There are usually some leftovers when I cook. Not the meal very often but its components. For example, today I have about 4 cups of cubed and cooked potatoes in a tub in the refrigerator left from last week. They are running out of time. This seems like a place to start so I look around for other additions that will turn into a pot of something good.
I always keep carrots, olive oil and spices around. In my dehydrated stores, mushrooms are a wonderful umami booster to any dish. There has been a leek in the crisper for a while the tops looking a little shabby. In the fridge also is some milk I must use up and a tub of sour cream with a couple of nice dollops that need to go away before it’s too late. Not sounding very glamorous is it?
Well, here’s how we’ll put the glam to the pan:
Clean, slice and sauté a leek (an onion will also do) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until soft and slightly golden on some pieces. Add the cooked potato cubes and go over them with a potato masher until coarsely but evenly mashed. Stir in about 5 cups milk (I had whole milk), add 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Also add spices you like. I used parsley flakes for a hint of greenery and coriander for a hot and lemony hit. A pinch of red pepper flakes adds nice heat if you like that. I do!
This needs to be simmered until it bubbles a bit and while we wait for that use a carrot peeler and slice a medium carrot with it to make ultra thin slices. It whiles away the time it takes for the soup to bubble and adds beautiful color to the pot. Those dehydrated mushrooms I mentioned come into play here. I grab a few slices and crush them in my hand and add the flakes to the pot. You can’t see them much but you sure will taste the mellow earthy goodness they impart.
Once everything has a chance to simmer and blend flavors it’s time to add a bit more creaminess. It’s time to close off the flame so the dairy components won’t break and look grainy. Those dollops of sour cream are just the touch. If you happen to have some regular cream, a shot of that will add more richness. Just stir it and let it melt right in. As a final touch that adds that Je’ ne sais quoi (that’s how a diva says “I don’t know what”) a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese gives everything a sharper taste. Don’t add too much or the secret will be revealed. You want just enough to have people try to guess what that great (or grated) taste is. Another ingredient that does that in tiny amounts is nutmeg. Grate some fresh or go to your spice rack an add just a wee pinch.
In the end our leftovers have never looked and tasted better. The refrigerator is slightly cleaner and the company at the dining room table are enjoying themselves better after raking leaves, working on the car and cleaning and cooking. I think after all this work we’ll have to dress up for a date night tonight. And that’s how we glam the leftovers.
What do I do with all these leftovers? This is a question I ask myself about three times a week. In summertime I usually answer that question by making a salad. Now that it is September and the weather has broken…that is to say it was 54° in St. Louis this morning, I feel like baking again.
I have a leftover half of a roasted chicken, some left over portions of veggies, and a pie crust in the ‘fridge I made a couple of days ago that I never used because it was too hot. Today, this meal was inspired by all these variables serendipitously becoming available… especially the cooler weather.
The crust is an easy home made one that takes no time to whip up and the filling to this “chicken pan pie” is a mixture of sauteed vegetables including:
- One red onion peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
- 2 ribs of celery in tiny dice
- 2 medium carrots peeled and thinly sliced with the peeler
- a small head of broccoli well chopped
- 1/3 cup frozen green beans cut in half inch pieces
- 1/3 cup frozen peas
I decided to put the crust into a well seasoned 9″ cast iron skillet. It has a good depth for all these vegetables as well as several other advantages. I made enough dough for a top and bottom crust.
In a large non-stick skillet I cooked all these chopped veggies in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the veggies began to brown up nicely, I put them off to the side in a bowl. I then sprinkled about 1/4 cup all purpose flour over the chicken pieces and tossed it around in another bowl. With the chicken well coated in flour, I dumped it into my skillet with a knob of butter and stirred it around to get the chicken warmed. In the bowl the chicken was in I made a slurry of an additional 1/2 cup flour, 1/cup water, 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. I poured that in the skillet, stirring until all the sauce thickened then added the veggies back in and continued stirring until everything was well mixed.
Everything was added to the pie crust I prepared earlier in the pan. I quickly rolled out the top crust, placed it over the chicken and veggies, crimped the edges together, made deep slits to vent steam while baking, and put it into a preheated 400° oven for 35 minutes or so. When the crust was golden brown on the edges I knew the pie would be done nicely.
I chose a cast iron skillet to bake for several reasons: Cooking in cast iron actually adds iron to your diet, it has a handle for easy removal from the oven, and being a very dark color helps the crust become very crispy on the bottom. That is a big plus when you are baking a pie with a highly liquid filling. I take every opportunity to use my cast iron ware because the more it is used, the more non-stick it becomes. A well seasoned skillet makes for an easy clean-up. After a while cast iron can almost be wiped clean. I found this one at a rummage sale and the seasoning work was already done. I love that it was only a dollar. The food I cook in it comes out tasting like a million bucks!
I love eating Chinese food but it’s not the friendliest food when you want to save on calories. Fried rice is often very fattening and usually contains head ache inducing MSG, but I’ve come up with a flavorful way to make fried rice that is MSG free and contains only two tablespoons of butter per pot, instead of enough grease to float The Queen Mary. I use the following ingredients:
- a pot of just about cooked rice (four or five cups when fully prepared)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- a couple of Spring onions thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- one medium carrot sliced thinly using the carrot peeler (yes, that thin)
- a couple of ribs of bok choy roughly chopped
- 1 large fresh egg
- 2/3 cup cooked/smoked/even barbequed beef or pork rib meat in small dice
- a few dashes of black pepper and garlic powder or a fresh clove of minced garlic
In the pot of very hot, nearly cooked rice, add the onions and soy sauce. These ingredients will seep into the rice and really deepen the flavor as it finishes cooking. Stir it in and keep the lid on while you saute the vegetables in the butter or olive oil in a small non-stick skillet. With one tablespoon of butter or oil, cook the carrot slices until they are tender, about 4 or 5 minutes. Scoot them off into the rice, onion, and soy sauce mixture and stir and again cover. With the remaining butter or oil, cook the bok choy greens with their snappy peppery taste in that same skillet until they are nicely wilted but the chopped up pieces of stem are still firm. Crack an egg right into the bok choy season with the pepper and garlic, and stir it vigorously until it is well scrambled and cooked throughout. Toss this too into the pot of rice and onion, stir everything together.
