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Show leftovers some love
6:00am Saturday 28th September 2013 in Lifestyle
The kitchen's full of bits and bobs but you've got no idea what to do with them. Sounds familiar? TV chef Rachel Allen tells Andy Welch how to turn those leftovers into fabulous family meals
How often do you come home hungry after a long day, only to stare blankly into the fridge?
It's a common dilemma: cupboards full of food, yet nothing to eat. But now help is at hand.
For TV chef Rachel Allen, the solution lies in knowing what to do with the random leftovers you have lying around.
It's the theme for her new Good Food series Rachel Allen's Everyday Kitchen, and accompanying book Rachel's Everyday Kitchen: Simple, Delicious Family Food.
"It's for that time when you look in the fridge, see a bit a bacon that needs eating up, or some leftover chicken, and can't work out what to make," says the Dublin-born chef.
"It was my sister who gave me this idea, about making recipes for leftovers, essentially. I knew it was the right thing to do when, at Christmas, we had our traditional conversation about what to do with all the leftover ham, turkey and veg."
The recipes she's put together aren't necessarily concerned with thrift - although if you start using your leftovers and planning meals more carefully you will automatically save money. They are more about making delicious meals with the food you already have at home.
"It's really thinking like my grandparents did," says Allen, 41, who's also been a regular guest on the BBC's Saturday Kitchen.
"Everything was accounted for. And yes, we do waste so much food. My mum was the best soup-maker, so there are some lovely soup recipes in the series. Whatever didn't get eaten went back in the fridge to be turned into a soup or a casserole the following day."
There are some more creative and unexpected recipes in there too, she says - "it's not all making shepherd's pie from leftover lamb and so on".
"There are delicious fresh and exciting things in there too, like the chicken, fennel and orange salad, or tartiflette, which comes from the Haute-Savoie region of France.
"It's traditionally made with roast potatoes and the Reblochon cheese they make in the area, but this is my husband Isaac's recipe from Christmas time. He just uses whatever leftover cheese and ham there is, and spare roast potatoes."
It does sound delicious, although the idea of 'spare' roast potatoes sounds a little odd - those delicious, crispy carb nuggets are normally the first things to go!
The show also features tips from the Ballymaloe Cookery School, where Allen trained and now helps to run with her husband and mother-in-law Darina, such as making breadcrumbs for the storage cupboard from stale crusts, or using the heads of the prawns from the Mexican chilli seafood dish to create a tasty stock to use at a later date.
"There's so much flavour in the bones and heads - bits we might not want to eat and would ordinarily just throw away, so I want to get people to hold onto things like that," says Allen, who lives in County Cork with Isaac and their three young children.
Of course, there's also some baking involved - Allen's Bake! series and book basked in the joys of making your own breads, cakes and pastries, two years before The Great British Bake Off hit screens in 2010, sparking a baking frenzy.
"It's extraordinary how much baking is happening," she says. "I'll be in an elevator or walking around town and someone will turn around and say, 'I made your so-and-so cake for my office's bake Friday', or for their child's school, so I'm very pleased about that, and that people are trying the recipes for themselves.
"I'd love to say I had a gut feeling and knew the baking boom was coming, but it was by accident.
"As for this series, it's about good old-fashioned kitchen know-how and I hope as many people try out these recipes too."
On that note, here are three of said recipes to get going with.
Duck spring rolls with pak choi
150g cooked duck meat, shredded (preferably meat from a whole roasted duck, but two breasts, pan-fried skin-side down for five minutes then roasted at 180C for 10 minutes will do)
50g spring onions, trimmed and thinly shredded
100g grated carrot
2tbsp chopped coriander
3tbsp plum sauce, plus extra to serve
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 sheets of spring roll pastry (25cm)
150ml sunflower or rapeseed oil
500g pak choi, stems and leaves cut into 8cm lengths
25g sesame seeds, toasted
15ml sesame oil
In a bowl, mix together the shredded duck with the spring onions, carrot, coriander and plum sauce, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
Lay a sheet of spring roll pastry flat on a board. Add a heaped tablespoon of the duck mixture to the pastry and spread out in a line parallel to the end closest to you, leaving a margin of about 3cm from the edge, and a gap of about 5cm on the other edges.
