Limp lettuce

Lettuce!!! I love a crispy iceberg, but nothing upsets me more than when it's started to turn brown and limp its way towards the bin.

I thought hey, there's got to be a solution, and according to the internet there is. Ideas range from storing your lettuce in water (too messy), separating all the leaves and storing each layer between kitchen roll (too fussy) and my favourite…cooking it!

Now this sounded weird to me at first but I thought id give it a whirl, there's various recipes in this excellent Guardian article such as lettuce soup, lettuce pesto or my personal favourite – stir fry.

Lettuce stir fry sounds strange but really what's the difference between a Chinese cabbage and a lettuce? In the grand scheme of things, absolutely nothing.

So I followed recipe number two from the above article and to test out its success, I served it to my better half without mentioning the secret ingredient, and guess what – approval all round.

Never again will the be a limping lettuce in my salad drawer again.

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Store Cupboard Essentials

In many of my recipes I talk about using store cupboard essentials, which are items that I deem to be kitchen cupboard staples, ingredients that can turn the most mundane leftovers into a tasty wholesome family meals and so I thought that it was only right to share with you what these items are.

OLIVE OIL – not only used for frying but also great for making marinades and salad dressings. I never buy pre-made dressings as they tend to go off quickly and can contain many additives, home made dressings can be whipped up with very simple combinations of oil, vinegar or lemon and herbs.

WHITE WINE VINEGAR – as above, it’s great for salad dressings and marinades and can also be used to add acidity to a large range of dishes.

SOY SAUCE, SESAME OIL & HONEY – the holy trinity for any Asian cuisine enthusiasts out there, these three ingredients make a great base for a quick teriyaki sauce and can also be coupled with other ingredients to open up a huge array of Asian inspired recipes.

WORCESTER SAUCE – I believe that this is a traditional English ingredient and I’m not sure of it’s availability worldwide but it is an excellent tool for adding a bit of je ne sais quo to casseroles and a Kung Fu kick to the humble cheese on toast.

RED CHILLIS/ CHILLI FLAKES – an instant flavour hit, chilli is used in many cuisines, fresh red chillies can be cut, deseeded and stored in the freezer but if this sounds like too much effort, dried chilli flakes also make an excellent substitute.

FLOUR – simple flat breads or rotis can be knocked up in minutes with the addition of a bit of salt or sugar, flour can also be used to whip up a white sauce for pasta and to thicken up casseroles.

EGGS – one of the few fresh ingredients that I insist on keeping in stock. Omelettes are a speedy and simple way to use up leftover vegetables and cheese and the humble egg is also a fabulous source of protein.

GARLIC – not much to say here apart from that it’s used in pretty much every dish I cook, also ignore the best before date as it’s pretty obvious if garlic’s off when it changes colour or dries up

TOMATO KETCHUP – yes indeed, believe it or not but many chefs use ketchup as a flavour agent; it can be used in casseroles and stir-fries as an effective sweetener

STOCK CUBES – I always have beef, vegetable and chicken stock cubes in as they are the bases of many sauces, simple gravy can also be made with flour, butter, water and a stock cube. If you make your own stocks you can freeze in ice trays to be use at a later date.

TINNED TOMATOES – one of the most versatile ingredients out there, there’s absolutely no need to buy expensive jars of pasta sauce as the humble tinned tomato can be the base for creating your own.

PASTA/RICE/NOODLES – dried items that have a long shelf life can be used as the carb portion of your meal when you have fresh ingredients to use up.

HERBS – so many herbs to chose from but no need to but them all. Whilst fresh herbs might not go off, they do lose their flavour. Many herbs can be used as substitutes for another, make sure to check out website here before you run out to buy a new jar of something you don’t have. I’d recommend having mixed herbs, paprika and chilli powder in as a start.  You can even create your own dried herbs by drying out leftover fresh herbs.

And that’s it, a rather comprehensive list of almost all imperishable ingredients that can help to make a delicious dish out of pretty much any leftover.

Wine Ice Cubes

On the 8th day of Christmas…

Wine Ice Cubes

Following on from yesterday’s post for using up leftover prosecco to make jellies, here is another alcohol inspired tip.

If following the new year your liver can’t quite face finishing off any leftover wine but you can’t bear to throw the final dregs away, a good idea is to freeze the remnants into ice cubes that can later be used for cooking as and when recipes call for it. Not only does this mean you get to avoid tipping any leftover wine down the sink, but also that you don’t have to open an entire new bottle when a recipe may only call for a splash.

