Thursday, May 30, 2013

Giving unpopular leftovers a second chance

I'm generally happy when there is leftover food from home cooked dinners as the man and I usually rely on these remnants for our workday lunches. The exception is when I have attempted a new recipe that hasn't been to our liking. After these scraps have sitting in the fridge for a few days and look like they are in danger of being tossed into the rubbish bin, my solution is to give these unpopular leftovers a second chance by turning them into burgers.

The most delicious burgers I've been creating recently have been the result of an original meal that was bland, the flavours were out of balance or it just didn't suit our tastes. These concoctions never make it onto my blog as I don't see the point in posting about the original recipe unless it was a hit with at least one or two of us. Instead of providing you with a recipe, here are my steps and a few tips for making fantastic "leftover burgers".

1. Retrieve leftovers from the fridge. Curries, stews, casseroles and even thick soups have all been successfully transformed into burgers by me so far. If the leftovers have been stored with a portion of a cooked grain (i.e. rice, couscous, quinoa), transfer as many of the grains as possible to a bowl. Place the non-grain portion of the leftovers in your food processor and pulse until they are thoroughly broken down.

2. Season the food processor mixture and taste test as you go. If the original meal was bland, perk it up by whizzing through additional herbs, spices, nutritional yeast, salt or stock powder. Your favourite sauces can also be tasty additions although I don't usually like to add much additional liquid if the mixture is already quite runny. Be mindful of the ingredients in the original recipe and try not to create flavour clashes with the added seasonings (A google search can be helpful if you are unsure about what will and won’t work).

3. Thicken the mixture, making it suitable for shaping into burgers. Whiz through some chickpea flour (besan), ¼ to ½ cup is usually a good benchmark - chickpea flour in larger quantities can be overwhelming as it has a strong flavour. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir through any reserved cooked grains that were separated in Step 1. If you don’t have any spare cooked grains on hand and the mixture is still too runny after adding chickpea flour, stir through some breadcrumbs.

4. Prepare and cook the burger patties. Shape the burgers into small, medium or large patties. Most veggie burgers are adaptable with how they can be cooked so it becomes a personal preference of pan frying or oven baking. Most of the time I find it easier to place all of the shaped patties on a tray lined with baking paper and bake them in the oven (baking for 20-25 minutes on each side at 180C). I find that pan frying in batches can require more attention although this is preferable on a hot summers day when you don't want to turn on the oven!

5. Enjoy the "leftover burgers" in rolls with salad toppings or served with salads, roasted or steamed vegetables. Have fun pairing your burgers with different sauces, you may even find they have more than enough flavour and can be enjoyed without any additional condiments.

These photos were from my most recent batch of "leftover burgers" which were enjoyed with some roasted vegetables. The leftovers resulted from an unsuccessful batch of thick white bean soup I had made for an around the world post. In my rush to make this soup at the same time as another dinner I mistook a jar of ground cinnamon for cayenne pepper (oops!). The soup never made it to our bowls as I hadn't been overly impressed with how it tasted prior to making the cinnamon/cayenne blunder and the man hadn't been enthused about the overpowering smell of cinnamon. This "leftover burger" mixture was on the runnier/softer side which could have been improved with the addition of some cooked grains yet I didn't have any at my disposal.

I have made at least six different types of "leftover burgers" and every single time the burgers have been more popular than the original meal. The man and young man have been halfway through devouring their dinners before I've mentioned that it's a make-over of the meal they weren't keen on a few nights earlier. A future goal is to recreate my best ever "leftover burger" recipe as just a standard burger recipe (i.e. not making the failed recipe first). These ones were the nicest and most interesting burgers I've made at home and rated amongst the best I've eaten.

