How often do you discover a half-used jar of something going mouldy in a back corner of the fridge? A sad bag of what was once glorious green leaves or herbs, now wilted and dry? Or maybe you’ve got a kitchen cupboard full of packets, bags and jars of half-used ingredients that you never quite get around to using.
It’s annoying and frustrating. And a waste of money and food, too. Don’t you just wish there were a way to get around it that would STICK? Even just a few simple things you could do no matter how busy your life is? Because busy lives and busy brains sometimes make it feel like it’s JUST. TOO. HARD.
There’s a very good chance you’ll find the answer – or YOUR answer, because everyone has such different lives and kitchens – in the new book from two of Australia’s leading waste warriors.
Alex Elliott-Howery and Jaimee Edwards, from ground-breaking Sydney café / cooking school/food community Cornersmith, have taken what they do at home and work and distilled into a book crammed with ideas.
"This book is the result of us trying to figure out how to eat sustainably, work full time and keep our sanity. It's the kitchen guide to modern food wisdom we wish we had when we first started out," they write in the book's introduction.
In theory, Use it All is themed around seasonal shopping baskets, and that is one way to use what’s in this book. But we mentioned “your answer” above because there’s a lot of different ways to use the tips, hacks and recipes in this book.
Here’s a wealth of usefulness in the book, but a few things stand out: the authors know what it’s like to try to cook good food when life is really busy; buying less will not only save you money but make cooking easier (“we both like to shop small and use everything up” say the authors, when we chat to them – more on that below); adopting a handful of favourite, flexible recipes could change your life; and wow! the ideas for using up sad produce and scraps are even better than we expected (and we had high expectations, given the reputation these two have for clever, sustainable cooking).
You might want to dive into their system of a weekly shopping basket, which explores how to shop well and then use what you have to create multiple delicious meals. But equally, you might find yourself loving their idea of “foundation recipes” – flexible recipes with heaps of suggestions to help you change up the ingredients to use what you have, from green pockets (inspired by gozleme) and an ‘As you like it’ Japanese pancake to a fruity chilli sauce that can be made with pineapple, peaches, mangos, green tomatoes, cherries or plums.
Some are favourites from the café, such as the ‘Use it All’ tea loaf (“We love it because you can throw in any grated fruits or vegetables, any nuts, seeds or choc chips and any spices you need to use up and it always works.”) Or you might just want to have a go-to book for dipping into when you want to use up an ingredient – a green sauce to use up some of those fading green leaves from the crisper, before they turn to mush, for example (as someone who endlessly seems to find sad green leaves at the back of the crisper, this is my personal favourite from the book so far! Use it to make green eggs. Colourful, thrifty and tasty.).
The book is simply jam-packed with encouragement and ideas, including more than 230 recipes for meals (including bulk cooking ideas, and ways to use the results, so you aren't cooking from scratch every night), sides, snacks, sweets, breakfasts (tahini-roasted muesli!), quick preserving recipes and “nothing goes to waste” ideas (that green sauce is just one of many – we’re also keen to try the stir-fried lettuce, pineapple skin syrup, left-over spring onion pancakes and spring onion oil, and apple-skin caramel). There are also tips for storing fruit, veg and dried goods.
We grabbed the authors – who have shared a few of their recipes with SBS – for a quick Q & A.
We love the idea of your flexible ‘foundation’ recipes, such as the green pockets. Did the two of you have a moment where you realised you both had this approach to cooking?
A: Yes, as busy working parents we are both time-poor, but still want to get great food on the table quickly. Many years of discussing what the best way to do this lead us to come up with cooking with one whole ingredient, such as seasonal vegetables or a whole chicken or fish to use as the base for multiple meals throughout the week. [Ed's note: some of the foundation recipes in the book that this central ingredient approach - a recipe for whole baked fish, for example, is followed by a raft of ideas for using the leftovers over the next two days, from a cheat's marinara to fish tacos; others are like the green pockets - an idea that can be adapted according to what you have on hand]
You mention in the book that having a minimally stocked pantry helps to avoid waste and save money and space. Does it also make cooking easier, too – if you stick to using what you’ve got, there are fewer decisions to make?
