Sunday, 15 August 2010

Bananas Holocaust!

One rainy Saturday afternoon, I was walking home via Berwick Street market in Soho where there is a small street market. Berwick Street is blessed with a good number of quirky, funky and interesting shops and eat places. My favourite is the Cloth Shop which sells a funky, "not playing it safe" selection of fabrics frequented by fashion students and crafty fashionistas alike. All this is surrounded by the "oldest profession" at work and other questionable video shops ...

Picture the scene: the market day was drawing to a close. Most traders have already packed up and left. Only a few remain. What was left to shift were made up into £1 bowls of fruit and veg. Someone had a lot of really not too great avocados to get rid off cheaply. Hmmm ... I wasn't in the mood for guacamole. Then the skies opened. I dashed to one side towards the shops to get out of the rain. I then found myself standing right across the street from another vendor who was getting absolutely soaked and was yelling at the top of his voice announcing that bowls of bananas (there were a lot in each bowl and they weren't too bad) were now reduced to 50p per bowl.

"It would cost me more to trash these!" he yelled.

This, it struck me, was Bananas Holocaust, to borrow a term coined by our Dear Leader (Kelvin, hee hee). Perfectly fine to eat bananas being wasted en masse is not good!! So below is what I got for 50p:

Banana Bread on a production scale

Since last Autumn, I have been making banana bread from a Sophie Dahl recipe found in Waitrose Illustrated magazine (which I can get for free because I hold a John Lewis card (which I never use for buying stuff. I just use it to get this magazine for free, ha ha)). It is a really forgiving recipe as one can make lots of substitutions and the end result is, invariably, very good.

Accordingly, this is a very useful recipe for FoodCycle for when we get a glut of bananas.

The basic list of ingredients is as follows:

110ml Sunflower oil
200g Light muscovado sugar
2 Eggs
75 Desiccated coconut
400g Mashed banana (about 4 medium bananas without their skin)
200ml Creme fraiche
1 tsp Vanilla extract
170g Spelt flour
1tsp Bicarbonate of soda
half tsp Salt

Well, I decided to make double the quantities and made a few substitutions in order to use up ingredients I already had:

220ml Sunflower oil
400g Light muscovado sugar/demerrera sugar mix (more demerrera than muscovado)
4 eggs
150g Desiccated coconut, 30g of which was made up with almonds (chopped in the blender). It should be okay to subs with some chopped apricots, dried fruit, sultanas, other chopped nuts or chocolate chunks
800g Bananas
400ml Soured cream (170ml) the rest made up with coconut cream thinned with some soya milk. I like soured cream because it reacts with the baking powder (below) to help raise the cake mixture. For a vegan version, I guess you can use only coconut cream thinned with water or soya milk
2 tsp Vanilla extract
340g plain flour with the end bit of a bag of semolina flour thrown in. You can also add some ground cinnamon and ground ginger if you like them. I forgot to put them in ....
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda and 1tsp of baking powder
half tsp Salt
(optional: grated zest of a couple of limes can be added to the cake mixture. I forgot as well ....)

Start by getting your ingredients ready. If you are, like me, conscious of energy use, it is fine to leave preheating the oven to a bit later. The original instruction in Sophie Dahl's recipe tells you to preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4.

In an electric blender, blend together the vegetable oil and sugar.

Break the eggs into the blender bowl and blend on high continuously until the mixture is even. Put the desiccated coconut and chopped almonds into a large mixing bowl. Add the oil/sugar/eggs mixture to it.

Roughly blend the bananas in the blender in two lots. Then add the mashed bananas to the contents of the mixing bowl.

Make up the soured cream, coconut cream and soya milk mixture in the blender. At this point, I turned on the oven but if you are more conscious than I am about energy use, leave this until 2 steps later.
Add the blended cream mixture to the contents of the mixing bowl. Stir everything and mix thoroughly. Then sift in the flour. Add salt, baking powder and bicarb.

As I had used a bit of semolina, this was left behind in the sift. No matter. It was just chucked into the cake mixture at the end of sifting. The mixture was then thoroughly mixed using a balloon whisk.
In terms of cake tins, I decided to use some aluminium food trays (like the ones from Chinese takeaways) and paper cake cases which I bought from a pound shop. It was an inexpensive and effective solution. A paper case was placed inside each aluminium tray. This saved me having to grease the trays. The cake mixture was then ladled into each paper case to about 4 fifths full (not too full in case the baked cake spilled out).

