celery, parmesan and lemon salad

Over the years I have accumulated quite a few kitchen gadgets. Some of them are useful, some things just lie in my kitchen drawer and have only been used once or twice. Egg slicer, anyone? Having said that, I must add that I do have some pieces of equipment that make me unbelievably happy every time I use them. One of those items is a mandoline which I received over 15 years ago as a xmas present from my friend Katja. The model I have is adjustable which allows you to slice even the hardest vegetable into paper-thin slices. It effortlessly transforms cucumbers into transparent discs, fennel shavings appear as a whisper on top of salads and potatoes can be sliced evenly for a gratin. I think there are very few people in this world who have the knife skills to compete with a good-quality mandoline.

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Coming to speak of leftovers. Since a mandoline can turn even the most mundane produce into a stunning ingredient in any dish, I find it an extremely helpful tool to make use of your leftovers. If you get one that is adjustable in height (which allows you to choose the thickness of your slices) and has a sharp blade, it is a pleasure to use.

Celery is an ingredient I often have leftover. You buy a whole bunch and usually need only a stalk or two. A few years ago I read of a salad with thinly sliced celery, parmesan and lemon. There were no quantities given, but I find to make this simple summery salad you don’t need exact quantities. I usually make it by guess and by gosh. Often I use finely grated lemon zest and the juice to scatter over the salad. This time I wanted to make use of preserved lemons, because I have quite a few jars of them in my fridge. Note to self: preserved lemons will be another good blog post for the future. There are more ways to be creative here. If I have some parsley that has to be used, I add that. A poached egg is a lovely topping and makes it more substantial. You can use other hard cheeses such as manchego or pecorino if that’s what you have. Do you have any salads you like to make with leftover celery?

Celery parmesan and lemon salad

  • one leftover bunch of celery

  • parmesan

  • finely grated zest lemon zest and lemon juice (or the skin of 1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped)

  • extra-virgin olive oil

  • salt and pepper

  • addtional toppings (I used celery seeds, chopped parsley or toasted pine nuts would also be good)

Remove the leaves and from the celery and roughly chop. Set aside. Slice the celery into approximately 2 mm slices using a mandoline or very sharp knife and put into a bowl. Shave the parmesan into thin slices with a vegetable peeler or also on the mandoline. Add this to the celery, scatter over the celery leaves, grated lemon zest (or chopped preserved lemon) and any addtional toppings. Mix gently with your hands and drizzle over the lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste and mix again gently with your hands. Serve with crusty white bread and a glass of white wine (to make life even better). Sicily here I come again!

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chicken broth - the transformation of a roasted bird

The other day I made a roast chicken and I think this was the most expensive whole chicken I have ever bought. With chicken I have made a dramatic transition in my food shopping. For most of my life I have been completly oblivious to what kind of life the animal has had. Eventually I started buying cornfed birds, which was a change from only buying the cheapest chicken breast. Now I start to consider other things: free range, raised on a farm with no cull of male chicks, regional if possible. It is a completely different price level, but that makes me realise how meat is just not something to have everyday, but for a special occasion.

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I was intrigued when I roasted the bird. The scent was unlike other chicken I have roasted in the past and the flavour…this was something else. Which inspired me to get even more out of it and make a broth from the leftover bones. I think I have made it once before, but wasn’t too convinced. The flavour just wasn’t as strong as the stock you get from a stock cube. This bird seemed a lot more promising and I thought it is only fair to get the most out of the whole animal. So I searched the internet for instructions how to make chicken stock from leftover bones from a roast chicken. I decided to improvise with what I had and bought a couple of things that were missing. Many recipes ask to discard the vegetables after cooking the chicken stock. They definitely don’t look very appealing after having been cooked in the broth for several hours, but I found they are good enough to be turned into a cream of vegetable soup.

Colourwise the soup left a lot to be desired, it was a greenish-grayish hue that didn’t shout: Eat me! Turmeric was my saviour. It’s not only the vibrant yellow colour that I like, but also the earthy and slightly bitter flavour profile. The chicken stock was not as salty as I expected even though I added salt to the soup and celery imparts a natural saltiness. Feel free to adjust. It’s definitely worth making your own stock. It’s hardly any work and I didn’t even bother skimming off the foam. In my soup there wasn’t a lot. It was mainly put everything in the pot, simmer and leave for a few hours. What have your experiences with making your own chicken broth or other bone broth? Feel free to share below or send me a message.

Chicken broth

  • carcass and bones of one roasted chicken

  • 2 onions or shallots, peeled and cut in half

  • 3 stalks of celery

  • 1 large carrot, peeled

  • 1 parsnip, peeled (or stalks from a bunch of parsley)

  • 2 bay leaves

  • clove of garlic, peeled and left whole

  • a teaspoon of pepper corns

  • a teaspoon of fennel seeds

  • 1 star anise

  • salt and pepper to taste

Cut the carrot, celery and parsnip into large chunks. Add all the ingredients with the bones and carcass of the chicken to a large casserole and fill with water until just covered. Put on a lid and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat, so it is barely simmering. A bubble rising to the surface here and there is enough. Simmer on this low heat for 2-3 hours. When ready strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve. Reserve the cooked vegetables (I also kept the garlic and onions) for later and discard the rest. Taste the stock and season to taste. If you don’t use the stock immediately, let it cool, then store in the fridge until ready to use. This keeps well for a up to a week in the fridge.