A: Exactly. There is such thing as too much choice and we both like to shop small, use everything up and then start again. This avoids things getting lost in the back of the pantry.
Did you discover anything unexpected about each other’s cooking while working on this book?
Jaimee: Alex’s soy pickled lettuce was a revelation for me. I never seem to get through a whole lettuce, or I have planted too many in the garden, so this simple pickling recipe has saved many a limp lettuce and turned a simple bowl of rice or grilled fish into something a whole lot more interesting.
Alex: Jaimee’s whole cauliflower bake changed the way I look at whole cauliflower. I had no idea how cauliflowery the leaves and stems are! And the kids actually love it.
The book is organised around the idea of weekly shopping baskets, but it also works on a dip-in basis too, doesn’t it?
A; Yes, you could easily look in your fridge and chances are we will cover it in the book and there will be ideas for how to make the most of it. We want this book to be more of a guide of ideas for using what you already have in your kitchen.
Love that ‘best green sauce’ in the book, what a great way to use up those sad greens – we’ve probably all been guilty of discovering forgotten greens in the fridge! Do you have any tips to help people catch produce before it really is too old/mushy/ nasty to use?
A; Don’t buy more than you realistically think you will use and learn to store produce properly. Take the extra five minutes to wrap, or pop in a container to make it last longer. The book has storage tips for each ingredient, which is very useful.
Which recipe or waste tip in the book do you think will surprise people the most?
A: it’s been great talking to people since publication and hearing what waste hack they are most excited about. The celery leaf pesto has turned out to be a breakout star and the potato peel chips and the pineapple skin soda are getting a lot of enthusiasm.
The Use it All loaf is a great example of a recipe that can use up bits and pieces of fruit and veg and pantry odds and sods. Does it freeze well? And have you made savoury versions?
A: It freezes really well. Slice it first and then [after defrosting] pop it under the grill or in the sandwich press. We mostly make this for lunch boxes, so we mainly stick to dried fruits, chocolate buttons etc. Give a savoury version a go, it’s a pretty flexible recipe.
You’ve both been getting creative with leftovers or unexpected bounty – like the homegrown fruit and veg people bring to the cafes – for years. What’s been your most successful wild leap of experimentation with an ingredient?
A: We are inundated with cumquats at the end of winter and have started making a bitters that's really struck a chord with our customers. We can’t make it fast enough! It’s a great way to use up excess citrus and again it’s easy to swap out different herbs and spices when we make it – so it’s the kind of recipe we love most.
Images from Use It All by Alex Elliott-Howery and Jaimee Edwards, photography by Cath Muscat. (Murdoch Books, $39.99)
Love the Cornersmith approach to making the most of everything? Try these recipes from Cornersmith Salads & Pickles (the quick kitchen-scrap pickle is such an easy way to use up bits and pieces), or these from the very first Cornersmith book, including a potato salad which uses leftover pickling brine in the dressing and their popular bread and butter cucumber pickles. The Cornersmith team also share lots of great 'use it all' ideas on Instagram and in their preserving workshops and online cooking classes (find out more on their website).
Quick pickling is a great way to use up any vegetables in the fridge at the end of the week, as well as those leftover vegie stems – cauliflower, beetroot, broccoli and kale stems all make really delicious pickles!
This recipe isn't as fancy as preserved lemons, but but it is a great way to reduce kitchen waste and produce a delicious kitchen staple.
It might be more unusual to see fruit instead of vegetables in a pickling liquid, but we pickle lots of fruit and find the vinegar offsets its sweetness beautifully.
We tweak our mustard according to the time of year, using sage in autumn, horseradish or rosemary in winter, and thyme in spring. Mustard is such a great food to make from scratch, with lots of opportunities to experiment with different flavours, so feel free to try using other herbs, or to add freshly chopped herbs when serving. A jar of homemade mustard also makes an impressive gift.