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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas Leftovers: Be Prepared

Only a few days now to the great food orgy that is Christmas.  Hopefully, your shopping is going well, your lists are all getting ticked off, your cupboards, fridge, freezer and vegetable racks are brimming over, and you’ve already started some of the prep.  You’ve read my Stress Free Christmas Dinner and Christmas Pudding methods and you’re confident, albeit a little frazzled.  The presents are wrapped and under the tree, and you even remembered to send a card to Great Aunt Ada.

It may seem a strange thing to say before the great event, but make sure you’re also prepared to deal with all those leftovers: the shops won’t be open for a few days after Christmas, or the weather may prevent you from getting to them.

There is always a lot of food left over, and it would be a shame and a crime to waste any of it.  I will be giving you some leftovers recipes in the days following the festivities, but even a turkey lover like me will soon get fed up with turkey sandwiches, turkey curry, turkey soup, turkey casserole etc.  It’s not surprising that many of us only eat turkey once a year, after that overdose.  Better to keep a little for a few cold cuts, then freeze the rest.

Deal with the carcass as soon as you have a quiet moment: don’t leave it any more than two days after the Big Meal.  Strip all the meat from the bones, and slice, dice and mince into various portions to be frozen for future reference.  Keep the white and dark meats separate if you like.  If you have a break in the endless social round, make a stock with the bones (my chicken stock method here works perfectly for turkey bones), or break the carcass up and freeze that too for a quieter time.

Don’t chuck out all that lovely veg, however unappealing it may look the morning after.  Roast potatoes don’t reheat particularly successfully as roast potatoes, but, cut into smaller pieces, make wonderful sautéed potatoes.  Or chop finely, along with any other leftover veg, such as parsnips, swede, carrots, brussels, cabbage and plenty of seasoning, and you have the classic “bubble and squeak”.  Form into burger sized patties, and fry gently in oil, butter, dripping or lard until they are crisp and golden on the outsides, and heated right through.  They do tend to break up, which doesn’t matter, but if you prefer them to keep their shape, you can add a little beaten egg to the mix.  These patties also freeze well, so use up all the leftover veggies in one batch.

Leftover cooked sausages can be frozen, either whole, or in chunks, and can be later used to make, say, a sausage and bean casserole, toad in the hole, or, with a can of tomatoes and a few herbs, onions and garlic, a simple pasta sauce.

Christmas pudding can be recycled: the traditional way of reheating is to gently fry the portions in a little butter.  Again, spare portions can be frozen.

Cheese is rarely a problem in my house: I’ll have worked my way through it, however much there is, long before there is any danger of it turning, but if you are not such a cheese-monkey as me, the freezer can again be your friend.  Most cheeses freeze and defrost well for “normal” eating, but you may want to break it into smaller chunks, or even grate it before freezing, and use it for cooking.  Grated cheese can be used pretty much straight from the freezer for cheese sauces, gratins, or even a toasted cheese sandwich.

Grate any bread that’s going stale, either by hand, or in the food processor.  A big bag of breadcrumbs is a very useful thing to have – as long as they are thoroughly dried before storage, they will last for ages in an airtight container, or, again, in the freezer.

Make sure you have a big pan to make the stock (it will probably be the one that you use to steam the Christmas Pudding) and plenty of food storage boxes, aluminium foil and cling film in stock.

Also make sure that you have plenty of pickles, sauces and mayonnaise, and lots of bread and rolls for instant “I can’t face any more cooking right now” meals with the bits you don’t freeze.

Label everything very clearly: you know what it is right now, but won’t remember on a dark February evening when you are rummaging through the freezer looking for a quick meal.  Freeze everything as soon as possible, and make sure that you thoroughly reheat any leftovers – don’t take risks with food bugs: they are there however clean a cook you are.

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