Cream of vegetable soup

  • cooked vegetables from the chicken stock

  • 1 cup of chicken stock

  • 100 ml cream

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric

Put the vegetables in a food processor with a dash of the chicken stock and pulse to a puree (or use a handheld blender and a bowl). Add the rest of the stock and pulse. Mix in the cream and turmeric. Reheat on the stove and serve.

spring onion gratin - when a supporting actor takes centre stage

Spring onions regularly appear in my cooking. I don't think I have ever thrown any away. Not only because I use them frequently, but I find they are very sturdy and survive a lot longer in the vegetable box of my fridge. Occasionally I have to strip off an outer layer or discard a limp green stem. After having promised myself not only to fight foodwaste in my home, but also blogging here regularly, I feel I am developing a razor-sharp focus and awareness of what I have in my fridge. It also helped that I gave my fridge a thorough cleaning recently and just love to look at how structered, clean and orderly it looks. So I have seen this leftover bunch of spring onions sitting in the crisper of my fridge for well over a week and a half. They still look surprisingly fresh, but that is also due to the brandnew fridge that came with the flat when I moved in last year. But I catch myself procrastinating: "Oh, they still look good. There is still enough time. Today I am in the mood for something else." I wonder why mankind has this uncontrollable tendency to wait until things get really bad. Why always act with your back against the wall?! Am I waiting for these spring onions to come to life, corner me and force me to cook them?

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One thing I am learning with fighting foodwaste is keeping it simple. I am very much into dedicating myself to long and involved recipes, but this approach doesn't really help with using up leftovers. At least I haven't gotten to the point where I can do both. Nothing wrong with simplicity, but I sometimes find that I am being lazy if it's not long and involved or that it is not real cooking when I am doing something simple. However I am always intrigued when I see someone come up with a beautiful and stunning dish that does not comprise of a long list of ingredients and complicated method.

Coming back to the spring onions...I saw a very simple but beautiful dish in the book Dandelion & Quince by Michelle MacKenzie. It's mainly about using unsual fruit and vegetables. I find spring onions (or shallots as she calls them) not really an unsual ingredient, but it's unusal for them to take centre stage in a recipe. She dedicated a whole chapter to them and one of the recipes for a simple gratin was accompanied by a beautiful photo of the spring onions imbedded in melted butter and Comté cheese. If they zoomed in on the photo one could easily mistake it for a watercolour painting of a reed landscape.

I decided to change the recipe a little bit to my needs and what I had at hand. Michelle’s recipe asks for the spring onions to be blanched for about 5 minutes. I just used them as they were, set the oven to fan and 200 degrees and let it roast for about 10 minutes until the cheese was melted and bubbly and some brown spots started to appear around the edges. Some of the onions were already missing some of the green stalks, which I used for the roasted red onion and goats cheese salad I had last week. Some of the spring onions were looking limp and weren’t so vibrant in colour anymore. I thought it was good enough for me. I just cut the roots and some parts that were brownish. When they are cooked or roasted it doesn’t matter if they don’t look at their freshest to start with. Michelle used Comté in her recipe, which is not so easy to find. I had Parmesan in my flat, so decided to use that. Feel free to experiment with other cheeses. However I wouldn’t recommend anything that is too neutral (Mozzarella) or too strong (piquant Gorgonzola) in taste. Be careful with the salt. I would sample the cheese first to see if you need to add salt when seasoning.

  • bunch of spring onions

  • 125 g of finely grated Parmesan cheese

  • 100 ml single cream

  • olive oil

  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees fan (220 regular oven). Wash the onions and pat dry. Cut off the roots and parts of the stalks that don’t look fresh anymore. Put half of the cheese in a bowl with the cream and mix. Take a shallow gratin dish and grease with a glug of olive oil. Layer the spring onions in the dish, spread over the cheese/cream mixture and season. Scatter the rest of the cheese on top and season to taste. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes until the cheese has melted and is bubbling. Keep a close eye on it towards the end to prevent it from burning. Serve immediately with fresh bread.

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roasted red onions and goats cheese salad

One of the main challenges I have with leftovers is procrastination. I might have the best intentions to use up something in my fridge or larder, but I am always tempted by something new. So I get all Scarlet O’Hara by putting it off for another day. Oftentimes I end up discarding something that I have cooked many times in my head in numerous variations.

