PFJ day nine, homemade burger patties.

About half of yesterday’s mince went straight into the freezer as is, but some was destined to be burgers.

These are my Goldilocks Burgers. While I do sometimes buy premade burgers, especially veggie ones, I usually wish I was eating these. I find a lot of bought burgers are just a little to thin and wide, so they don’t quite fit on a standard bun, and don’t give the satisfying bite I want in a burger.

On the other hand, some of the premium burgers are like meaty hockey pucks. They take an age to cook evenly and are smaller in diameter so my first mouthful is always mostly bun.

These split the difference. They’re the right size for the bun and are just thick enough to get a good bite.

I didn’t want to create more washing up, so I worked straight into the tub. Fluffed up the mince to start, so there are no major clumps. This is about 450g. In on top goes

1 tablespoon of Bragg’s seasoning (Lea & Perrins would work too)

1 teaspoon of onion granules

0.5 teaspoon garlic granules

A grind of black pepper

Give a quick mix, then add

1-2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs, and mix well with your hands.

The granules are fantastic for this. I want their flavour, but I don’t want bits in my burger.

The breadcrumbs are a light binder and also help absorb the juices during cooking, keeping them in the burger instead of in the pan.

The first couple of times I made these, I took about a teaspoon of meat at this stage and fried it off to check the seasoning, particularly salt. I knew how big my pinch of salt needed to be after that. These do need salt, but it’s easy to overdo.

Weigh the mix, then divide by four.

I squish with my burger rings but I used to form them by hand. This is just faster.

These were boxed for the freezer in baking paper, careful that they weren’t touching each other.

No doubt a couple will make it to the barbeque at the weekend!

PFJ day 8 – the big shop, and the first big challenge!

I almost caved for a McFlurry yesterday evening, as it was a glorious day and the Crunchie one is back on the menu, but that’s three bits of plastic that I can’t justify as I can easily say no. No disposable coffee cups used this month so far either. Little victories.

I try to do the Big Shop during the week when I have the chance, to avoid crowds, or even have the bulk of it delivered to free up precious weekend time and stop impulse biscuit purchasing.

Most of my shopping is done at Tesco, with Lidl/Dunnes/local market vying for second place, and most of my meat coming from the butcher. I’m fortunate to have the luxury of choice in my area.

I’ll start with the TL:DR version of things.

Supermarket and pet shop haul

Butcher haul

I love my butcher. They do absolutely all sorts, and there’s a distinct lack of prepackaged products on their counter. They also didn’t bat an eyelid when I rocked in with my boxes, and asked for my chicken in paper instead of a plastic bag.

Total haul was a local (actually) free range chicken, a kilo of sirloin mince, a kilo of chicken wings, 5 chicken fillets, and zero single use plastic. Really happy.

I did decide to leave quite a few things behind at Tesco that I might usually chuck in the trolley. Including biscuits, of which zero were plastic free. The whole trip took me about 30 minutes longer than usual, and also cost more than my average shop, but more on that below.

So my plastic total comes to:

Cat food bags

Petit filous pots (for the toddler)

Oat milk tetrapak

Dettol spray top (toddler-related incident with the car, so was needed)

Lid on tin of yeast.

Plastic seals on vodka (reduced to €3!) and vinegar.

Cue minor rant…

We have 2 cats and two dogs. The cats are entirely kibble fed, and the dogs get kibble and suitable scraps. I went with the usual cat food brand as there was only one non-plastic option for kibble, and that was Whiskas, which had so little meat content it was shocking, especially as cats are obligate carnivores. My compromise then, was to get the biggest bag possible -we only get through 5 of this size a year.

The dog food is usually the same plastic sack situation, but I found this in the supermarket.

Usually paper looking sacks are plastic lined and go in general waste. This bag is flippin’ compostable! Other manufacturers, take note.

A few more annoying “highlights”

Mushrooms. Big shiny sticker, but only the punnet is compostable. The wrap is regular plastic. Very confusing for consumers, and will contaminate a lot of compost bins.

Dairy aisle. Yoghurt had one plastic free option. Cheese, cream and sour cream/creme fraiche had none. All milk in plastic bottles, or tetrapak with plastic screw tops. One brand of butter in paper which can be composted.

So the options are fewer, and get even more reduced when you start looking at prices.

Rooster potatoes. I actually put these back when I saw the price of them. €2.49/ kg loose. A foot away they’re in plastic for €2.49/2kg. A lot of fruit and veg is double the price if bought loose.

Long grain rice. Bag of own brand is €1.19/kg. Plastic free is €3.58/kg. Yes, it’s a premium brand, but it’s still plain old white long grain rice.

San Pellegrino (multiple options, so easy to compare). Glass and cardboard, €5.33/litre. Shrink wrapped cans, €1.77/litre on offer.

Only plastic free offerings on the cereal aisle are porridge oats, and even then only the premium ones. Flahavans organic in paper, standard in plastic paper composite. They’re bagged on the same line in the same plant, for heaven’s sake!

Odlums fair better, but they are not afforded the same shelf space or prominence.

