It’s easy to enjoy the hedonistic excesses of the Christmas period.
Lashings of rich meat washed down with liberal quantities of mulled wine; fruity, sugary pastries made a daily occurrence; an increase in cheese consumption to rival that of the French; panic-buying of presents, large quantities of food and kitsch decorations… this is, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year.
It takes a little more effort, however, to try and rein in this excess in the days following the 25th of December. You’re likely to have more food lying around than you know what to do with, and possibly a glut of leftover wrapping paper and ribbons, too.
I would encourage you to see this not as a burden, but as an opportunity. Recycling Christmas leftovers can be even more enjoyable than the big day itself – certainly, I often find that the best meals are assembled from odds and ends.
Here’s a handy guide to giving all of those leftover bits and bobs a new lease of life, and getting the new year off to a frugal start.
Christmas sweet treats and alcohol
Soften a tub of vanilla ice cream then stir in crumbled cooked Christmas pudding for a delicious Christmas pudding ice cream. If you’re into making your own ice cream, it’s even more delicious to do it that way: make a standard custard ice cream base, but infuse the milk with a vanilla pod and a few strips of orange zest. Churn the ice cream, then, when it’s nearly done, crumble in the Christmas pudding and freeze. This is great with pears poached in red, white or mulled wine – a great way to use up leftover (!) alcohol from the big day – or other baked fruit desserts. Or, of course, on its own. Incidentally, this also works with crumbled, cooked mince pies.
Try making Christmas pudding fudge. Make a plain fudge recipe, get it to the correct setting point (116C), then stir in crumbled Christmas pudding before beating it until it sets. This is delicious and makes a lovely gift - if you can bear to give it away!
Uneaten or unwanted bits of chocolate - the odds and ends in the selection box, etc - can be chopped up and used to make classic choc-chip cookies
Use leftover white wine to make risotto or chicken in white wine sauce, and use red wine in a beef bourgignon, coq au vin or other red meat stew.
Turkey and other meats
A Thai-style hot, sweet and salty coconut noodle broth is the perfect antidote to Christmas excess. Simmer coconut milk with chicken stock, sliced ginger, shallots, lemongrass, chilli, kaffir lime leaves, then add sliced mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, a few handfuls of leftover turkey and a good squeeze of lime juice and brown sugar to taste. Serve in deep bowls over cooked noodles, with plenty of fresh coriander.
Leftover turkey makes a fabulous Asian-style salad. Sauté shredded turkey in a hot pan with a little oil, honey and Chinese five spice until golden, then serve with thinly sliced fennel, grapefruit segments and watercress tossed together with a little lime juice, shredded ginger, soy sauce and honey.
All sorts of Christmas leftovers make a great frittata. Sauté small pieces of leftover vegetables - root veg, sprouts and greens all work - and/or meat such as turkey, ham, sausages or bacon in a large pan, then pour over 8-10 beaten, seasoned eggs - enough to just about cover the vegetables. Cook on the hob for 5 minutes until starting to set, then finish off under the grill for a hearty, filling frittata. Serve with a green salad.
If you have leftover pigs in blankets or sausages, chop them up and sauté them briefly in a hot pan before mixing with a tomato sauce. Stir in some herbs and a packet of gnocchi - boiled for 30 seconds - pour into an oven dish, top with cheese and bake for 15 minutes for a gloriously indulgent and easy dinner.
Leftover goose or duck is delicious in a salad of warm pearl barley, dressed with wholegrain mustard, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and tossed with watercress and pomegranate seeds. It also works well in a salad of wild and brown rice, green beans, dried cranberries and toasted pecans, tossed with a Dijon mustard dressing.
Fruit, vegetables and cheese
Cranberries aren’t just for Christmas. Tip leftover berries, mixed with some orange zest, a pinch of cinnamon and a little sugar, into the bottom of a greased cake tin, top with a sponge mix and make a festive upside-down cake.
Fresh cranberries are also lovely in a basic muffin batter flavoured with orange zest, for an indulgent breakfast treat.
Leftover clementines are great in salads – try the segments with thinly sliced fennel, watercress and walnuts, tossed in a mustard dressing. This is also good with leftover cured meats or turkey.
Use leftover odds and ends of cheese in soda bread. Simply crumble them into a plain soda bread dough with some chopped spring onions (or normal onions) and a few herbs (you’ll probably have some leftover sage lying around after Christmas) to make a delicious accompaniment to festive soups or cold cuts. You can also use the same idea to make cheese scones – excellent with butter and leftover ham.
Layer thinly sliced leftover vegetables - cooked or otherwise - with cream, one or more cheeses, herbs and sliced onions. Top with breadcrumbs and bake for a delicious, comforting gratin.
Wrapping paper, gift tags and cards
If you have any particularly pretty bits of paper/card left over after unwrapping presents, use them in a decoupage project. Plain wooden picture frames, mirrors and storage boxes can be sanded down and decorated with paper for a quirky and unique piece of furniture. All you need is some decoupage glue – Mod Podge is a good brand – a paintbrush and some scissors.
Pretty ribbons can be recycled and used to adorn homemade gifts - jams, chutneys, fudge - next year.
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, seven. She has a passion for all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes, she is studying for a PhD on children’s literature and the Arthurian legend at the University of York.