Sunday, 13 September 2009

In Praise of Leftovers

These days we are being exhorted by everyone to waste less, reduce our carbon footprint, and to use only what we need. But with today’s hectic lifestyle, all that can be easier said than done. Not only that, but who wants to eat leftovers all the time? Back in the day, the Sunday roast would last for two or three days, most often reincarnated as cold meat or sandwiches. By the time it was finally finished, everyone was well fed up with it.

Actually, leftovers are lovely. Seriously. In fact, I like them so much I deliberately buy larger cuts of meat in order to be sure we have some. Not only that, but leftovers actually make it easier to keep up with today’s hectic lifestyle. Don’t believe me? Read on.

In the pursuit of the quick and easy, we have forgotten how little effort it requires to cook a nice big roast or a whole chicken or turkey. For some reason the belief is that this is a difficult thing to do. Actually roasting a piece of meat is of the easiest things you can imagine. Yes, it takes time, but very little effort is involved from the cook. In fact, one of the easiest dinner party ideas I can think of is to roast a beautiful sirloin or rib roast. All you have to do is bring it out of the fridge about a half hour before (so it does not go straight into the oven bone chillingly cold), season it with salt and pepper and perhaps anoint it with a bit of olive oil. Put it in a hot oven (say about 375℉ or 175℃) and depending on the size of the roast or bird (and in the case of a roast how well you like it done), about two hours later, dinner is served. (Be sure to allow about twenty minutes at the end for the meat to rest covered outside of the oven, or all the lovely juices will be lost when you carve the meat.)

Yes, you need to make gravy or a sauce, potatoes or rice and a vegetable or salad, but this is all pretty light work. In fact, my favourite potato dishes at the moment is to heat some olive oil on a baking sheet in the oven for about five minutes and then (carefully – you don’t want to burn yourself with hot oil!) remove it and put washed and dried baby new potatoes in the oil. Using a spoon, roll them to coat, and pop them back in the oven for about forty to fifty minutes. Roast baby new potatoes – yummy and so very easy. If you think of it, take them out about halfway through cooking and turn, but they are so small it is no tragedy if you forget to do this. All this is so easy as to render it do-able not just on a weekend or special occasion, but even – dare I suggest it – one evening during the week.

But back to the leftovers bit. I’m going to concentrate on a roast beef in this entry as it is my roast of the moment, the thing I am really into as the nights grow cooler. So, if you are serving a roast to several friends as I did last night (and last Saturday and the one before as well incidentally) buy a nice big roast, say twice the size you need. Check with your butcher or ask at the meat counter in your grocery store if you are not sure about sizes – and if you are like me take their suggestion and add a bit again. I usually work on roast that is about 3 kilograms, so a bit over six pounds of meat. It might sound like a lot, but believe me we are going to have fun with it.

So, when you first cook this very large piece of meat, you could serves it perhaps as I suggested above, with a nice gravy or sauce (I have been known to purchase good ready made gravy or sauce for ease if I’m having a dinner party). Side dishes could include roast baby new potatoes and say, some steamed vegetables or a nice salad. Even if you are serving six or seven with a roast like this (as I did last night) you are definitely going to have a nice size piece of meat left. I like to just slice off what I need, and leave the rest to cool. Be sure to refrigerate it promptly after it has cooled off a bit. That is the key to delicious, safe leftovers.

The next day when it has all gone quiet, slice the meat into as many tidy slices as you can, and separate the slices from the bits that are slightly chunkier. You should have enough for at least two, or maybe three meals left here. Now of course, you can use some of the slices in cold sandwiches, with a bit of horseradish or sharp mustard on some nice crusty bread for lunch. However, if you want a more substantial, really satisfying supper sandwich, try this. Sauté some thinly sliced mild onions in a bit of butter. Now when I say, sauté, I mean cook over very low heat for a very long time. The longer you can cook onions, the yummier they are – I like to go for at least twenty minutes. Add a teaspoon of sugar to the onions about halfway through cooking. Now stir in a bit of leftover homemade or packaged liquid gravy (canned or fresh from the chiller cabinet) – just a bit though; you want it fairly thick. Now, very gently lay the leftover slices of beef in the pan with your oniony gravy over low heat just to warm through. Cut a nice crusty loaf of French baguette or an Italian ciabatta in generous chunks (about four to six inches long) and slice each one of those in half. We are going for an open-faced production here. Serve the oniony beef and gravy mixture over slices of crusty bread. It’s positively ambrosial comfort food for a Fall evening.

