Adventures in Cooking: Using Stuff Up Part III

Haven’t you finished that yet? Well, no, because I can procrastinate better and harder and longer than you can and the only reason I did some more yesterday was that I didn’t want to have to bin food and that outweighed the various distractions.

Part I and Part II of Adventures in Cooking: Using Stuff Up, in which I try and cook everything and freeze it or pass it on so it doesn’t spoil, chronicle my adventures to date. This is what happens when you order a load of food and then life gets in the way and it sits about for longer than you’d planned. I’m aiming to use as much as possible, making stuff that’s as tasty as I can manage and uses as much as possible, with minimal waste.

Some stuff I made earlier.

Some stuff I made earlier.

To recap, I originally had this lot to use up and have crossed out stuff that I’ve already dealt with:

1 whole cauliflower
1.15kg red onions (smallish ones)
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
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.
Double cream.
Assorted butter (salted and unsalted)

In addition, I had loads of fresh tomatoes, mainly the Striped Americans, which had ripened, so decided to make the Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup again, just buying another bulb of fennel to top up what I already had. I still had a couple of red onions left in the cupboard.

I don't care if it's sad to think a tomato is beautiful: I could look at these all day. All the stripes.

I don’t care if it’s sad to think a tomato is beautiful: I could look at these all day.  All the stripes and shades of orange to red.

Cauliflower Cheese: Surprise!
I’d planned to get rid of that cauliflower by feeding it to my family at lunch last weekend, but didn’t manage to get there, so it was still sitting in the fridge, looking accusingly at me whenever I opened the door to get the milk. I ignored it until I decided that if I left it any longer it’d go off – probably on a killing spree judging by the fierceness of its gaze. Part of the downside of BOGOF veg from the supermarket is being stuck with too much of something and ending up throwing half of it away because quite honestly there’s a limit to how often you want to eat cauliflower in the same week. (Had I been sensible, I would have got on and blanched then frozen it in individual florets, on the day I bought it. I’m having to train myself to think like that, though. You don’t need any special blanching basket: you can manage everything with a colander and a couple of saucepans and perhaps a large bowl.)

It’s not on the list but in the fridge I’ve also got a strong, mature cheddar cheese, a block of Double Gloucester (thanks again, supermarket deals) and some Pecorino Romano: a hard sheep’s cheese I grate over stuff instead of fresh parmesan because it’s cheaper and I like the taste. So, a cauliflower cheese, then. Yay…

Having made one so recently, I decided to try something a bit different from my tried and tested recipe. Now, when you say in my family that you’ve decided to do something a bit different with a recipe, people start to get twitchy eyes. The cause of this is my father, and his history of bunging ‘leftovers’ (what he collectively refers to as leftovers is just ANYTHING that was cooked recently enough not to have fur and might be in a box in the fridge) into perfectly harmless meals and you end up with a shepherd’s pie with whole sprouts in it, or inappropriately and entirely erroneously placed baked beans and chopped roast potatoes in a curry. Probably sprouts in curry – they are rather a theme of his cooking, or were until 20 years of mocking seemed to have rather broken his spirit and he stopped doing it. Poor Dad: he didn’t grasp the concept that ‘hidden veg’ isn’t meant to just jump out at you with murder in its eyes from underneath an innocent-looking topping… He’s now enjoying something of a renaissance as he gets into cooking recipes tested by normal humans with actual taste buds, so you don’t need to feel too sorry for him.

That said, I had Fleetwood Mac playing as I decided to go my own way (sorry) and I decided to add the leeks and some of the celery which needed using up, in lieu of onion, which is a common ingredient in cauliflower cheese recipes. A basic cauliflower cheese was one of the very first things I taught myself to cook. I can throw one together in under an hour, including making a lovely cheese sauce from scratch, and it’s gorgeous. The only problem was that my daughter hated the stuff so it’s not something I’ve cooked frequently for a long time.

Like stealing sweets from small children, a simple cauliflower cheese is the easiest thing in the world to do once you get your technique right. It’s also cheaper if you get the cauliflowers when they’re in season. I got mine for £1 each and they were large ones without too many bits of greenery, which only ends up going straight into the compost crock. You could just as easily used frozen cauliflower if you can’t get fresh. I’ve written up my recipe (not that anyone can really take ownership of a basic white sauce and a cauliflower) here.

