Leftovers are a wonderful thing. Cook one thing once, and you have a base to your meals for the next few days. It’s cost and time efficient, and can allow you to flex your culinary creativity along the lines of Ready, Steady, Cook, if you’re into that kind of thing (I am). As a solo-cook, leftovers are inevitable, but in a good way.
At some point during lockdown, I found a Christmas ham in the freezer that needed using – you know, the ones you buy shortly after boxing day because they are reduced to a few quid? Yeah, one of those. So I roasted it and then… had loads of leftover ham. So, I thought it would be ‘fun’ to document how many different meals I could make out of it. I saw it as a creative challenge as well as a test of my frugality. This idea *may* have been inspired by watching too many batch-cooking videos by single Japanese salary women and frugal mom vlogs on YouTube. Please don’t ask, but feel free to judge.
Meal One – Ham Roast
Ham roast dinner. With all the trimmings. Including tremendous Yorkshire puddings that turned into popovers by accident. Nothing special here, the ham was cooked in the slow cooker with some carrots and onions. This kept the flavour neutral for whatever I had in store over the next few days.
Meal Two – Ham and Lentil Soup
I wanted something quick, light and healthy for lunches during the week. Even though I’m working from home, I like to have something prepped so that I’m not spending my lunch hour slaving over a hot stove. Soups hit the spot – nutritious and quick to heat up. Also it’s pretty much impossible to make less than 4 portions (meta-leftovers). It’s very freezable which is great if like me, you can’t eat the same thing more than 2 days in a row.
I kept the ingredients simple: a couple of shallots, handful of green lentils, CELERY (friends will be shocked – I HATE celery), a stock cube and of course, the ham. I sautéed the vegetables until soft, added the lentils and ham, topped up with hot water and added a stock cube and 40 minutes later, my soup was ready.
Meal Three – Ham and Tomato Grilled Cheese
I had managed to acquire some processed white bread which are only really good for 2 things: crisp sandwiches and toasties/grilled cheeses. So I opted for an American spin on an old school classic: a ham and tomato grilled cheese. #Sorrynotsorry. The grilled cheese was assembled like a sandwich, with the addition of mayonnaise. I spread it on the outside sides (I am at a loss as to how else to describe it) of the sandwich. I popped it into a non-stick frying pan (oil not necessary) and grilled on both sides on a low heat until golden brown. Admittedly, mine went more towards the ‘char-grilled’ side, but it was delicious nonetheless.
Meal Four – Ham and Cabbage Galette
I was not convinced the first time I saw a recipe for a cabbage galette. In fact, I think I called it a ‘cabbage pasty’. How wrong I was. This make-shift pie is as easy to make as it is tasty. Pick your filling, shove it in some shortcrust pastry, bung it in the oven and ta-da!
For the fourth meal I pan-fried some cabbage and onions to add to my ham for the filling. I also mixed in some oats I had leftover from blending oat milk earlier in the day, for added fibre (in hindsight, I actually would not recommend adding it to this recipe!). I put the cabbage mixture into the centre of a rectangular sheet of ready-rolled shortcrust pastry, then folded up the edges to form a pie crust. I added some grated cheese to cover the cabbage mixture to prevent burning (you can also use breadcrumbs) and brushed the pastry with a beaten egg and in the oven it went (180 degrees for around 30-45 mins, until pastry was golden). *chef kiss*
Meal Five – Mini Ham and Vegetable Quiches
You’re probably thinking, surely, by now I was going a bit ham-mad. Well actually, no. Which is good because there was still ham to go around and I’d lost count of the days I had been eating it by this point.
I had some pastry left over from the galette so, why not use some of my precious eggs and make some mini quiches! I lined some little tartlet tins with shortcrust pastry and filled them with peppers, onion, ham and cheese. I poured in some beaten egg and off into the oven they went. If you don’t have any tartlet tins, a pie dish/quiche dish would work equally as well – you’ll just end up with one big quiche rather than mini ones, obvs.
Meal Six – Ham, Swede and Potato Fauxphinoise
Ok, not going to lie, by this point I had reached Peak Ham. But I still had one portion left. So the ham became a topping to my ‘Fauxphinoise’ made from very thinly sliced potatoes, swede and onions, baked in a mixture of cream (I use soy), garlic and stock. I also added some cheese and breadcrumbs for a proper crunchy topping. “Cheese makes everything taste better, right?” Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa, Series 13, Episode 8. This recipe has become a go-to during lockdown in a way I had not expected. Swedes and potatoes are in abundance and you can store them away for ages. This dish isn’t heavy like a traditional Dauphinoise Potatoes, and you can eat it alone or as a side. I add quite a bit of black pepper to mine which makes it taste a little bit like a Cornish pasty!
So, I managed 6 different meals with the one ham, each meal yielded more leftovers. I probably won’t be eating ham again anytime soon. However, this little challenge really did make me reflect on my own approach to using up leftovers. With lockdown in place, I wasn’t able/willing to go to the shops to buy anything new so I found myself being doubly-resourceful by using the ingredients I already had around in my pantry, fridge and freezer. I am definitely an advocate for ‘waste not, want not’.
Pastry, pulses, eggs and potatoes are great additions to bulk out any leftovers, making them into standalone main dishes or to serve alongside. I don’t know about you but I always make sure I have those ingredients available (plus a gazillion tins of tomatoes). I can’t remember how many times a sheet of pastry has saved my bacon (pun not intended), transforming a random selection of odds and ends into a wholesome meal in the form of a pie, galette, tart or parcel. A can of chickpeas can transform a few scraps into a delicious soup or stew. Eggs – you know how much I LOVE eggs – are a healthy and affordable protein that can be a meal in itself or a binding ingredient for anything else you may have floating around. Potatoes are not only filling and last forever in the fridge or cupboard, they are also practically indestructible whether you decide to boil them, fry them or roast them. The possibilities are endless!
I have found that a little bit of creativity here goes a long way too. That doesn’t necessarily mean creating a whole new recipe from scratch with your leftovers, but more about working with what you already know. Know how to make a pie? Make a ham pie. Know how to make scones? Make ham scones. You get the gist?
I think there are 2 kinds of people in this world: those who follow recipes, and those who follow their ingredients. As a solo-cook, following my ingredients makes economical sense and forces me to use up what I have before buying more (especially fresh meat and produce). Couple this with lockdown and my food waste has literally gone down to zero (apart from that apple I had to chuck because it got lost in the fridge and there was no saving it by the time I found it). It’s a win-win.
I hope that like me, you’ve all had time to reflect on your food and cooking habits during lockdown. Making some small changes to your usual routine can make a big difference on food waste. Nothing like a pandemic to force you think about these things.
I look forward to the day when I can bring myself to eat ham again.
Thank you for reading!