I freeze any leftover wine in ice cube trays, once frozen I tend to remove from the ice trays and store in freezer bags. If you’re a meticulous cook, you can always measure the volume of each ice cube  so you now how many to use in a recipe, however I must admit that I always just throw in an indiscriminate amount of ice cubes when needed, either taking them out to defrost in advance or sometimes just throwing them in still frozen.

It’s a great tip that can also be used to freeze items such as leftover stock, curry pastes or lemon/lime juice. In fact I’m a big advocate of freezing ingredients when I’m unable to use them up before they’re likely to spoil and have written about this previously  here, if you’d like some further ideas.

Turkey and Potato Bake – The Last of the Turkey

On the 3rd day of Christmas…

Turkey & Potato Bake

Here’s a recipe that continues to use up any remaining turkey and other leftover Christmas ingredients including potatoes, cream, cranberries and cheese.

If you still have turkey leftover it can be frozen, especially useful if you’re sick of poultry based dinners by now. The dark meat is particularly good for curries and I’ll be posting some more turkey related recipes over the next 9 days.

The Food Waste Diaries

6 days into Christmas and the turkey battle ensued  but we were finally down to the last couple of portions of the 5kg turkey. Other ingredients left over from Christmas day included half a bag of potatoes and a pot of double cream. Being a big fan of dauphinoise potatoes I decided to use this as a base for the final turkey throw down.

First of all my sous-chef (aka Mr Foodwaste) par-boiled 4 potatoes for 10 mins and left to cool. Whilst they were boiling I fried up an onion for a couple of minutes in a large saucepan before adding the last pieces of turkey. After a couple of minutes I added a good glug of white wine (a half open bottle that shock-horror, we’d somehow failed to finish). This was simmered at a high heat until it had reduced slightly before the leftover cream was added (I probably had about 200ml left). I…

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Parsnip & Potato Rostis (from left-over veg)

On the 2nd day of Christmas…

Parsnip & potato Rostis

It’s not just the Turkey that gets left over after Christmas Day, and here’s a great idea of what to do with the leftover veg.

The Food Waste Diaries

Glancing in my fridge on boxing day I was met with a huge array of left-overs giving me plenty of ammunition for a few experimental dishes.

We’d cooked far too many vegetables to accompany Christmas dinner, a common mistake when cooking up roasts, but being determined not to waste a morsel I’d kept all the surplus in the fridge. Some of the left-over vegetables had made it onto my boy-friends turkey sandwich – ‘a roast dinner sandwich’ (or a manwich in his words), which was pretty delicious but it hadn’t made a dent in the left-over roast potatoes, parsnips and baby carrots.

I’d seen Nigel Slater cook up some Bubble and squeak patties so I decided to do something similar with my left-overs. I mashed up all the potatoes, parsnips and carrots but the mixture was very dry, so for moisture I added a dash of left-over turkey stock…

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Too Much Turkey?

On the 1st day of Christmas….

Too much turkey…?’

Christmas is a glorious time of overindulging, over-feasting and overbuying. It’s the perfect time for me, with an overstocked fridge, to fully get into festive recipe invention mode. So, over the 12 days of Christmas I’ll be sharing some of my favourite Yuletide leftover recipes with you to help you clear out the fridges and recuse your Christmas food waste.

The Food Waste Diaries

This is only the second Christmas where I’ve been in charge of the shopping and the cooking and the first time it’s at my house. I’m really keen to make it extra special but  I also want to make sure that no food gets wasted.

To make things more difficult, it’s only a small gathering of three people but I still want a full turkey with all the trimmings. I couldn’t bring myself to resort to a turkey crown which would be much more suitable for a small gathering, it just wouldn’t be Christmas for me without a big bird stuffed on the table.

The smallest turkey I could find says it serves 6-8, and even with my gluttonous family, we won’t manage to scoff all 5kg down in one sitting, so it’s a good job that one of my favourite things about Christmas is the turkey left-over concoctions. I…

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Dips Away

In my last post I made a Tzatziki in which I substituted the traditional Greek yoghurt with Crème Fraiche, I also commented on how I much prefer to prepare my own dips as opposed to purchasing ready-made shop ones.

The main reason for this preference is that homemade dips are a great way of using up leftover ingredients; in particular yoghurt, cream, citrus fruits & fresh herbs. Dips don’t have to follow a set recipe every-time and you can experiment with different concoctions until the results suit your palate.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to show how your own fair hands can quickly and easily prepare some of the most common dips.

