The Do’s and don’ts of kitchen sustainability

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Originally written for Quench magazine

With hard hitting programs such as David Attenborough’s recently released ‘A life on our planet’, climate change and its impending doom has been successfully brought to the forefront of our minds. It is understandably hard to live a completely eco-friendly life when it is so easy to remain uneducated and unaware, but, as the new generation, it’s so important to lead the way and live a sustainable lifestyle. Of course, not all of us have the means or ability to make a big and noticeable change, but it’s the little things and mass awareness that can have the best long-lasting effect. We need to pave the road for a sustainable way of living with the hopes of a bright, stable and permanent future so that the new generations can live the lives they deserve. I know that it seems difficult and expensive to get started on your sustainable living, so I’ve comprised a budget friendly and easy do and don’t list of how to act in and around your kitchen in order to stay sustainable. Every little helps!

Do…

· Recycle! – It seems like an obvious one, but it never fails to amaze me how little green recycling bags have been put out on bin day. If you are still feeling confused about what you’re supposed to recycle, have a look on your local council website and you will be provided with a full list of what is meant to go in those green bags. It might be worth putting a list on your fridge to remind those who you live with. You could also benefit from popping a recycling bin in your bathroom to avoid all those cardboard toilet rolls going in general waste. It’s important to remind your housemates to recycle but remember to ask nicely!

· Share essentials – I am constantly buying a bag of potatoes that is way to big for my consumption and there is always one or two left that go rotten or mouldy. It’s the same for things such as bread and carrots. I’m not a big eater and I have found that sharing these food items is much more economical and sustainable.

· Meal plan – Far too often do people buy ingredients with no real plan of when they’re going to use them and the sell by date comes and goes. One way to resolve this food waste is to plan your meals at the beginning of the week and buy your ingredients accordingly. Equally, I often find that I buy an ingredient for a meal and then what I don’t use ends up going off and being thrown away. By meal planning, you can work out what to do with the rest of the ingredients without them going off!

· Swap meat for veggies – meat production is a massive strain on the environment for many reasons and the best thing we can do is reduce our consumption. You don’t need to go full vegan or even full veggie, just try and have meat free days 3-4 times a week. If everyone did this it would lower popular demand and reduce the need to farm and deforest massive chunks of land.

Don’t…

· Forget your bags! – Anyone else guilty of that huge pile of plastic supermarket bags in your kitchen? You get to the supermarket after forgetting to bring a bag, you reluctantly buy a new one and bring it home, promising to remember next time. But do you remember next time…? It’s super important as the amount of plastic waste that is building up across the world and in the ocean is something that needs to be urgently stopped.

· Buy ready meals – The steps that the ready meal takes from production to your kitchen table are horrific. Due to the fact that it’s precooked, there’s no way of inspecting the quality of any of the meat and veg. The meat is most likely mass produced in an unethical environment and the veg is very unlikely to being organic. Equally it comes packaged in mountains of unnecessary plastic which just ends up being thrown into the ocean. If you make your own meals, you can monitor how much plastic it’s packaged in and make sure the ingredients are ethically sourced.

· Use cling film – Keeping along the theme of plastic waste, cling film is among the worst of the single use plastics to come out of the kitchen. With so many different options to replace cling film such as silicone stretch lids, beeswax wraps and reusable sandwich bags, there really is no excuse to stick with the single use option. Have a shop around and thoroughly research all your options before you succumb to societal norms and purchase your next roll of clingfilm.

· Think you can’t make a difference – Too many people fall for the trap that their kitchen habits won’t make a positive change. The important thing to remember is that if we all manage to stay sustainable, we can change the norm and encourage a new generation of sustainability. Unity in the masses is the only option!

Tips on how to use your Autumn produce

Adapted from my article for Quench magazine

As we welcome the Autumn months and say goodbye to the hot sun, home growers and farmlands find themselves inundated with all those wintery fruits and vegetables that we all know and love. My family absolutely love growing their own produce and each year our garden is swamped with apples, pears, blackberries and butternut squash. We have become well versed in how to get creative in the kitchen and make the best of these foods without getting bored too quickly! Here are some of my faves.

APPLE FRITTERS

I love an apple pudding, and, when it comes to apple season, we have apple crumbles and apple cakes coming out of ears! I love an apple fritter because its quite different to a classic apple pudding and can create a refreshing change. The soft yet crunchy apple encased with a crispy, sweet batter and dosed in golden syrup is a deliciously unhealthy method to switch up your apple pud rotation! Here’s how you make it:

Firstly, put enough vegetable oil in a saucepan to reach about a third of the way up and put it onto a high heat. In a large bowl, mix; 180g flour, 35g sugar, ½ tsp cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, 1 tsp salt and 2 ½ tsp of baking powder. Then add 2 eggs and 180 ml of milk and whisk until combined. Peel about 4-5 large cooking apples, cut them into good size chunks and stir into the batter so that all the pieces of apple are well coated. You will know when the oil is hot enough when you drop a tiny bit of batter in it and it floats up and cook within 30 seconds. When it has reached this temperature, use a slotted spoon to drop the pieces if apple in and leave them to cook for about a minute. Remember to turn them as they cook so they brown evenly. Pat them dry with kitchen roll, put in a bowl, cover with syrup, and enjoy! You won’t regret it!

