Tag Archives: Food

The Leftover Project: Lentil Soup in the New Kitchen

The kitchen 1

The kitchen is finished! Welcome, new temple of culinary rites. Welcome, new heart of our home. Farewell to camping in the living room.

The kitchen 2

For the past six weeks, we’ve been subsisting on what could be grilled in the back yard or quickly prepared in the “camp kitchen” a mini-microwave, an electric skillet and a slow cooker. The trouble with cooking in the living room as that pervasive odors, like garlic, cling to the furniture. There’s a reason we don’t put sofas in the kitchen.

Thank goodness for take-out. I’ve eaten more sushi in the past month than in the previous year. But take-out food is expensive, and I’ve really missed cooking. The first dish I made in the new kitchen was pasta, something I just couldn’t prepare on the grill. And last night the weather turned from warm May splendor back to our usual gray drizzle. Time for lentil soup!

Lentil soup is a worthy addition to my leftover project, a collection of basic recipes to help me (and perhaps you?) use up leftovers before they go to waste. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, “about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. When this figure is converted to calories, this means that about 1 in 4 calories intended for consumption is never actually eaten. In a world full of hunger, volatile food prices, and social unrest, these statistics are more than just shocking:  they are environmentally, morally and economically outrageous.”

Knowing this, I feel like a complete cretin when, because I haven’t paid attention to what’s in my fridge, I end up discarding food that’s become too old to eat. It feels like throwing money directly into the garbage can, not to mention the natural resources involved, and the work of all the people who produced, transported and packaged that food. Thus, the Leftover Project.

Lentil soup is a delicious way to use up leftover bits of this and that. I often throw in greens that are starting to wilt, sad tomatoes, and bits of cooked meat. Today’s version was pretty much the basic recipe, and gave a home to some slightly soggy celery and a lone potato that would otherwise have melted into gooey oblivion.

Here’s the basic recipe to serve six. We’re only two, but I freeze the rest for I-don’t-wanna-cook days.

  • First, I chop up 2-4 peeled carrots, 2-4 stalks celery, including the leaves, and a big ol’ onion, chopped, or all the bits of various onions, green onions, shallots, and/or leeks I have lying around, to equal the volume of one large onion. I sauté all this in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. (Doesn’t that sound like a term of affection? Come on over here, my heavy-bottomed soup pot.) Put the lid on and sweat the veggies for about five minutes over medium heat.

The veggies

  • Now, I throw in 2-4 cloves of garlic, minced (more would be fine). If you’re adding greens, like spinach, kale, etc., now would be the time to shred or chop them up and throw them in. If your greens are already cooked, throw them in later, toward the end. Anyway, I also add a few bay leaves and stir this for a few minutes, then pour in about eight cups of water and the lentils—any type. This time I used the green ones which hold their shape in the finished soup. The brown ones soften up and dissolve more, making a more velvety soup. Nothing’s stopping you from using your stick blender (AKA immersion blender) to partially puree the finished soup, if you prefer a creamier consistency. You could use red lentils too, but they seem to call for Middle Eastern or Indian seasonings, whereas the green ones feel more French, Spanish or Italian. Last night we were heading toward Italy, so I added several grinds of black pepper and a good shake of Penzi’s Tuscan Sunset herb blend (so good!) and let the lentils simmer for about forty minutes.
  • While the lentils cooked, I squish the guts out of six raw chicken Italian sausage from Trader Joe’s. I brown that up and set aside half the pan for future dishes—I love this crumbled sausage in my stuffed peppers, zucchini or eggplant—also great vehicles for leftovers.
  • When the lentils are starting to soften, I add about a tablespoon of beef bouillon concentrate, the stuff in a jar. You could use the chicken concentrate or the veggie. I dump in a can (14 oz.) of diced tomatoes, two medium potatoes, peeled and diced, and the sausage, which could just as easily have been replaced with diced ham, roast beef or chicken, or even vegetarian sausage.
  • And here it is! It turns out I’d grabbed the spicy sausage, which gave the soup just a bit of a kick. Delicious!

Lentil soup

After dinner, we went to Tacoma’s B Sharp Coffee House to hear the T-Town Blues Review. Vocalist Paul Green roared on harmonica, and the excellent band raised the roof. What a great evening.

T-Town Blues Review 2

What’s your favorite way to use up leftovers?