SOUR CREAM

Possibly the easiest of all dips to make; simply take some cream (or crème fraiche if you’re trying to be a bit healthier) and sour it by stirring in a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

SALSA

The base of Salsa is obviously tomato and you can create your own by using any type of tomato you like; tinned, cherry or plum tomatoes all work great and will each individually create salsas that differ in both sweetness and texture. To form the base of any salsa, mix together chopped tomatoes, garlic and onion. From here you can add a whole host of ingredients to suit your taste, the most common additions are chilli for a bit of a kick, a squeeze of lime which adds a bit of zest or herbs such as coriander or parsley, depending on your taste. I have even heard of salsas being made with all kinds of crazy ingredients including chocolate and almonds, although I’m yet to try either of these creations.

GUACAMOLE

What could be more simple than mashed avocado mixed up with a bit of lemon juice? This is a great accompaniment to Mexican dishes such as chilli or enchiladas and is the perfect use for avocados that are verging on over-ripe.

TZATZIKI

See my previous post but essentially, yoghurt, garlic, cucumber and lemon

PESTO

A fantastic way of using up fresh basil, simply toast some pine nuts and blend with basil, oil & Parmesan. This is more than just a dip and can be used as a delicious homemade sauce for many recipes. As an example, have a look at my recipe for Grilled Halloumi & Cherry Tomatoes with Mint Pesto.

HUMMUS

Now I must confess that this isn’t one I’ve tried myself but I believe it’s as simple as blending some tinned or dried cooked chickpeas, lemon, garlic and a sprinkle of paprika.

I purposely haven’t published detailed recipes for these dips, purely because you really can start producing your own  creations on a trial and error basis, why not have a look at ingredients you have left to use up and start inventing? I’ve always managed to come out with something tasty (or at least edible) when I’ve attempted a dip. I hope that the above ideas inspire you to create your own dips, they’ll be sure to impress friends at a dinner party or summer BBQ, and of course you’ll be reducing food waste by using up those leftover items you might have lying around.

Batch Cooking – Saving Time and Reducing Food Waste

I just don’t have time to cook a healthy home-cooked meal every night of the working week. With work commitments, a long commute and an attempt to keep up some sort of fitness regime /social life, it’s just not possible for me to cook every night if I want to sit down before the witching hour for dinner.

With a bit of organisation and time to set aside at the weekend, I think I’ve found the solution. I’ve found that by batch cooking a couple of dishes on a Sunday afternoon, I can save time during the week and come home to a gratifying and nutritious meal on week nights minus the late night cooking.

There’s no secret guide and nothing particularly demanding about batch cooking; all you need is a plan, a few hours and ideally some spare freezer space. The concept of batch cooking is that you cook multiple portions or multiple meals in one go and store for a later date. If you do some research, you’ll find that some people recommend planning a whole 30 days of meals in advance although I haven’t quite got to these extremes yet. Seven days of forward planning is enough for me in terms of batch cooking, however regardless of how many days meals you want to plan, the concept of batch cooking remains the same.

Pretty much anything can be batch cooked; I find items such as stews & casseroles, pasta dishes or curries and Asian dishes work great. You can cook these dishes in large quantities; they freeze well and can be reheated quickly.

I tend to cook two different dishes on a Sunday which will serve four meal times, sometimes all of these portions will get eaten during one week which means eating the same meal two nights in a row. Repetition doesn’t bother me, I’d rather have a repeat of something home-cooked, healthy and fulfilling than grabbing a ready-meal or take-away because I don’t have time to cook. There are other ways of mixing it up, for example if you’re having stir-fried chicken and veg, you could have it with rice one night and the following night, knock up a salad or serve up the leftover chicken with some potatoes for that bit of variety.

If you really can’t handle eating the same meal twice in one week, why not cook up more than two dishes at a time? If you cook up a number of dishes that incorporate some of the same ingredients, this will make batch cooking all the easier, for example if you need onion for three different dishes, cut all the onions up at once and so on. Going back to the chicken example, if you have the base ingredients of chicken and vegetables you can fry them up with a sauce to create a stir-fry and then save the additional portions of the plain chicken and veg and cook it up with some stock, potatoes and tinned tomatoes for a homely hearty casserole. By simply switching, two or three ingredients and varying the cooking style, you’ll find the same base ingredients can actually create really varied dishes.  There’s still no harm in creating double the portions of what you need for the week, as long as you have the freezer space to store the additional servings, you can keep the dishes for a number of weeks. You might even find that you manage to build up a nice stockpile of homemade ready meals and some weeks you won’t have to shop or cook at all.