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The other day when I was about to leave the house and thought what to have for dinner, I saw this packet of four red onions sitting on my kitchen counter. It had been there for weeks and I knew I had to do something about it. One was growing a green stem and another looked kind of saggy and sad. The latter I had to throw because the inside has turned all slimy and had traces of mould. The other ones were still good to use. I decided to make a simple salad of roast onions, goats cheese and balsamic vinegar. I have several bottles of good quality balsamic which were given to me over the years as gifts, so I am on a mission now to use them all up and eat more salad.

I was thinking of using walnuts and lambs lettuce for the salad and maybe parsley to scatter on top, but I wanted to keep the shopping list minimal. Pecans don’t have the bitter flavour of walnuts that I would have liked to have added here, but they were good enough for this salad. I also had hazelnuts, so that would have worked, too. Parsley wasn’t at hand, but I had some spring onions at home and thought that the green parts will be good for a garnish. After all the sharp taste of the red onions mellow in the roasting process. So the only thing I had to buy was goats cheese. I decided to get some soft goats cheese rounds, but the harder variety would have also been good. If you have Parmesan, that would also be a possibility.

I have to say, that I was thrilled that I was able to reduce my shopping and improvise with only a few things that I had at home. It was so much more fun to keep it simple, improvise and be creative with what I have rather than going on a shopping odyssey that clearly would have left me with another whole lot of leftover ingredients.

Here is what I used. Of course you can adjust the quantities depending on how much you have left at home. Red onions look more beautiful than white or brown onions, but if that’s all you have at home, don’t hesitate to try making this dish. It will be just fine.

  • 3 red onions, peeled and halved

  • 100 g soft goats cheese rounds

  • handful of pecans, roughly chopped (or use walnuts, hazelnuts or pumpkin seeds)

  • balsamic vinegar

  • olive oil

  • salt and pepper

  • spring onions, the green parts, thinly sliced at a diagonal (or substitute with parsley, thyme or chives)

Preheat the oven to 240 degrees C /fan: 230 degrees C (445 F/fan: 465 F). Layer the onion halves cutside up in a greased oven-proof dish and drizzle over some olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes until caramelized and the edges are a slightly charred. When ready arrange the onion halves with the goats cheese on two plates, drizzle with about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar per plate. Drizzle with some more olive oil and scatter over the chopped pecans and garnish with the spring onion greens. Season with a little bit more salt and pepper and serve.

red plums stewed in leftover wine

What do you do with leftover wine? Occasionally I open a bottle for myself when I am not entertaining, but often I only drink a glass and a half. I own a wine saver pump, which keeps the oxygen out and let’s me enjoy the rest the following day. But what about those days when you have half-full (you see, I’m an optimist) bottles of wine left over after a party?! You might not be in the mood to have more wine and it’s not exactly very tempting to have the leftovers if the bottles have been standing around uncorked.

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I actually have a few people close to me who enjoy good food, but frequently surprise me (or maybe I should say: shock me!) when they cheerfully offer me a wine that we opened together 2-3 months ago: “Hey, I still have the wine we had last time you came ‘round we could continue drinking that for dinner.” Unbelievable! Time and again I gently explain that this is wine and not a liquor.

I vowed to myself that I won’t leave someone with leftover wine, but turn it into a delicious dish before I go. The identity of the people won’t be disclosed here because I don’t want to shame or ridicule anybody. So last time I was about to leave one of those dearly loved wine philistines I convinced them that the red wine from last night better be turned into a compote. I saw some red plums and organic orange in a fruit bowl in their kitchen and thought: bingo! I halved and pitted the plums, shaved a long strip off the orange, cooked them with the red wine, sugar, some water and a bayleaf until tender but not mushy. The person I made this compote for was sceptical, but three hours later when I was on the train home I was happy to receive a text saying: Oh god, that plum and red wine compote is DELICIOUS! I enjoyed it with yogurt. You have to make this AGAIN!

If you have white wine or rosé leftover, feel free to pair that with fruit and other herbs or spices of your choice. I cannot give exact quantities here, since it will depend on the amount of wine you have leftover, this is a rough estimate based on a half a bottle of wine. Enjoy on its own, as a topping for pancakes, rice pudding or ice cream.

  • ca. 375 ml of red wine

  • 4-5 red plums, halved and pitted

  • skin of one organic orange, thinly shaved off with a vegetable peeler

  • half a cup of caster sugar

  • 1 bay leaf

Put the plums into a small saucepan, add the sugar, bay leaf and orange peel and pour over the wine. If the plums are not fully covered, add a bit of water. Bring to simmer and cook gently for 5-8 minutes until soft. They shouldn’t turn mushy. Remove from the heat and let cool. Remove the orange peel and bayleaf before serving.

quince porridge and walnuts

What do you do with the leftover syrup from a compote or tinned fruit? Do you discard it? I usually drink it. Either diluting it with some water, but since I am known for having a sweet tooth I mostly drink it straight out of the jar or tin (I am sure I’m not the only one with that guilty pleasure). I haven’t considered using it in my cooking so far.

