Tag Archives: comfort food

Leftovers: over catering or over eating?

Reading Jay Rayner’s article on the art of leftovers in the Observer Food Monthly, I find myself nodding in agreement with his enthusiasm for creating a new dish out of last night’s dinner or the remains of my fruit and veg drawer.

Almost all proper leftovers require a hot pan, and a knob of fizzing butter… or a well-seasoned wok, thin egg noodles, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and the brisk slap of chilli. Think leftover potato and cabbage, crusting up nicely in a nimbus of frothy butter for bubble and squeak… or a stir fry of indeterminate provenance, designed to use up fragments of last night’s bird, flavoured with the contents of almost every bottle in the cupboard.

Rather than seeing leftovers as bad planning, Rayner encourages his readers to over cater on purpose. Although dishes that use leftovers can be slightly mongrel in appearance and “less virtuous than the dish which begat them,” the imagination and spontaneity a cook uses to ressurect leftovers can often result in a moment of genius.

One thing Rayner fails to mention however, is that it is really hard to over cater and then not over eat. I live in a shared house, and all too often the smell of food bubbling on the hob will bring my housemates out of the woodwork. It is not uncommon for me to be cooking ‘for one’ (over catering of course) and then find myself serving seven hungry mouths round the table. Of course, sharing food is one of the joys of cooking – but sharing makes leftovers more difficult… I feel a bit tight siphoning off food to hide away in a tupperware, just so I have something left for the day after. Perhaps I should start over-overcatering?…

If you can manage to resist warm, fresh risotto, here is one of my favourite recipes for the leftovers:

Arancini: crispy fried cheesy rice balls

Left over mushroom risotto (about enough for 3-4 people)
200g crimini or other flavourful mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
2 balls buffalo Mozzarella, cubed
3 tbsp Plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
250g fresh white breadcrumbs
1.5 litres sunflower oil, for frying

Fry the crimini mushrooms for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Once cool, stir mushrooms with parsley and mozzarella. This is your filling for the arancini.

With wet hands, take a heaped tablespoonful of the risotto and flatten into the palm of your hand. Put a teaspoonful of the Mozzarella mixture in the middle, and mould the rice around it to form a ball. Seal the ball completely so no cheese escapes whilst frying – don’t be too greedy and overfill them. Roll each arancini in flour, shake off the excess flour, then dip each ball in beaten egg and coat in the breadcrumbs. When all your arancini are ready, heat the oil until a bread cube turns golden in 20 seconds. Fry the arancini, in batches, until crisp and golden all over. Drain on kitchen paper.

I can guarantee you there will be no leftovers.

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Whip cream with a jam jar

I have discovered the most convenient and amusing way to whip a small amount of cream in minutes.

Take a small, clean glass jar and fill it just under half way with double or whipping cream. Shake!

Depending on how fast you can shake the jar, the cream whips to a firm texture in no time. My dinner guests were pretty over excited when a race emerged between two competitive shakers – just make sure the lid is firmly on each jar to avoid catastrophe. 

I’m now wondering what else I can take my jar method to; whisking eggs? frothing milk for cappuccino? mayonnaise? … watch this space.

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Spaghetti with Marmite?

Whilst looking for a Tiramisu recipe online, I came across this recipe for Spaghetti with Marmite instead (am I the only person to get so distracted looking for recipes on the web?)

375g dried spaghetti

50g/ unsalted butter

1 tsp Marmite, to taste

freshly grated parmesan, to serve

  • Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling, salted water, according to the packet instructions.
  • When the pasta is almost cooked, melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the Marmite and one tablespoon of the pasta water, mixing thoroughly to dissolve.
  • Reserve half a cup of the pasta water; then drain the pasta and pour the Marmite mixture over the drained spaghetti, adding a little of the reserved pasta water to amalgamate if required.
  • Serve with plenty of grated parmesan.

This recipe comes from Italian cookery writer Anna del Conte, by way of Nigella Lawson. I’m yet to try it – but I think I know what I’m having for tea tonight.

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Marmalady

Tea. Toast. Marmalade… my holy trinity.

I didn’t realise the importance of toast and marmalade until I left home for the first time to go to University. My family has always stayed in touch and found adventure at the same time: my father works in Scotland, Monday to Friday; my Mum has taught in Bolivia, Peru and Argentina in her retirement; and my sister makes a living out of organizing other people’s travels around the world. Marmalade has been the one constant in all my years of travel; absence makes the marmalade grow sweeter, and I never feel far from home without it.

There is a ritual associated with making our family marmalade. Mum gets in the oranges, Dad opens a good bottle of wine, and they pass the evening peeling away time and pith, cutting up the fruit and relaxing into the citrus smells as it boils away with more sugar than you’d like to think. We only have a limited supply of the golden, citrus-sweet preserve each year. We normally make about fifty jars, and there is always a slight panic in November when we only have ten jars left and wonder if there is still enough for Christmas.