I mentioned that there are some other quick wins, which just require a small change in habits. I’m sure you’ve all had veg that you bought in bulk and haven’t been able to use it up before it starts to go all wrinkly, or maybe you’ve cooked a bit too much mashed potato one night? Well the trick is to not chuck this stuff out but freeze it to be reused at a later date. Most fresh veg can be frozen; I tend to chop the veg up, pop in the freezer and it’s ready to thaw at a later date.  Some people recommend blanching or cooking veg first, I tend to find it depends on what the item is, the internet will give you the answers on the best methods for various vegetables. Learning how to freeze different items and what the best method is will come via and trial and error, I wrote a few tips that I’d discovered in my last blog post about the benefits of the humble freezer.

My advice is don’t be daunted about what some people deem to be batch cooking, start small and gradually change some of your daily habits, hopefully you’ll find that by investing in a few hours of batch cooking once a week, you’ll have much more time to spend with family, doing the things you enjoy in the evening as opposed to slaving over a hot stove.

Ice Ice Baby – Freezer Benefits

In an earlier post, Sausage, Chilli & Tomato Pasta, you probably noticed that a lot of the ingredients I used had been frozen.

Now I’ve spent a large proportion of my adult life in shared housing where I’ve had to store my entire grocery shop on one lonely fridge shelf, and freezer space was nothing but a luxury to dream of.

It’s only in the last couple of years where I’ve had the very grown up pleasure of not only my own flat but also access to a fridge & freezer that’s all mine.

The benefits of having a freezer came instantly, I was suddenly allowed to take advantage of supermarket offers that I never could before such as Sainsbury’s meat, poultry or fish 3 or £10 which is one of my most purchased offers.

Batch cooking and the ability to freeze leftovers has also been a huge benefit. If I cook 4 portions of Spaghetti Bolognese, no longer do I have to spend an entire week eating it as the wonders of Tupperware mean I can freeze it for a later date. For days when I’ve got caught back late at the office, it’s great to come home, not have to cook and still be able to eat a nutritious home cooked meal that’s awaiting me in the freezer.

Recently, since I embarked on my food waste frenzy, I’ve started to freeze even more stuff, not just fresh meat and leftovers. Half of the stuff I wasn’t even aware you could freeze.

Ice cube trays have become my new found friend, I’ve used them to freeze home-made stock, the left-over dregs of an unfinished wine bottle and the end of bunches of those pesky supermarket herbs which never get used up in one portion. Once frozen, you can tip the ice cubes of stock, wine etc. into a freezer bag, label up and keep until a later date when a recipe calls for the ingredient. Freezing items such as stock & wine, not only stops you throwing left-overs out, it reduces the need to buy big packets of these ingredients when a recipe only calls for a small amount.

In my experience, a lot of what you do and don’t freeze comes out of habit, for example I’d never thought to freeze items such as butter and milk but I’ve tried both recently with no adverse effects. The butter I’d taken advantage of a 2 for 1 offer and the milk I’d picked up a couple of pints only to arrive home to find my partner had done the same. In days gone by, both of these ingredients would probably have lingered on my fridge shelf, past their best and been confined to the bin, but the freezer came to the rescue.

Other items I’d never dreamed of freezing were fresh fruit & veg, but my foray into food waste has taught me that a lot of fresh fruit & veg can indeed be frozen with little detrimental effect on the ingredient. So far I’ve frozen chillies, celery, lemons and peppers. The advice seems to be in all instances to chop up the veg first and then freeze in freezer bags. The ingredients probably won’t be up to being used in a nice fresh salad but for stews & stir-frys etc. I haven’t noticed any negative effects on the flavour or the texture. I suppose if you think logically, you can already buy a lot of frozen vegetables so what’s the difference in doing it for yourself.

If you’re unsure about what you can and can’t freeze, Google and the blogging world will come to your rescue. As mentioned the positives of this are not only reducing waste, it also helps to reduce costs as you’ll have ingredients on hand and not have to buy new over-sized packets of stuff and you can take advantage of those supermarket offers that I generally advise against. I’ve also found that I do not have to visit the supermarket quite as often as I regularly find that I have enough ingredients in my freezer to knock up an ad-hoc meal on demand. So don’t be afraid to get cold and get freezing, hopefully you’ll start seeing all the benefits that I have