Another delicious sandwich idea is to make hot hoagie style sandwiches. You can even use French baguette or rolls that are a bit on the stale side as they will be revitalised when you heat these yummy sandwiches in the oven.

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Hot Hoagie Sandwiches
Serves 4

I large baguette or 4 rolls
Several slices of cold leftover pork or beef
1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar
Leftover roasted peppers or vegetables
Grated cheese

Slice the baguette into 4 pieces and split it so that you can put the fillings inside. If you are using rolls, slice them in the same way. Butter the baguette or rolls. Place each baguette on a piece of aluminum foil big enough to wrap around the entire sandwich. Preheat the oven to about 150ºC or 325ºF.

Melt the 1 tablespoon butter in a frying pan and gently fry the onion until it begins to take on a golden colour. Sprinkle with the sugar and cook a little longer. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Fill each piece of baguette or roll with a quarter of the meat, roasted vegetables, fried onions and cheese. Now wrap each sandwich firmly in the foil. Place the foil wrapped sandwiches on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 1o to 15 minutes or until heated through. Unwrap the sandwiches carefully (they will be steaming hot!) and enjoy. These taste great with a cold beer and some crisps or potato chips on the side.

But what to do with the not-so-tidy slices, those chunks of meat that often end up lost in the back of the freezer? That need never happen again. Those chunky slices can make the most wonderful stroganoff. Normally beef stroganoff is made with slices of fresh beef fillet, cooked at the very last minute. However you can definitely use leftovers for a yummy (much less pricey) version too.

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Leftovers Stroganoff
Serves about 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 large onions, finely sliced (red or white onions or one of each)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup sliced white mushrooms
1 cup beef stock (made from a cube is fine)
2 tablespoons wholegrain Dijon mustard
(if you don’t have wholegrain Dijon, use 1 tablespoon of ordinary Dijon)
½ cup half fat crème fraîche or light sour cream
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
about 2 cups ragged bits of leftover beef from a roast, sliced as thinly as you can

Melt the butter with the oil in a fairly deep frying pan. Add the onions and sauté gently over low heat for twenty minutes, until they are soft and beginning to colour. Add the sugar and then stir in the mushrooms. Cook for a couple of minutes. Turn the heat up to medium, add the beef stock and reduce for about two or three minutes, stirring constantly. Turn the heat back and stir in the mustard, crème fraîche, paprika and nutmeg. Heat through. Gently stir in the beef and heat just until piping hot throughout. (As it is already cooked, you don’t want to make the beef dry by overheating.)

Serve over some warm, buttery rice. It’s absolutely delicious.

From you average 3 kilogram/seven pound-ish roast you are likely to get the main meal for four to six people, one or two cold sandwiches, supper sandwiches for three to four people and stroganoff for three or four. That’s one (not very major) cooking effort the first night, followed by a very light amount of effort on the other occasions. (The very easy stroganoff is probably the most complicated suggestion here.) As cold meat will keep for up to three days in the fridge, you can use everything up in plenty of time. Of course if there are only one or two of you – or you don’t fancy beef three days in a row - feel free to freeze any leftovers (carefully labelled at the front of the freezer!). It takes no time at all to thaw a couple of slices of roast beef or a small bag of chunky bits.

So you see, using up your leftovers need not be tedious or boring – a little bit of creativity and they won’t even be recognisable as leftovers at all. Being economical and reducing your carbon footprint isn’t all that difficult after all. It’s also very delicious!

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