Eating well from what’s to hand, just for fun – week 9

I had this scheduled to go out on the 30th May, but for some reason both it and a number of other posts failed to publish themselves.  I’ve been so busy that I didn’t notice.  Leftovers were very much on my mind when I was writing this post the week before last.  On the upside, I am accustomed to using leftovers to make stock wherever possible, and do my best to make sure that both fresh and cooked food that are leftover from the cooking of other meals are incorporated into later dishes.  However, I am by no means innocent of food waste, often being left over with bitty odds and ends that defy my attempts to come up with creative uses, and which either get lost in my freezer or are thrown away.  I try to plan my cooking so that either I use everything up in one go, or I can use ingredients over two or more meals, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  Sometimes my planning can go awry and I over-estimate what I need for my meals, meaning that there are bits left over, cooked or uncooked.  Other problems come from occasionally having to buy vegetables in bags, when you only need a couple of something – like potatoes.  I know that a lot of people use leftovers for a cooked breakfast and/or lunch, but I don’t eat either.  So this week has been very much a matter of pressing leftovers and orphans in the fridge and freezer into service.  Some of my thoughts on the subject are in each day’s descriptions, others are in the Conclusions.

On Monday 25th May I was watching artist Grayson Perry’s hugely entertaining Art Club on 4+1, which is all about how different people, including artists, celebrities and the general public, respond to different lockdown themes, expressed through artworks.  This week was “Home.”  His webcam special guest  was Jenny Eclair (I didn’t know of her, but she was very entertaining and is described by Wikipedia as “English comedian, novelist and actress”).  She was asked to choose her favourite artwork on the subject of “home,” and she chose a piece by John Bratby (1928-1992), which she said struck a serious chord with her during lockdown, because of the sheer chaos in her kitchen.  It made me grin because it looked so like my own kitchen, not that I have room for a table and chairs, but the kitchen surfaces look like that all too often.  Bratby was the creator of a movement in painting known as Kitchen Sink Realism, and this often seems to get to the heart of much of my lockdown life, where objects are constantly bidding for freedom, busily filling peaceful space.  Things steal out of draws and cupboards, creeping across every available horizontal surface, conspiring in a co-ordinated offensive to achieve riotous assembly.  I have always been at war with objects but never more so than now, and the objects seem to be winning.

Saturday

Imam bayildiI had intended to have a dressed crab before the Imam bayildi (which is why it is in the photo), but by the time it came to cooking, I wasn’t as hungry as I thought I was, so saved the crab for Thursday and did a bit more of the tomato mix in the Imam bayildi instead.  Imam bayildi (“the Imam fainted”) is a well known Middle Eastern dish, and this is an ersatz, smaller version.  The proper dish uses a full aubergine, scooped out and stuffed with the tomato mixture, but this version is good as a starter or for mezze.   Slices of aubergine (about 1cm thick) are griddled on both sides until cooked through and topped with a tomato mix:  onion, garlic, tomatoes, dried oregano and thyme, and parsley fresh oregano or coriander to garnish.

First, the tomatoes are stripped of their skin (boiled in water for a few minutes and then plunged into cold water, when the skins can be pulled off very easily).  Next, onions are sautéed in olive oil until golden, and then whatever you fancy goes in.  I used garlic, halved black olives and chopped red chilli.  These are cooked for a couple of minutes before the tomatoes are added with dried oregano and thyme.  I added fresh mint and parsley just after turning off the gas, giving it all a good stir.  I sprinkled finely diced feta over the top and put it all under the grill for a couple of minutes and served it topped with oregano and capers, and drizzled some extra virgin olive oil over the while thing.  This can be served at room temperature but I prefer it hot.

Sunday

Small cheese soufflé.  With a lot of odds and ends of cheese to use up and some eggs that were drifting towards their sell-by date I decided on a cheese soufflé.  I have a tried and tested cheese soufflé recipe for a 14cm diameter soufflé dish (the one in the picture on the left) that has never failed, and which I eat as a main course in its own right, on one of a variety of bases (e.g. pancetta/bacon, mushrooms and parsley; diced tomato and onion), and I always mix finely chopped chives in to the souffle itself.  Today I wasn’t hungry enough for the full article so wanted to do one for one of my 10cm diameter x 6cm tall individual ramekins, and as my recipe is impossible to divide properly, due to an odd number of eggs, and soufflé isn’t a guessing business, I went hunting on the Internet and found a recipe for a single serving.

The WTF Do I Eat Tonight website has a one-person version that uses one egg yolk to two egg whites.  All soufflés need accurate measurements, so I followed Louise’s instructions to the letter.  I like that instead of breadcrumbs along the inner face of the ramekin she uses parmesan – it was lovely.  I used a mixture of Emmenthal and cheddar in the mixture itself, along with a seriously good shake of Old Bay Seasoning (paprika, cayenne, celery salt etc), which I buy online, but which I first bought in a trip to New York, and which gives it just a touch of spice and heat.  I usually serve souffle with a salad, but was in the mood for something smaller, so simply did a side order of sliced tomatoes and onions with chopped with lovage (I would probably have used basil instead if I had had any) and vinaigrette dressing.  Both the onion and tomato are great for cutting through the richness of the cheesy, eggy lusciousness.  Louise puts her soufflé in on Gas 6 for 18 minutes but my oven tends to run rather hot, so I left it for 16 minutes.