Brush a little water on the edges, then fold in the sides, over the filling. Brush with a water again, then roll up the pastry away from you, making sure you do it quite tightly. Repeat with the remaining mixture and pastry.
Place a large frying pan on a high heat and pour in the oil. When the oil's hot, add the spring rolls - or as many as will fit comfortably in a single layer - and fry, turning to cook all sides, for eight to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper.
For the pak choi, bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the pak choi stems and cook for one to two minutes or until just tender, then stir in the leaves and drain immediately. Place in a serving dish, then sprinkle over the toasted sesame seeds and sesame oil.
Serve the spring rolls with the pak choi and extra plum sauce on the side.
Pulled lamb baps
2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or finely grated
2 egg yolks
1tbsp lemon juice
1tsp Dijon mustard
175ml sunflower oil
50ml olive oil
4 large white or brown rolls or baps
Butter, for spreading
300g shredded cooked lamb (slow-roasted leg or shoulder is perfect)
¼ cucumber, sliced
½ red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
200g feta cheese, sliced
Handful of green leaves, such as rocket or watercress
Place the garlic in a bowl with the egg yolks, lemon juice and mustard. Whisk until slightly frothy. In a separate jug, mix both oils then, whisking constantly, pour slowly into the egg yolk mixture in a very thin stream.
Continue to add the oil, whisking all the time until it's fully incorporated - creating a thick aioli. Season with salt and pepper to taste then set aside.
Slice the rolls in half and toast them on each side, then spread with butter and a little of the aioli.
Assemble the lamb, cucumber, red onion, feta and salad leaves on top of one half of each roll, then sandwich together with the other half. Cut the filled rolls in half and serve.
Cookies and cream cheesecake
For the cookies:
225g butter, softened
325g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
225g plain flour
75g cocoa powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g dark chocolate 55-70% cocoa solids, chopped into small pieces or chocolate chips
For the cheesecake:
15g cocoa powder, sifted
25ml strong coffee, such as espresso
1tsp vanilla extract
400ml double or regular cream
50g icing sugar
50g dark chocolate 55-75% cocoa solids, grated, for sprinkling
9-12 of the cookies you made previously
Make the cookies first. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4, and line three baking sheets with parchment.
Place the butter in a large bowl and beat until very soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture's pale and fluffy. Crack in one egg at a time, beating between each addition, then add the vanilla extract.
Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt, then add the chocolate pieces or chips and fold in to combine. Alternatively, place all the ingredients, except the chocolate pieces/chips, in a food processor and whiz until they come together, then fold in the chocolate.
With wet hands, form the dough into golf ball-size balls, then arrange on the baking sheets, placing six to seven balls of on each, leaving space for the cookies to spread.
Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until the cookies look slightly cracked on top. With three baking sheets, you'll need to cook in three batches, or two batches in a fan oven. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes, then remove from the baking sheets using a palette knife or metal fish slice. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
To make the cheesecake, in a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, coffee, vanilla extract, mascarpone, cream and icing sugar for one to two minutes or until thick.
Arrange three or four of the cookies in the bottom of a 23cm-diameter spring-form cake tin, then spread over one-third of the chocolate cream mixture. Add a second layer of cookies, then another layer of chocolate cream, followed by a final layer of cookies and a final layer of chocolate cream.
Use a spatula to smooth the top layer, then cover the tin with cling film and place in the fridge to chill for eight hours or, even better, overnight.
To remove from the tin, run a small, sharp knife around the cheesecake to loosen the edges, then unfasten the clip and lift away the sides of the tin. Using a palette knife or a metal fish slice, loosen the cheesecake from the base of the tin and carefully slide off onto a plate. Sprinkle with the grated chocolate to serve.
Three of the best
:: Bisto Stock Melts Vegetable, £2.00 for 120g, Tesco
Each 100ml pot makes 500ml of stock, and this vegetable variety has a good flavour, not too salty and an obvious improvement on a basic cube.
:: Laverstoke Park Organic Beef Stock, £3 for 450g, Ocado.com
Rich, gelatinous and full of flavour, this is an easy way to inject some great taste into sauces and gravy.
:: Cooks' Ingredients Fish Stock, £2.49 for 500ml, Waitrose
The best of the bunch, a lively, fragrant fish stock not far off the quality you'd achieve making your own. Easily improve a risotto using this.
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