The following guest blog post is by Julie Goodwin, Australia’s first ‘Master Chef’…
I’m always looking for ways to save in the kitchen, whether it’s saving time, money, electricity or effort. Making good use of leftovers addresses all of these.
Leftovers are traditionally much-maligned, with the announcement of “leftover night” bringing groans from the family. But if they are stored well and used imaginatively, they are every bit as delicious as the original meal.
One of my fears as a cook, is that people will leave my table hungry. So I admit to being someone who cooks a little more than I think will get eaten. Having some food left over at the end of the meal reassures me that everyone has had enough. But I can’t bear waste, so I try to put these leftovers to good use.
One big lesson I have learned is that leftover food needs to be stored properly. Putting it into the fridge in the big baking dish it was cooked in means it dries out quickly and looks unappealing. (Meaning that it’s less likely to be selected by one of the three teenagers who constantly have their heads in the fridge and pantry.) It also takes up a lot of fridge real estate which is annoying. So, any leftovers go into an appropriate-sized airtight container, ready to be reheated for lunch the next day or sent to school. I have involved the whole family in this so whoever is on kitchen duty knows what to do.
Not everything is appealing after being refrigerated and reheated. Some things need to be re-worked. Vegetables, for example. Cold mashed potato, cooked green beans, carrots, zucchini and so forth are kind of ghastly to contemplate on their own but chop them up, add some cheese, crumb and fry them for yummy vegetable croquettes. Cold roast vegetables can be mixed with some eggs, a tiny bit of flour and some oil and baked for an “impossible pie” – awesome picnic food, by the way, or add a bit of salad for a whole new dinner.
When we are having a green leaf salad on the table for our family meal, I don’t dress it but let everyone do it themselves, on their own plate. Undressed salad leaves can be stored and used again the next night, whereas dressed salad goes slimy and disgusting very quickly.
Here’s a food saving method that will sound quite gross, but it’s true – if your hard cheese (tasty, parmesan, cheddar) grows a bit of mould on the outside, just take a slice off all the surfaces and voila. Edible again. I promise! Make sure it’s wrapped tight in the fridge to prevent mould growing again.
Rice and pasta is something that often gets thrown out because once it’s cooked and refrigerated, it goes quite hard and doesn’t necessarily improve with reheating. To refresh it I add a tablespoon or two of water, cover it and microwave until hot. The water generates steam which softens the rice or pasta and makes it nice to eat again.
When I look for ways to save in the kitchen I find it useful to think back to my nan and the way she used food. Nan grew up in the depression and not a single thing was wasted. It was during eras such as these that dishes like Shepherd’s Pie were created. Shepherd’s pie was, traditionally, leftover roast lamb and veg baked in gravy with mashed potato on top.
Leftover sausages were turned into a mild sausage curry for the next night. Leftover corned beef (home cooked of course!) became lunch for the week served cold with cheese, pickles and bread. Lambs were bought as a whole or a side and every part of the animal was put to use. Lamb shanks, until recently relegated to dog food, have made a comeback in recent years.
While I am probably not even close to getting my boys to eat lamb’s fry on a regular basis, I can still channel the thrifty nature of Nan’s generation and be as waste-conscious as possible in my own kitchen. In her era it was mainly about saving money. Now we know that it’s not only economical, it’s earth-friendly and it’s one of the many things we can do as individuals to contribute to the future of our planet.
Leftover night? Hooray!
About the Author: Mum, wife, cook, singer and public speaker, Julie Goodwin is the epitome of a busy Australian Mum. In December 2008 Julie applied for the first series of MasterChef Australia and in July 2009 4 million Australians watched as Julie took out the title as the first ever ‘MasterChef’. Julie has also become a regular columnist for the Australian’s Women’s Weekly, and resident cook on Channel Nine’s Today Show.