at home.
So where did our need for perfect food start? To be honest, I don’t remember. As a kid and still now, I smell everything — it’s obvious, if it smells awful then it’s highly unlikely it’ll taste any better? Growing up, we had a vast almost SUV-sized trunk freezer in the garage, this part of the house doubled as a food store and playroom. The freezer was stacked to the brim with hand-picked fruits from the summer season, and buckets of ice cream and vegetables from my dad’s allotment. Food and time were in a frozen suspension, however accessing the ‘ice trunk’ was a skill in itself, while reaching down into the frozen depths I always had thoughts of the door crashing down on me like some scary movie.
So here’s a great trick, cook fruits and vegetables then freeze them. A simple fruit stew can be stored, and later be poured over ice-cream or as a pie filling. One of my favourite time and waste savers is Passata, a rich tomato sauce base, suitable for pasta dishes and upcycles overripe tomatoes. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, quarter six tomatoes, place them into an ovenproof dish along with four crushed garlic cloves, coat with olive, season and bake for 30-minutes. Pour the roasted tomatoes with all the juices into a blender with a good handful of basil leaves and blitz. Allow the passata to thoroughly cool and pour into airtight containers. You can store this in the freezer for up to three months.
Overripe fruit combined with a few store cupboard ingredients makes an excellent treat for the kids: a dairy-free, silky smooth, chocolate ice cream. Apart from being a sneaky way to get them to eat fruit, it’s also a brilliant way to teach kids the importance of food waste.
BANANA & CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM
Serves four, prep time 10 minutes, freezing 5-6 hours
4 ripe bananas
4 dessert spoons of Nutella
2 ½ tsp cocoa powder
150g fresh raspberries
2 tbsp of flaked almonds
Peel four ripe bananas, place in an airtight bag and freeze for two hours. Once frozen, break into pieces and place in a food processor. Add four dessert spoonfuls of Nutella and two teaspoons of cocoa powder. Blitz the mix until it’s smooth in texture. Pour into a plastic container cover and return the freezer for 3-4 hours. Serve topped with fresh raspberries and almond flakes.
—Food photography and styling by Mark Setchfield. Follow him on Instagram @gasmarksix.