Spud Sunday: Waste Watching

Four pounds of cheese.

No, despite my near addiction to all things dairy, I am not actually referring to the amount of cheese that I am likely to consume in a single sitting. What that weighty amount of dairy goodness does represent is the amount of cheese thrown out by the average American over the course of a year, according to an article in the July, 2011 issue of National Geographic, entitled How to Feed A Growing Planet. That article, in turn, inspired my friend Jenni to start the Four Pounds of Cheese project – an experiment where participants would document, for a week, just what it was they were wasting, food-wise. Having been brought up to the tune of my mother’s “waste not, want not” mantra, I am programmed to abhor waste. That doesn’t mean that I’m not capable of wasting food with the best of them. It does, however, mean that I’ll feel dreadfully guilty when I do. Needless, to remark, I was keen to join in.

Last Monday, the week of waste watching began and it didn’t get off to a great start.

I ate out for lunch and the salmon I ordered was served in the classic Irish manner, meaning it came with two kinds of potato (mashed and roasted, in this case). Despite a valiant effort, I didn’t manage to clear my plate, so, to my shame, the very first thing I managed to waste were some of those selfsame spuds. And then I did what I suspect many of us do: I ordered dessert anyway. Different compartment, right? Surprise, surprise, I couldn’t finish that either. Sheesh. Waste 1, Spud 0.

Too many potatoes

Too many potatoes, even for me

Tuesday, for a while, looked like it might go the same way. In a clear case of trying to do too many things at once, I managed to burn what would otherwise have been a perfectly good batch of biscotti. After much cursing, followed by a bout of mature consideration, I decided that, though not my best work, they were still ok to eat. Waste 0, Spud 1.

My batting average for the rest of the week did improve greatly, but only because the exercise forced me to do more forward planning in terms of my food purchases, especially anything perishable. I am often guilty of buying the equivalent of my own bodyweight in fruit and vegetables, some of which are inevitably past their best before they get used, if they get used at all.

I also thought twice about other items that might more usually get thrown down the sink, so I found myself using milk that had soured to make scones, saving vegetable cooking liquid for stock and freezing the undrunk remains of a bottle of red to use for sauces. I also took to exploring the far reaches of my cupboards to see what might lurk therein. Thank goodness for the long shelf life of dried beans and pulses, because several not-quite-empty bags of lentils made for large batch of dinner-time dal.

All in all, then, not a great deal went to waste over the course of the week, so bully for me. I am, however, acutely aware of the fact that I’ll have wasted my time if I don’t try to keep it up.

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Cheesy Cauliflower Pie

Cauliflower pie

Don’t panic, this recipe does not contain four pounds of cheese – four ounces, more like – but I wanted to include it, as it’s really a template for a pie to which you could add whatever cheese and vegetables you have on hand.

It’s based on a recipe I found in Eveleen Coyle’s Irish Potato Cookbook and it was the potato crust that caught my eye. No pastry here, but a crust composed of grated potato, grated onion and egg – an excellent gluten-free alternative for any savoury pie.

I have jazzed the original recipe up by roasting the cauliflower and adding gorgonzola and walnuts, though vary it with whatever vegetables and cheese you have around.

You’ll need:

  • 1 potato crust (see recipe below) or use a shortcrust pastry lining, baked blind for about 10-15 minutes before filling
  • 500g cauliflower, washed and separated into small florets
  • 1 tblsp olive oil
  • 50g walnuts
  • butter for frying
  • 1 small onion, about 100g, finely chopped
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 50g mature cheddar, grated
  • 50g gorgonzola
  • 4 large eggs
  • 100ml milk
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tblsp grated parmesan

You’ll also need:

  • A 24cm round ovenproof dish, about 4cm deep, and a couple of baking trays (mine were about 20cm x 30cm)

The Steps:

  • Preheat your oven to 200C, prepare and bake the potato crust as below.
  • While the potato crust is baking, toss the cauliflower florets with the olive oil, spread them out on a baking tray, place in the oven and roast for about 15 minutes, until starting to soften and char very slightly.
  • Spread the walnuts out on another baking tray and place in the oven for 5 minutes to lightly toast. Remove and chop roughly.
  • Once the pie crust, cauliflower and walnuts are done, turn the oven down to 180C.
  • Place a small frying pan over a medium heat and, when hot, add about a teaspoon of butter. When the butter has melted, add the chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the chopped garlic and thyme, stir and fry for about a minute more, then remove from the heat.
  • To assemble the pie, add the grated cheddar to the baked crust, followed by the cauliflower, fried onions and chopped walnuts. Crumble over the gorgonzola. Beat together the eggs and milk and pour over the vegetables and cheese. Add a few twists of black pepper and sprinkle over the grated parmesan.
  • Return to the oven for about 25 minutes or until the eggs are set. If the edges of the crust are browning too much, cover with foil while cooking.
  • Slice and serve warm with a green salad and perhaps a glass of wine.