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That made me wonder why it is not more often used in the place of water…stock is used for risotto, why not use syrup for a rice pudding?! I am always searching for ways to jazz up my breakfast. Too often i go for müsli and granola in the morning and (don’t cringe!) most of the time it’s store bought. Weekday mornings before going to work is just not the right time for me to be creative in the kitchen. A couple of years ago I have rediscovered porridge. Being German I have grown up with the German word for it called Haferschleim (literally transalted oat slime). That’s enough to put you off for a lifetime, right? For some people the plain porridge (often only consisting of water and oats) is some kind of comfort food. I took me a while to warm to it. First I tried some shop bought varieties, but eventually I started to try recipes I found in cookbooks or adapted from somewhere (a favourite is golden turmeric porridge with cardamom, dates and pistachios).

One morning I had no milk in the fridge, so I decided to improvise and use the syrup of some poached quinces. The syrup had a wonderful floral note thanks to the quince being poached for over 40 minutes in it with the seeds and pod of a whole vanilla bean. So I decided to use that as a starting point for my porridge. Quince love walnuts (and walnuts love quince), so I decided to finally crack the beautiful walnuts I brought home from a trip to Sicily last autumn and sprinkle them over the quince syrup porridge. Feel free to experiment with other syrups you have left over…why not use the syrup of some tinned apricots and pair them with almonds or pistachios in the porridge?! What are your favourite ways to use leftover syrup?

quince syrup porridge with walnuts

  • 50 g porridge oats

  • 175 ml fruit syrup (add a little water if you have less)

  • handful of coarsely chopped walnuts

  • pinch of salt

Heat the syrup until it almost reaches boiling point. Add the oats and the pinch of salt and stir to combine. Immediately reduce the heat to low. Keep cooking and stir frequently for five minutes until the porridge is nice and creamy. Immediately serve in a bowl, scatter over the walnuts. Imagine yourself somewhere sunny and warm and enjoy!

radish leaf pesto - peppery deliciousness too good to be wasted

Thanks to the leaf-to-root movement, people have become more aware of ways to use parts of the plant that many would consider inedible. I often wondered how some produce seems to come with a big part of the plant being thrown away. I even regarded many of the leaves, skins or stems of some produce as detrimental for one’s health. As I learned most of it was due to false assumptions. Radish leaves is one example. I grew radishes when I was a kid on a small vegetable patch in my parents garden. It was only as an adult that I learned that radish leaves are just as good as rocket (aragula). They have a peppery flavour that is very similar.

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I wonder why they don’t get featured more prominently in recipe magazines and cookbooks. Perhaps people consider using parts of a plant that is not so often used in cooking as a sign of constraint and deprivation. Who is so hard up to eat something that most people throw away in an instant?!

Oftentimes you find the leaves to be rather unappealing when you buy radishes, they can be limp and wilted and many shops even rip them off, because it is unfavourable for the overall look of the fruit and vegetable section. Wilted leaves don’t look great in salads, but they are still good enough for a soup or pesto.

The other day I found some wonderful looking radishes with beautiful, vibrant green leaves. The radishes were used for a salad and the leaves looked too good to end up in the compost bin. I also had some roasted hazelnuts in my cupboard and a piece of pecorino or parmesan is a staple in my home. I went online and found a recipe for hazelnut and radish leaf pesto (https://food52.com/recipes/6659-radish-leaf-hazelnut-pesto). I adapted it a little bit to keep it simple and because I didn’t have grapeseed oil and lemon at home. I was very pleased with the result and happy that I prepared a dinner for weekday.

  • leaves of one bunch of radishes, washed and picked (about a handful)

  • 20g skinned hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

  • 30g freshly grated pecorino or parmesan cheese

  • 1 small clove of garlic, crushed

  • 1/4 cup sunflower oil

  • 1 - 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil or mild olive oil

  • sea salt and pepper

Roughly chop the radish leaves. Put the leaves into a food processor with the grated cheese, garlic and the oils. Alternatively put everything in a bowl and use a handheld blender. Pulse to make a fine purée. Add a little bit more oil if the mixture is too dry. Season with salt and pepper. Store in the fridge until ready to use. This will keep for at least a week. I love to use this as a pesto for pasta or as a spread or dip.

cheese and seed crispbread - when stale bread turns to gold

Bread is another one of those usual suspect when it comes to foodwaste in my home. Which is a shame, when I think of it, because stale or even dry it is a wonderful way to be creative with it: panzanella (or other bread salads), bread soup, croutons, poor people’s parmesan are just a few things that come to mind when I take time to contemplate what to do with a piece of leftover bread. Sometimes I have a mental block because I initially bought the bread to make sandwiches or accompany a soup or salad. Once it goes stale or dry it has turned into something else and all I have to do is consider that transition and see it through a different lense.