The Leftover Project: Greenie Fettuccine

In my quest to reduce food waste, I continue to look for ways to use up the odds and ends that lurk in the back of my fridge or pantry. We’ve been eating lighter since the holidays, and I’ve been making more vegetarian meals. Last night, as I pondered what to fix for dinner, I noticed that my veggie drawer was full of bits and pieces of green veggies. Here’s what I had:

The ingredients

  • a partial bag of baby spinach
  • a zucchini
  • some green onions
  • a partial head of broccoli
  • a partial jar of basil pesto

And, of course, I had a few staples on hand:

  • a box of fettuccine
  • a hunk of Parmesan cheese
  • fresh garlic
  • walnuts

Well, this reminded me of my childhood favorite, “green spaghetti.” Back then, the sauce came from a packet of dehydrated pesto mix, but it was so delicious—green and garlicky and cheesy. This dish was a great improvement, even if I didn’t make my own fresh pesto this time.

First, I toasted a handful of walnuts in the oven at 375 degrees for about ten minutes, until fragrant. Next, I chopped up the veggies rather small and sautéed them in my wok in a bit of olive oil. The broccoli went in first, since it takes the longest to cook, and then the diced zucchini and green onions, with a minced clove of garlic. The spinach went in last; I chopped it up a bit so as to avoid long strings of spinach stuck in our teeth. I seasoned all that with kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper—does anyone use pre-ground pepper now that you can buy your pepper preloaded in those inexpensive grinders? There’s something so sharp, so pure about the fragrance of fresh veggies with just salt and pepper.

The veggies, cooked

I boiled up enough fettuccine for two and, when it was done, tossed it into the wok along with the jarred pesto, the walnuts, which I’d chopped up roughly, and a few tablespoons of the pasta water. Was it Anthony Bourdain who taught me this trick? Not in person, of course—wouldn’t that be fun? I mean that he mentioned in one of his books how adding a bit of the pasta’s starchy cooking water helps to bind all the ingredients into a sauce that clings to the pasta.

I stirred in some freshly-shredded Parmesan cheese. I love how my Microplane grater transforms a small hunk of cheese into a mountain of fluffy, cheesy snow. I should have photographed the results before dumping more cheese on top, but there you go.

Fettuccini with rosesfettuccine, close up

It was delicious, light, and very fresh. The veggies were still crisp-tender, and the toasted walnuts added protein and crunch. I look forward to trying this again with other green veggies: peas, chard, asparagus, fennel…

What’s your favorite quick pasta sauce?

Un Experimento Culinario: Carnitas de Cerdo

So far, on this blog I’ve shared only recipes that offer creative ways to use up leftovers—but this culinary experiment turned out so well that I wanted to share it with you.

I was looking for a big beef chuck roast to make shredded beef burritos for our class Cinco de Mayo party, but wow! Who knew beef was so expensive? So I went to the Grocery Outlet and found a five-pound pork loin roast. Surely I could do something with this, right?

I perused several recipes for Mexican-style shredded pork and determined that I was heading in a carnitas direction. This recipe combines the suggestions of several online recipes.

The pork was pretty lean, so I coated the bottom of my lidded roasting pan with about 2 Tbs. olive oil. Then I rubbed the pork with:

  • 1 ½ Tbs. salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. dried oregano
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. chipotle chili powder

I placed the pork in the roasting pan, fat side up, and added

  • one white onion, pretty large, coarsely chopped,
  • 2 Anaheim chiles, cut into strips
  • 4 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

I poured around this

  • one cup of orange juice
  • one cup of water

and put it into a preheated 350 degree oven with the lid on.

Two hours later, I took off the lid, basted the meat with the juices, and continued cooking for another hour and a half, basting every 20 minutes or so—mostly because that makes me feel important. I kept poking it until I was sure it was soft enough to shred.

After the meat cooled, I shredded it with two forks and mixed in the juices from the pan. At first, it looked like there’d be too much liquid, but the meat soaked it right up.

For our Cinco de Mayo party in Spanish class, I served this with flour tortillas, fresh cilantro, purchased salsa verde, and Mexican queso fresco. ¡Estupendo! The shredded pork would also be great for tacos, enchiladas, over rice…or just random forkfuls snatched whenever passing the fridge. ¡Buen provecho!

