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Tackling Food Waste


This month’s Canadian Food Experience Project focuses on resolutions. I could have used my culinary bucket list as my contribution, but I don’t do proper resolutions and felt this was a bit of a cheat.  Then I rethought things.

I’ve been wearing blinkers. The word “resolution” has more than one meaning. I was stuck on the first, most common meaning: “a firm decision to do or not do something.” As a flighty, distractible, creative type, done or not done is all too black and white for me. Once I fail, what’s the point? Then I looked at the second definition: “The act of solving a problem, dispute or contentious matter.” Now problem-solving? That’s definitely in my wheelhouse.

I started this blog to solve a problem. Okay, I didn’t solve the problem I initially intended, but I’m glad I gave it a try. In a way this blog’s very existence is a resolution. Moving beyond the blog, I created the Kitchen Disasters & Fixes App to solve a problem (or many culinary problems, to be precise). It’s yet another one of my resolutions. And so, I am taking this opportunity to solve one of my biggest, most frustrating, ongoing problems — Food waste.

This isn’t a one-off post. I know I will never eliminate food waste completely. This isn’t a done/not done type of problem. However, if I can save one half-used piece of ginger root, a few lemons, or the odd slice of pineapple from a premature trip to the compost heap? Then I just might get some satisfying checkmarks in my win column.

Avoiding Food Waste - Roasted Cauliflower. Leftovers become the base of a Thai Curry.

My Food Waste Problem

While I can I can pull pretty nearly any dish from the brink of destruction — over-salted soups, burned roasts, sunken cakes — leftovers stump me. Almost weekly, on Garbage Eve, Andrew and I try to identify the potentially toxic food stuffed in the far, dark corners of the refrigerator. In the past few months, we’ve tossed carrots that looked like they were wearing furry, spotted leopard skins, fermenting pineapple that was so strong you felt drunk with one whiff, and something so far beyond recognition a DNA test wouldn’t help.

How does this happen? We have a microwave. The items are labelled. No one has left town for long stretches at a time. And yet each week we toss at least one plate’s worth of food.

Yes, we have a space issue. Our small apartment-sized fridge does lead to cramming items wherever they fit. But part of my problem is my attitude. Calling them “leftovers” makes them sound unwanted. So I’m taking a note from Mary Rolph Lamontange and her book EATS: Enjoy All the Seconds. She intentionally makes extra vegetables and/or fruit and turns them into new dishes. Only she calls them “Seconds.” Strawberries start out marinated in balsamic and find new life in tiramisu, a quick-cook jam or a vodka-spiked lemonade. Roasted butternut squash reappears in spring rolls, tarte tatin or a lentil-filled vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie called bobotie. With the “leftovers” already planned for, there’s no waste. Brilliant.

Lamontange is a Canadian living in South Africa and cooking at game lodges. She trained at the Ritz Escoffier Cooking School in Paris and uses her skills to turn out approachable, delicious food that speaks to guests from around the world. Because food was delivered only once a week she learned not to waste anything. The results are practical, innovative and inspiring. Each of the 27 fruits and vegetables covered includes buying and storing tips, as well as cooking options.

Andrew isn’t big on cauliflower, so I tested Lamontagne’s system with this vegetable since I knew there would be leftovers seconds. I adored the main recipe (roasted cumin-scented cauliflower) one day and happily slurped Thai cauliflower the next. If there had been any left, I’d have tried her cauliflower pakoras or mac & cheese. Maybe next time?

What food do you find you waste? Maybe I can help resolve the problem?

Simple roasted cauliflower

Roasted Cumin-Scented Cauliflower
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Prep / inactive time: 
Cook / active time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 3 to 4 as a side

This master recipe can be used for Thai-Flavoured Cauliflower (see below), pakoras, put into mack and cheese or form the base of a puree.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • One medium head cauliflower, cut into florets of similar size

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, stir the olive oil, cumin seeds, ground coriander, lemon juice and salt together.
  3. At the cauliflower florets and coat with the oil mixture.
  4. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, or until the florets are soft and slightly browned. Stir the cauliflower after 10 minutes of cooking so the pieces brown evenly.
  5. Serves 2 to 4 as a side dish.