The filled trays were then baked at 180C for an hour on the top shelf of my fan assisted electric oven. The original recipe states 50 mins but since I cooked double quantities, I gave things an extra 10 mins.

Next installment: lime zest, coconut cream and cream cheese frosting

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Times They Are A Changin'

The new project leaders Izzie, Andi and Boncica were running the cooking session with volunteers Louise, Lauren and Sarah. This is their menu,

Main Courses
Spicy Stew
Roast Beetroot and Potatoes
Stir-Fry Thingy

Apple Crumble

Awesome work!

Monday, 22 February 2010

LSE cooking Feb 22 Shepherd's Pie... with lentils!

LSE cooked up a great meal this weekend at Holy Cross Community Centre, on the menu was

  • Shepherd's pie... made with lentils, onions and mushrooms to give it a good texture and taste. This was inspired from a couple weeks ago, when LSE did a lasagna with lentils, which was a big hit with the group we were serving. It was reported that almost everyone was enjoying the food that night, which doesn't seem like a big deal, but when it's 50 people with varied tastes, also it being meat free, well, that's a big accomplishment!
  • Root veg soup with potatoes, parnsips and carrots.
  • and bread pudding to finish things off for those with a sweet tooth.

That's the pie up top there!

We were joined this weekend by two special guests, brothers Paul and Mark Cheng, who have been supporters of FoodCycle since the beginning and came to lend a hand with the cooking and seeing what all the hype was about.

Paul got right into things, as you can see in this picture, and let's hope they enjoyed they enjoyed the food!

Good work guys, see ya next time!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

31/01/2010 Imperial College cooking session

This week's ingredients came from Marylebone Farmers' Market and consisted of a seasonal variety of freshest cabbages and root vegetables. Cooking according to the seasons is an important aspect of FoodCycle, as is the best use of any collected ingredients i.e. from supermarkets where seasonality might not be as prominent an issue. Having a repertoire of generic cooking techniques suitable for production scale cooking and the knowledge and creativity to apply the techniques to whatever ingredients we get and transform them into tasty, nutritious and amazing dishes is an art indeed. The point is, nowadays people are rather indoctrinated into following fixed recipes and have lost the ability and confidence to conjure, adapt and create dishes.

Sometimes we are also indoctrinated into thinking that good food HAS to be expensive, made with rare and costly ingredients. That is so untrue!! A bit of magic lies in transforming a few bits and pieces, especially if they are just unexceptional pieces of cabbages, carrots, etc into a truly magnificent dish say a rich gratin with a little cream, garlic and seasoning.

Here we have some leafy cabbages with chunky, crunchy stalks. Sometimes the stalks may be a bit too chunky in comparison to the leaves which may result in the leaves becoming overcooked and soggy before the stalks are cooked. One good way of overcoming this is to split and slice the stalks, whether leaving some on the leaves and/or cutting chunky bits of stalks out and slicing them separately. The stalks are nutritious and well worth keeping!

More variety of cabbages: pointed white cabbage and green curly kale. The white cabbage was sliced and where one got to the chunky core, some of the core is cut out and sliced thinly to ensure that they cook down well. As for the curly kale, the green chunky leaves were picked off the fibrous stalks and washed. The stalks themselves were just too fibrous and hard for eating and were "recycled" for composting.

As our beneficiaries are fond of aromatic, starchy dishes, potatoes and other root vegetables were par-boiled, seasoned with herb and spice mixes which we devise each week according to what was available from our dry store boxes and then tossed in oil for roasting in the oven.

Patrick made a fresh tomato sauce with over-ripen tomatoes which were given to us and crumbled some goats cheese into it.

Some fresh rosemary which were added to the roasted potato wedges.

Collected vegetable cuttings for the compost bin. We are happy to be able to minimise our landfill waste!

A tasty, well seasoned braised cabbage dish with added chunks of swede.

Patrick's tomato sauce was added into a big vat of spaghetti.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Giving the elderly happiness and joy in their later years

Gingko house is a social enterprise restaurant in Hong Kong.