With the amount of food wastage that happens in our society these days, I hope this post inspires some of you to give your unloved leftovers a second chance too!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Almond and pistachio fingers

Branching out and making new sweets and desserts is somewhat of a rarity in my usual cooking routine. I'm not inclined to eat sugary food often and the guys always request their favourites (rum balls and choc chip cookies) so I always enjoy delving into something different when we have guests over. Last week I borrowed a few North African cookbooks from my local library to seek out recipes. There were many I was keen on trying but once I spotted some fancy looking Tunisian almond fingers my mind was made up.

The filling consisted of almonds, pistachios, sugar, cinnamon and rosewater which was a breeze to put together. The part that wasn't as straight forward was cutting sheets of filo, brushing them with melted margarine and rolling each one up with my clumsy fingers. There may have been a small sigh of relief after I had constructed about 40 little pastries and they were ready to go in the oven.

I was very pleased with how they turned out, the flavours of the cinnamon and rosewater worked together wonderfully without being too overwhelming. Everyone else enjoyed them too so it was well worth the effort. Surprisingly the pastry has retained it's crispiness throughout the week and the few remaining ones that have been kept at room temperature in an airtight container are just as lovely as on the day they were baked.

Almond and pistachio fingers (Adapted from Illustrated Food and Cooking of Africa and The Middle East)
Makes 40-50

200g almond meal
50g shelled pistachios
50g raw sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon rosewater
10 – 12 sheets filo pastry
115g dairy free margarine, melted
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 160C.

Process the pistachios in a coffee/spice grinder or food processor until they are broken down into a medium-fine powder. Place the almond meal, pistachios, sugar, cinnamon and rosewater in a bowl and stir well until thoroughly combined.

Lay the sheets of filo on your bench covered with a damp tea towel to stop them drying out. Work with one sheet of pastry at a time. Cut the sheet into 4 even rectangular pieces, brush each one with melted dairy free margarine and place a heaped teaspoon of the mixture on the end of each piece of pastry. Roll each piece of pastry into a finger shape, folding in the sides as your go to ensure the filling is enclosed completely.

Place the rolled up pastries on a tray lined with baking paper and brush the tops with the remaining dairy free margarine. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Allow them to cool down then dust lightly with icing sugar.

Store at room temperature in a sealed container, the pastry has stayed nice and crispy on the few remaining ones five days later.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Roasted carrots with panch phoran

I lost my blogging mojo in the last few weeks and am attempting to get back into gear with a quick post about a very easy Indian inspired side dish. Indian curries have been popular in our household for many years and are still enjoyed on an almost weekly basis. On our curry nights, I like to cook a couple of different varieties to ensure there are plenty of leftovers for lunches.

A few nights ago I planned to make Leigh Drew's dal saag recipe. I've cooked it several times before and it's deservedly a favourite with everyone at home. When it came to deciding on a partnering curry I was stumped. The vegetable crisper was bare apart from some carrots and we had already eaten gajar matar (a carrot and pea curry) the week before.

After a bit of brainstorming I came up with something different to have on the side - roasted carrots with panch phoran. Roasted carrot sticks are amongst my favourite types of roasted vegetables, almost every time a tray of vegetables goes into my oven it's a safe bet that there will be plenty of carrot sticks taking up a lot of real estate in the tray. Panch phoran is a spice mix I haven't used a lot of even though it's so easy to make up on the fly. It's a mixture of five whole spices in equal quantities – cumin seeds, kaloonji seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek and black mustard seeds.

A tray of carrot sticks was prepared in my usual fashion, lining the tray with baking paper, spraying the baking paper and carrots lightly with olive oil and then sprinkling the carrots with a decent pinch of sea salt. When the carrots had softened and started to blacken, the panch phoran was tossed through the carrots and baked for just two more minutes. I figured this would be enough time for the spices to release their flavours without becoming overcooked and tasting bitter.

The combination of panch phoran with roasted carrots worked really well and I can imagine it would also be a good partner for other roasted vegetables. I was pleased to discover a different kind of side dish to serve up with curries especially as there was minimal effort involved.

