Friday, 2 March 2012

Frugal Friday (2nd March)

Despite always trying to plan our menus meticulously so that there is little or no wasted food at the end of each week, there are still days when I find myself with left overs to deal with. Mostly these get frozen or eaten as dinners (lunches) the next day – if they aren’t suitable for Papa Bear or the cubs to take as pack-ups, I’ll eat them myself. I’ll be honest – the thought of eating the same meal over again isn’t always very appetising, so I usually try to embellish them a little or serve them in a different way. This makes the meal much more enjoyable, and so today I am going to share with you a few hints and tips for using up your left overs usefully!

First of all a few general points worth noting regarding left overs and food safety …

Check the use-by dates on perishable items before you prepare them the first time around. We all know that foods like meats and fish need to be eaten by certain dates, but this applies whether or not they’ve been frozen beforehand (the freezing does stop the clock, as it were, but it starts ticking again once the frozen item comes out of the freezer – so if you bought an item on 1st March with a use-by date of 7th March, and you freeze it for a month, it will still need to be eaten within the same time frame once it is out of the freezer – i.e. 7 days – this includes the time taken to defrost. It’s worth noting the date the item went into your freezer to avoid getting into a muddle with this). It’s particularly important to remember this when using left overs. Don’t re-freeze foods that have previously been frozen.

I personally never defrost food at room temperature, but always in the fridge. The exception to this is prawns (shrimp) that I buy frozen from the supermarket. My technique for defrosting these is to place them in a colander and run cold water over them. I’ve been doing this for years and never had any problems.

I wouldn’t recommend ever reheating a dish more than once. If you are not sure that you will be able to finish all the left overs (say, after a potluck or holiday meal) in one go, then either reheat individual portions rather than the whole dish, or divide and freeze those portions you won’t be eating immediately.

Some foods don’t freeze very well. Cooked pasta and hard boiled eggs seem to go rubbery. Cream, soured cream and egg based sauces will curdle, although I do find that if they form part of a dish with several other ingredients (and therefore textures) such as a casserole, the change in texture is indistinguishable, as long as you allow the dish to defrost before you cook it and don’t heat it straight from frozen. Some fresh fruits don’t freeze well either, so if you have a glut of these, blanch or stew them first before freezing.

When reheating most foods (other than liquid items such as soups and sauces, or foods that have been cooked in a sauce, such as chilli) I would advise against microwaving them, if you have one, as in my experience microwaving never improves the flavour or texture of your left over food.

To store left over plain cooked pasta, place in a baggie or plastic container and add a few drops of water. This will keep quite well in the fridge, and in fact I frequently deliberately cook more pasta than we need, and store it this way, to save on having to cook a separate batch for another meal later in the week.

Cooked rice and pulses are better frozen rather than refrigerated, if you don’t intend to eat them within a day or two (rice should be kept cold at all times when being kept once cooked, and eaten within 24 hours).

Left overs containing raw egg, raw meat, raw fish or pate, are not suitable for keeping – bin them instead. Likewise perishables that have been out of the fridge for a long time at room temperature. It isn’t worth the risk to your health to eat these.

It hardly needs to be said, but I will sinse I have actually witnessed (to my horror) someone doing this – that if you have served a family meal and there are left overs on individual plates, don’t then put the contents of those plates all into one container to be reheated later. That’s asking for germs to be spread! To avoid this, don’t allow your children to serve themselves larger portions than they’ll be able to eat – if they think they haven’t got enough, they can always take second helpings later. Ewww!

Ways to use up left overs …

Cheese is your best friend when it comes to making left overs seem more appetising! Even dishes that have already got a cheese topping (such as a lasagne or strata) will benefit greatly from a dusting of freshly grated cheese before they are reheated.

Similarly, herbs (fresh or dried) can be used to embellish a meal of left overs. Soup definitely benefits from being re-seasoned in this way and I also like to dress up left over dishes such as casseroles and chillis with a sprinkling of fresh parsley or cilantro.

Left over pasta sauce can be made into a “chilli” by adding a tin of black or kidney beans, and some seasoning. This can be used as a filling for “enchiladas” also, with some grated cheese and sour cream (I certainly wouldn’t serve this to anyone who is use to eating the real thing, mind!).

Mashed potatoes can be made into a nice side dish by adding grated cheese and a dash of Worcester sauce. Mash together then bake in the oven for 20 minutes or so, until the top is browned.

Left over bread can be ground into breadcrumbs and frozen – you can use them straight from the freezer without defrosting first.

I frequently use left over bread that is beginning to go stale to make a strata or a bread and butter pudding. I only ever use unsliced bread for this though – the sort of loaves that come packaged in plastic and ready sliced will not work in these dishes – the bread just becomes soggy and tasteless, like wet cotton wool, and makes the dish too moist.

Apples that are not good enough to eat raw can be chopped and stewed to make a simple applesauce that can be frozen or kept in the fridge for a couple of days. In England applesauce is quite expensive to buy and always heavily sweetened, so I prefer to make it this way anyways.

Bananas that are going black are begging to be made into a banana cake! I often buy more than we need for eating, just so I can make these delicious banana chip muffins – they’re usually gone within 24 hours of my baking them! Bananas also make the base for a nice smoothie – even on their own they are very creamy and delicious, whizzed up with some milk, yogurt or even ice cream!

If you’ve got several different fruits that need using up, why not make them into a fruit salad? Dissolve about 2 tablespoons of caster sugar in a pint of water, add some lemon or orange peel and bring to a rolling boil for about 4 minutes, then allow to cool until completely cold. Place cut fruit in the syrup with the juice of 1 lemon and keep in the fridge overnight before serving.

A little meat can be stretched a long way by adding to a stir fry or stew. In the summer, I like to make an oriental style dressing made with nam pla, soy sauce, lots of lime juice and a tiny amount of garlic paste, to put with salad leaves and warmed left over chicken. Sometimes I’ll add a few chopped orange or mandarin segments, and peanuts or cashews if I have them.

At the end of the week when I’m cleaning the fridge before we do our Saturday food shop, I’ll often find some vegetables that need using up, so I’ll make them into a “clean up the fridge” soup, with perhaps some barley or lentils to thicken it. Anything can go into this – root vegetables, kale, spinach, celery, leeks. Whatever I find!

Another alternative is to roast your left over vegetables (either pre cooked or raw) in a little oil, with some seasoning sprinkled over (we like chilli flakes, season-all, garlic powder and nutritional yeast flakes, along with some rock salt and ground pepper). Place in a roasting dish and cover with foil for the first 30 minutes, then uncover and allow to brown nicely.

Left over plain rice, pulses or pasta can be used to make a salad, or added to soups and stews.

I've got lots more left overs ideas to share - but I'll put them in another post! I'm off now to serve up our tea (evening meal) now ... and no, it isn't soup!