"You can take the surplus and the borderline and cook them back to sparkling originality, roasting and simmering, frying and blending your way to a sense of deep satisfaction that is very sweet indeed."
It's Monday and time to use up leftovers. They are beginning to mount up. So there I was, as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says,
"standing in front of the fridge scanning for possibilities" and noticed my oldest leftovers - this somewhat unprepossessing looking clump of leftover gratin Dauphinois. So this is my starting point. Where to from here?
Initially I thought of my two standard things to do with leftover potatoes - omelette and gnocchi. There are also fishcakes of course, but we had those just the other day, so I think not today. I started to do my usual dither between the omelette and the gnocchi possibilities, when I decided that I could do better surely.
My first port of call was to revisit the wonderful Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and to rediscover his beautiful book (in every way) Love Your Leftovers. If you haven't got it - go and buy it now. But I think I've told you that before. It's packed with ideas, from vague to specific recipes, plus lots of information on storage and suchlike. Flicking through it - well working from the index, I worked through rustic tarts, toppings for stews, turnovers, soups, salads and a multitude of other things. So I kept the book out for later reference before turning to the net.
And this is where I shall digress a little.
Whenever I look for the answers to such questions as what to do with leftover gratin, almost inevitably, sooner or later I will come to Chowhound.
I actually rarely look further than the first comment. As you can see the company logo is very plain, and what you get when you are looking for this kind of answer is a rather boringly laid out page of a whole lot of answers in response to one person's question. No pictures, just boringly laid out text, and besides it's American - which is somehow a deterrent to me, and sometimes people's comments are so very not those of someone I could relate to. So my flibbertigibbet mind tends to get fed up and goes elsewhere for an answer. Often, unimaginatively to The Guardian, which almost never disappoints (but did today). However, today for some reason I decided to stick with Chowhound a bit and scrolled down the list of answers. And, indeed there were some quite interesting ones. But before I get to those let me share a little about what I found out about Chowhound, because I have sort of wondered how something so seemingly old school - a simple message board - could exist in today's gee whiz internet world.
It was started way back in 1997 by two men Jim Leff and Bob Okumura in New York. Fundamentally it was their thoughts on where to eat, what was hot to eat, trends, fads, and ideas with a message board as the centrepiece where viewers could join in the conversation. The Village Voice described it as:
"the cultish message board where obsessed food lovers trade tips"
It became completely consuming both of time, energy and money for its two founders, who more or less did it all, until 2006 when it was sold to CNET Networks Media Jim Leff stayed on but Bob Okumura left to do other things - well I assume he did, although he seems to have disappeared from view.. In 2008 it was acquired by CBS for CBS Interactive who renamed it CHOW.com. I think the two men had also run a magazine called CHOW. . I assume they got a good price for their creation. In 2015 CBS relaunched it as Chowhound.com which name it retains to this day, even though in 2019 ViacomCBS acquired CBS Interactive, and then in 2020 Red Ventures acquired it as part of the CNET Media Group Acquisition. They still own it.
"is the owner of Lonely Planet, CNET, ZDNet, TV Guide, Metacritic, GameSpot, Giant Bomb, The Points Guy, and Chowhound since October 30, 2020; as well as Healthline Media since 2019 and Bankrate since 2017."
So there you go two men at home and on the road, to a major media company offshoot. Jim Leff left sometime ago and is now, I think a freelance writer with a website called Jim Leff's Slog - and I have to say he really isn't into web design. He is also a jazz trombonist. As I said, I have no idea what happened to Bob Okumura. This is what the Home page of Chowhound looks like today, and as you can see it does much more than host a forum - which it still does and which is still much as it has always been. Very small logo, and looking much like a multitude of other foodie sites I guess.
It was sort of an interesting story. I did see somewhere that Chowhound was referred to as the first food blog. But what I found interesting was that these two men, who obviously started something worth money - lots I assume - then seem to have more or less dipped out. Maybe they just had so much money.
Anyway that was a digression. Back to my search for what to do with my bit of leftover potato gratin. No - another mini digression about food blogs. This one is called Thursday Night Smackdown and actually is no longer active. It closed in 2013 and its author was a Michelle Weber who does now do other things as she tells you in her sidebar. I found it through one of the Chowhound recommendations.