ROASTED SQUASH AND FETA SALAD

My favourite salad ever is this butternut squash salad and it’s absolutely perfect for Autumn as it’s so warming and makes perfect use of mum’s endless squash produce. It’s the perfect healthy accompaniment to a lasagne, fish meal, or even pasta! Its hearty, warming and here’s how you make it:

Set your oven to 200 degrees Celsius and cut up your butternut squash into 2cm cubes. Once cut, place on a baking try and toss them in olive oil, salt and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper for a subtle heat. Put it into the oven and leave for about half an hour until soft, but remember to keep checking it so it doesn’t go to mush! Whilst this is in the oven, pour about half a packet of pine nuts into a small frying pan and dry fry for a few minutes until they begin to brown and soften. Set these aside. Take a packet of rocket salad and lay out on a large serving dish. Add the squash and pine nuts and then crumble over half a packet of feta. Mix together 1 part vinegar to 3 parts olive oil along with a good grind of salt and pepper to make a basic vinaigrette, drizzle over the salad, toss and enjoy!

POACHED PEARS WITH A CHOCOLATE SAUCE

I love a pear and, when perfectly ripe, can easily be one of my favourite fruits. The pears that grow on our tree at home are delicious, but its easy to get bored of a plain pear. My brother has been known to make a killer poached pear that acts as a perfect ending to a good meal. It’s sophisticated and a good way to get in one of your 5 a day! Here’s how he makes it:

Put; 1 litre of water, 300g of caster sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 vanilla pod and the juice of 1 lemon in a saucepan. Then carefully peel 8 pears and place them into the saucepan. Bring the pan to a boil and then let simmer until the pairs are nice and soft. Meanwhile, melt 100g of dark chocolate in a bain marie until completely smooth. Then add 50g of butter, 250 ml of cream and 2 tbsp of caster sugar and stir until well combined. When both pears and chocolate sauce is done, serve together with vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

Tips for cooking in a Uni/shared kitchen

Over my years of uni kitchen cooking I have continuously struggled with the entire experience. The surfaces are always dirty, you can never find the right equipment and there is always way too many people in the kitchen at once. Here is a few tips to help you stay level headed in a chaotic environment!

Plan your cooking time

If I’m cooking something a little more time consuming like a lentil dal or risotto, I like to cook it during the day at an odd time when no one else is in the kitchen. I can spread myself out and dominate the room for an hour and make as much mess and use as much cooking equipment as I possibly can with little complaint. This means when I go to eat at a regular dinner time and there’s multiple people crowding up the room, I can just heat up my pre-prepared food! Also, I would have been able to wash everything up and clean the surfaces beforehand! I can enjoy my food coma in peace without being nagged to clean up all my stuff.

Make sure you wash everything up on time

When you live with 6 people who are all cooking for themselves throughout the day, it doesn’t take long for the kitchen to become absolutely crammed with dirty dishes. This creates such a nasty environment to live in and really puts anyone off from entering the room and cooking in there. If you live with messy people, it’s a good idea to set the example of doing your washing up early and keeping a tidy space. This encourages people to follow suit and removes at least one lot of washing up from the kitchen sides.

Hide any special things you don’t want anyone to use

I can become particularly attached to certain items of kitchen equipment and easily irritated if they are left used and unwashed. A microplane is my favourite item of kitchen equipment ever. It is so versatile and grating garlic and ginger has become a daily activity for me, so I want it to be in perfect condition. As soon as I started storing it at the back of my cupboard, preventing anyone using it to grate cheese on their bolognese, I never had any issues with locating it ever again. All had been restored to natural order once again.

Keep the kitchen cupboards well organised

A lot of equipment can be accumulated in a shared kitchen of 6 and it can become overwhelming when rooting through a cupboard to locate a saucepan among multiple cheese graters and colanders. If you’ve made the decision to share culinary equipment with your housemates (like we did), it is important to get a good system together. Stack the plates and bowls together in the same cupboard. Group together all saucepans and frying pans in a way that feels natural. When you need a cheese grater you want to be confident that you’ll find it before your pasta gets cold! Most importantly – make your system make sense! We all know that a kitchen knife doesn’t belong anywhere near a baking tray.

Be easy going

It is nearly impossible to completely change someone to having the same clean mindset as you and the best you can do is just go along with it. If you are forced to live in a messy kitchen, you don’t want to fill it with animosity. There’s nothing worse than having to co-exist in such a small space with someone who you’ve had consistent arguments and issues with. Uni students are not the cleanest of people and that is something you have to get used to!

