I know I’m not the only one who’s been doing a spot of cleaning and sorting lately. Pristine pantry? Tick. Fridge organised with all items that are growing new life forms removed? Tick.Freezer emptied and multiple containers of obscure ingredients and ancient dead food thrown out? Tick.
But when is it good and when is it bad? Can you transform that freezer-burnt meat into something decidedly good? Yes. Cut off the freezer burn and make stock.
Should you throw out the fish sauce in the pantry that has crystals forming in the bottom?No. This means it is more concentrated and so you will need to use less.
What about that cheese or jam with the little bit of mould on the side? Answer: it depends (see below).
Obviously, you don’t want to kill yourself or anyone else.But in my book, as long as things aren’t actually rotten, rancid or have dangerous mould or bacteria, then I don’t like to waste them. Leftover casseroles and stews – all those little pottles we freeze for when we think we will be home alone but always forget to eat, can be the start point of a good soup – provided they don’t have any strong or tainted “freezer” smells.
Ground spices are quick to lose their essential oils and become almost tasteless. The best way to tell if they are any good is to open the packet or jar and smell it. If you can’t tell what spice it is, then it needs to go out. (Apparently slugs don’t like ground chilli, so sprinkle that around your lettuces.)
Mouldy jam tends to taste mouldy and horrid. Avoid this by storing it in the fridge once opened. If you spot mould on your cheese, you don’t necessarily have to throw it out. In hard cheeses, such as parmesan, colby and cheddar, the mould rarely spreads beyond the surface, which means that the rest of the product is safe to eat. To salvage it, trim at least 2.5cm around and below the mould. On the other hand, any signs of mould in soft cheeses or shredded, crumbled or sliced varieties, which include cream cheese, cottage cheese and ricotta, mean that it should be thrown out — as the spores can easily contaminate the entire product.
Odds of leftover bread are easily transformed into breadcrumbs (delicious flavoured with a garlicky oil and baked until crispy). A nugget of bacon or chorizo is an excellent flavour-booster for soup or pasta, leftover parmesan rinds add their umami clout to soups, and frozen vegetables make useful fillings for quiche, frittata, pasta sauce and the pakoras below. Waste not, want not, the planet will be proud of you.
In the case of freezer-burnt meat, chicken or seafood, you won’t want to serve it up as the primary protein on your dinner plate. No, that won’t be nice at all. However, cut off the white freezer-burnt parts and you have the beginnings of a good stock. Pop the trimmed protein in a pot with a peeled onion, maybe a leek or some parsley stems, a bay leaf and a little carrot if you like the tone of sweetness it delivers, and let it all simmer away. If you have some bones to add to the pot all the better. After about an hour your leftover bits and pieces will have transformed into a flavoursome stock. Strain, cool, label and date, and chill or freeze, ready for your next risotto, soup or slow cook.
Fish sauce,soy sauce and vinegar all keep seemingly forever. They will evaporate over time, which makes them stronger and fish sauce will form crystals in the bottom of the jar but that’s something you potentially pay more for, as like vinegar, fish sauce improves with ageing. Oils, on the other hand, do not. You can easily tell if they have gone rancid just by opening the lid and smelling.
Crunchy Vegetable Pakoras
This recipe is very flexible in terms of the vegetables to use, so it’s a great way to use up leftover vegetables in the fridge. It’s also gluten-free, thanks to the chickpea flour (also known as besan) and, if served without the yoghurt sauce, it’s dairy-free and vegan too.
Ready in 35 mins
Makes about 16 medium or 35 small pakoras
2½ cups chickpea flour
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
2-3 tsp curry powder, or to taste
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups cold water
1 large onion, preferably red, halved and thinly sliced crossways
4 packed cups diced mixed vegetables, such as carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin and peas, (or thawed mixed frozen vegetables)
½ cup chopped coriander leaves
Neutral oil, to fry
1 recipe So-Useful Yoghurt Sauce (see below), to serve
Combine chickpea flour with mustard seeds, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, salt, baking soda and pepper. Add water and stir to make a smooth batter. Check consistency – it should fall easily from the spoon and make ripples when it lands. Add a little more water if needed. Mix in the onion, vegetables and coriander.
Heat 2cm-3cm oil in a deep frying pan. Test the oil is hot enough by dropping in a little of the mixture – it should bubble right away. Working in batches, fry heaped tablespoons of the mixture over medium heat, turning once until golden and cooked through (about 2-3 minutes each side). Lift out with a slotted spoon, shake off excess oil and drain on paper towels. The pakoras can be prepared ahead to this stage, chilled until needed and reheated in a 200C fan bake oven for 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with yoghurt sauce.