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Many people believe the only thing you can do with old bread is grinding it in a food processor to get bread crumbs. My brother seems to frequently let half loaves of baguette or other white bread go dry. My mum rescues those dry loaves of bread when she goes to see him and turns them into bread crumbs. However it has taken on extreme extents with my mum producing heaps of breadcrumbs that can only ever be used up if everyone in the family was breading and deep-frying their food every day. Maybe I should teach them something new…

One of my favourite ways to use stale bread is turn it into bread crackers or crispbread with cheese and seeds. Stale bread lends itself perfectly to this. A stale loaf of bread is easier to slice thinly. With a sharp knife I can easily make 2-3 mm slices, which is impossible to achieve with a fresh loaf. I’m not too worried if the slices are a bit uneven. It adds to it. I would challenge you to try it. It’s a quick and healthy snack for a night at home, watching a movie. You can create a dip to go with it (think guacamole or a herby cream cheese spread), but they are good to be enjoyed on their own. Here is a version I like to make with grated pecorino and different seeds, but just olive oil, salt and maybe a bit of smoked paprika turns them into a real competitor to regular crisps you get at the supermarket. I am not giving exact quantities here, because it all depends on how much bread you have left. I just like to make sure that I am not skimping on the cheese.

cheese and seed crispbread

  • leftover loaf of ciabatta, baguette or sourdough bread

  • olive oil

  • pecorino or parmesan cheese, freshly grated

  • sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds (I like a mix of black and white)

  • sea salt

  • pepper, freshly ground

Make sure the loaf is stale enough to slice thinly with a sharp knife. If it is still too crumbly it’s better to leave it for another day or two to get stale enough to slice into 2-3 mm slices. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F. Spread the bread slices on baking tray lined with baking parchment. You might need to do this in two or three batches, depending on how much bread you have leftover. Drizzle with oil, liberally scatter with the grated cheese, sprinkle with the seeds and finally the salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt if the cheese is quite salty. Toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes until the edges are golden and the cheese has melted. Let cool a little and enjoy. Why not with a glass of wine?

three-potato salad...because three IS a party!

“But I always say, one's company, two's a crowd, and three's a party”
― Andy Warhol

Alright, maybe you have found this post and expected a salad made out of three types of potatoes (for instance red potato, sweet potato, blue potato). If that’s what you were looking for, I am sorry to disappoint you. I would be happy if you continue reading, though. I might have a common cure for how to deal with a small amount of leftover potato.

leftovers can be turned into something lavish and extravagant

leftovers can be turned into something lavish and extravagant

The other night I had a catch up with my friend Katja. We had the usual topic round-trip in our conversation from the incomprehension of other people’s netflix addictions, the soothing words of Pema Chödrön, decluttering (à la Marie Kondo), recent art exhibitions, foodie discoveries and eventually discussing what to do with three leftover potatoes from the day before.

I mentioned to Katja that I restarted my blog and that I am collecting topics on how to eliminate food waste in your home. She told me about a fondue party she had the night before and asked me what to do with three leftover potatoes. I was going to say “fritatta!”, but before it even came out of my mouth, she added hastily that she already had one for breakfast. It didn’t take me long to come up with a small size potato salad.

When we think potato salad, we always think potluck, buffet, family gatherings…cooking a large pot of potatoes to feed a crowd. Even when I make potato salad for myself I tend to cook more than a couple of pounds (mind you, to take to work for lunch over a few days). I have never heard of anyone turning three, two or even one potato into a salad. Why is that? Most potato salads aren’t that laborious. And when you buy your lunch at a sandwich shop or supermarket you can get portions that probably don’t contain more than 2-3 potatoes. Katja got excited about the idea and thought what she could add to the salad: cornichons, sausages she had in the freezer…there were no boundaries to the imagination.

Katja lives in NYC (I live in Munich), so I couldn’t just go around to cook and share the salad with her. I didn’t have potatoes at home, but half a tub of sour cream that has been sitting in my fridge. Sour cream is a usual suspect in my house when it comes to food waste. I often use a bit and forget the rest or procrastinate on using it until it’s gone off. I think I have thrown a lot of half-used tubs of sour cream and other dairy products over the course of my adult life. So while for Katja the potatos were the starting point, it was the sour cream for me. I also found a small jar with about a teaspoon of capers left in my fridge and went out to buy potatoes and chives. I love adding something unusual or decadent to jazz up a leftover so I chose some purple potatoes (regional, organic and labelled Purple Rain potatoes…I couldn’t resist). It shows me again, that using leftovers is no burden or chore. You can turn it into a fun challenge and colourful midweek dinner.

Below is my version of ingredients, feel free to improvise and leave a comment. I would love to hear if you have made small portions of potato salads out of three, two or even one leftover potato.

  • 3 medium waxy potatoes (use purple or red if you like it more colourful) - about 300 g/10.5 oz

  • 100 g/3.5 oz sour cream

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon of mustard (I used coarse mustard)

  • 1 small shallot or spring onion, finely chopped

  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed

  • 1 teaspoon of capers, roughly chopped

  • 1/2 bunch of chives, sliced finely at a diagonal

If starting with leftover potatoes you might want to reheat them (for example in a microwave or a couple of minutes in hot water). They take the dressing a lot easier when warm. If you start with raw potatoes, cook them in boiling water until done (medium potatoes take about 20 minutes on a rolling boil).