So all in all, I can see why a lot of families just won’t waste their time on this whole malarkey. It takes ages, involves being quite savvy, and it costs more.

PFJ day 7, and Banana Bread

A couple of purchases yesterday. A new bathroom scale, that came mostly in cardboard and with an entirely unneeded plastic bag inside. My new packaging pet hate! Also picked up a pack of electric toothbrush heads, which is almost entirely non-recyclable plastic. Dentists orders, so I’m willing to cave on this. I get the largest pack of heads possible, to avoid extra packaging.

Went to a local fruit farm as well, and picked up some packaging free apples, eggs in cardboard, and berries.

There was a lot more in the strawberry box when we bought it. They didn’t all make it as far as the car. I’ll bring the berry packaging back to them next time. Personally I think the token plastic bit on top is completely unnecessary. It doesn’t seal the box, so I’m not sure what the purpose is?

As part of avoiding plastic, I’m also trying to avoid food waste as much as possible, especially if that food comes plastic wrapped!

I made a fab chilli con carne, followed by apple and strawberry crumble with needed-to-be-eaten-fruit for guests on Friday, but was so busy trying to get everyone fed that I didn’t take an end result photo of each. Argh.

I made some banana bread this afternoon. It’s so nice that I often leave bananas go totally overripe just to make it with. This recipe is Nigella’s, from How To Be A Domestic Goddess. It’s so moist that you don’t even need to butter the slices, not that that ever stops me.

I have a reusable loaf tin liner that I love.

I hate lining cake tins, and this just folds together and pops in. No need for greasing either, and it takes about two minutes to wash at the end.

Mashing bananas with a fork for this is an absolute mugs game. Break out the potato masher, and thank me later.

Sugar and melter butter combined, eggs and vanilla beaten in, and banana added.

Fold in flour and raising agents.

Add boozy sultanas, into pan and into oven.

The recipe says an hour to an hour and a quarter, but I find 50ish minutes are usually enough for me, probably due to the dark loaf tin.

And here she is.

No photos of it post-tin, because I was too busy trying to get it wrapped to head to my in-laws for tea. Must get better at that.

I can assure you, however, that it was delicious!

PFJ day 3, and tomato fennel bread.

A takeaway coffee with locally roasted beans to start the day yesterday, in my keep cup, al fresco. Glorious.

A minor shop was done, as it was sunny and I was on the quest for some cold refreshments. Diet Coke is my fizzy caffeine of choice. It was possible to get 24 packs of cans in completely cardboard carry packs for about €10 until early April. Since then, it’s cans (recycling hero) in shrink wrap (booooo!) or plastic bottles, which can be recycled. I’ve used some of both, but not this month! I ended up forking out €1.10 for a single can. First world problems, eh?

So for some alternates, I picked up dilutable cordial in glass. It’s delicious, and would be great with soda water, ice and rum or vodka, I think. The bottle tells me there’s 14 servings, and it’s at least twice the price of plastic bottle cordial, which all contains far more servings so I think it will get left on the shelf by most families, outside of sp coal occasions.

I also grabbed a couple of large beers. Drank quite a bit of this on holidays in Florence a few years ago, so it always makes me smile.

The sandwich bread went down really well, and there’s none left! I wish I’d tried this recipe years ago, instead of the standard “basic white loaf” recipe as it’s delicious. It’s a 5 hour loaf instead of 3 though, and I’m often impatient for bread. It’s my favourite carb!

PFJ day two, and a veggie lasagne.

The first purchase today was a takeaway coffee, and I remembered my keep cup for that. Gold star to me!

I actually forgot entirely about plastic free July until Saturday, after I’d done the Big Shop ™ so between that and the contents of the freezer I’ve still a chunk of plastic around. I’m gonna flag things I buy in the month separately to things I’m using up from the pantry though, as that needs clearing out too.

First up, veggie lasagne with this beastie! It’s fresh vegan mince!

I’ve used various meat subs over the years, but this was my first time seeing this on a supermarket shelf. It was in the veggie chiller, with no fanfare at all, so hopefully we shall see more of this type of stuff in the future.

So, on with the show. This takes quite a bit of time overall, in bursts, so usually I make the ragu one day in the background of another dinner, and then the white sauce and assembly happens the next. I went wholesale for it today though. At least it’ll keep us in leftovers for tomorrow!

Onions, garlic, celery, finely chopped, get things moving. In with the mince. It’s treated like meat for cooking purposes.

After a bit of sautéing, in go a couple of cans of plum tomatoes, squished, some tomato purée, veggie stock, dried thyme and oregano,and a couple of tablespoons of Braggs seasoning. If you’re not familiar with the last one, it’s sort of like a Worcestershire sauce, or soy. Lots of umami. Used by vegans and coeliacs extensively as it’s animal and gluten free.

Looks appetizing, huh?

I add a fistful of red lentils to mine here. Completely unorthodox, I know. It is partly to make the meat go further – especially important with red meat – partly for a nice fiber and protein boost, and also when the lentils cook down they help thicken the sauce without the need for flours.

