PRUE LEITH says only lazy cooks throw food away

Middle-class mums MUST learn to love leftovers: In her war on waste, PRUE LEITH says only lazy cooks throw food away — you CAN make scraps scrumptious

  • It’s estimated that 60 per cent of the food produced in the UK ends up in landfill
  • Prue Leith says she would use her son and his family’s leftovers to make suppers
  • Cookery expert shares her advice for saving money and reducing food waste 

My son and his family used to spend weekends with us in our former house where they had a separate kitchen.

On Mondays, when they’d gone back to London, I’d help myself to the contents of their fridge, knowing that by next weekend the food would be past its best and get binned. The leftovers would feed me and my husband for a couple of suppers.

While I can understand families of limited means, who have never learnt to cook, wasting food, I’d have thought middle-class families like mine would know better. But it turns out it’s ‘people like us’ who bin the most food.

On my Channel 4 show, Cook Clever, Waste Less, Dr Rupy Aujla and I helped people cook healthily, more cheaply and less wastefully.

Prue Leith (pictured) shares her advice for saving money and reducing food waste, as it’s estimated that 60 per cent of the food produced in the UK ends up in landfill

It’s estimated that 60 per cent of the food produced in the UK ends up in landfill. Some of it is lost on the farm when the crop doesn’t get sold, maybe rejected by the supermarket as not quite meeting its specification on size, shape, packaging, etc; there’s the crazy waste of excellent food that we don’t want to eat, like offal or veal; there’s unsold or past-its-sell-by date food thrown away by retailers.

But worst of all is the waste we the public are responsible for, mostly caused by overbuying; cooking too much, or leaving food uneaten or half-eaten. Turning yesterday’s wilted salad into a pasta sauce or making soup out of Sunday roast leftover veg and gravy wouldn’t occur to most young people. They have other priorities, such as Zooming, homework, housework, children and watching telly. Whereas I like nothing better than making something delicious out of scraps.

It’s largely a generation thing. I was born in the war, and brought up to ‘waste not, want not’.

When gassing with my oldie friends, we all complain about profligate children who never mend a sock, save the wrapping paper or turn off the lights.

But mostly we bemoan expensive ready-made dishes and half-eaten, or untouched, thrown away food. It doesn’t help that family meals, which should be the highlight of the day, often degenerate into a battleground with picky kids screaming or whining their way to victory and defeated parents resorting to giving them what they want, generally fish fingers or pasta, day after day.

I swear if people liked cooking, they’d find a good use for leftovers. I’ve been bleating for 60 years about the madness of not teaching cookery at school. People who enjoy cooking welcome the creative challenge of making something delicious out of yesterday’s leftovers. And they tend not to be so picky about sell-by dates.

Prue (pictured) said going vegetarian two or three days a week, could help to save money and is better for the planet 

With fresh meat and fish, we need to take notice of the ‘use by’ date, although common sense could moderate that a bit: if your fridge is very cold (say under 4°c or 40°f) and the food came from supermarket chiller to your fridge without you stopping for a coffee while it warmed up in the car, a couple of days more won’t hurt. If in doubt, use the sniff test. As to the ‘best by’ date, ignore it. All fresh food tastes better on Day One than it does on Day Five.

And if you want to save money as well as reduce waste, go vegetarian two or three days a week. It will be cheaper and better for the planet, and probably healthier too. I’m proud that my husband answers the frequent remark, ‘You must get wonderful meals, being married to Prue,’ with ‘Actually, I live on leftovers’. So, as the Leftover Queen, I can tell you that a little organisation goes a long way.

First things first, plan the week’s main meals ahead — and make a shopping list before doing the big shop which you stick to. If you fall for something unplanned, cross something else off the list or put it back. Another top tip is buy cream in small pots. Big is cheaper, ounce-for-ounce, but not if you end up with half a pot going off.

To make leftovers more tantalising, do something visually different from the original incarnation; so, turn leftover chicken into filling for a pancake or paté for toast; cooked veg into soup.

Prue (pictured) said you’ll be surprised how easily scraps can become scrumptious, try using a recipe or YouTube video if you’re not a confident cook 

I recommend batch cooking. Make a lot of thick Bolognese sauce then use what’s left in a cottage pie, in baked stuffed mushrooms or peppers, as a filling for pancakes, for mince on toast, with rice in a burrito, with tinned kidney beans and chili for chili con carne.

Similarly, chicken can end up in a pie, in soup, wrapped with fried mushrooms in filo pastry, in a cheese sauce on toast, with Thai spices in a stir-fry, mashed with butter into a paté. The key is to use leftovers as soon as possible when they still taste great.

If you’re not a confident cook, don’t just sling them all in a pan together and hope for the best. Use a recipe or download a YouTube video. You’ll be surprised how easily scraps can become scrumptious. 

Delicious ways to use it all up 

Root Veg Cake

This delicious root veg cake (pictured) is made from leftover cooked or raw vegetables

A delicious cake made from leftover cooked or raw veg with a citrusy flavour. Fresh oranges are perfect as you can grate the rind, but bottled juice or orange squash will do instead of the juice and a teaspoon of vanilla or orange essence can replace rind.

For the cake:

  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 250g soft butter
  • Grated zest of two small or one large orange
  • 2tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 200g cooked or raw beetroot, parsnip, carrot or butternut squash.

For the icing:

  • 100g very soft butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 200g full fat cream cheese.
  • Leftover orange from cake

Heat the oven to 180°c (160°c fan oven)/Gas 4. Line and grease two 20cm sandwich cake tins.

If the veg is raw, grate it; if cooked, chop finely. Only peel it if the skin is wrinkled, discoloured or tough. If the veg is cooked, puree it in a liquidiser.

In a processor, whisk together all the cake ingredients, except the egg whites and vegetables, until smooth. Then mix in the veg. Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry-looking and fold into the mix. Divide between the cake tins and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick will emerge clean when poked into the centre of the cakes.

Cool for 10 minutes before running a knife round the edges of the cakes to loosen them and turn out onto a wire rack.

To make the icing: Using a machine, beat the butter, sugar and orange juice together until smooth and fluffy. (Scrape down the sides as you go.)

In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth and then gradually, a blob at a time, fold it into the butter and sugar until evenly mixed. If the mixture is too runny to spread, chill it and it will stiffen up. When the cakes are cold, sandwich them with half the icing and spread the rest on the top. Peel the orange you used for the zest and slice it into thin rounds to decorate the cake top.

Pancakes to the rescue

Thin French pancakes make a great container for leftovers whether stew, savoury pie filling, curry, mince or vegetable mixtures like ratatouille or pulse casseroles.

For the pancakes

  • 300ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g flour
  • Good pinch salt
  • Butter for frying
  • Grated parmesan or cheddar for serving

Blend the pancake ingredients until smooth. Warm a serving plate to receive the pancakes as you cook them and warm the leftovers destined for the filling.

On medium heat, melt a small blob of butter, enough to just cover your frying pan. When it starts to sizzle pour in batter to cover the pan thinly with gentle swirling. Leave on the heat for a couple of minutes until the pancake looks dry and begins to lift from the edges of the pan. Slide a palette knife or fish slice under and gently turn it over to brown the other side. Then slide it onto the warm plate and cover with a folded tea towel. Make the rest of the pancakes. Spoon a line of hot filling onto the middle of each pancake, roll them up and add to the serving dish.

Top with the cheese and serve while hot.

Cook Clever, Waste Less With Prue And Rupy is available on channel4.com

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