The Leftover Project: Thai-ish Curry

I didn’t take a photo of this one because – well, it wasn’t pretty. But it tasted marvelous. Here’s what I needed to use up:

  • a leftover poached chicken breast
  • some grilled vegetables, including potato, red onion, zucchini, red and yellow bell peppers, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes
  • a few leaves of kale

Here’s how I transformed that into something quite different:

  1. I chopped half an onion and sauteed that in olive oil. I shredded up the kale (no ribs, of course) and threw that in. I cooked this over medium heat until the kale was softened, about five minutes.
  2. I added a tablespoon of green Thai curry paste. This stuff keeps forever in the fridge, and a little goes a long way. Once that was fragrant, I added a can of light coconut milk. Trader Joe’s makes a nice one. I let that simmer for another five minutes or so over low heat, and then
  3. I added the chicken, cut into bite-size pieces, and the grilled veggies, likewise chunked up.
  4. I let it simmer for another five minutes or so. Hmm – a bit bland. I added a bit of soy sauce and a bit of lime juice, and suddenly it tasted Thai! Well, Thai-ish. The flavor of the chicken infused nicely into the sauce, the kale was tender, and all the ingredients got along splendidly.
  5. I served it over brown basmati rice. Very nice! And it’s gluten- and dairy-free, if you care about that sort of thing.

The Leftover Project: Antipasti Misti and Pasta Salad

Look what you can make from those sad veggies hiding in your fridge!

Look what you can make from those sad veggies hiding in your fridge!

As part of my new, frugal, lifestyle, I’ve vowed to stop wasting food and avoid the shameful weekly fridge purge, where I dump out all the leftovers that lay forgotten in the back. So I’m always looking for creative ways to transform leftovers. Here’s this week’s idea.

Years ago I used to go to a wonderful, romantic, old-world Italian restaurant in Würzburg, Germany, called – get this – Ristorante Italia. My favorite part of any meal there was the antipasti misti, which I would often make a meal of. The waiter would wheel over a clear Lucite cart containing plates of grilled, marinated vegetables, thinly sliced prosciutto, salami, mortadella, cheeses, olives, marinated anchovies and mussels – oh my! I usually concentrated on the vegetable offerings; their grilled zucchini was a marvel, at once tender but with a bit of chewiness, and marinated in real balsamic vinegar and good olive oil. When I asked a young Italian colleague how to achieve this zucchini marvel, she shrugged and said, “Just put them in the oven.” Well then!

Since then, I’ve had success grilling veggie slices on the BBQ grill outdoors; this method is time consuming, but results in slices of eggplant, zucchini and onion that are tender yet not mushy and have lovely char marks. But who wants to do that in winter, in the Northwestern rain? So yesterday, my lovely sister-in-law and brother-in-law invited us over to watch the Oscars and eat pizza. A neighbor was bringing the salad, and the dessert was already taken care of, so I checked my not-so-well-stocked fridge for inspiration. Hey – an “Italian” feast calls for antipasti misti, which would give me the opportunity to use up some veggies that were languishing in my fridge.  Here’s what I had:

  • An eggplant that was starting to go soft
  • One and a half zucchini
  • A red onion
  • A red bell pepper and an orange one

And in the cupboard I found a jar of Trader Joe’s marvelous marinated artichoke hearts and a can of Spanish green olives stuffed with anchovy. (Don’t make that face – they’re very good and not fishy, just salty.)

So I quartered the peppers and roasted them under the broiler until they were good and charred. I popped them into a lidded bowl to steam while I roasted the thinly-sliced eggplant, then zucchini, then onion wedges, brushing each slice lightly with olive oil. I finished each tray of roasted veggie slices with a few moments under the broiler, which approximated that nice grilled char effect. Then I peeled the now-perfect peppers and sliced them up too.

I made a nice vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, some mixed dried herbs, lots of black pepper and a bit of salt, a pinch of brown sugar, and some olive oil. Whisking everything but the oil together first makes a nice emulsion and holds the olive oil in a creamy suspension. Then I used that lidded dish from the peppers to shake each batch of roasted veg. in a few spoonfuls of vinaigrette, just enough to lightly coat them, and then arranged them in a dish. I plopped the drained artichoke hearts in the middle and scattered the olives over all, et voilà! (Or however you say that in Italian) I served this with some sourdough bread, and it was mahvelous, dahling. It would’ve been even better if I’d had some fennel to roast, but my object was to use up the veg. I already had, not to go buy more.

