Frugal but Beautiful – Using up those wrinkly veggies…..

Choc hearts with dried strawberries and flaked hazelnuts

Choc hearts with dried strawberries and flaked hazelnuts made by Daniel & Jack

It’s the festive season and that means food, some good, a lot not, but whatever sort it is, it all costs money, your money! But you may be interested to know that we in the West are spending less and less of our income on food, which is mighty strange given the many failures of crops this year and the real cost of food production.

According to the Economist the most common form of greeting in China is “Have you eaten yet?” which indicates just how important food is for their culture. So, how much do we spend on food and how much do we waste?

The US spends only about 6 -8 % of their income on food while Chinese  families spend about 35 % on food. In the UK it’s about 9% and in Kenya, around 45%. It’s quite startling because we used to spend well over half of our income in the west on food.

And how much food do we waste? Well according to Wikipedia, the Americans and Australians waste around 110 kilos, per person, per year, while in South East Asia, it’s 15 kilos and in Sub-Saharan Africa it is a mere 5 kilos. I think these numbers need chewing over a little before I begin to write about my favourite things because one of my themes this year, given the recession, is food frugality. OK, it doesn’t really trip off the tongue does it but I really think, it is so, so important to think about it, act on it and teach our kids about it. Please do tell your children how much good food costs and why we shouldn’t waste it. Left-over bruised apples, squishy bananas, soggy tomatoes, we can upcycle it and use it! Left-over rice can be made into baked rice balls (see recipe below)  – they are scrummy and pretty easy to do. Just don’t throw good food away, please.

Unhappy Veggies

A gloriously mad pink cauli

A gloriously mad pink cauli (with a bit of mould!)

Some of my favourite ways to use up less than perfect veggies is to incorporate them into a soup. The curried chick pea soup is an excellent choice for any slightly worse for wear, parnsips, carrots, potatoes, celery, leeks, sweet potato, turnips or cauliflowers. Slice off any mouldy bits, fry with onion in olive oil with 1 tablespoon of pataks mild curry paste, add good veggie stock, some coconut milk or cream and cook till veggies are tender, adding in chickpeas and you have a fine soup! The darling little pink cauli above was found to be going a bit blue so I nipped off the offending bit and popped it into the oven to roast brushed with harissa and oilve oil, added some feta (see Flash Cooking by Lisa Santtini) and hey presto, it was saved! And there is always the roasting of the soft tomatoes in olive oil, with blackpepper, salt and rosemary!

Stale Bread and Rock hard bagels

You may know that spelt bread is my favourite and that I use a lot of wholewheat bagels in my lunchboxes. Although we try not to buy too much bread, unhappily, just sometimes it goes hard and dry. The bagels we cut as thin as possible to make bagel chips, roast in a baking tray with a little olive oil at a low heat until golden brown. The stale bread can be made into crostini or if your blender is up to it – crumb it with fresh herbs, a clove of garlic and/or parmesan and put into the freezer to use on the top of casseroles or as fritter coatings. You can also use stale bread in savorary strudels, pies or casseroles.

filo pie

Filo pies like the one above are great for using up random bits of cheese, breadcrumbs, nuts, veggies and herbs – and they are really very easy to make as long as you learn to judge the consistency of the filling and flavour. The filling should be neither too dry or wet with enough cheese or herbs to give flavour and depth. I have discovered that the best way to make it, is to roll it into a long large sausage shape and when cold it’s great for school lunches.


When I was young, growing up in the grasslands of New Zealand where we had an abundance of fruit trees, a big veggie garden and naturally the odd chicken, duck, turkey, lamb etc. Any extra ripe fruit or veg (or creature for that matter) was diced up nimbly, put into bags and thrown into the 24 cubic ft freezer. The simply stoned and frozen nectarines  were better than any commerical iced lolly, their white frosted frozen flesh melted in the mouth. And my mum bottled, made chutneys, sauces and jams with any other left-overs. I now throw less than prefect, browned bananas into small containers ready for use in loaves, smoothies, ice-creams etc. Simply chop into usable pieces and hey presto, you can keep them for months. Any left over cauliflower, pizza dough, loaf, soup also goes into the freezer, waiting for another day.  Place your breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan, garlic and herbs into containers, ready to top casseroles and use up in other dishes such as the one below.

