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.

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Cheese, Onion & Potato Pasties

I’d managed to overbuy some potatoes for this weeks meals, and having already peeled & diced the potato, I wasn’t quite sure what I could do with the leftovers.  It turns out that potatoes can be frozen, providing that they are blanched first to prevent them from turning black.  To blanch potatoes, you simply immerse in boiling water for about 4 minutes before quickly transferring into a bowl of iced cold water until cooled (about 10 minutes).  Once cool, dry the potatoes using kitchen roll or a tea towel and transfer to freezer bags before placing in the freezer to be used at a later date.

As well as the potatoes, I also had a packet of puff pastry left over from a family party where I’d used it for canapés, and as a Northerner born and bred, I love a good pasty, I already had some cheddar cheese in the fridge so Cheese, onion & potato pasty was the obvious choice for me.

 Whilst I could have just gone ahead and made Cheddar cheese & onion pasties, I love the bitterness of white crumbly cheeses, such as Lancashire & Wensleydale, so I decided to use a mix of Cheddar & Lancashire cheese in my pasties, but any cheese you have to hand will do.

As a side note, ready made puff pastry is one of my favourite time saving ingredients, you can do so much with it; canapés, pies, a twist on a pizza etc. and the results always look really impressive, when in reality, you haven’t had to try that hard, as you’ll see from the following recipe.

20140413-202229.jpgINGREDIENTS

  • Knob butter
  • 1 small onion, finely sliced
  • 1 small potato, cubed
  • 375g packet of puff pasty
  • 75g cheddar cheese
  • 75g white crumbly cheese

Serves 4

METHOD

Preheat oven to 180c

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over gentle heat

Add the onions and potatoes and sweat over a low heat with the lid on for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally

Season well with crushed black pepper (I tend to avoid adding salt as it should get this from the cheese & butter)

Mix in the grated cheese and allow to cool otherwise the heat from the mixture will make the pastry difficult to work with

Whilst the potato & onions are cooling, cut the pastry into 4 circles approx. 6cm diameter (I use a bowl to measure). You’ll find that you will need to reroll the in order to get all 4 circles

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Add about a quarter of the mixture to one half of each pastry circle; leave about 1/2 cm gap between the mixture and the edge of the pastry. Don’t overfill the circles with mixture or you’ll find it difficult to close your pasty.

Fold each circle in half and press the edges together with fingers or a fork, cut a couple of small incisions in the top of each pasty

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Brush the pasties with egg and place in oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown

TIPS

Egg works best for glazing the pasties, as it will give nice golden colour but you can use milk if you’d prefer (which I did in this recipe)

If you have too much mixture for your pasties, bake it in oven for 15-20 minutes and it will make a lovely accompaniment for a meal

The pasties can be frozen when cooled and are equally delicious, whether served hot or cold

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