Tag Archives: leftovers

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: Southwestern-ish Stuffed Peppers

My ongoing goal is to stop food waste by transforming leftover ingredients into new dishes. Of course, my dishes must be made of actual food—no food-like-eating-substances allowed. (I’m looking at you, canned biscuits!) Stuffed vegetables are a great way to use up bits of leftover grains or bread, vegetables, and protein. You can go in a Middle Eastern direction with your spices, or Italian, or even Asian. Yesterday I was feeling like some Mexican food, but I had a fridge full of leftovers that needed using up.

We don’t often eat beef steak, or any other kind of beef, for that matter, but last night, after a hard day of substitute teaching—middle school band—I needed a stiff drink and a sturdy dinner. Hubs bought three lovely filet mignon steaks; why do they always come in packages of three? In the end, we weren’t as hungry as we’d thought, so there was a leftover steak. Now, it just won’t do to waste such beautiful meat.

Here’s what I had that needed using up:

The ingredients

  • Two bell peppers, one red, one yellow
  • Half a cucumber
  • Half an avocado
  • Half a bunch of cilantro
  • The steak
  • A pot of rice
  • A zucchini going soft
  • A few sad-looking mushrooms
  • Half a big onion
  • Some strips of green bell pepper left over from Superbowl crudités
  • Half a lemon
  • One canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce—I’d divided them up into little containers and froze them, because when would you ever use a whole can, unless you’re making chili?
  • Half a head of romaine lettuce
  • Some mini carrots
  • A few green onions
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes

For the stuffed peppers (serves two):

I diced up the onion, green pepper strips, half the zucchini and mushrooms, and sautéed them in a pan with a bit of olive oil. Next, I threw in two cloves of minced garlic, and seasoned it all with ground cumin, dried oregano, salt and black pepper. Next I added a big handful of chopped cilantro and the steak, which I’d diced, plus about two cups of cooked rice. (Any grain would be good here: quinoa, barley, farro, brown rice—go wild!) I moistened that with a bit of my favorite sauce for stuffed veggies: V-8 juice. Really, it works very well to moisten the stuffing without drowning it in a thick tomato sauce.

Vegetables for filling the stuffed peppers

Vegetables for filling the stuffed peppers

While those ingredients were getting acquainted, I nuked the halved bell peppers in a covered dish for three minutes to soften them, then put them in an oiled (olive, of course) glass baking dish. I filled the peppers with the mixture—there’s always a bit of extra filling that slops into the pan, but so what?

I minced up the chipotle pepper, and stirred it and its adobo sauce into the rest of the V-8 juice, about a cup. I dumped this over the now-stuffed peppers and sprinkled them with some grated cheddar cheese. Of course, it would be cool to use a more authentic Mexican cheese if you have one—I didn’t. Oh, I found about two tablespoons of sliced green olives, the pimento-stuffed kind, so I sprinkled that on top of the filled peppers too. That provided a nice contrast to the mild filling; next time I’ll add more olives.

The cooked peppers.

The cooked peppers.

While the peppers were baking at 375 degrees F for about half an hour, I made a salad with a romaine, carrots, sliced green onions, some diced zucchini (from the non-soggy end), and the cherry tomatoes.

I used this salad dressing recipe, more or less, adding a pinch of cayenne pepper. This used up the cucumber and avocado. It’s really good—light and refreshing. You should try this!

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/164771/cucumber-avocado-salad-dressing/

And here you go! A veggie-rich dinner that salvaged lots of leftovers and transformed them into something new and tasty.

peppers on the plates

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?

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!

 

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

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