While the potatoes are cooking make the dressing by whisking together the sour cream with the mustard, garlic, shallot, olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and add one or two tablespoons of water if the dressing is too thick.

Drain and peel the potatoes with a sharp knife. You can stick it on a skewer so you won’t scald your fingers. Slice them while they are still hot. Mix the warm potatoes with the dressing, sprinkle with the chives and serve immediately or at room temperature.

the inventory: marie kondo in my larder (well...not quite)

I am not a great maker of new years resolutions. Not because I easily give up on them. I simply believe that you can create a new habit anytime throughout the year and consider myself relatively immune to peer pressure. However I mostly start the new year with some kind of ritual: making an inventory of my larder and deciding to use it all up in the first few months of a new year.

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It’s something that started out of sheer necessity: many years ago I was working freelance. The job situation for the coming months looked bleak, I had to pay off a loan and still wanted to go on holiday that summer. I took a deep breath and focused on ways how to save money. I realised how much food I had in my larder and was relieved to be able to save quite a bit of money that way. January is the now the month where I go through my cupboards and clear them out. After the gluttony of the holiday season it’s a great opportunity to step back and shift gears.

It works well for me, because I love the power of decluttering, creating space and becoming aware of the abundance in my life. I clear the cupboards, look if there is anything that has really gone off, get excited about forgotten delicacies (often shoved to the back of my larder), start planning meals and simply enjoy…the focus! Like all kinds of clutter, a disorganised larder can take up a lot of energy. I occasionally end up buying some ingredient I believe I don’t have, only to realise later that I have plenty of it left.

And I tend to buy delicacies which I want to save for that special occasion…only to find them years later and kicking myself for not having used them for some of those „special occasions“ that have passed. There is that packet of celery seed and chestnut biscuits that I bought to recreate the recipe, but never gotten around to make. The sun-dried cherry tomatoes I brought home from Sicily, that were intended for that gorgeous summer evening on the rooftop…however now they don’t look so appealing anymore once they have spent three years in the back of my cupboard. Oh, I could go on!

You hear a lot about food waste these days and I love that people are becoming more aware of ways how to avoid throwing away so much food that is still good enough to eat or could have been saved had it been used in time. But it’s often about produce, dairy and meat. You hear less concern about less perishable foodstuff such as preserves, flour, legumes, nuts…things that have a longer shelf life, but can also taste off or rancid. Why not make the most of it, while it is at it’s best?

So I open all the cupboards, pen and several sheets of paper ready, take every item out, one by one, and start creating a list. I roughly note the quantities and sometimes make notes of things that should be used fairly soon.

I have to say it produces a little bit of anxiety, because it is a commitment. It’s not the inventory process that creates anxiety, but making the decision to cook primarily out of my larder for a while. I am so easily inspired by what’s in shops that I forget what I have at home. And let’s face it: an opened packet of even the most exquisite pasta in an unsual shape isn’t that appealing anymore once the package looks dishevelled and there is only about 100 grams left.

Even though I am a fan of Marie Kondo and have had great success with her method (albeit, I think I only put half of it in practice), I would never hold up that leftover pasta and ask myself: "does this spark joy?“ and then throw it. Speaking to your foodstuffs might actually not be such a bad idea…Instead of saying goodbye and “thank you” to that package of leftover pasta (which Marie Kondo might encourage you to do), I thought to literally ask the 100 grams of pasta what it would like to have done with it…or to it? Whatever! I think I should start speaking to the leftovers in my pantry. So now I have created that list some things have already spoken clearly to me, while others I need to listen to more intently. I AM EXCITED! Do you want to join me on that journey and hear some of the stories my leftovers have to tell?

burnt spring onion dip - limp or burnt is not for the bin!

Another usual suspect when it comes to food waste in my home is spring onion (or scallions as they call them across the pond). The other day I bought a couple of bunches and I forgot to put them in the fridge. They looked a bit limp the following day. And that’s where the downward spiral starts. They don’t look as crunchy, fresh and inviting as when I bought them and I start to procrastinate. „Shame“, I think and promise myself to use them tomorrow. And the longer I play this game, the worse it gets. They look more wilted and uninspiring over the days. It makes me feel guilty...not only do I think of myself as inconsistent, but cold-hearted, too. Dont laugh! Those spring onions have been growing for weeks and what do I do: procrastinate and later compost them!

Recently I read a good article about some fruit and veg being at their best when they are limp. Not sure if you can generally apply this rule to all fruit and veg. But I remembered this dip I tasted last year at NOPI in London. I was happy to discover it later in the cookbook of the same name by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully. For this dip they encourage you to burn the spring onions until charred... Brilliant! If the spring onions are a bit limp, it’s not a problem at all. Nobody will be able to tell what they originally looked like once they are black and burnt. And if you accidentally burn some spring onions you don’t need to discard them: just use them for this fabulous dip!