I can justify tea, toast and marmalade any time of day: a quick snack; a luxurious breakfast; a late night treat. The tea is comforting, slipping down my throat to wash away the final crumbs, and I relish in the crunch of the toast, as my teeth sink into marmalade and butter. Oh the butter! I cut butter so wantonly that friends have often mistaken some Anchor butter for a piece of cheddar cheese on my toast. It sits there proud, like a gold bar your hips are going to pay for. For me it’s always been butter and bread, not bread and butter. Like jacket potatoes and freshly toasted crumpets, toast is essentially a vehicle for copious amounts of butter, and marmalade its willing accomplice.

My breakfast communion involves brewing the tea first, only making the toast once the milk has been added to the tea (teabag still in), so the tea is just the right temperature when the toast is ready. The butter must be slightly soft, but still hard enough to cut into thick pieces. I tip the marmalade jar slightly to one side, using my knife to fish out the pieces of rind along with the pulpy marmalade. As I take my first bite I feel the solid base of toast on my tongue, with the fresh citrus sweetness on the roof of my mouth and a buttery layer in between the two. The satisfying discovery of a piece of rind cuts through the sweetness, and sends a tang of bitterness round the edge of my tongue as I work the remaining seeds from the bread out of my teeth and wash the whole experience down with warm, dark tea.

I have to take a brief pause from writing— excuse me! I run down to the kitchen, I can almost feel the butter on my teeth and I justify the indulgence in more marmalade as purely for research purposes.

Marmalade is a typical English preserve which originates from the Portuguese marmelada, although the Scots are credited with coming up with the recipe in the 1700s when faced with an inconveniently large stock of Spanish oranges that had come into port. Although I think of it as English, marmalade has crossed more borders than I realise. Marmalade is not tied to one particular place or home for me, as I’ve eaten it in a flat in Leeds with no central heating, a rickety apartment in Northern Spain, and huddled next to a radiator looking over the Rocky Mountains in Canada. It tastes of all the places I’ve lived, and like an umbilical breakfast chord, it always takes me back to my mum. In each city I have had a jar of her marmalade with me, providing me with the one taste of stability I needed. The crunch of the toast and sweet release of the marmalade sounds better than Dorothy clicking her heels, and suddenly there was no place like which ever home I happened to be breakfasting in.

Over the years my mum and I have honed our technique for posting marmalade ever increasing distance as I have studied abroad in Spain and Canada. We had to contend with the marmalade’s viscosity, its propensity for leakage, and find a container that was lighter and less breakable than a jam jar. The first time mum sent marmalade to Leeds, she used a small butter container, wrapped with brown package tape, a sandwich bag, and then more tape. When I went to the post office to pick the package up, I was required to answer a few questions from the Post Master about this sticky package they had been holding on to. We’ve since tried yoghurt pots, plastic bags and containers, but have finally settled on a screw top Tupperware about the size of a tea mug, which fits all the criteria and still looks good on the kitchen table.

I secretly worry about what will happen after my mum dies. I imagine crying onto my dry toast, unable to compromise myself with a shop-bought brand. I have long chastised myself for not learning from her, so she agreed to teach me her secrets— and my first batch was delicious. Yet the idea of making my own marmalade was more frightening than not having any at all. My own jar of marmalade had the taste of my mother’s mortality; like finding out where her Last Will was—I just didn’t want to know until I needed to. I will only have to make my own batch of marmalade when my mum finally hangs up her wooden spoon and preserving pan for good; so until then I will happily breakfast on the tangy fruits of her labour and put the kettle on to boil once again.

oranges and lemons

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where angels fear to crunch

crrrruuunch ssccchhrrrt ccrrrr kk cht kt kt

It’s tricky to capture the satisfaction of eating crunchy food in words. Onomatopoeia just doesn’t cut it.

Is there anything more satisfying than breaking the caramel seal of a crème brûlée? The crack of a light green celery stick. The crunch of salted crisps. When a plate of food arrives in front of me, I already know what it should sound like and there is nothing more disconcerting that not hearing what you expect. How bitter the disappointment of biting into an apple — full of the anticipation of being greeted by the resounding snap of juicy flesh — only to be met by a sullen and floury excuse for a piece of fruit. Blurgh! would be my reaction, and there are no sharp t d ch k tasty, crunchy consonants there.

All too often, the sound of food is forgotten. There is something reassuring and refreshing about food that sings its last vital moment before consumption. Like a martyr crying out his last joyful prayers as he burns at the stake; the sound of a barbeque is almost as good as it tastes. Food that remains silent has something to hide; a floppy carrot or a limp piece of celery are not to be trusted as they sneak around your salad unheard.

Manufacturers refer to the sound of food as ‘mouth feel.’ They realise the importance consumers put on what food feels like in one’s mouth as much as what it tastes like. Yet a phrase that sells junk food is actually an age-old human desire to feel fully alive. It’s the feeling you get when you lose yourself in a mouthful of food. That panna cotta in Florence tasted so fine I shouldn’t have been eating it in public. Those peaches in San Sebastian. A fresh chocolate brownie in Borough market. Moments of food bliss like that do not have a sell-by date because they make us feel alive.

Life is at its fullest when you eat with all your senses; we know this food is good because every one of our senses sings out to us. As we see, feel, smell, taste and hear what goes into our mouths, our whole body is confirmed and obliterated at the same time. Just for a moment, we are more than human.

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