What's so special? It's a French restaurant run by seniors!

Gingko house gives seniors that are looking for a more meaningful life in retirement than just chilling out. The retiring age is quite young in Hong Kong, which means that seniors are looking for things to do, and want to something to do that requires responsibility and meaning.

Wait, seniors retire, why would they want to go back to work?! One of the stories that was moving was about one of the staff that after several years of retirement fell into the deep slump. He was depressed and struggled to find meaning in life. He was close to committing suicide, when he saw on the news about Gingko house and what they did. He went down to apply right away and is now part of the staff. The daily interaction with customers, the new challenges and the friends that he has made means now that he is much happier and now he has something to look forward to everyday.

Gingko house provides this kind of support for seniors. The wait staff were very nice, having a fine attention to detail (they probably came to fill up our water 5 times!), and very generous with the wine! The food was good, moderately priced, and the whole ambiance of the little place was great. I had a cream soup starter, and a sea food tagliatelle.

They have 3 locations in Hong Kong. You can visit them at

Friends of ours in Hong Kong

So Kelvin was in Hong Kong visiting the parents and doing some FoodCycle related stuff as well last week, and met with various groups in Hong Kong that do similar things to what we do in the UK. This is to be expected of course, with the amount of food waste in richer countries... and food prices rising, citizens are taking matters to their own hands!

One organisation is the Love Food Save Earth project in Tai Wo, which is in the new terrorities in Hong Kong. They collect food from the local 'wet' market, which means open market in local terms, and bring it back to the community centre to cook for those that are unemployed, or just on low income. They charge about £1 per meal... all you can eat, and 6 dishes. As you can see, they were quite delicious!

We chatted about our experiences, difficulties and how to overcome them. For them, just like us, unfortunately, it is the amount of food that they get. 400 kilos in one day, and now that the vendors know about them, and the project has been featured on TV, even more food is saved for them and well, they just don't know what to do with it all!

There are other project going on as well, such as the which takes surplus food from hotels as well.

One of the issues is the scalability of the projects. It works well in one area, but how to scale it in a sustainable way to other communities as well. There is a hidden and unreported layer of poverty in Hong Kong and recent reports say Hong Kong throws out 3,000 tonnes of food each day... that's not all good, but I'm sure about 1000 tonnes must be... do the math... a kilo of food per person per meal, that's food for 1 million people... I know the math is not all there, but it is still a lot of people give or take 25%!?!

Hopefully the projects in Hong Kong can work together to tackle these big problems. FoodCycle in the UK will do their best to support them from the UK.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

17/01/2010 Imperial College cooking session

Once again we are grateful for the generosity of Abel & Cole who donated several boxes of produce containing great variety. Look at the colours!

In particular, there were lots of citrus fruits which came in handy for a fruit salad. We also had in stock several bottles of homemade lemon syrup given to us by Ruth in Stoke Newington. The lemon syrup formed the liquid base of the fruit salad.

Lots of apples and bananas!

Green veggies (savoy cabbage, broccoli, white cabbage and leeks) and mushrooms formed a braised vegetables dish. Braising is a technique which is half sauté (stir-fry) and half stewing. This technique is particularly useful for our dishes because braised dishes reheat well, and our dishes are normally served to beneficiaries the following day. The veggies were lightly sautéed first (with a little garlic, if desired) over medium high heat to achieve aroma and browning, then seasoning (salt, pepper and if desired, some form of alcohol like white wine or vermouth) and water (and stock, if using) are added and the heat turned to low for the veggies to stew gently for about half an hour. The stewing process gets the flavours going in both the veggies and the sauce!

Joyce doing a great job prepping carrots :)

I made the fruit salad - check out the kiwi fruits!! We were given some candied dates by Abel & Cole and I removed the stones, chopped them up and used them in the fruit salad (kind of in place of glacé cherries oh errrrr) to add sweetness. The juice of 2 limes were also added to the lemon syrup base to enhance tartness.

Joyce and Ivy made a fresh salad with the salad leaves which came in the boxes to which was added alfafa sprouts and sliced avocadoes.

Roasted root vegetables - a favourite dish!

Braised cabbage, broccoli, leeks and mushrooms.