Of course, there’s always too much good food at M. and M.E.’s house, so we came back home with a few cups of roasted veggies. Today I boiled up some pasta twists, and then I pan-fried two chicken breasts in olive oil, which resulted in some lovely drippings. I chopped up the chicken, dumped the meat and drippings into a bowl with the noodles, cut up the leftover roasted veg. into smaller bits and stirred those in, and added a few more leftover bits from the fridge – about a cup of garbanzo beans and some crumbled feta cheese. There was enough vinaigrette left on the veg. to moisten the salad, but if that hadn’t been the case, bottled vinaigrette would have done nicely – I like Paul Newman’s.

 

Pasta salad is a great way to use up leftover antipasti.

Pasta salad is a great way to use up leftover antipasti.

And so I created two yummy dishes out of the veggies that, if I’d ignored them a few days longer, I’d have had to throw out. Not bad for leftovers!

 

Chicken Sausage Gumbo in the Crock Pot: Laissez les bon temps rouler!

P1010873

My dearest husband and I are taking a twice-weekly Spanish class at the local community college and, as part of my transition back to the American lifestyle, I bought myself a lovely crock pot to prepare dinner on class nights, since we’re in class at our usual dinnertime. But here’s the problem with crock pot recipes: so many of them call for just chopping a bunch of meat and veg and dumping them into the crock pot. Eight hours later, you’re supposed to remove the lid and find a delectable, savory stew. Balderdash! You’ll have a rubbery, under-seasoned, gray mess, that’s what you’ll have.

And we all know that you can’t get that authentic Cajun flavor unless you start your gumbo with a roux. Now, I was only a Southerner for five short years, but I’ve been to N’awlins, and I’ve eaten some truly divine Cajun and Creole cooking. And I know that a good gumbo starts with a roux – flour and oil, cooked on high heat with constant stirring until it reaches a nice, nutty brown. No roux, no Cajun, and don’t let anyone tell you different. But you don’t need a lot of roux to get that Cajun flavor – a little bit goes a long way, adding flavor and thickening the broth to a velvety consistency. And here’s the truth about crockpot recipes – you’ve gotta start them on the stovetop before dumping them into the crockpot; otherwise, they’re gonna taste bland and sad. If that’s too much work for you, order takeout.

So, here’s how I modified a few recipes I found online for chicken and sausage gumbo in the crockpot. To serve three or four people, you’ll need:

  • A Dutch oven or soup pot with a nice, heavy bottom
  • A crock pot or slow cooker
  • A wooden spoon or other hard, heat-resistant stirring implement. You’re going to be working with a roux, AKA Cajun napalm, so you don’t want to use a stirrer that could melt.
  • 2 Tbs. of neutral oil, such as canola or peanut
  • 2 Tbs. of plain wheat flour
  • A medium-to-large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • A green bell pepper, seeded and chunked up
  • 2-3 cups of frozen, sliced okra. Don’t bother thawing first; it’ll have plenty of time to cook in the crock pot.
  • A 12-oz. can of V-8 juice. I used the reduced-sodium kind, since the spice mix, sausage and broth contain salt. Suit yourself.
  • Enough chicken broth to cover the other ingredients – about 2 cups. Again, I used the reduced-sodium kind.
  • About 2 Tbs. of your favorite Cajun seasoning blend. If your spice blend does not contain salt, you might want to add some to taste. Be sure to taste the spice mix before dumping it into your recipe; some are quite spicy, some not so much.
  • A pound of skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Thighs just taste better after stewing for hours in the crockpot, whereas breasts tend to dry out, even in liquid. Go ahead and spring for the organic stuff – it’s not that much more expensive.
  • 2 andouille sausage links, sliced about ½ inch thick. You want about as much mass in sausage slices as you have in chicken thigh meat. I found some good ones made from chicken.
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp. of mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. of powdered dried thyme. This is part of that characteristic Cajun flavor.
  • Maybe some fresh garlic, sliced thin, if your spice mix doesn’t taste garlicky enough for your liking.

 

OK – here’s what you do.