Avoiding Food Waste - Roasted Cauliflower gets a face lift

Thai-Flavoured Cauliflower
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Thai
Prep / inactive time: 
Cook / active time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 4

I love the way the cauliflower so versatile. Whatever spices are used, this weight vegetable is very excepting so seldom fails to impress.
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • ½ cup thinly sliced onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon red curry paste bracket or more depending on level of heat you want [
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, bruised
  • 1½ cups roasted cauliflower* (see master recipe above]
  • ½ cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped new paragraph

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet and for the onion until softened.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger and continue cooking for an additional minute.
  3. At the curry paste and cook for a few more minutes.
  4. At the coconut milk, tamari, lime juice and zest, and the lemongrass and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium low and at the cauliflower. Some or all the ingredients until the cauliflower is heated through.
  6. Top with coriander leaves and serve.
  7. * uncooked florets can be used, but the cooking time will be longer.

The Canadian Food Experience Project is a monthly series of themed posts from participating Canadian food bloggers across the country. By sharing our personal stories and regional food experiences, we hope to answer the elusive question, “Just what exactly is Canadian Cuisine?”

Read us. Talk to us. Join us. Then eat.

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13 Responses to Tackling Food Waste

  1. Donna January 7, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

    Once a week I might serve up “Frig stew” which takes care of all leftovers–add spices and rice or noodles–VOILA——never the same twice~!

    • Charmian Christie January 7, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

      Smart! I should put that on the menu planner. Might be a great way to test out new spices. And use up the “seconds” so they don’t go to waste. Thanks for the great suggestion.

  2. maggie January 8, 2014 at 7:49 am #

    Funny you should mention this issue. Just last night I made a pot of soup using frozen chicken broth (homemade from chicken I needed to use up) and bits of this, that and the other in the fridge. Turned out fine and we will have the leftovers from that tonight.

    The Pleasures Of Cooking For One addresses the leftovers issue quite nicely.

  3. My Little Home and Garden January 11, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    You may just have given me an idea for the neglected cauliflower in my fridge. Thank you.
    My Little Home and Garden recently posted…FridayMy Profile

    • Charmian Christie January 11, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

      Glad to help! I adore cauliflower and hate to see it go to waste. While the recipe is designed for roasted cauliflower, it can also be made with uncooked, so it should be flexible enough for your “neglected” stash. I’d love to hear how it turns out.

  4. Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie) January 17, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    Food waste is the subject of my next article for the Western Producer. I hope it is big on the list for everyone this year.
    Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie) recently posted…Chana Dal with Curried ChickenMy Profile

    • Charmian Christie January 17, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

      Interesting. If you have any tips, please send them along. Today, we just tossed some slimy cucumbers that got trapped beneath a bag of carrots and some onions. We simply didn’t see it. Sigh… I need a new system!

  5. Joanne T Ferguson January 17, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

    G’day! What a great Canadian project Charmian, true!
    Great recipe! Minimizing food wastage is my passion too!
    Almost wish I was a Canadian Blogger joining in making a New Years food resolution! :)
    Cheers! Joanne
    Joanne T Ferguson recently posted…Foodie Friends Friday #Recipes That Tell a StoryMy Profile

    • Charmian Christie January 17, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

      I popped by your blog and see you’re from Australia. I did my Masters there! Small world. I hope you’re not suffering too much from the heat wave.

      You don’t have to be Canadian to make reducing food waste your New Year’s resolution. If you have any tips, please pass them on. As I look at it, we’re all in this together.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  6. Mary January 31, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    Thank you for your kind support of my book EATS:enjoy all the seconds. I love the pictures and I am happy that you enjoyed the various cauliflower recipes. I do hope that more people make reducing waste part of their new year resolution….

    • Charmian Christie January 31, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

      I’m always looking for ways to prevent food waste. I think the concept of your book is brilliant. All the best with it — and your mission to reduce waste!


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