It is indeed a food blog written in a racy style with the occasional swear word, but if the one recipe that I looked at Repurposed soup is any indication it's a good read, and the ideas are both appetising and interesting. Her suggestion for the gratin was a sort of vichyssoise. She reheated the potatoes with some milk, and then threw them into a blender with some sautéed leeks, whisked the result in a saucepan with some stock and hey presto a rather appetising looking creamy soup. I won't be able to do this though as I have no leeks. But I guess you could be a bit different and use onions. Maybe even add a bit of ham - either in chunks in the soup or sautéed until crisp and scattered on top.
Facing the Introduction page of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book is this rather tempting picture of a vegetable soup. A different kind of soup which is also ad option. I could certainly consider that. And now that I think of it I have some 'past its best' cauliflower in the fridge too. If it really hasn't gone too far I guess I could add that to a puréed kind of soup - with ham. Yes soup is a definite possibility.
However, I read on through the Chowhound forum and honestly, there were several other rather interesting ideas:
"Butterfly a large chicken breast and place a generous helping of your leftover scalloped potatoes inside the "pocket" along with chopped spinach and you have a wonderful stuffing. The potatoes and cheese, milk, onions will keep the chicken nicely moist." HillJ - Chowhound - we have had a fair bit of chicken of late though, so I don't think so. Worth storing away as an idea though. Infinitely variable too.
"Chop them, put in a large oven-proof skillet with a decent amount of olive oil, cooked meat or veg, if you like, cover with lots of beaten eggs and bake at 350 until set. This produces a Tortilla Espagnol-ish sort of dish, good either hot, warm, or room temp. This is a good dish for feeding overnight guests in the morning." pikawicca - Chowhound - this one's a bit like my omelette though, so perhaps not. Always delicious but I'm a bit bored with omelette. I have to be in the mood.
This idea was sort of taken up by another blog called My Daily Randomness. The author called it Leftover scalloped potato crusted quiche and this time there was a picture - you fry your gratin in one layer and then put your frittata like filling on top. A bit like my omelette I think so I don't think I'll do this. And why would you put golden fried potatoes on the bottom of something rather than on top. Mind you I have seen pictures of fried sliced potatoes as a quiche crust, although I cannot now find this. I did see lots where the crust was made with mashed potatoes though.
"top pizza" - had pizza the other day though, and in fact I did think of doing this then, but thought that my gratin was a bit too mushy for that.
"Spray muffin cups with non stick spray. Layer scalloped potatoes and diced Ham, repeat. Top with fresh cheese and bake until heated through. Mini scalloped potatoes and ham. Have a side of cream corn. (I always keep leftover ham slices of approx. 3-4 slices in vacuum sealed bags in the freezer. Perfect for these instances)" boyzoma - Chowhound - mm, maybe
"What might be fun and a little different is to mash the scalloped potatoes into rough chunks, use half to line a pie plate, fill with a nice blend of browned seasoned meat (ground pork or beef or turkey), top with remaining potato for a crust and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes: voila, a twist on shepherd's pie!" LJS - Chowhound Yes I knew that Shepherd's pie was an option but I don't really have enough potato and it would probably just leave me with more options.
All pretty interesting and I won't just dismiss Chowhound if this sort of dilemma comes up again. But why do people leave inane comments like "that sounds amazing!". Some do add some interesting variations and additions though, or serving suggestions.
So what shall I do? Well currently I am hovering between a purée soup - I could kill two birds with one stone there if I include the cauliflower, so I'll check out the cauliflower first, or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's gnocchi. I had thrown out the idea of gnocchi because I had no ricotta, but I do also have some leftover marinated feta in the fridge and his recipe includes mashed goat's cheese.. Another opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Then Mr. River Cottage also had a Creamy smoky fish and spinach gratin. Spinach - I could put that in the gnocchi too - or nettles - I could pick a few more. Decisions, decisions, but I fee quite uplifted by the possibilities.
"Winging it with what's to hand can be so liberating - flinging in this or that with the joyful abandon that comes from not trying too hard or expecting too much. before you know it, you can produce a plateful that has you thinking, 'Why haven't I tried this before?' And, more importantly, 'I'll definitely make this again,' to which, by the very nature of leftovers, you have to add, 'Or something a bit like it.'"
I just asked David and he said gnocchi because we have no fresh bread to go with the soup - so there you go - that's another way to make a decision. Get somebody else to make it.