  1. In your Dutch oven/soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir constantly with your wooden spoon until your roux turns a nice, nutty brown. Watch it carefully – once it starts to color, it’ll brown up fast, so stir vigorously and keep your eyes on your pot. You want it to be at least the color of peanut butter, but a bit darker is even better. It’s the roux that gives your finished gumbo that characteristic Cajun taste. But beware! This stuff can burn, and burnt roux will ruin the flavor of your gumbo. When it doubt, throw it out and start over.
  2. When the roux has reached the desired color, dump in the chopped onion, celery and green bell pepper, and reduce the heat to medium. Stir well so that the roux is distributed and coats the veggies. It might not look like there’s enough oil in there to sweat the veggies, but trust me – there is. Cook the veggies for at least 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, and leaving the lid on between stirs. Add some of the Cajun/Creole seasoning as you stir, as well as the powdered mustard, the dried thyme and the bay leaves. You want the veg to soften a bit and the onions to look a bit translucent. Doesn’t that smell marvelous?
  3. Pour in the V-8 and stir it all around a bit, so that any marvelous goodness stuck to the bottom of the pan dissolves into the V8. Dump this mess into your crock pot. Toss in the frozen okra too
  4. Wipe out the pot and add a bit more oil – just a whisper – to keep the chicken from sticking. But if it sticks, no worries, as you’re going to deglaze with chicken broth. Season the chicken meat, which you have cut into bite-sized chunks, with the remaining Cajun seasoning. When the pot is hot, add the raw chicken and cook until golden on all sides – more or less. If you miss a few spots, that’s no big deal, as you’re going to stew it in the crock pot for a while. You don’t need to cook the chicken through, just stir it around until the exterior is nicely colored. Toward the end of this process, throw in the sliced sausage and brown it up a bit.
  5. When the meat is done, dump it into the crock pot; then deglaze the soup pot with the broth. Stir that around until you’ve incorporated all the yummy, meaty goodness clinging to the bottom of the pan. Dump this into the crock pot. Add the garlic, if you’re using any, and stir everything well.
  6. If the solids aren’t covered, add enough chicken broth (or V-8) to just cover them. Put the lid on the crock pot and crank that sucker up to “high.” Leave it on high for a good hour. Then you can turn it down to “low” and let it go another 4 hours or so. A bit longer is OK. No peekie! If you open the lid, you release the heat, and it takes quite a while to build up again, which means a longer wait for your gumbo.

And there you go! It’s traditional to serve this stew/soup over a scoop of white rice, but you can use brown rice, quinoa, or no starch at all, if you’re feeling Paleo. A good squirt of Tabasco sauce would not be amiss. Laissez les bon temps rouler, cher!

The Leftover Project: Easy Pumpkin Soup with Exotic Spices (Can be vegan)

images[2]You know how leftover holiday ingredients lurk in the back of your pantry? Well, today is Halloween, and I was craving pumpkin soup, but not badly enough to go the store and buy the fresh sugar pumpkin and heavy cream that most recipes call for. What I did have was a can of pumpkin puree, left over from last year’s holiday baking. All righty then! But what to use to replace the cream? How about a few potatoes for thickness, and some canned “lite” coconut milk. That’ll do nicely! Here’s what I did – no picture this time, because the finished soup is a muddy tan color, but oh-so-tasty. Want it more orange? Perhaps add more carrots.

You’ll need a stick blender for this one – I maintain that it’s too much trouble to ladle hot soup into the blender, but suit yourself. I love my stick blender for making velvety soups.

Into your large-ish soup pot, throw in one onion, a big stalk of celery, and a few peeled carrots, all roughly chopped. Sweat them in a tablespoon or so of olive oil, stirring from time to time, over medium heat. I like to put the lid on the pot between stirs to hasten the process. You want the onions to be nice and glassy – sautéing the veggies before you add the liquid results in a deeper flavor.

Next, I added about a liter and a half of chicken broth. I use the low-sodium stuff from a carton. If you wanted to make a vegan soup, you could easily substitute vegetable broth. I threw in a few medium potatoes, diced. Then I stirred in a bit more than half of a large can (29 ounce size) of pumpkin purée – NOT the presweetened pie filling, just the plain purée. I also added two cloves of garlic, minced. But what to season this with? Many recipes I looked at called for basically the same spices you’d use for pumpkin pie, and I did not want my soup to taste like pie! Lo and behold, I find at the back of my (overstuffed, disorganized) spice cupboard a tin of garam masala. A warm-and-fragrant-but-not-hot blend of Indian spices, it does contain cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, but does not smell like pie – it smells like an exotic spice market. And so I dumped in a few teaspoons of this stuff – what a wonderful smell!