Roasted Courgettes & Carrots
I had so much in the way of roasted tomato, fennel, onions and garlic that I decided to divert some of it into making some pasta sauce to freeze: for times when I just haven’t got the time or inclination to cook from scratch. I took all the courgettes I had: the giant ones plus three  smaller ones from my garden which I’d harvested over the last few days, and chopped them into chunks, each about as long as my index finger. I also had 4 carrots to use up, so I prepared them the same way to speed the cook time.

The plan was to leave the courgette chunks large enough so that they wouldn’t cook down to nothing before the carrots had cooked through. I cut them in half, lengthways, so I could see the middle and whether anything needed to be scooped out. For the largest courgettes, I used a paring knife to take off any bits of skin that I thought looked a bit old or damaged, and I scooped out the spongy pith and seeds with a dessert spoon and disposed of them. I wanted to do a similar thing to the tomato roasting method and have everything cook in its own juices, so I stuck the carrots on the bottom and then the courgettes on top in a ceramic casserole dish.

Golden courgettes in the sun.

Golden courgettes in the sun.

I don’t usually add salt to something like roasted veg before/during cooking, but I knew the courgettes were about 99% water, so sprinkled a pinch of rock salt* over them to help release some of that, before drizzling everything with a little olive oil. I put the dish in the oven on the slightly higher temperature of Gas 4, thinking of the carrots. After about half an hour, I checked and the courgettes were at risk of speeding ahead of them, so I put the lid on for a further 15 minutes and everything then cooked beautifully inside without burning or going to pulp. You could have this as a cheap vegetable side dish to accompany all sorts of things, such as roast chicken thighs, or with sausages, mash and a good gravy. My plan is to chop it up a bit, though, and incorporate it into the pasta sauce, which I will make tonight.

*Having done some reading, you apparently don’t need to salt courgettes (or aubergine) these days, unless they’re very large, so next time I won’t add salt to the veg and will see whether it makes any difference to the flavour or the amount of juice released. The technique of releasing water or bitterness from food by salting, sweating, rinsing and then patting dry, is called ‘degorging’, just so you know. Ew.

I let both the cooked tomato batch and the courgette/carrot batch sit overnight in the fridge, as it will allow the flavours to develop. Also, it was too late to use a blender without justifiably annoying anyone who happened to hear it by the time I got to that stage, so it had to wait. I’ve used up almost all my storage boxes, so christened my newly acquired jam funnel by using it to pour everything beautifully neatly into preserving jars. They went in the fridge overnight, having thoroughly cooled first.

What Now?
OK, so just in case you weren’t paying attention, as at right now my list looks like this:

1 whole cauliflower
1.15kg red onions (smallish ones)
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 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.
2 trimmed leeks
2 enormous golden courgettes, given to me by a friend.
Assorted butter (salted and unsalted)
1 whole white cabbage
Several sticks of celery left from previous recipe
1 marrow
Double cream.

I’ve already chopped all the celery and discarded any dodgy bits into the compost crock. That’s now in one of these brilliant bags, which is how I keep stuff fresher for far longer than you might expect and why all this stuff didn’t go horrible last week. I will (almost certainly) turn that into a cream of celery soup tomorrow.

The cabbage is still in perfect condition and destined for bubble and squeak. I’m going to try and see if I can make some in food rings or press them in my burger press, and then freeze them between pieces of greaseproof paper for heating up quickly another time. I’ll consult the hive mind before I try anything reckless.

I have a bag of spuds that wasn’t on the original list but now is because of how I procrastinate a lot. Some of them are a necessary ingredient of the bubble and squeak, and anything that’s left I’ll make into extra nice mash, add some cream to help use that up (you really don’t need very much to make it taste like luxury rather than cheapo mash) and then freeze it. I’m going to try freezing individual ice cream scoops of potato on a tray, before transferring them to a freezer bag. The idea being that I can take exactly what I need, rather than having boxes which might have more than a single portion in the freezer. It should be both massively cheaper and significantly tastier than ready-meal mash, which usually isn’t that great and is ridiculously overpriced for what it is, but with the same level of convenience. It will reheat from frozen in the microwave or could be defrosted and then used as a topping etc. for something like a fish pie. Since you can also freeze a lot of grated cheese, if you grate and freeze the ends of cheese blocks rather than letting them go mouldy, you can have all the labour-intensive stuff already done but the meal will still taste like you spent time on it.

More as it happens.

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About SAM2.0

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