Friday, 7 September 2012

My food challenge

This week I am trying to use up everything in my fridge & freezer without going to the shops.

A spring clean if you like.

In Australia we have very large kitchen fridges.

And lots of us have more than one fridge, maybe a drinks fridge and a large freezer as well.  I certainly do- and mine are FULL!

I remember when we lived in London our fridge was only the size of a bar fridge and I could not get my head around how people managed.

Who wants to go the the supermarket every single day?

Not this little black duck!

If you lived in a little French village and could easily buy your vegies & other goodies easily each day I can understand it but in a big city?

I am not a fan of the supermarket at all, but despite my best efforts there are still reasons I need to shop there, although I try not to go very often.

I try to buy all of our meat direct from the farmer- I buy from here, and here , here and here.  And then some of the other stuff I buy from our lovely local Organic grocer. These guys are all ace & some of the loveliest people you will ever meet. And fancy that I have actually MET the people who made that food possible.  That won't be happening when you shop at the supermarket. We become dissociated from the meaning of the food to the food being just about the dollar price.  We become blinkered to the journey of paddock to plate.

We have lost many skills as society has evolved.  One of them is 'making do'.  Making do with what you have in the pantry.  Being able to make something out of very little. Being able to use lesser cuts of meat & offal and make deliciousness.

We shop with a list and buy accordingly.  I don't have a problem with that.  But I lament the loss of being savvy.   Being inventive.  Being more skilled generally.

By buying like this it makes the food I eat have more meaning.  I know about the farmer's families, I know that they too have bills to pay (like the MASSIVE fuel costs they incur for the insane amount of weekly driving they do to get their products to the consumer) ,  children to feed, clothe and educate- it means the food cycle comes a little closer back to the real, to the the stuff we maybe don't let ourselves think about when we pick up a packet of meat at the supermarket.

I am a HUGE supporter of Farmer's markets- I have talked about it before here. And I am a big believer in real food- I have talked about that here.

 Here is a list of all the accredited Farmers Markets around Australia. Try and find one that is near you and visit. Talk to the producers. Find out more about your food!

I like to support the people that make their life producing quality food for me to eat & that do so ethically & sustainably.  That is something that is very very important to me.

Reducing waste is important to me too.

So in an effort to be more thoughtful about the bounty I am so lucky to have in my fridge & freezer & pantry I have set myself a challenge.

My kids know about it too.

I normally buy & then decide what I am going to cook. But this time I am being more strict. No adding a bit from the shops here or there. No top ups.

We are emptying the contents over the next little while and 'making do'.  Not going to the supermarket to get that missing ingredient that would complete the dish we had in mind but instead changing, substituting and re-inventing what we have already.

It is a challenge to live by the idea that we CAN make deliciousness out of what we have.  And to have the conversation with my children about food, it's origins, it's meaning, it's journey to us.   We just need to be less rigid in our thinking.

This emptying of the fridge & freezer also involves going a bit 'ol' skool' with the idea of having to wait for things.  Instant gratification is a modern convenience.  And while I am as guilty as anyone of indulging in it, I definitely believe there are benefits to learning to wait.  Patience can bring great rewards.

I am also trying to reduce the amount of meat we eat- or at least the importance we place on it as being the centrepiece of our plate.  Australians generally eat too much meat.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE meat & I m not becoming vegetarian anytime soon, but I am aware that our family are guilty of eating too much of it.  This is neither sustainable or good for our health.  So while we empty the fridge I am also elevating the vegies to a higher level.  All of my family LOVE eating vegies so this is not a particularly hard part of the challenge but a fun one nonetheless.

I started this challenge for myself on Monday and will keep going till we are at rock bottom lows!

I wrote a little about this on my Facebook page last night and told of what we have eaten so far. I feel a little like I am re-telling the classic picture book Very hungry Caterpillar here but :

Monday night we ate : Homemade Tagliatelle with home made pesto & broadbeans

Tuesday night we ate: WarialdaBelted GallowayBeef Rumpsteak with a pepper sauce and panfried broccoli & Zucchini in garlic and black pepper

Wednesday night we ate : Bundarra Berkshires Pork shoulder rubbed with my Salt & Pepper spice mix and roasted and served with a Fennel Risotto

Thursday night we ate : Caramelised Onion & Sage tart that I used some of my latest delivery of Bruny Island Cheese Co. cheese in & I served it with cumin Spiced carrots.