I brought the pot to a boil and then lowered the heat, leaving it to simmer for 30 minutes or so. When the potato cubes and carrot bits were tender but not mushy, I pureed most of the soup with my stick blender – just stuck that sucker right into the pot and swirled it around until most of the soup was smooth. I like to leave a few chunks of potato and veg. – that makes the soup more interesting, I think.

But the soup still lacked something. Ah yes – in went half a can of “lite” coconut milk, well shaken, of course. A few more minutes of simmering, and wow! This is really tasty soup, a little different than the usual versions, very quick and easy, and a good way to use up leftover canned pumpkin. And it’s quite low in fat and calories!

But wait a minute – now I have about a cup of canned pumpkin and a cup of coconut milk. I’m thinking pumpkin pancakes, or maybe muffins. Do you have a suggestion?

The Leftover Project: Curried Chicken and Rice Soup

Autumn tree in Jefferson Park  When autumn leaves begin to fall and noses begin to run, it’s time for chicken soup! In the spirit of frugal fun and saving money for the things that matter most, I continue my efforts to eliminate food waste by using up leftovers in creative ways. Today is a glorious autumn day in Tacoma, alternately bright and rainy, with a stiff wind that sends the clouds scuttling across the sky as if being chased by the frost-breathing wolves of winter. Autumn days like these call for soup. Here’s what I had:

  • Homemade chicken stock made from the carcass of a roast chicken that I’d saved in the freezer, (See below if you don’t already know how to do this, but you probably do.)
  • some chicken meat left over from the aforementioned roast bird, including the meat I’d picked off the bones after making the stock,
  • half a bag of “baby” carrots that were past their prime,
  • a few stalks of celery, also fading,
  • half an onion,
  • half a zucchini,
  • half a tomato,
  • about ½ cup of whipping cream left over from a previous recipe, (poireaux à la crème – leeks in cream sauce)
  • some Uncle Ben’s rice – the seasoned kind in the orange box, white rice and wild rice mix, and
  • curry powder.
  1. I diced up onion, carrots and celery, and sweated them in just a bit of olive oil in a medium saucepan with the lid on, stirring from time to time, until they began to soften – about five minutes.
  2. I added about 1 tsp. of curry powder and stirred that for a moment, then threw in the diced tomato and zucchini.
  3. Next, I added about four cups of the homemade chicken stock and stirred it well to scrape up the curried goodness from the bottom of the pan. In went the shredded chicken, about a cup and a half, about the same amount of cooked rice, a few cooked garlic cloves that had been in the cavity of the roast chicken, and the cream. After simmering for ten minutes, it was done. Delicious! Not heavy, despite the cream, with just a hint of spice from the curry, and very flavorful thanks to the homemade stock – perfect for an autumn day.

And another batch of leftovers is transformed! Tah-daahh!

curried chicken soup

For those who’ve never made stock from the carcass of a roasted chicken, you really must try it. Homemade chicken stock is so much more flavorful than that prepared stuff in a carton, and you can control the level of salt too. Here’s how I did it:

  1. I chopped up the holy trinity of onion, carrot and celery, one to two cups of each. You want to keep the amounts balanced, but you don’t have to be precise. When making stock, it doesn’t matter if the veggies are old and faded, or even a bit desiccated, as long as they’re not moldy or slimy.
  2. Here’s the sinful part – I’d basted this chicken with butter, so the frozen carcass was surrounded by a layer of combined chicken fat and butter. Pure gold! I hacked away at that frozen greasy goodness with a knife until I had enough to sauté my veggies in. Wow! The smell was amazing from the first minutes. Later I added some frozen parsley stems (saved for soup), a few bay leaves, about 2 tsp. of dried marjoram, and about 1 tsp. of poultry seasoning – I have two jars that I need to use up. I also sliced in a few cloves of garlic, and ground in plenty of black pepper.
  3. Next comes the frozen chicken carcass, of course, and enough liquid to cover. In the fridge I had half a carton of store-bought chicken broth – pretty flavorless stuff – so I supplemented that with some concentrated chicken “stock” in a little plastic tub, and plenty of water. I didn’t add any salt because the chicken concentrate is salty. I just added enough to cover the chicken bones – about eight cups of liquid in all. (You could use just water, but using the chicken stock concentrate and/or broth gives the finished product a richer flavor without having to reduce it for hours.) I brought all this to a boil and then turned down the heat to low, just high enough to keep it simmering.
  4. When it’s finished, after simmering for a few hours, the veggies are just cooked down to a sludge, having released all their goodness into the stock. So I drained the stock through a colander into a fresh pot. After 30 minutes or so, I picked the chicken meat off the bones and set it aside. Why is the meat always still hot enough to burn my fingers, no matter how long I wait? I threw the rest of the stuff away – it had done its job and died for a noble cause.
  5. Of course, the finished stock was greasy from all that butter, plus fat rendered from the chicken skin, so I put it into the fridge overnight. The congealed layer of fat looked like swamp sludge – don’t want that stuff running through my arteries. But cooking the stock with the chicken fat really adds to the flavor, even if you remove most of the grease before using the stock, which I did, of course. Just skim it off with a spoon and throw it away.