The original recipe asks you to cut off the top quarter off the garlic and discard it, which in my opinion is just unnecessary food waste. So here I kept the bulb intact and roasted the whole head.

Burnt spring onion dip

  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 150 g (5.29 oz) spring onions (scallions), ends trimmed, sliced in half lengthways if thick
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 150 g (5.291 oz) cream cheese
  • 110 g (3.880 oz) sour cream
  • sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 °C (400 °F). Brush the garlic with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and wrap in foil. Place in a small baking dish or on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool and when cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves, discard the skin and mash the garlic cloves with a fork. Set aside.

Brush the spring onions with the sunflower oil. Sprinkle over ¼ teaspoons salt and a generous grind of pepper. Heat a griddle pan to high. When the pan is hot and smoking, add the spring onions, grill for 5-6 minutes, turning them in between. They should be black all over. It’s recommended to ventilate your kitchen well, because the whole process creates quite a bit of smoke. Be courageous when griddling the spring onions, it’s ok when they get quite black. Leave the spring onions to cool, then chop finely. Add the spring onions to a bowl with the cream cheese, sour cream, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, roast garlic puree and another ¼ teaspoon of salt.

Poor man’s parmesan - breadcrumbs get an upgrade

There should really not ever be the need to go out and buy breadcrumbs in the supermarket. You can easily make them at home. If the end of a loaf of bread gets stale and you feel like discarding it, think twice. Leave it out to get a bit harder for a couple of days or so. Blitz in a blender or grate coarsely using a box grater. It’s as simple as that.

Breadcrumbs have a rather dull image, most people probably believe they are only good as a coating for deep-frying. A few years ago I learned that you can turn it into a wonderful condiment: poor man’s parmesan. Simply fry the breadcrumbs in a few tablespoons of olive oil and add some herbs, garlic, finely chopped anchovy, chili or lemon zest to jazz it up. Poor man’s parmesan loves to be sprinkled on top of pasta to add some crunch. Or add it to roasted or fried vegetables or a salad.

Obviously the better the crumbs and the better the butter, the more interesting the poor man’s parmesan is going to be. Then again: who would let a good-quality sourdough baguette go stale?! But treat yourself to good butter. After all we all deserve a little reward every now and then to combat foodwaste in our home.

Poor man’s parmesan

  • 200 g breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • thyme leaves, chopped parsley, chili, grated lemon zest, garlic (optional)
  • flaky sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil with the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs, sea salt and pepper and let the breadcrumbs absorb the oil and butter. Add the herbs, chili, garlic or lemon zest if using and continue frying the crumbs until they have a lovely golden brown colour.

quick-pickled red onion

Pickling doesn’t need to be elaborate. Many late summers I have experienced my grandparents and parents spending long evenings in the kitchen after harvesting tons of vegetables in their garden. That period of the year has always been equally satisfying and stressful. Bringing in the harvest after a long summer is very rewarding, but it can also create sheer overwhelm when you are confronted with many types of produce reaching maturity at the same time. As a kid I sometimes wondered why my family is causing themselves so much stress.

Luckily I realised as an adult that preserving, pickling etc. doesn’t need to be a masochist experience. In smaller quantities it can be rather simple, enjoyable and still worthwhile. Even the tiniest amount of produce may be pickled. In fact, I frequently find recipes that include a recipe for mini-batches of chutney, jams or pickles, just a handful to serve with a steak or fish fillet. Small amounts that can be enjoyed immediately rather than having a large batch to be stored in your larder or cellar.

Ever find yourself wondering what to do with half a red onion? Here is a wonderful recipe I have found in Mindy Smith’s „The perfectly tossed salad“. She uses it as a salad topping, but I also like to enjoy  as a condiment for a sandwich filling, on top of a steak or pork chop. Pickling has never been that easy!

Quick pickled red onion

  • 1/2 red onion, peeled and sliced
  • 100 ml (3.5 fl. oz) vinegar
  • 30 g (1 oz) sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 juniper berries
  • pinch of sea salt
  • pinch of chili flakes
  • pinch of cumin seeds

Place the vinegar with all the other ingredients bar the onion in a small pan and bring to a boil, stir until the sugar has been dissolved. Add the onion and simmer for a minute, then remove from the heat and leave to cool in the pickling liquid for 30 minutes.

leftover beaten egg scrambled

Now stop pfft-ing and rolling your eyes! A recipe for scrambled eggs? Are you serious? Yes, I am! Confess! How many times have you had some beaten egg leftover when a recipe asked to brush the pastry or whatever you were cooking? You put the bowl with the remainder in the fridge and promised yourself you'll have scrambled eggs the following morning. But then life got in the way...and I find that's generally the problem with leftovers. You have the best intentions, but you find it to hard to get out of bed and then having cereal seems the more viable option. Two days later you wonder whether it's still safe to eat. And then it becomes a drag to even discard it. We've all been there.