When ever the rice is done, shut off the heat and keep covered. After cutting the meat away from the rib bone, cut it into tiny dice and stir it into the pot as well. As the rice and all its layers of flavor warm the meat, the smokey taste comes out of the meat and gives this dish a balance of flavor that really satisfies.
The best thing is that this meal for three or four costs mere pennies! Rice is about the cheapest food out there. The ribs were left over from an event where my husband works and with a few stray vegetables rolling around in the crisper that might be forgotten until they need to be thrown out, a hunk or two of butter, and an egg from our neighbor worth a few clucks… that’s pretty much all there is to this meal, but the fewer calories without sacrificing taste part, is what really turns this diva on!
The chicken we had the other day was enough for six people, so today we used the leftovers to make chicken tacos. It’s really easy when the meat is already cooked and removed from the bone. I start by chopping up some onions and peppers, and browning them up in a skillet with a little olive oil. The green pepper is a piece of poblano that has a mild heat and the orange one is a mini sweet pepper. I toss the chicken cut up into small pieces into the skillet and add some nice tacoey spices…chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper…the first two spices in round teaspoons and the rest in 1/8 th teaspoons. When this is heated through, and it doesn’t take long, I put little scoops of it into flour tortillas with cheese, shredded lettuce, and diced tomatoes. Voila! Dinner in five minutees!
You don’t have to go to a soup kitchen for free soup…at least I didn’t have to today. I just went to my trusty old refrigerator and cleaned out the leftovers. In there I found all the ingredients in the title of this entry, added a few spices like minced garlic, onion powder, freshly ground black pepper, and a pinch of salt.
The green beans were already cooked with onions and bacon which seasoned them nicely. The potatoes were left over boiled and peeled russets, and the tomatoes were from a partially used can of Ro-tel tomatoes with green chilies… plenty of heat and flavor there. I added a splash each of cream and milk , mashed it all together with the potato masher, heated it in the microwave, and this lovely and delicious soup was the result. Just what is needed on this cool day.
The crowning moment of a leftover’s existence is winding up in a casserole. I call this one Casserole Cordon Bleu. I wasn’t raised during the Great Depression or anything but my mother was, and my grandmother was raising her during that very difficult time. As a result I’ve also been raised to not let food go to waste. It is in my blood to use everything while it is still good and I think we’ve gotten to the last of that 14 lb ham…FINALLY. Many a sliced ham sandwich was eaten but there were several other more creative dishes in the mix that contained ham to break up the monotony. This one allowed the ham to go out in style.
- 1 lb penne rigate pasta
- 2 and 1/2 cups milk
- 1 cup half and half
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 finely diced onion
- 2 chicken breasts baked, cooled and cubed (reserve the juice)
- 1 cup cubed cooked ham (you could substitute corned beef)
- 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
- 1 cup bread crumbs made with French bread
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
- salt to taste
First, boil the pasta in salted water 10 or 12 minutes to al’ dente and drain. In the pot pour in the 2 cups milk and cream, garlic powder, pepper, and onion and bring to a boil. Add the cheeses and stir until it thickens and becomes smooth and turn off the heat. Salt to taste (this is a basically an Alfredo sauce). Preheat oven to 350°. Add drained pasta back into the pot and and coat well. Add the juice of the baked chicken, the chicken and ham, the chopped spinach, and fold it all together. Turn it all into a 13″ x 9″ glass or ceramic casserole dish. I had a bit of Swiss cheese left so I sprinkled some on top.
In the processor, pulse a hand size chunk (which makes about 1 cup of crumbs or you could also use panko crumbs) of French bread until it is fine crumbs. Dump them into a bowl (I used the foil I covered the chicken with as my bowl) add the olive oil, parsley flakes, and a pinch of salt and toss it together with your fingertips. Sprinkle this evenly over the top of the pasta mixture and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are toasty and the casserole is bubbling.
Now this really didn’t seem a bad way for the rest of our ham to make its last meal. I’m almost sure I could have survived the Great Depression with as many meals as this huge piece of meat provided…plus, it was free and this dish contains all the four food groups. This ham kept well, and kept us well fed, but Heaven help me if I have to eat another bite of the stuff before next Spring!
So the hammy saga continues. We’ve had spiral sliced ham in, on, and around everything we’ve eaten these past few days, and there is still so darn much ham I feel like it will come out my ears soon. Today, I used about a pound of it to make something that was pleasant change from sliced ham…ham salad. I made this in the food processor with a chunk of ham from the end where the spiral slicing machine didn’t slice. I guess because of the knobby part of the bone it won’t slice down that far but that left me with a good solid pound of it to use for this spreadable ham salad
I cut it up into smaller chunks and put it into the processor with about 1/2 cup mayonnaise, a pickle spear, a few Spanish style olives, a few slices of pickled jalapeno pepper, a pinch of pepper and garlic powder, and a splash or two of the pickle juice to help it move around while processing. In a pretty glass dish, I garnished it with paprika and fresh parsley and let everyone serve themselves.
I was amazed at how fast it disappeared. Since it didn’t look like sliced ham any more, I guess it was more appealing to make a sandwich of it or snack on some atop savory crackers. Either way, it tasted pretty good…for yet another thing made with ham.