Happy soup-making this autumn! Do you have a favorite twist on chicken soup? If so, please share!

The Leftover Project

Since my youth, I’ve been a rabid collector of recipes. Even after the big purge we conducted before retiring and moving back to the U.S. from Germany, I still have a tall stack of cooking magazines, three shelves of cookbooks, and two full-to-bursting binders, one labeled “Recipes I’ve Tried,” the other, “Recipes I Want to Try.” These contain new and old magazine clippings, my own notes, many recipes downloaded from the internet, and a few precious treasures – recipes written out by hand, from friends who’ve generously shared their specialties. Recipes are like stories, I think, meant to be shared and passed on.

My literature professors told me, way back when, that it’s not only the writer who creates a story; no, the reader also contributes to the experience and meaning of the story. So it is with recipes; the original, published recipe is a starting point, but the cook who tries it adds her own spice, his own tricks, and creates an interpretation which may be just as sublime, if not more so, than the original. And what a great use of the internet, when people share recipes, adapt them, and pass them on. As a nation, we need more competent home cooks educating the next generation about real food. Our industrialized “food” factories spend millions pushing their lab-concocted, chemical-laced, toxic “food-like substances.” (Thank you, Michael Pollan. Have you read his books? You should.)

But I digress. The purpose of this blog is to explore the challenges and adventures of (early) retirement. Well, one of the challenges is definitely money. It just ain’t rolling in the way it used to, and I need to be more careful, more mindful of what and how I spend. An avid home cook, I enjoy trying out new recipes and new ingredients. But I tend to get a bit greedy and unrealistic, making more dishes that we can consume, and throwing away good food. In fact, the Sunday clean-out of the fridge was part of my regular routine during my working years. I’d wince as I dug my way to the back of each shelf and found containers of once-delicious food, now past its prime and perhaps fuzzy with mold. What a waste! And considering how many of our own citizens, not to mention people in other lands, don’t have enough to eat, how can I justify cooking huge quantities of food just to amuse myself, and then throwing it away?

So, as part of my campaign to become a more conscious spender, to avoid clutter and superfluous stuff, I’m also committed to reducing my food waste – really, to eliminate it altogether. But – until I master the art of cooking exactly two portions of every dish – what do I do with the leftovers? When I was working five days a week, I could simply pack up leftovers for lunch – problem solved. Now that we’re retired, I have the gift of time. In fact, I never feel more retired that when preparing a hot lunch to eat at home. What a luxury!

So, henceforth I shall endeavor (Doesn’t that sound grand?) to repurpose leftovers whenever possible, making creative dishes out of what’s already in my fridge and on my shelves, rather than face again the chagrin of the Sunday fridge purge. And I’ll share my best results here with you, and ask you to do the same. If you’ve shared a recipe on your own blog or another forum, please link! Thanks much.

Here’s my first recipe: Spaghetti Frittata!Recipe #1 in the Leftover Project

I first tasted one of these prepared by Patrick C., a creative and knowledgeable cook who lived in Aviano, Italy, and had learned some local tricks. When I make pasta, I often end up with too much – I’m greedy that way. So today I had leftover spaghetti with homemade basil pesto – having purchased a beautiful, big bundle of basil at the Proctor Farmers’ Market. Also lurking in the fridge were four big mushrooms starting to go slimy, half a green bell pepper, half an orange one, part of a sweet onion (a benefit of living in Washington – Walla Walla sweets!). I diced those up roughly, along with a tomato, which I first seeded and squeezed a bit. Into the pan (a cast-iron skillet) the veggies went, along with a bit of olive oil. I sautéed that on medium high heat until the veggies had released their liquid and dried out a bit – about five minutes. You want your frittata filling to be fairly dry – too much veggie juice would result in watery eggs, blech! I seasoned that with salt & pepper. Next, I layered on top of the veggies enough leftover spaghetti with pesto to cover the veg by about an inch. Then I whipped up eight eggs and a glug of milk – about ½ cup. A bit of salt & pepper went into that as well. Follow your own taste on whether to add salt and how much, but I find unsalted eggs to be not so delicious.

