Adventures in Cooking: Using Stuff Up Part I

A while ago my daughter told me about one of her friends cooking dried pasta for the first time ever at uni and going to Google for instructions, rather than knowing to read the packet. Lots of people can’t cook fresh food because they simply haven’t been taught, not because they’re bad at it. (I was clueless when I left home, and Google wasn’t around to save my bacon: which I microwaved on kitchen paper until it dried out to the point where it failed to shatter when smacked off the edge of the worktop.) If you happen to be a student who’s trying to find how to live off something other than pizza, or you’re really broke and have to try and eat for virtually no money, and you’ve come here from a search engine, some of these recipes may be of use.

I don’t like waste in general, and I really don’t like avoidable food waste, especially where it involves home-grown veg, because I’ve invested so much time into getting it to an edible state. This week, I’ve ended up cooking away from home, or being cooked for and then I got a free lunch and there was a very real risk that stuff I’d planned to cook would start to grow fur, so I dragged everything out of the fridge to see what needed to be used up immediately or within the next few days. I had:

1 whole cauliflower
1.15kg red onions (smallish ones)
Half a fresh fennel bulb, which had been wrapped in damp kitchen paper in a box in the fridge as per the instructions on the packet
500g fresh parsnips, reduced to 50p in the local shop
1 whole white cabbage
1 pack of unsmoked, thick cut back bacon – 8 rashers
6 carrots, ranging from medium- to pathetic-sized
1 large white onion
Half a litre of roasted tomato and fennel for soup, which should have been frozen but wasn’t and so needed using up
About 250ml of leftover sauce from the Slow-Cooked Pork Loin Steak With Celery and Onion I made a while ago. It’s been in an airtight pot in the bottom of the fridge and smelled fine: the vinegar in the mustard and the wine will have helped that.
Several sticks of celery left from above recipe
2 trimmed leeks
1 marrow
2 enormous golden courgettes, given to me by a friend. They probably weigh 400g each.
500 ml double cream.
Assorted butter (salted and unsalted)

The Results

1. Enough Parsnip and Rosemary Risotto to do 5 generous servings and a bit left over. Freezes and microwaves brilliantly. Yes, I know it sounds weird and gross but it’s nice and my kid says it tastes of Christmas. It’s one of her favourite things, although the fact that you serve it with a load of grated cheese might have something to do with it. Here is the recipe and a detailed method for the novice. Used up: all the parsnips, the entire white onion and one red one.

2.  Lots of Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup – About 1.5 litres, to be exact. That’s 4 decent-sized mugs-worth of the sieved liquid and the retained bits will go into a pasta sauce. This is gorgeous, even if I do say so myself. It’s the closest thing to the perfect cream of tomato soup that I’ve ever tasted. It should freeze and microwave reheat (or can be done in a pan) perfectly well so it’s good for a quick lunch. Used up: the bag of roasted veg, some of the double cream (3 tbsp or so). Generated an extra recipe: see 4.

3.  Two small pots (enough for one generous or two small servings each) of SAM’s Sauce for Swine. I know, it’s a rubbish name but I can’t really call it Pork Sauce, now, can I? This was simply the reheated (to boiling point, despite containing cream) sauce, with a tablespoon of cornflour stirred in to thicken it a bit so it could be poured over a chop or pork steak without being too runny. Top tip: when adding cornflour to a liquid, put the powder into a ramekin or similar and add a small amount of water to mix to the consistency of milk; then add that to the sauce. If you just try and chuck it in and whisk like you can with thickening granules you will get gloppy white lumps of revolting in your sauce. You’ll have to fish them out with a slotted spoon and will dump them in your sink, which will clog. Later, as you pick gloppy lumps of cornflour, mustard seeds, onion and celery out of the plughole, you will resolve to remember that tip in the future. I might be speaking from experience. Anyway, the sauce has gone into little freezer safe pots and will reheat well in the microwave or on the hob, provided it is stirred well. (I often end up reheating stuff in the microwave simply because I can heat small amounts in it which would be too meagre for even my smallest pan.) Used up: the leftover sauce from the Slow-Cooked Pork Loin Steak With Celery and Onion.

