Clever Cooks

The not-so-clever cook

My mum hates dining out. She doesn’t understand why we should pay more for a meal that she can cook better herself. Hence we ate home-cooked meals three times a day, seven days a week and I grew up seeing dining out as an elusive, adult indulgence. 

When I started earning my own money, I couldn’t get enough of restaurants. I kept a copy of the The Age Good Food Guide in the car. My friends and I would take photos of our beautifully presented restaurant meals. We felt incredibly sophisticated ordering glasses of Sem Sauv Blancs with our fish-of-the-day specials and eating crème brûlée for dessert.

Takeaway also became routine after I left home. Ordering $10 char kway teow at the noodle shop near work was easier than preparing food the night before. And it tasted better too. There were periods where I wouldn’t have home-cooked food for days.

I knew that my eating habits were bad for my body and the environment. According to’s ‘Food to have sometimes’ article, restaurant meals, fast food, and takeaways are ‘often high in fat, salt and sugar’ and can lead to ‘obesity, heart disease and other disorders’. Meanwhile, my takeaway containers were adding to landfill with no hope of getting broken down.

If I did cook at home, I would only make enough for one meal, often winding up with a carton of sour cream, half a capsicum, and a lonely bok choy at the bottom of my fridge. These would spoil before I had the chance to use them. My wasteful cooking style was a response to decades of eating Mum’s leftovers.

Magazines like Super Food Ideas hinted at a healthier, greener, and more economical way of eating. In a recent issue, a serving of cottage pie with celeriac mash contained 3.5 vegetable servings and only cost $3.50. Cooking in batches for four people or more reduced utilities (gas, electricity, and water), packaging, and food wastage (no more half-eaten carrots). But in a single-person household, cooking in bulk also meant the dreaded L-word.

‘You don’t have to eat the same thing for days on end,’ say Suzanne and Kate Gibbs from The Thrifty Kitchen, ‘leftover food can be reinvented as a completely new meal for another night’ (p. 83). Mashed potatoes and stew can be resurrected as a shepherd’s pie. The dredges of tonight’s stir fry can flavour tomorrow’s fried rice.

Suzanne and Kate give further advice on reinventing leftovers:

Make sure you introduce freshness and colour by adding ingredients like chopped flat-leaf parsley, finely grated lemon zest or chopped tomatoes. And remember to create a nice contrast in texture. Most leftover ingredients are soft, so a little crunch of something crisp like capsicum, celery, nuts or bacon is usually welcome. Remember too that leftovers don’t necessarily need to be cooked again. Meat, chicken, fish and vegetables, in particular, only need to be reheated or they start to lose their flavour. (p. 84)

Leftovers also make excellent ‘frozen dinners’. Make a big batch of bolognaise, eat some, and freeze the rest in meal-sized servings. Just make sure it’s packed away properly. For more information on freezing food, check out’s how-to.

Thanks to The Thrifty Kitchen and similar resources, I have made my peace with leftovers. I am cooking bigger quantities less often and putting more thought into my meals. I also look forward to the occasional dine out. Before, when I was living off takeaway, I had lost my enthusiasm and discernment for restaurant food. Now that I’m doing it less, eating out is finally regaining its lustre.

24 years and 4 months to go,


2 thoughts on “The not-so-clever cook

  1. Yes! Single cookin’ is great way of gaining kitchen inventiveness. The leftovers from a lamb roast can become a soup, get thrown into a Mongolian stirfry, be refried for souvlaki or fill a roasty-toasty, and that’s just off the top of my head. I love trying to raise a meal from the little bits and pieces pushed to the back of the fridge … sometimes this turns into Homer’s cloves, pie crust and Tom Collins Mix, but when you can pull it off, it feels like free dinner.

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