I laughed so much when I saw it – I was about 30 seconds away from having a disaster on my hands!  It had risen so beautifully that being left in for a little too long meant that having expanded upwards and browned beautifully, it was now also expanding rapidly outwards, and it looked rather like an enormous yellow flower in full bloom!  Nothing wrong with its texture or flavour though, so even though its appearance was a profoundly odd it was deelish, and Louise’s recipe is definitely a keeper, saved as a PDF in my computer’s Fud file.  I served the ramekin on a side plate because the pot was seethingly hot and it looked as though it might be messy to eat the “petals,” but it held together beautifully.

Monday

Dressed crab followed by baby soufflé’d omelette.  The freshly caught crab came, ready dressed, from Dai’s Shed on Aberdovey’s wharf, and I froze it down a week or so ago.  I served it with a slice of lemon, Tabasco and ground black pepper.  It was simply heaven on a plate

The cheese sauce and stiffened egg white mix that formed the basis of Sunday’s cheese soufflé was too voluminous for the ramekin, so I had some left over, stirred the leftover egg yolk into it (the souffle uses two whites but only one yolk) and put it in the fridge while I tried to think up a use for it.  So I decided to use it to make mini cheese, chive and parsley soufflé omelette to follow the crab.  As it already had cheese incorporated into it, all I did was melt some butter in a small frying pan, heat it through until the base was solid and toss a lot of chopped parsley and chives on top of it.  When the bottom was golden brown, I folded it over to serve.  It was small, fitting neatly on to a side plate, actually smaller than the dressed crab!  It was fluffy and light but with excellent cheesy flavour, and had all the freshness and bite of the chives and parsley, and worked well as a really good contrast to the crab.  A happy use of leftovers.

Tuesday

Pork chop and apple sauce with leeks, tender stem broccoli and mashed carrot-swede.  In the freezer were two very fine pork chops, wrapped together by the butcher, that I had irritatingly frozen down without separating.  So it was clear that this week would be partially porcine in character.

I had bought a baby swede on my last trip to the shops, and peeled and diced it.  This went in to a pan of boiling water with some rather elderly diced carrots, and the two were mashed together with butter and black pepper and put in bags in the freezer.  It was the same story for three leftover apples, which I peeled, cored and cut into slices and heated in a little water until they started to break down, at which point I froze them down.

Today’s simple dish was therefore a griddled pork chop with apple sauce, served with pre-frozen mashed carrot and swede, a bit of a rather battered leek, some ageing tender stem broccoli (both steamed) and a pork and sage gravy.

I brine pork because it can dry out on the griddle.  It’s a simple brine of water, sage leaves, bay leaves, cider or white wine and salt, all warmed through to release and blend the flavours and then, when it has lowered to room temperature poured over the pork and left for a few hours.

A bit of a chicken stock cube was pressed into service for the gravy, along with a splosh of white wine, a chopped new potato, the finely chopped unusable ends of  the leek that I was eating with the pork, a finely chopped shallot and the last of my father’s fresh sage.  Dried sage is a good substitute for fresh, one of the dried herbs that can actually hold its own in a stock.

This was incredibly simple, given that I had made the apple sauce and the mashed carrot and swede previously for the freezer.  The floral green head of the tender stem broccoli was going rather yellow, so I simply chopped off the tops and cooked the stems, which with tender stem broccoli is the part that has most of the flavour.  The brined pork was very tender.

Wednesday

Seafood and avocado salad.  I found the shellfish pack in one of the Co-Op’s freezers, which was better than nothing, although raw is much better.  I also had an avocado that had remained persistently solid for a couple of weeks, but had suddenly ripened fully.  I had some little gem lettuce, with attractive purple tips, and a cucumber in the fridge door, plus some tomatoes, an elderly spring onion and some capers, so had all I needed for a seafood and avocado salad.  The Marie Rose sauce is essentially mayonnaise with flavourings, so out came the mini food processor that I always use for making mayo.  Along with the usual egg yolk, a couple of shakes of Worcestershire sauce, a good shake of cayenne pepper, some smoked paprika and juice from half of the lime that I intended to use in the jambalaya.  When this had been emulsified by trickling a thin stream of oil (whizzed into it), I added Greek yoghurt (should have been cream, but I didn’t have any and the Greek yoghurt worked perfectly) and a bit of tomato ketchup, and the job was done.  Seafood cocktail is usually presented in dish of chopped lettuce with a bit of other salad added for colour and flavour, but I like it split out into its component parts, with vinaigrette as a contrast, dribbled over the cucumber and tomato..

