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Eight steps to zero food waste: cooking without recipes

In the latest instalment of Tom Hunt's handy guide to waste-free living, he takes on cooking without recipes

Eight steps to zero food waste: cooking without recipes

As a chef and food writer it's my passion to inspire you to cook and enjoy food. I want to share my love and knowledge of ingredients, recipes and sustainability. But sometimes I fear that us chefs and food presenters are doing the opposite and are actually hindering people's culinary creativity.

Some chefs are revered culinary gods and gurus who make the trickiest of recipes look simple. But are chefs and the food media having the opposite effect than they intended? Are our primal needs for cooking and fire satiated by the virtual reality of cooking shows and food social media? Most of us spend more time scrolling through pictures of food than we do cooking. The average time we spend watching food now exceeds the time we spend cooking by an hour.

In fact, according to the Telegraph, Britons spend more than five hours a week consuming 'food media', this is time spent scrolling through Instagram, looking at cookbooks and watching TV programmes such as The Great British Bake Off, Come Dine With Me and MasterChef.

Of course we're not all time-rich. A takeaway is a luxury or treat, and sometimes feels like all we're capable of. However, cooking from scratch whenever possible is a no brainer with a multitude of benefits and pleasures – from nutrition and time spent around the table with the family to a reduction in both food and packaging waste.
So what's the answer? How can we cook more during our busy lives? Chefs and the food media cook food lavishly and with abundance because it's attractive. We aim to wow and impress with our skills and techniques, trying to convince our audience to use our recipes. A chef's wizardry is bravado: there's no trick or secret to making a good meal other than a little care for the produce and its origin.

Cooking with recipes can be time-consuming and costly, often requiring many different ingredients to be purchased in greater quantities than needed, leading to potential waste.

Cooking creatively without recipes, however, and having confidence in our own techniques so that we can freestyle our meals using up what's good at the market, affordable or leftover is ultimately rewarding and a huge accomplishment. With good produce and the confidence to get something wrong cooking becomes a joy and not something that has to be followed and learnt. Cooking is intuitive and about learning as you go. Keep it simple and you can't go wrong.

With that in mind, here are five foods that are quick to make from scratch – and are also around five times cheaper than store-bought.

  • Nut milk takes minutes to make and costs a fraction of a store-bought product.
  • Hummus is incredibly cheap and easy to make at home, and freezes well if you feel like making it in a bulk batch.
  • You can make your own artisanal soda bread in 15 minutes.
  • Spend an afternoon in the kitchen to make a year's worth of marmalade.
  • Nut butter is cheap, fun and healthier than bought stuff (and you know what's in it).

Tom Hunt is a chef, sustainability campaigner and patron of the charity Plan Zheroes. Find out more about Tom on Instagram at @cheftomhunt or online at tomsfeast.com.

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