About an hour over a very low heat, and there’s a delicious smelling ragu. Low and slow is very much the key with this, to get that lovely richness. Adjust seasoning, and we’re good.

While that was simmering, time for the white sauce. I do a bechamel type, with a roux.

It’s also a great way to use up odds and sods of cheese.

Today, it’s the tail end of some cashel blue, half a bag of grated cheddar that I bought for tacos, and some Red Leicester and cheddar sliced cheese that we didn’t use for sandwiches during the week.

Layer of ragu first. About a third of the pot. First layer of pasta on top.

Cheese sauce, then more ragu, then another layer of pasta. This used to seem a completely weird way of layering it, but it’s the method used in almost every authentic Italian cookbook I’ve owned or read.

More layering…

Then the final saucing.

Bake at 180C for about an hour.

Some pasta brands take longer than others. This was Barilla and definitely needed more time. The last brand I tried was Roma, and that needed less. De Cecco is my favourite, but can be tricky to track down outside the city centre.

Tah dah!

Proper lasagne should stand up under its own steam on a plate. It should not ooze or slowly slide out into a puddle of goo in front of you. This just about passes the test.

It won’t pass as meat, but it’s very nice as a veggie substitute. In fact, I think that some veggies or vegans might not like this at all as it’s too close to meat for them. It’s not one to “fool” your friends with (not that I agree with those shenanigans anyway) but if you’re trying to cut down your meat consumption, it’s worth a nom.

The ragu in this was totally vegan (and damn tasty!) and could be used as a bolognaise quite nicely, especially with the addition of some mushrooms and a liberal sprinkling of nutritional yeast on top.

Glad I tried it, and I’ll be looking out for their burger patties to try at some point.

Plastic Free July 2019 – day one!

Convenience and and a combo of laziness and tiredness are my downfall, especially in a house with a very active toddler and a menagerie of pets. I don’t bring my coffee cup, so I get a takeaway one. I leave my giant bag of shopping bags in the car as I’m “only going in for one thing” and end up buying another plastic bag for sodding life cos there are no cardboard boxes I can use. That’s even before I get into the land of toddler snacks.

I’m also painfully aware that there are some issues of privilege here. When loose carrots are €1.50 a kg and the bagged ones are on special for 50c, I am lucky enough that I can make a decision on that. It’s not an option for a lot of families, so I recognize that before I start and will try to remain aware of the roadblocks that are put in front of people.

Today’s small shop, which I remembered my bag for!

Loose onions. More expensive than nets, and I had to dig through the basket to get some that weren’t bruised or damaged. Clearly the supermarket uses this a a way to get rid of still-ok-but-not-great onions from otherwise damaged packs. Several were only fit for the compost heap (see, trying already!).

Bananas. There were five, but toddler managed to finish one and start on a second before we even got to the till. This new option is very good news. Lately it’s been impossible to get bananas that weren’t sealed in plastic.

Milk. We get through quite a bit, and my options are either plastic bottle or tetrapak. Both contain plastic. There’s no kind of milk in any of my local supermarkets that doesn’t come in either a tetrapak or plastic bottle. Recyclable at least.

Rice cakes. I could personally live without these, especially as their wrapper is headed straight for general waste, but try explaining climate change to a hangry toddler who is desperate for a “nack, pees”. If anyone knows a brand available in better wrapping, I’m all ears!

I couldn’t find decent bread that wasn’t plastic wrapped, so I blew the dust off my bread maker (it’s almost entirely used for pizza dough lately) and am really pleased that I did.

Chicken katsu curry

The weather is getting a little chilly, and I’m definitely looking for some more rib-sticking food these days.

On the meal plan for today is katsu. I make it about once a month. It’s a little messy, but really good.

Two chicken breasts out of the freezer, each sliced in three and left in a tub of buttermilk in the fridge last night. Normally it’s be four or five pieces let breast for quick cooking and maximum crispy coating, and I’ll go back to this next time. Three wasn’t quite right.

This evening I washed sushi rice and stick it in the rice cooker. Oil into frying pan, and the magic plastic tubs out.

The large one is plain panko. The smaller has seasoned flour – salt, pepper and garlic granules. Last is the chicken, with the buttermilk poured off but with some still clinging on.

This is very much a “dry hand, wet hand” recipe, or you’ll end up caked in batter. Even then you’ll end up washing your hands a lot as you proceed due to glue fingers or raw chicken handling. Cross contamination is no one’s friend.

Flour the chicken by putting half in the tub, firmly putting the lid on, and shaking the daylights out of it. Then repeat.

Add enough water to the flour to get a nice thick batter – like pancake batter. It needs to cling on without leaving too thick a coating.

Then into the panko for a good shaking…

…then into the pan.

Keep each batch warm in the oven as the next cooks. Don’t overload the pan, as it lowers the temp and risks ripping the panko off the chicken, which would be tragic..

I made up half a pack of Golden Curry, which is the standard Curry sauce for katsu, and was lurking at the back of the fridge.

Tah dah!

That’ll cure a case of the Mondays!