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Why would you want to use leftover food? It’s easy to see in a culture where single dish, ready meals can be at the fore of the typical UK diet, that the skill and fun of using up leftovers is lost. Today thriftiness, respect for food, sustainability and speed is making this a driving force for all of us to avoid putting waste food into landfill. Quite famously Mrs Beeton the iconic editor and writer was an exponent of budgeting by using leftovers. In her “Book of Household Management,” 1895, she focusses on the expensive ingredients such as leftover “fowl” and sometimes incorporated additional fresh ingredients such as larks! One dish, “Hashed Fowl, Indian Fashion” (a spicy chicken ragoût) she calculated the cost at 8d, which today would be equate to costing 3.3p! 

In the twenty first century, refrigeration and the greater awareness of food safety, reduces the inherent risks of repurposing key food ingredients, in the domestic kitchen. This, compared to the Victorian era, when cool pantries, marble slabs and, for those who could afford it, ice boxes, were commonly used for temperature control. Cooling the leftovers, particularly high protein elements, quickly and storing covered in the refrigerator as soon as possible is key. You may need to facilitate this by splitting the food into smaller portions to speed the cooling process. You can also remove meat from the carcass and make a stock from the bones on the same day, then cooling and chilling as quickly as possible.

If you take this process of using leftovers seriously, it may be that you deliberately cook more than you need. I definitely do this! A good traditional example of this is a roast dinner. This can provide lunch, or evening meal ingredients, for quick fixes in the week. Whether you have leftover food by good judgment, or accident there is usually a way to use all foods in an alternative manner. Here’s some tips for making your dishes delicious and perhaps even better than the original meal offering!

Roast Dinners

The main ingredient that you’re likely to have leftover is the meat from a family roast dinner. One of the important issues with home cooked meat is that a meal which tasted great hot, may not be quite so good cold. Lamb is a typical meat that many people would not necessarily enjoy cold, due to its high fat content, which can be off-putting. Equally, thick slices of cooked meat are not always a hit, thinly sliced meat is generally going to deliver a better texture. Choose carefully how you plan to use the excess meat. A lamb curry can be a quick and delicious way to use up cold lamb and very thinly sliced chicken, or beef, can be a great addition marinated, and added to salads, stir fries, noodles, frittatas and tacos. It’s a good plan to marinate meat as soon as it’s cooled, and before you pop it in the fridge. These wonderfully moist and flavourful additions are also ideal for lunch boxes, to marry with cous cous, cold leftover pasta, cracked wheat, or green leaves. Cooked ham joint, or chicken makes a great basis for pies and pasties with the addition of a little sauce, or gravy and cooked vegetables. Cooked chicken is also useful for a chicken and noodle, or vegetable soup.

Vegetables

 All vegetables are good candidates for stretching a meal further. From traditional “bubble and squeak” where you fry off excess cooked potato and vegetables with perhaps an addition of meat, to rosti, potato cakes, galettes, hash and soups.

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Fish

Cooking an extra fillet of fish or using up the packet of mackerel with black peppercorn can be mixed with a little lemon and cream cheese for a fishy pate.

Cheese

Excess cheese that is close to it’s use by date can be used in lots of imaginative ways, from broccoli and Stilton soup to cheesy pasta and potato dishes, croquettes, cheese dips and fondue. 

Puddings

Leftovers don’t need to be restricted to savoury food. Bread that’s becoming stale can be transformed into bread and butter pudding with the addition of dried fruit, eggs and milk. The fruit bowl may be looking overstocked so try Stilton or brie pears, baked pears with crushed ginger biscuits. Fresh berries from the fridge can be made into compote and chilled, to add to breakfast cereals, or as a tangy sauce topping for desserts such as citron tart.

With a little bit of imagination your food will go further and your budget will get you more for your money and you will be eating more sustainably, doing your bit for the environment.

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