The Variations:

  • Really, you can vary the filling freely according to the vegetables and cheese that you have on hand.

The Results:

  • Pie for 4-6 people
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Savoury Potato Crust

You’ll need:

  • 500g grated raw potato, preferably a floury variety
  • 175g grated onion
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • olive oil for brushing the pie dish and crust

You’ll also need:

  • This amount is enough to line an ovenproof dish, about 24cm round and 4cm deep

The Steps:

  • Preheat your oven to 200C
  • Using a clean tea-towel, squeeze as much liquid from the grated potatoes as you can and mix with the grated onion, salt and beaten egg.
  • Brush your pie-dish generously with olive oil and spread the potato mixture over the base and along the sides of the dish.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes or until the surface of the potato crust had dried out and is starting to turn lightly golden. Remove from the oven, brush the crust with olive oil and return to the oven for another 15 minutes or so, until browned, then fill as desired.

The Variations:

  • Depending on the type of filling you want to use, you might like to add some herbs or spices to the crust or perhaps omit the onion and add some extra grated potato instead.

The Results:

  • One 24cm pie crust
Comments
  • It has been a long time since I visited, but I am glad I saw this post. Unfortunately, as someone who buys and eats a lot of cheese, some goes to waste due to spoilage. It happens, but is something I should definitely be conscious of.

    In regards to the pie, I like cheese and cauliflower (and potatoes) so I can see how I would really enjoy it.

  • Food waste has been on my mind lately, too. It’s shameful how much we throw away here in the States — myself included! I’m definitely no saint, though through planning and preparation I’ve been able to be much better about it.

    It’s the thing I was most nervous about when getting a CSA share this summer: “What if I can’t use everything that comes every week?” But surprisingly enough, a week hasn’t gone by that I’ve used up every squash, eggplant and fresh herb that’s gotten delivered. It’s been great — and a real money saver, to boot!

  • GrilledShane: Hey there, so glad you visited! And, given the cheese content, an appropriate one for you to see – I’m sure you’d love this pie :)

    Meister: Good for you! The key really is a bit of forward planning – figuring out what you can make with what you’ve got before it gets to the use-it-or-lose-it stage really helps.

  • I think a little bit of planning goes a very long way. We menu plan once a week before grocery shopping and have just enough leftovers to feed a straggler at the door or the hens. The Chef is full blooded American but his training has given him a disdain for waste, so we strive to reduce, reuse and recyle when possible. I love the cauliflower but have never been a fan of it with cheese. I have a feeling though that the kiddies will love this one!

  • Well done, DS! I think you came out better than I did, and I am extremely impressed with your finding a use for the sour milk, veggie cooking liquid and not-quite-drinkable wine. I shall tuck those ideas away for myself.

    I’m like you in that I tend to buy either too much of one kind of fruit/veggie or too many different kinds. Either way, stuff tends to get wasted. I think maybe for a follow-up I’ll post about the kinds of dishes, such as your cauliflower casserole (yum) that lend themselves to using up bits and pieces of veggies that would other wise go into the bin.

  • Móna: I’m definitely going to make more of an effort at more regular menu planning – like you say, a little bit does go a long way, I could certainly see that myself this week

    Jenni: Well done to you m’lady for hosting the project and highlighting the issue in the first place. It’s not that I wasn’t conscious of food waste before (I was, acutely), but I got a little better at doing something about it. Planning really helps but so, too, does having a store of ideas for how to use stuff up – excellent idea for a follow up post!

  • I love cauliflower cheese! Reminds me of mammy :)

  • I’m always amazed to read statistics like this. I don’t doubt it a minute though. Even though I try to stay aware of waste, I still manage to throw out my fair share. This is a great project. The dish looks so good. I wouldn’t mind even if it it did have 4lbs of cheese. Well, okay, that might be a little much, but I do love cheese! :)

  • The pie sounds wonderful! And the potato crust is so interesting. Nice job, from another Four Pounds participant. :)

  • Aine: A very good thing to be reminded of, I’m sure :)

    Lori: I wouldn’t mind if it had more cheese either :D You’re right about the statistics though, not truly surprising but shocking all the same.

    Camille: Thank you! It was definitely an interesting project to do – I’ll have to make a point of keeping up the good habits.

  • It is frightening and as good as we try to be, if we look closely, we waste. I doubt I would find occasion to waste any of this pie however, scrumptious!

  • So true, Magic of Spice, on both counts! :)

  • [...] traveled to Whole Foods to see if they had any type of potato bread (mix, fresh, not fresh) to turn this awesome Daily Spud recipe into a grilled cheese. Instead I stumbled on Whole Foods’ “cheese remnant” [...]

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