Rice Balls

Based on the Italian Arancini balls but using up both sushi and arborio leftover rice

Preheat your oven to 180 C

1 cup of bread crumbs, fresh, stale, panko or other

2 cups left over rice, sushi or other

salt to season

fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, coriander or chives chopped finely

half a cup of  parmesan, grated

2 eggs beaten

some mozzarella cut into small cubes

black pepper/minced glove of garlic/grated onion (as much or as little as you desire)

chopped sun-dried tomatoes

Mix rice, salt, onion, half of the breadcrumbs, parmesan and eggs with seasonings (herbs, sun-dried tomatoes) together.

The mixture should be sticky enough to shape into small balls but not too runny. Add more rice, breadcrumbs etc if too runny.

Shape into smallish balls around the cubes of mozzarella. Roll the balls in the rest of the bread crumbs or panko crumbs, then place onto a baking sheet which has been greased with olive oil. Use a pastry brush to do this. Brush balls with olive oil. Bake at 180 for 10 minutes. Turn the balls and put back into oven for another 10 minutes or until they are golden brown. Great for a snack or cold in lunch boxes. I served them with a fresh mint and coriander chutney, or a yoghurt and mint sauce.

Now, enough of the Frugal cook and onto a few of my favourite things be they books, products or blogs….

Herbs – educate your child’s palate and your own using as many fresh herbs as you can. I have this thing for holy or Thai basil at the moment. It is an aniseedy, rich, heavenly smelling herb worth its weight in gold. You can buy it in Asian supermarkets. Wash it gently as and when you use it, and place the rest in an air-tight container in the fridge. It bruises easily though and if it does freeze it immediately in some olive oil in an ice-cube tray to use in soups later on. Yes, I know it’s an import but I would happily plant a 100 trees to offset its plane journey. It smells like heavenly healing to me and I use it in Thai soups, curries and salads. Buy it at Amazing Oriental (after 12) or one of the other supermarkets on Gedempte Burgwal. Use mint, basil, coriander for pestos and flavourings, thyme and rosemary to roast with potatoes and tomatoes.

Books – I am inspired by Lucy Santtini, quick gorgeous food in a flash (Flash Food), literally! I still adore Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and the Vegetarian Living magazine but on the whole I look for new ideas on food blogs and website. I continue to follow where the fabulous Sarah Britton cooks up a healthy storm of glorious food and the ever interesting and a new one which is fast becoming a favourite written by a NZer who creates gluten free delights in Australia. I have also become a fan of Ms Marmite Lover (I like marmite too) or The English Can Cook – – she’s fun, an underground restauranteur who is throwing an Elevenses and High Tea: eat like a hobbit party in the shire of Highgate in London. I am also a big fan of which has some gorgeous recipes and stunning photography.

Making your own chocs… it really isn’t so difficult…

Now the festive season is upon us, it’s time to make some pressies for those we love and admire. I recently purchased a little chocolate melting device from the Ven (euros 8.95) which melts chocolate pieces to the perfect temp. I admit I am a sucker for devices but it really does make it very easy to create your own personalized chocs to give away. Daniel and Jack used dried strawberrys and flaked almonds to make some hearts such as the ones above. Buy silicone moulds from Xenos and let your imagination roll. We used pure chocolate flakes from the Ven for our base, using small rubber spatulas and teaspoons to fill the moulds. Allow your pretty chocs to set at room temp (not in the fridge) and pop into glass jars, decorating the jars with ribbons and tinsel. Oh, so pretty!

Look out for my  fav festive products, charities (no presents this year please!) and places to eat over the holidays in my next blog and on podcast

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