Roasted carrots with panch phoran

600g carrots, cut into sticks
Olive oil spray
Sea salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon kaloonji seeds
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
¼ teaspoon black mustard seeds

Preheat oven to 200C.

Place the carrots on a tray lined with baking paper and sprayed with olive oil. Spray the tops of the carrots with olive oil and sprinkle with a generous pinch of sea salt, to taste. Bake in the oven for 40-60 minutes until the carrots are slightly blackened (the baking time will depend on how you cut the carrots). Flip the carrots over halfway through the baking time.

When the carrots are ready, mix the panch phoran in with the carrots and allow them to bake for another 2 minutes.

Friday, May 3, 2013

In my kitchen - May 2013

Over the past few months I've enjoyed reading "In my kitchen" posts written by my blogging buddies Johanna, KariVaishali and Sandy and decided to join in too. This monthly event is hosted by Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. This is what's been happening in my kitchen...

In my kitchen is a coffee machine and bean grinder. This is the third coffee machine we have owned which was purchased four or five years ago, the previous two models we had only lasted about two years before breaking down. I would have to say this is my favourite appliance as it's used every single day. One cup of coffee a day is all I usually need as long as it's a good quality strong one like this.

In my kitchen are lemons from our young tree which are being used up as quickly as they are ripening. The tree went through minor surgery over summer due to an attack of gall wasp, unfortunately some branches with many new buds had to be amputated and subsequently the yield has been less than I was hoping for. I haven't had the chance to make our favourite lemon slice yet and must rectify this soon.

In my kitchen are some animals on my window sill. The jade elephant was a souvenir we bought when travelling to Thailand (this particular pose with the trunk lifted in the air is supposed to be good luck). The glass horse sat on my mum’s dresser for years before she passed it onto me. The jade cat was a gift from my mother in law from an overseas trip and the wooden elephant belongs to the man although he can't recall where it came from.

In my kitchen are home made vegan cheeses and rejuvelac, a fermented liquid used for culturing the cheeses. Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner was sitting on my cookbook shelf for several months before I finally had the time to delve into it. A lot of patience and self control is required for these recipes to work their magic. There isn't too much hands on work involved although some of the cheeses are best enjoyed after resting for 4 weeks! The cheeses in the photo are a cashew chevre and sharp cheddar with rejuvelac in the background. The sharp cheddar has been my favourite so far.

In my kitchen are delicious meals like these curries; a result of recipe testing for Leigh Drew. I've been enjoying testing for Leigh recently as I'm a fan of her cookbook Wrapped in Pastry and have also loved several recipes I've made from her blog. Leigh's exciting new cookbook will be released later this year!

In my kitchen are some substandard chocolate chip cookies. They have taught me a couple of lessons, to follow my own recipes closely and not to bake things late at night! My fellows had a hankering for something sweet last weekend so I hastily baked a batch of cookies for them. I was slack with measuring and didn't use enough flour which made the cookies way too soft. They also stuck together when I put them in a container as I was frustrated with my cooking blunder and didn't allow them to cool down enough before transferring them. Despite these woes, they still tasted great!

In my kitchen are olives soaking in a pot. They will remain here for the entire month with the water changed every second day! This is the first year our young trees have produced enough olives to bother making an effort with. There are more olives on the trees that are yet to ripen and I plan to experiment with some alternative preparation methods in due course.

In my kitchen are spicy Indian snacks. They are similar to Twisties yet they are coated in spices rather than flavoured with cheese or chicken like regular Twisties. I visit a local Indian spice shop every few months to replenish my hoard of spices and cannot resist their ongoing special of three packets for $4 every time I shop there. They are made from corn meal, rice meal, gram meal, vegetable oil and an assortment of spices. As well as tasting great I also like that there are no suspicious codes to watch out for in the ingredients list.

Thanks Celia for hosting this fun event! I look forward to peeking into other people's kitchens too.