Finally, I sprinkled a generous handful of grated Parmesan cheese over the top – a good ½ cup. Now I let it cook a bit, less than five minutes, on medium heat until the eggs were beginning to set up on the bottom. I lifted the mess with my spatula from time to time to let the wet eggs run underneath – like you’re supposed to do for a French omelet, to hasten the cooking of the eggs. (And because it makes me feel important)

Finally, I popped it into the oven at 375 degrees F. for about 20 minutes. What you’re looking for here is the point where the top of the frittata is set and puffy, so give it a pat. You’ll feel it jiggle if it’s still liquid in the middle. Also, if you slice into it and liquid seeps out, back into the oven it goes! You don’t want to overcook the thing, just cook those eggs through.

Et voilà! Or however you say that in Italian. Frittata is a great way to use up leftover pasta and veg, or just veg, or veg and protein, such as ham, shrimp, salmon, chicken… And a frittata tastes good cold or at room temperature and makes a great take-along lunch. So – another leftover saved and transformed into a new and tasty dish!

small frittata slice

The Wheel Turns

Autumn announces her arrival in the trees and in the kitchen.

Autumn announces her arrival in the trees and in the kitchen.

I’ll bet you’ve had a moment like this.

We don’t feel the wheel turning – it’s a wheel after all, and its movement is smooth, subtle, rolling us from season to season with no clear borders between them. And yet the wheel of the year turns, and today it turns us toward autumn. Oh, we’ve been noticing the beginnings of autumn color in the trees for a few days now, but it’s been so hot, the skies so clear, that no one’s been thinking of autumn. We’ve been wearing our summer outfits, sitting outside, soaking up the gift of late-summer warmth and sunshine like a bunch of contented lizards.

But today I knew without knowing that the wheel had turned. The proof appeared in my kitchen. A few days ago, a friend had given me a bag of green apples from her backyard tree – much too sour to eat out of hand, but perfect for pie. And today, those apples called to me – gleaming like citrines in their bowl in the pantry. Low and behold, there was a frozen pie crust in the freezer – and now there’s apple pie in the oven.

And my magnificent fiancé looked up from his computer screen to remark that somehow soup sounded better for dinner than the grilled salmon we’d been planning. Well, my sweetie makes the best grilled salmon in five counties – or whatever the German equivalent would be. He’s always in the mood for – yes, that too, but I was going to say salmon. And he was right – it is the perfect day for soup: high overcast, light drizzle, and a certain rich, warm tone to the late-summer light. The big linden tree outside my kitchen window is still green, and at 7:30 P.M. it’s still light enough outside to read, but something is whispering “autumn.”

For me, autumn is heralded by cravings for soups, squashes, apple pies and plum tarts, and lots of walks in the crisp, cool weather. My lizard brain knows that I’d better stock up on outdoor time while I can, because winter will be knocking on the windowpane all too soon. And winter announces herself with the urge to bake cookies and rich, cheesy casseroles. Spring is heralded by cravings for fresh green things. Summer rides in on the sudden urge to grill – veggie kebabs, chicken, fish – anything cooked outdoors suddenly seems like an excellent idea.

It’s not that I don’t notice the outward signs of the change of seasons; they’re pretty hard to ignore. Every spring, I scan the sky for the swallows’ arrival, and my heart leaps a little – OK, a lot – when I see the first sky-borne acrobat performing her aerial swoops and swirls. And it’s pretty hard to miss the piles of autumn leaves that suddenly rustle under our feet. It’s a thrill and an honor to glimpse a big V of geese crying high above as they make their way south, or north again. You can’t help but notice the first time that frost glazes the windshield of your car. And, no matter how old I get, the first snow of the year is always remarkable.

But mine is mainly an indoor existence. And so my primitive lizard brain reminds me of the change of seasons – she smacks her little lizard lips and ponders a new menu. And I see no reason not to indulge her.

I hope you enjoy your soup this autumn.