I have also had to use some leftover ricotta from a cheesecake I made and thought why not try that. There were still 3 more eggs in my fridge and some chives. Why make it complicated? And who's to say scrambled eggs should only be enjoyed for breakfast? I had them as a late-afternoon snack before running some errands. If you don't have leftover ricotta, try grating some hard cheese like parmesan and add a splash of milk if you like. 

Something I had to learn over the years means that scrambled eggs need a bit of attention. Too often I have been multitasking, leaving the kitchen, the eggs solidified and then it became a rather dry affair. Scrambled eggs want a little bit of attention and you should do yourself the favour to have a few meditative minutes at the stove gently stirring and keeping an eye on them.

Scrambled eggs with leftover beaten egg

  • leftover of 1 beaten egg
  • 2-3 eggs
  • about 100 g ricotta cheese (or grated hard cheese and a splash or two of milk)
  • salt and pepper
  • a pinch of sweet red chili flakes (or play around with the seasoning)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • chives or parsley to

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Beat the eggs with the leftover egg, add the ricotta (or cheese and milk) and beat with a whisk until you have a smooth mixture. Season with salt and pepper and chili. Add the egg mix to the pan and continue stirring gently until the mixture solidifies, but stays moist. You should keep an eye on the pan and stir regularly. When it is solid, but still moist remove from the pan and serve with snipped chives or chopped parsley.

 

saving a bunch of lemon thyme

Shopping for a recipe that asks for a few sprigs of thyme or rosemary is a bit frustrating. You are bound to have a lot of leftovers. Last week I tried a recipe that asked for lemon thyme, the green grocer didn't have it in stock and I had to order a bunch. The size of the bag was simply ridiculous. A large bunch might be adequate for gastronomy, but a private household? Why can't they sell only a few sprigs of herbs that are very dominant in flavour? Occasionally I have offered other shoppers at the market stall part of a bunch of herbs, because I knew I would never use the whole bunch. Sometimes I offer a part of the bunch to friends and colleagues. Thyme and rosemary are rather loud herbs and I don’t use them all the time. So what to do? The bunch of lemon thyme was so large I had to turn it into several things: 

  • a syrup
  • garlic and thyme butter
  • herb/oil ice cubes
  • thyme vinegar
  • dried

So they have become building blocks for various future dishes. The syrup I use to drizzle over poached fruit or vanilla ice cream. The garlic and lemon thyme butter can be used to slather roasted vegetables or as a component for a sandwich or for using in garlic toast. The herb oil I have frozen in an ice cube tray to be used whenever lemon thyme and olive oil are needed in a recipe (such as a salad or stew). The lemon thyme vinegar is useful in salad dressings or dishes when both thyme and vinegar are asked for. And sometimes it is handy to have dried herbs, so I dried some lemon thyme when a smaller dose is needed and dried is sufficient or when I am in the mood or need for a herbal tea.

I really wish green grocers would start selling smaller quantities of herbs. The bunches are just too big. I think I will start building a little garden on my window sill again. It will save me from the dilemma having to preserve a whole lot of herbs at once. What are your favourite ways to save leftover thyme (or other herbs) and what do you like to use them for?

Lemon thyme syrup

  • 1 cup (250 ml) raw cane sugar
  • ½ cup (125 ml) water
  • 10 sprigs of lemon thyme

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. As soon as the mixture has reached a boil, remove from the heat. Let cool and remove the thyme sprigs from the syrup when cool enough to handle. If you like you can pass the syrup through a sieve, but I quite like to leave the thyme leaves in the syrup. Fill in a bottle and store in the fridge. Perfect for drizzling on roasted fruit, pancakes or in cocktails. Store in the fridge. Use within 3 weeks.

Garlic and lemon thyme butter

  • 125 g (ca. 1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • leaves from about 10 sprigs of lemon thyme
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • ½ teaspoon seasalt

In a shallow bowl using a fork combine the butter with the garlic and seasalt until evenly mixed. Add the thyme leaves and fold into the garlic butter. Shape the butter into a block and keep chilled. Ideal for steak, garlic bread or roasted vegetables. Store in the fridge. Use within 6-7 days.

Frozen lemon thyme/olive oil ice cubes

  • Lemon thyme
  • Olive oil

Remove leaves from stem and fill into an ice cube tray. I manage to fill about 1 tablespoon worth of leaves into one cube. Top with olive oil and freeze. I take the cubes out of the tray when they are frozen and keep them in a zip lock bag or other container, so I can use the ice cube tray for other things. Keeps well in the freezer for at least 3 months.

Lemon thyme vinegar

  • Half a litre (2 cups) white wine vinegar
  • 50 g (ca. 2 oz) lemon thyme sprigs

Fill the lemon thyme into a tall preserving jar and fill with the vinegar. Make sure the thyme is completely covered with the vinegar. Cover and let infuse for 2-3 weeks. Strain through a sieve, discard the lemon thyme stems and fill the infused vinegar into a bottle.

Dried lemon thyme

Wash the thyme leaves and hang them on a string and leave to dry. After a few days, when the bunch is completely dry, crumble the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Store the dried leaves in a container and keep away from sunlight.