Post lockdown health kick

Written for Quench student mag

For me, lockdown will always signify an unprecedented amount of binge snacking and stress eating. Those early, uncertain days were passed with films and chocolate as I lost all motivation and any concept of the word ‘health’. Now that lockdown is lifting and uni is looming, I am all too aware of the consequences my mental and physical health has faced and I’m ready to kickstart a new and healthy beginning!

“Meat, carbs and snacking are my weaknesses”

One of the methods I find best for dieting is not to remove unhealthy food from my diet but to try and replace them with a healthy option. Going cold turkey from your favourite meals and snacks can be extremely challenging, so, I find closely substituting them a lot more realistic. Meat, carbs and snacking are my weaknesses so I have listed a few different methods I use to try and combat these addictions, starting with meat.

Fatty meat replacements

I absolutely love a juicy burger, but all that red meat can take its toll and I find a falafel burger a delicious and healthy compromise. You can buy them everywhere, but, if you have a blender, they are also ridiculously easy to make. 

Put in a blender; 400g can chickpeas – rinsed and drained, 1 small chopped, 1 chopped garlic clove, handful of flat-leaf parsley or curly parsley, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, ½ tsp harissa paste or chilli powder, 2 tbsp plain flour. Once well combined shape into four patties and simply fry in sunflower oil. To reduce the carbs, I like to serve with some homemade buckwheat flour and yogurt flat breads, but you can serve in a burger bun to channel a traditional burger! They go well with a tomato salsa or a beetroot tzatziki, which is a great way to pack in some more veg!

“Many people (including myself) are reluctant to give up meat completely”

Red meat is well known to negatively affect your diet and although meat free swaps can be successful, many people (including myself) are reluctant to give up meat completely. Swapping beef mince for healthier minces such as pork and turkey can make extremely successful bolognaises and burgers with a lot less calories and fat. This is a more simple and subtle swap than a meat free one and it’s extremely effective to help regain any loss you’ve made to your physical and mental health from a lockdown binge.

Carb reduction

My diet is extremely carb based and I’m forever looking for ways to reduce my pasta, rice and potato consumption. Replacing some of these with grains such as cuscous, bulgar or quinoa can help fill you up whilst also adding some variety to your diet. Adding a small amount of olive oil, salt, pepper and some herbs to these grains creates a simple but effective dressing, turning it into a tasty, healthy and substantial side dish. Equally, you could use the grains instead of rice with a curry to partially reduce your carb intake.

Similar to swapping a beef burger for a falafel burger, I’ve enjoyed swapping a regular pizza for a cauliflower pizza. This not only reduces carb intake massively, but it also increases the amount of veg you can sneakily slip into your diet. Although it sounds complicated to make, this recipe is not too difficult to follow, as long as you have a blender and a clean tea towel.

Heat your oven to 200C and remove the leaves from one 750g cauliflower and trim the stalk end, then cut into chunks. Blitz half the cauliflower in your blender until finely chopped, like rice. Chuck this into a bowl and repeat with the other half of the cauliflower. Tip the cauliflower in a bowl, cover with cling film and microwave for 5-6 mins until softened. Tip onto a clean tea towel, leave to cool a little then scrunch up the tea towel and squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the cauliflower. Transfer this to a clean bowl and stir in 100g of ground almonds, 2 beaten eggs, 1 tbsp of oregano and plenty of seasoning. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and grease with oil. Mound the cauliflower mix into the centre of the tray, then use a spoon and your hands to spread out into a 30cm round. Make it a little thicker at the edges to create a crust. Bake for 15-18 mins until golden brown and starting to crisp a little at the edges. You can then top the pizza base as you would a regular pizza with a tomato sauce, cheese and any topping you fancy (a great opportunity to bump up your veg intake even further). Once topped, turn the oven up to 240C and put the pizza back into the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes and the cheese has melted to your liking. Then enjoy your pizza guilt free!!

Saying no to snacking!

“If a kale chip is too much for you, going for an oven baked crisp option is still making a positive healthy change!”

Snacking is probably my biggest downfall – especially when it comes to crisps and chocolate. If I end up with a big bag of crisps or a packet of M&Ms next to me, I really struggle to stop myself devouring the entire thing. When it comes to food like this, it’s difficult to replace it with something healthy that is equally as moreish and enjoyable. There are certain fruits that I find are a decent replacement and can do the job such as purple grapes and pomegranate seeds. Their size makes it easy to slowly pick at them as you watch tv and their sweet sharp flavour is reminiscent of sweets. Kale chips are easy to make and are very healthy, but they are extreme and don’t necessarily have the same effect as a regular crisp. If a kale chip is too much for you, going for an oven baked crisp option is still making a positive healthy change!