How often do you come home hungry after a long day, only to stare blankly into the fridge?
It’s a common dilemma: cupboards full of food, yet nothing to eat. But now help is at hand.
For TV chef Rachel Allen, the solution lies in knowing what to do with the random leftovers you have lying around.
It’s the theme for her new Good Food series Rachel Allen’s Everyday Kitchen, and accompanying book Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen: Simple, Delicious Family Food.
“It’s for that time when you look in the fridge, see a bit a bacon that needs eating up, or some leftover chicken, and can’t work out what to make,” says the Dublin-born chef.
“It was my sister who gave me this idea, about making recipes for leftovers, essentially. I knew it was the right thing to do when, at Christmas, we had our traditional conversation about what to do with all the leftover ham, turkey and veg.”
The recipes she’s put together aren’t necessarily concerned with thrift - although if you start using your leftovers and planning meals more carefully you will automatically save money. They are more about making delicious meals with the food you already have at home.
“It’s really thinking like my grandparents did,” says Allen, 41, who’s also been a regular guest on the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen.
“Everything was accounted for. And yes, we do waste so much food. My mum was the best soup-maker, so there are some lovely soup recipes in the series. Whatever didn’t get eaten went back in the fridge to be turned into a soup or a casserole the following day.”
There are some more creative and unexpected recipes in there too, she says - “it’s not all making shepherd’s pie from leftover lamb and so on”.
“There are delicious fresh and exciting things in there too, like the chicken, fennel and orange salad, or tartiflette, which comes from the Haute-Savoie region of France. It’s traditionally made with roast potatoes and the Reblochon cheese they make in the area, but this is my husband Isaac’s recipe from Christmas time. He just uses whatever leftover cheese and ham there is, and spare roast potatoes.”
It does sound delicious, although the idea of ‘spare’ roast potatoes sounds a little odd - those delicious, crispy carb nuggets are normally the first things to go!
The show also features tips from the Ballymaloe Cookery School, where Allen trained and now helps to run with her husband and mother-in-law Darina, such as making breadcrumbs for the storage cupboard from stale crusts, or using the heads of the prawns from the Mexican chilli seafood dish to create a tasty stock to use at a later date.
“There’s so much flavour in the bones and heads - bits we might not want to eat and would ordinarily just throw away, so I want to get people to hold onto things like that,” says Allen, who lives in County Cork with Isaac and their three young children.
Of course, there’s also some baking involved - Allen’s Bake! series and book basked in the joys of making your own breads, cakes and pastries, two years before The Great British Bake Off hit screens in 2010, sparking a baking frenzy.
It’s extraordinary how much baking is happening,” she says. “I’ll be in an elevator or walking around town and someone will turn around and say, ‘I made your so-and-so cake for my office’s bake Friday’, or for their child’s school, so I’m very pleased about that, and that people are trying the recipes for themselves.”