Thursday

Lamb chop with leftover Imam Baylidi, shallow-fried potatoes and mint yoghurt.  The lamb chop was from Mr Rowland, the butcher in Tywyn, salt marsh lamb and a good thick piece, with lots of flavour and good texture.  At the moment it is difficult to get hold of anything except very small chops of spring lamb, which I find fairly flavourless so it was nice to be able to buy something that held its own against the other flavours on the plate.  The leftover Imam Baylidi vegetables were delicious.  Except for the mint, which was still making its presence felt, the once-fresh herbs that went into the tomato and aubergine mix had become absorbed into the general flavours, so to restore the hit of freshness to this leftover serving , I needed to add more fresh herbs just before serving, and I sprinkled a few over the top.  I mixed more mint into Greek yoghurt to serve on the side.  I parboiled a few slices of spud (Maris Piper), drained them well and then cooked them in an inch and a half of vegetable oil.  Happy.

Friday

Pork, shellfish and okra jambalaya. I am sure that there are more subtleties to this than I have spotted, but as far as I can tell the main difference between a gumbo and a jambalaya is that with a gumbo the rice is served on the side, and with a jambalaya the rice is cooked into the sauce.  Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!  I nearly repeated the gumbo that I did a couple of weeks ago, because I enjoyed it so much, but in the interests of introducing a bit more variety into my eating habits, I went for a jambalaya instead.

The pork chop that I used in this dish had been frozen down with a companion, and I had had to defrost them at the same time, so both had to be used this week.  I sliced it into strips.  I fried pork, two tiny cooking chorizo sausages, onion, garlic and fresh chilli until the onion was golden and the meat brown, added Creole spices, which I stirred in to the onion mix before adding whizzed up tomatoes, fish stock, and a bay leaf.  When that had heated through I added long grained rice.  Just before it was ready I added a few frozen okra and part of the pack of pre-cooked frozen shellfish that I had used in the seafood salad to heat through (prawns, mussels and squid). The Bart Creole spices were a disappointment, as they are surprisingly very bland and lacked an aromatic hit, so I chucked in a substantial amount of the much better Bart Cajun spices to help out.  Fresh herbs went in just before serving (parsley, oregano and just a little mint), and I served it topped with chopped spring onion and chives, a slice of lime and, in the absence of sour cream, some creamy Greek yoghurt, which worked very well as a substitute.  It was nowhere near as good as the gumbo, but it still went down well.

Conclusions – Leftovers

  • Leftover chopped herbs can be repurposed for many different uses.  For example, they can be whizzed up, mixed into soft butter, rolled into a cylinder in cling-film and frozen, and used in slices for giving a bit more flavour to fish (e.g. dill, mint, chives, parsley, chervil, coriander, lovage), steak, lamb/pork chops (e.g. basil mint, sage, parsley, oregano, marjoram) or chicken (e.g. any of the above).
  • Another way of repurposing herbs is to add them to bottles of white wine or cider vinegar or oil, to extend the useful range of vinegars and oils both in cooking and in salads.
  • Herbs whizzed up and stirred into yogurt or mayonnaise provide excellent dressings and accompaniments to many dishes.
  • Leftover home made mint sauce can be frozen down, and although it is not as good as freshly made, is perfectly good infinitely better than shop bought, which is always cloyingly sweet.
  • Potatoes are a bit of a challenge for me, as they come in large bags and are difficult to use up, but every now and again I cannot resist so
  • I find it particularly useful to have ideas for using and preserving potatoes, because I can only buy them in big packs, and I really don’t want potatoes with every meal.  he BBC Food website has a page with 10 suggestions for using up mashed potato, and there are some very good ideas there: https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/collections/using_up_mashed_potato. In addition, home-made bread made mashed potatoes, or even with the water left over from boiling potatoes, is particularly light and well worth investigating if you have a bread-making machine or enjoy making it by hand.  I am particularly fond of fish cakes made with mash.  Mashed potato also freezes down quite successfully.
  • I also had a bag of carrots and a bag of apples, and a small (tennis ball sized) swede bought specially for the job.  The carrots and swede were diced, as was the swede, and boiled up together, mashed with black pepper and butter, and split into batches for the freezer.  I peeled and cored the apples that I hadn’t eaten, cut them into big chunks, simmered them with some butter and, when they were still chunky but soft, batched them up for freezing down.
  • Preparing other leftover vegetables for the freezer is a good idea if you want to assemble a meal in a hurry.  Ageing vegetables like broccoli or asparagus can be par-boiled and frozen on a baking tray or other flat surface (to keep them from clumping).
  • For the Imam bayildi I had a small aubergine, and took two slices out of the middle of it.  That left two useful bits of aubergine.  I covered the exposed surfaces in lemon juice, pushed them together and wrapped them in cling-film.  That kept it fresh for a couple of days.
  • The leftover Imam bayildi mix, which is very like ratatouille, can be used in all sorts of ways, including as a sauce for meat or fish, a stuffing for portobello mushrooms topped with cheese, layers for a vegetarian lasagne, a filling for French omelette, as a base for soufflé, or simply spread on toast or stuffed into pitta pockets with feta as a filling snack.
  • If yoghurt is pushing its use-by date, try making labneh, described above.  It is one of my favourite things and will stay preserved in oil for a couple of weeks.

 

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