Just needs thickening and some mince or meatballs adding to it. And the cheese. Always the cheese.

Just needs thickening and some mince or meatballs adding to it. And the cheese. Always the cheese.

4. Just about a litre of Sneaky Aunty M’s Bolognese Sauce, which was the sieved bits I’d retained from the soup, a beef stock jelly and 500 ml water, plus two pathetically-small carrots (thinly sliced) and a chunk of golden courgette. The seeds start to get larger the more the courgette grows, so I batoned it: taking off thick strips all the way round until I was left with a spongy squarish middle bit, full of seeds, to discard. A couple of the batons had a few seeds in them and these were cleanly removed with a teaspoon. I then chopped the courgette into small pieces and chucked it straight in the sauce, although I did debate whether to sauté it first and might if I did it again. On tasting the sauce after it started to bubble and thicken, it was extremely acidic, which made sense given the concentration of skin and seeds. I added a couple of rounded tablespoons of dark brown muscovado sugar but any (ideally, brown) sugar would do, tasting after the first one. It neutralised the acidity beautifully and whilst I originally intended this to be a general tomato sauce, it’s much more suited to a Bolognese, lasagna or other mince-based meal because of the beef stock and the richness of the flavour now. The sauce is sneaky, because once it cooled, I whizzed it in a blender until it was very smooth and all the veg was hidden, which should con my niece, and possibly even my nephew, into eating it.

[I was a bit concerned about whether the level of salt in the sauce would be safe for children, since poisoning them is never the way to win Aunt of the Year. I checked to see what’s considered to be an acceptable amount for a child to ingest. Turns out it’s all a bit complicated but you can read this and it will explain. Reading the label, one pot’s got more salt in one portion than a child of three should have in a day. That’s not exact: it assumes a portion is 125ml of prepared stock and that’s a large portion of sauce for a child, so they probably wouldn’t get the full amount, but I added another 250 ml water which didn’t adversely affect the flavour, to minimise risk. The sauce can now be thickened by stirring in some flour or cornflour. I might try frying some mince and then pouring this over dry pasta, before topping with cheese and baking in an oven at 190C until the cheese is golden and the pasta is cooked.]

Can be frozen and then reheated in the microwave when required. Used up: the pulpy bits I strained out of the soup, 2 small carrots, 1/3 of one of the giant courgettes. Will be enough for one large saucepan (about 850ml) of Bolognese-style sauce, making enough sauce for about 3-4 decent servings of Bolognese and the same for the pasta bake, once you’ve added some mince or meatballs.

As at right now, the list of stuff to be used up (or cooked and frozen) is like this:

1 whole cauliflower: going to make a cauliflower cheese for a family meal tomorrow
1.15kg red onions (smallish ones): destined for red onion marmalade
Half a fresh fennel bulb, which had been wrapped in damp kitchen paper in a bag in the fridge as per the instructions on the packet
500g fresh parsnips, reduced to 50p in the local shop
1 whole white cabbage
1 pack of unsmoked, thick cut back bacon – 8 rashers
4 6 carrots, ranging from medium- to pathetic-sized
1 large white onion
Half a litre of roasted tomato and fennel for soup, which should have been frozen but wasn’t and so needed using up
250ml of leftover sauce from the Slow-Cooked Pork Loin Steak With Celery and Onion.
Several sticks of celery left from above recipe
2 trimmed leeks
1 marrow
2 enormous golden courgettes, given to me by a friend. They probably weigh 400g each.
500 ml double cream.
Assorted butter (salted and unsalted)

I had better get a move on…

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About SAM2.0

You'll want me on your team for the Zombie Apocalypse.
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