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Ugly Veg and Chicken Broth

This week’s blog comes to you courtesy of a slightly dislocated finger and a glass of amaretto and coke. One is making the other a whole lot more bearable.

The Husband and I are big fans of cooking. Most nights one of us cooks up something, usually more than we need for that meal, so the rest can be chucked in the fridge or freezer for work dinners or quick teas when we’ve not much in.

It snowed recently (we had wished for some proper snow, the type of snow that stops everyone from going to work and means we can stay home and build snow men in the garden, but alas all we got was a little sprinkling. It was enough to throw some snowballs and take Little Monkey and Little Panda around the block on the sledge we bought about 4 years ago and have never used, but not enough for a snow day from work.

This didn’t stop mum from ringing up; “have you got enough food in the house in case you get snowed in?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure? What about actual meals, not just beans on toast? What about bread and milk…”

I’m sure she doesn’t actually think I’m a real adult yet, with the foresight to fill the freezer just in case. She should at least know by now that I work in peaks and troughs of super activity and super laziness. When I peak I cook and clean like an actual domestic goddess, which helps me when I’m too busy/lazy to really do either properly because I’ve got a home which only needs a quick vacuum and a wipe and a freezer full of meals. So no need for the mad stocking up palaver should the snow do more than cause a minor inconvenience.

On this week’s menu was one of my absolute favourite meals, chicken broth. (it actually went spectacularly wrong but this is not the norm so lets pretend it all went to plan) its super easy to make and is full of veggies and protein.

You will need:

Sunday’s left over roast chicken

Rosemary, thyme, sage (either fresh or dried, I try and use fresh and tie them in a little bunch so I don’t end up with bits of twig in my soup)

A chicken or veggie stock cube

A stick of fresh ginger about 1cm long, grated up

Pinch of red chilli flakes or half a red chilli

A handful of pearl barley

Veggies – what and how much is totally up to you, just chop them all into mini bite sized pieces, not too small as they may just turn to mush – I used:

2 carrots

3 sticks of celery

2 spring onions

Half a white onion

Broccoli stalk

Handful of frozen sweetcorn

Handful of frozen peas

Some leftover butternut squash

Method:

Put your left over chicken carcass in a pan and cover with boiled water. Let it bubble for about an hour until the meat comes away from the bones. This is the bit that makes it so delicious boiling the carcass makes the most amazing stock. Ok, I’m going to stop saying ‘carcass’ now, it makes me feel a bit odd.

Have a sieve, an empty bowl and about a pint of cold water to hand. Pick the last bits of meat from the bones and put into your stock pan, put all the left over bones into your sieve and when you’re sure all the meat is off, pour the cold water over to wash any last bits of stock off the bones and add this to your stock pan. Chuck the bones away. That was the part that was the most faffy. The rest is easy.

Chop up the veggies and chuck them in the pan, shred up the chicken a bit and let it all bubble for about another hour until the veg is nice and soft. (Under NO circumstances should you let your lovely broth bubble away while you forget about it and go and do something else. That results in a pan of burnt ex-broth)

That’s it.

Trust me, this stuff is amazing. Add more stodge to it by making dumplings or add a table spoon of flour to thicken it up and put a pastry lid on top to make a pie.

Anyway, enjoy that; its seriously good comfort food, like a hug in a bowl. What really got me thinking about this blog was how actually, we aren’t free to eat whatever we want. OK, that might be a slight generalisation. If I want to be vegan or vegetarian or follow the Atkins diet, I can. The range of foods available to us is pretty large; we can eat from all corners of the world and never have to go further than the local supermarket to do so. But we are limited.

This week’s episode of Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast was all about how much fruit and veg is wasted because the supermarkets won’t buy it. ‘Why is that?’ I hear you ask. Well, the average supermarket thinks we only want to buy veg that looks perfect, that looks like it’s been manufactured to be a specific length, width, shade of green, weight…the list of rules goes on. In short, we only eat things that look like Disney drew them. The rest of it gets chucked on the compost heap.

Let me put this into perspective for you.

  • When a farmer plats his crop, he already knows that between 20% and 40% will be wasted, so he plants more than he needs to ensure he might make a profit. This is unlikely.
  • In a week, a farmer can throw away 10 tonnes of less-than-perfect veg a week. Not over the whole season; per WEEK. Imagine having 10 Ford Mondeos parked in your garden this week, then next week someone comes and parks another 10, and another 10, and…you get the picture.
  • The supermarkets will only buy veg that will fit into a packet and looks perfect. They don’t think that we want to buy a carrot that has a kink in it, or a cucumber that is slightly curly or a bag of radish that are all different shapes. Sorry Mr Asda, I don’t remember you asking me what shape I want my potatoes, I only mash them up to go with my Sunday dinner anyway.

Which brings me to my point, (you should know by now that it takes me a little while to get there) we cut them up and make them into stuff. We make salads or Sunday roast, or blitz them up to make soup or smoothies. Who cares what they start off like, shouldn’t we be more bothered about what they taste like?

We do grow quite a bit of our own food in the summer. We started off with six strawberry plants about 7 years ago and now we’ve got a whole jungle of sinewy, snaking strawberry bushes, slowly taking over the garden. Raspberry bushes, a clump of chives that just won’t die, we do peas, sweetcorn with varying degrees of success, rocket, chillies, herbs, potatoes, radishes; we only have a small garden but have a lot of pots and we only grow a row of each in the ground. It’s enough to keep us going all summer. A couple of years ago we were overrun with strawberries; I’d made strawberry ice cream, smoothies, milkshakes, we had them with cream, yogurt, gave some to friends, threw some mum’s way for jam…we had millions. I ended up taking some into work to share at dinner time. I’ll admit that there weren’t many takers at first; my strawberries, although absolutely delicious, were ugly. One of my colleagues sat down and peered into the bowl of ugly strawbs. “They smell like summer! Can I have one?!” and soon there were none left. Not because my lovely colleague had eaten them all, but because once he had eaten one and declared them the ugliest but best tasting strawberries he’d ever eaten, everyone wanted some.

Thanks to a lot of pressure, Asda are now selling ‘Ugly Veg Boxes’. It’s a small start that they’ve given a lot of publicity to. There are only a few boxes available in a selection of stores. They’re £3.50 and contain enough veg to feed a family of four for a week. This is either a cursory nod to the pressure of people wanting/needing more affordable veg OR a brilliant marketing scheme to make ugly veg seem more fashionable and in demand.

Either way, it’s more than other supermarkets are doing and so for that, I’ll give them a mention and a link.

With half a million people relying on food banks regularly, and even more than that as a stop gap in desperate times, it should be a criminal offence for sellers of food to turn away fresh food based on what it looks like. When put so simply, it seems ridiculous that we have millions of children going to school with no breakfast, families who live below the poverty line and yet farmers have to waste so much of their crops because they can’t afford to harvest it because supermarkets are telling us we don’t like odd shaped parsnips.

So, I set you a challenge to go and buy some ugly veg. Seek out a less than sexy Shallot, find some fun shaped fennel and pinpoint a peculiar potato. Then do what you usually do with them; cut them up and cook them. They’ll probably taste exactly the same as the prettier versions but these will cost less and will send a powerful message to the sellers that we don’t care what our veg looks like; we just want it to be affordable and tasty – stop telling us what we want!

 

 

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