So-Useful Yoghurt Sauce
Crush 1 clove garlic to a paste with ½ tsp salt. Mix in ½ cup Greek-style yoghurt
2 Tbsp chopped coriander leaves and 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Makes ¾ cup.
Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom Pasta
I often buy a big packet of bacon and freeze it in small packets of 3-4 rashers so I can use it in dishes like this.
Ready in 30 mins
400g dried pasta shapes
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
400g boneless, skinless chicken, thinly sliced
250g mushrooms, thinly sliced
4-6 rashers bacon, finely chopped
2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp white wine or vermouth (optional)
2 tsp thyme leaves
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus extra to garnish
Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to packet instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large heavy-based frying pan and fry chicken, mushrooms, bacon and garlic until chicken is lightly browned (4-5 minutes). Add cream, wine or vermouth, if using, and thyme, bring to a simmer then cook over low heat, stirring now and then, until chicken is cooked through (5 minutes). Season to taste.
Drain pasta, reserving 2 Tbsp cooking liquid. Toss pasta and reserved liquid through sauce with parmesan and parsley. Serve sprinkled with extra parmesan and parsley.
Creamy Pumpkin and Bean Gratin
This is a great dish to assemble ahead of time, ready to bake and can be easily doubled to feed a crowd (cook in 2 dishes). Serve with a crisp green salad, such as wedges of iceberg lettuce with a tangy Dijon vinaigrette. Kūmara can be used in place of pumpkin if preferred.
Ready in 1 hour 10 mins
Serves 2-3 as a main or 4 as a side
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
450g wedge pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
400g can cannellini or butter beans, drained and rinsed
2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
2 cups finely shredded kale
1 cup cream
¼ cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp finely chopped thyme leaves or 2 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup grated tasty cheddar or Gruyere cheese
1 cup panko crumbs or breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 200 C fan bake.
Place onions and pumpkin in a 2-litre capacity oven dish, drizzle with oil, spread out in a single layer and season. Roast until just tender and starting to brown (30 minutes).
While the veges are cooking, place beans in a pot with garlic, lemon zest, kale, cream, lemon juice, thyme, nutmeg, 1 tsp salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.
Remove veges from the oven and top with the bean mixture. Mix cheese with panko or breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top. Return to oven and bake until golden (30-35 minutes). Serve hot.
Yvonne Lorkin's picks …
Citizen Collective Pale Ale 5% 440ml (6pk x $40.50)
Not having a cold beer close by when launching into a heaping bowl of perfectly spicy, crunchy little pakoras is a dire situation. So if you have a can or six of this vibrant, citrusy fresh pale ale in the fridge, then you’ll never be caught short. It’s softly toasty textures work a treat with the curry flavours. Not only is it brewed using the carbs from slices of rescued bread from Goodman Fielder, Foodstuffs and Farro Fresh, each brew repurposes 585 bread tags and plastic bread bags into next-generation fenceposts. Nice one.
(Chicken mushroom and bacon pasta)
Chard Farm River Run Central Otago Pinot Noir 2019 $34
Anything with mushrooms in it, my first instinct is always to reach for pinot noir — and, in the case of this creamy, bacony, bowl of goodness, my instincts were right. The Hay family’s River Run vineyards are located in Gibbston Valley and the Cromwell Basin, and in 2019 they sure as heck produced incredibly smart, impeccably pure grapes to make the good stuff. Glossy and gorgeous in the glass and scented with soft spices, red cherries and buckets of berries, it’s a luscious and juicy thing to accompany the salty richness of this dish. There’s also a slightly smoky edge and the tannins are gentle and plump.
(Creamy pumpkin and bean gratin)
Jules Taylor Marlborough Pinot Gris 2021 $22
Pinot gris is always my go-to with pumpkin-based things. No matter if it’s a bake, a tagine, a curry, a soup, a gnocchi or a roast – pinot gris is the most. However, if your experiences with pinot gris to date have only involved yawn-inducingly commercial, sweet, flabby styles, then steady yourself for an attitude shift of epic proportions. Bold and generously dry, the new J.T. pinot gris is crammed with classic nashi and quince characters, softly spiced layers and a spine of solid acidity. It’s got character, weight and freshness for days.
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