It will be interesting to see what happens.......but I already feel as though things have changed for the better.  That as the fridge clears my happiness at how well we are doing rises.  I feel happy that the conversation about the meaning of food is alive and well with my kids. That alone is enough reason to do it.

I am sharing the recipe for last nights tart with you.
Last week we go our most recent delivery of Bruny Island Cheese through Nick's Cheese Club- if you are not a member already do it NOW!
I wanted to use some of the cheese in last nights dinner.
I hadn't defrosted any meat from the freezer so it was to be a vego meal.
I had a big bag of red onions and thought caramelised onions would be perfect with Nick's Mark cheese- a semi-hard cheese that is rolled with the remainingPinot grape seeds & husks after pressing (these leftovers are called the marc) & so leaving a lovely pinot flavour in the cheese. OMG Yum!!!!
So here is what I made.... it was soooo easy!!!
I made two, anticipating using the leftovers for lunches today. There was not a crumb left.  My 14yo ate one all to himself & we divided the other between the others- it was a hit!
I used the exact same method I used to make the recipe here for the caramelised onions but just added sage and not rosemary.
The result was a simple and elegant dish that would satisfy anyone.  I served it with Cumin spiced Carrots. So much yum.
for the Caramelised Onion

1kg red onions
• 8 leaves Sage, chopped finely 
• 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
• 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
• a little water if necessary

for the rest of the tart

  • 2 sheets puff pastry
  • 1 egg (to eggwash the pastry) 
  • cheese to grate

preheat oven to 180C.

Cut the onion in half and slice finely. Heat a non-stick pan to a medium heat and add the extra virgin olive oil. Add the onions and sage immediately and stir frequently. Add the salt. As the onions become soft and translucent, add the sugar. It will caramelise quite quickly. Don’t let the onions brown, so you may want to turn the heat down to low to prevent this. Add a little water (1/4 cup at a time) if you need too. I do this to help cook the onions without letting them brown. This process takes about 20–25 minutes.
Let the water evaporate off and add the red wine vinegar. Stir well. Now add the balsamic vinegar, stir through for about a minute and take off the heat. 

Place your puff onto a lined baking tray and score a line gently (not all the way through the pastry) 3cm from the edge all the way around.

Grate a good amount of cheese directly onto the pastry.  Then place the onion mix over the top of this. And eggwash the edge that is left with bare pastry.

Now place in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. 

Remove and grate a little more cheese over the top.

Serve immediately.

Today sees a new Calexico album for the first time in four years. YIPPEE!!!!
I am a long time fan. Here is the first track from their album. Enjoy.


  1. I love this idea of clearing out the pantry and freezer. It IS like spring cleaning but without the housework!


  2. Such a great idea Ruth. I always feel really good about myself if I use up leftovers or " make do" with what is in my over flowing pantry/freezer. I am guilty of stopping off to buy things to make a dish when I know full well that there is enough food at home to make something . Sometimes I think we have too many choices & it makes us greedy knowing we can have pretty much anything we like to eat.
    Good luck in your challenge xx

  3. An excellent challenge, and that tart looks stunning. All your dinners sound so delicious too. Making do happens quite often at my place - not only is it more sustainable but I also find it to be actually easier and more affordable.

  4. Hi Ruth, love this song and clip...great tunes as always! Wise words on food too, as a farmer I agree with all of your thoughts. This cheese club sounds amazing, I wonder how successful a delivery to outback NSW would be? Love this recipe, another one to try! Have a lovely weekend.

  5. oh god how good are caramelised onions ! and i have so much sage growing in my garden this sounds like a great idea to me ....

  6. Hi Ruth. It's so great to hear the other end of the equation in what we do. Thanks so much for your support of our farmers and the accredited markets. It's people like you who make us feel like what we are doing is worthwhile & we are getting somewhere! Cheers, Miranda. Melbourne community farmers markets

  7. I love and share your food philosophy - we waste so much. Good luck with your fridge challenge! A lovely post as always Ruth. X

  8. That cheese sounds divine and the tart looks delish!


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