Recently I was reading another foodie blog that was asking what people’s favourite tricks with leftovers were. It was fascinating to read the varying responses while thinking about what I do here at home. Some talked about the stock standards that they default to including stews and casseroles. My equivalent I suppose would be savoury mince which is cooking on the stove as I write and is one of my favourite ways of clearing out the veggie crisper before our farmers market – all the remaining odds and ends of vegetables, with the exception of brassicas, go in. (no brassicas – cabbage, broccoli , cauliflower, Brussel sprouts as they have a high sulpher content and can make gravy go rank particularly if you want to keep the dish) Today that meant the last red onion, a few tatty spring onions, the end of the celery, half a swede, a couple of carrots as well as parsley and garlic. All were browned together with beef and pork mince, covered with water and set to slow cook. By special request this mince is destined to have dumplings added for dinner tomorrow night.
Others talked about what I call a ‘bitsa’ meal – bits of this and that. That can mean the sort of meal where there are single serves from several meals and the family negotiates for who wants what. This is less common in our house where those single serves usually become lunches that either walk out with someone or are devoured by the one left at home with better things to do than cook. My mum had a different version of a ‘bitsa’, particularly in summer, when she would pull all sorts of things out of the fridge and pantry and create a spread of small dishes – hard boiled eggs, cheese, sliced raw vegetables according to what she found, left over hummus, beetroot, pickled onions, a packet of crisps, cold meats, the ends of bread toasted up … Each ‘bitsa’ meal was different but the meals themselves had that comforting sense of familiarity. To this day when we are thinking of what to eat someone will pipe up ‘How about we just have bits?’
While I have other standards including main meal fried rice and all encompassing soups I generally have a different strategy when it comes to leftovers. I prefer to do one of two things. Option one is to avoid them in the first place. This can be achieved by cooking an appropriate amount that gets eaten in one sitting – not always possible I agree but the older you get the more experience you have and the more often you get it right! If I run on the lean side there is always the fruit bowl. Or leftovers can be avoided by cooking enough for two good meals and reserving the second half for a quick meal later in the week or it can go in the freezer as a backstop. Generally I prefer the former as I find that we are more likely to use the food. Packages in the freezer have a habit of losing labels or lids or meeting with other unforeseen adventures that render them unusable or unrecognisable; having said that a couple of containers of soup, Bolognese sauce and macaroni cheese go along way towards avoiding family meltdowns!
Option two is perhaps my favourite; go foraging and reinvent the contents of the fridge. To forage, according to the dictionary is to search widely for food or to find food by searching. I know some people incapable of finding food in a refrigerator! Even when its staring them in the face. Left overs can be a little like that – they sit in odd containers and can become inconspicuous, getting pushed further towards the back, not to be discovered until the next archaeological dig! Perhaps your fridge is better behaved but ours certainly has its moments so the challenge is to stay on top of what is present and use it in imaginative ways. Today it was roast chicken and baked vegetables.
So what’s to imagine – put it in a dish in the oven and reheat! Fine but I have never been a great fan of reheated baked meals – they smack of TV dinners and are never as nice as the first time. We had a lovely roast a couple of nights ago but my son had a head cold that dampened his appetite and it was a large chook to start with. So sitting in the fridge was half a roast chicken with assorted baked carrots, parsnip, and sweet potato, one solitary roast potato and a little steamed cabbage. What to do? Pot pie and pasties!
First I chopped the left over chicken and vegetables, added a little left over gravy and seasoning and mixed well. Five minutes and I had pie and pasty filling. Then I made a batch of short crust pastry. This was my Mum’s go to pastry that she used for virtually everything. I made it as my Gran would have done 8oz (2 cups) plain flour to 4oz (125g) fat – in my case I used half butter half lard. Some of you may prefer all butter but the lard makes a light crisp pastry. I will not use margarine. Its best to sift the flour and add a pinch of salt then rub the fat into the flour. I cheat by grating the butter first. For best results use fat straight from the fridge and keep everything cool. Use only your fingertips to do the rubbing in to help keep the mix cool. Or throw it all in the kitchen whizz or equivalent – your choice, I am very much a ‘hands in’ cook as those of you who follow me will discover.
Once the mixture resembles bread crumbs add cold water to bind. A rule of thumb is one tablespoon for each ounce of flour but as usual this is not an exact science. I was taught to use a round bladed knife and to cut through the mix adding a little water at a time until the pastry starts to pull together. The aim is to use just enough so that you can form the mixture into a rough ball kneading lightly. Today it took exactly 8 tablespoons of water to achieve this. Turn onto a floured board ready to roll out. I find it a good idea to cut the dough into a couple of pieces as you want to avoid having to roll it too often,
Today I wanted to make two things – pasties for lunch tomorrow and pot pie for dinner so I cut the dough in two; each half I rolled out and cut four rounds from each. I used my largest cooky cutter which is about 3 inches across. Excess dough from each batch I then gathered up into one new ball and kneaded lightly again before cutting in two and rolling out lids for my pot pies.
I then took the eight rounds and made pasties. I put a teaspoon of the chicken mixture in the centre, folded up the edges and crimped them together by pinching the pastry firmly. Sometimes it takes a little water or beaten egg to moisten the edges and help them stick but the gravy in the filling seemed to do the trick here. Once formed the pasties went on a well oiled tray, steam vents were poked in top of each side with a sharp knife and they were brushed with lightly beaten egg. Then into a 200°C oven for about twelve minutes, turning the tray once in the middle. When the pastry is golden they are done – the filling is already cooked remember. Put on a rack to cool or eat hot. Careful – if you turn your back they have a tendency to disappear!
While the pasties cooked I put the remainder of the filling in two small flat oven proof dishes and covered these with pastry lids. In this case I did brush the edges of the dishes with egg and pressed the pastry down to stick to the dish. These are simple pies with only a lid. Again they need steam vents and I like to add the traditional pastry leaves before brushing with egg to glaze. These also went into a 200°C oven and baked for about 15 minutes – why they took longer I have no idea! The perversities of nature!
To serve I carefully lifted the lid off the cooked pie and set it to one side then transferred the filling to a warm plate and positioned the lid back on top. This stops people getting burned by hot pots and makes the whole easier to eat. All dinner then needed was some extra vegetables on the side – English spinach and cauliflower, fresh from the farmer’s market and lightly steamed. I had homemade plum sauce with my pot pie while my son ate his au natural. Each to their own but served together. Leftovers? Maybe – food on the table definitely!