Sweet and Sour “Book Ends”

Who doesn’t have a hankerin’ for Chinese food on the regular?  And Lord knows there’s usually leftovers after a night of Chinese take-out.  But I’m flipping the script and turning leftovers into Chinese!  

pork book ends

I scooped up a BOGO deal for pork sirloin roast at the grocery store this week and made it with an herb rub that included orange zest for my initial dish.  So when I searched my mental catalog for things to do with “book ends” of the roast, I thought of trying to make a sweet and sour sauce to incorporate with the leftover pork and some veggies.  Let’s do this.

sweet and sour supplies

I searched around the web to see exactly what goes into various varieties of sweet and sour sauces, and determined that I had what I needed already in house to cobble something together.  Bonus!  I set aside some rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, corn starch, brown sugar and pineapple juice.  Some people use ketchup, but I wasn’t in the mood for that “nuclear orange” color you usually see on your sweet and sour pork/chicken, so I decided to go with the pineapple juice from the canned pineapple chunks I had in the pantry.

sweet and sour sauce

I put a cup of pineapple juice, a tablespoon of soy sauce, some water, a hefty portion of brown sugar (like a quarter cup), and 3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar.  Once I stirred that around, I added roughly 3 tablespoons of corn starch to the mix and kept it at medium heat, stirring it consistently until it thickened up.

sweet and sour veggies

Next, I chopped up some green pepper, onion, celery and pineapple…the “usual suspects” of a sweet and sour combo plates.  I also used up the last of my frozen snow peas (not enough to serve as a side dish, but just enough to supplement this main course)

I’m also pretty savvy at an at-home version of fried rice, so I prepped those elements.  I like to cook brown rice in broth in stead of water.  In a separate pan, I sauted garlic and onion, then add peas and chopped carrots (and today, mushrooms since I had a couple ounces on hand).  I add the cooked rice, and mix, then create a hole in the middle of the pan, put about a tablespoon of oil (canola or vegetable) and fry an egg.

fried rice

Once that’s cooking pretty good, I mince it up in the pan and stir everything together, then add soy sauce to taste.  It’s not an exact process, but a method I mess with pretty much every time I make this.

Next step: cook the veggies for the sweet and sour.  I added some oil to a pan, and cooked then until just soft, then poured in the sweet and sour sauce I made.  After a few minutes, I tossed in the chopped leftover pork and the pineapple.

sweet and sour veggies in sauce

I tasted the mixture and decided it need a little bit of sauce.  Then, it was right where I wanted it!.  Time to eat.  I put a bed of fried rice in a deep bowl then piled on a heaping portion of the “sweet and sour book ends” for a pretty sweet dish.

Stone Soup

Seems like a soup-y kind of Sunday.  The snow hasn’t stopped falling all day and I want a warm belly full of something hearty.  As I usually do over the weekend, I cook ahead to make weekday evenings a little more relaxing.  After poaching a head of cabbage for stuffed cabbage, I realized I had half of it left, and hated to just toss it.  I poked around the pantry and fridge and thought of the children’s book, Stone Soup.  The lesson it leaves you with: make soup with what you’ve got.  Pretty soon I had a pile of veggies, (combination of canned, frozen and fresh) that were scraps and excess from other recipes, plus things I keep in the house for precisely this kind of occasion.

stone soup veggies

I started by chopping some garlic, onion and celery and sauteed that in a big pot with some hot oil.  Once those softened I added some carrots.

stone soup sauteed veggies

Found half a yellow zucchini and some kale in the vegetable drawer…why not?  Then I tossed in some frozen peas and canned corn.  I eyeballed the amounts.  You can’t really screw up soup, right?!  I also reached for whatever canned tomato product I had in the pantry.  In this case, it was crushed tomatoes.  I put about a cup of that in and a full carton of chicken broth and some water.  After I seasoned it, I covered it and brought it to a boil.  Then I reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 30 min.

ladle of stone soup

Since the cabbage was already cooked, I decided to add that last so it wouldn’t break down in the soup.

cabbage

As luck would have it there were some alphabet noodles in the cupboard too.  Sounds like this truly would be a literary inspired soup.  The letters were the final touch.

Tasty, hearty, healthy and cheap.  A lot better for the sodium levels and the wallet than a canned soup.  I’m already thinking about a corn chowder using the rest of the canned corn, and the potatoes sitting on my counter.  Maybe next Sunday.  Chances are, it’ll be damn cold, and snowy…again.  

“Shhhepherds Pie” As in “shhh, don’t tell anybody it’s made with leftovers,” Shepherd’s Pie

This is about the time of the holiday season when I’m just not in the mood to make much of anything for weekday meals.  My kitchen creativity is tapped out on Christmas cookies and multiple rounds holiday party appetizers I have to prepare.  During this spell, meatloaf is one of the go-to dinners I make and have ready for a work night meal.  With only two adults in our house who sit down to eat a proper portion, that means leftovers.  I took a long look at the hunk of meatloaf remaining, and the potatoes I found still lingering from a crock pot meal I’d made earlier in the week…and I decided to try something I’d never made before….Shepherd’s Pie.    

leftover meatloaf

I started by locating and chopping some veggies I’d use to supplement the meat: carrots, onions, and some baby bella mushrooms.

chopped veggies

I also grabbed some frozen peas, something I always have around (see my Pantry Must-Haves post)  I sauteed those, then added the meatloaf and broke it up in the pan, only adding a little seasoning to the veggies as the meat had already been seasoned.

sauteed veggies and meat

From there I went to work on the topping, a mashed potato of sorts.  Now, because I have never made shepherd’s pie before, I did consult a couple of recipes to make sure I was on the right track, and I was.  So I took the leftover cooked potatoes from my previous dish, and mixed those up with some sour cream and heavy cream (also leftover from a recipe.  It seems that recipes always call for half a cup of the stuff, when the smallest carton usually contains about a cup)  I suppose you could use milk here too.  I used a hand mixer to get it nice and smooth and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

shepherds pie potatoes

The last component I needed to figure out was the gravy.  So I went with what I know.  Start with some butter, whisk in some flour, then I added beef broth and, after consulting with some other shepherd’s pie recipes, I added a little bit of Worcestershire sauce and some pepper.  I let all those elements hang out until I like the consistency, took a taste….and I was satisfied.  I mixed the meat and veggies with the gravy and poured portions into some medium sized ramekins.  Since I was dealing with leftover portions of both the meat and the potatoes, there wasn’t enough for the traditional portion in a baking dish.  But I’ve found these ramekins I bought recently have been very useful in situations like this.

shepherds pie set up

I spread the whipped potatoes on top of the meat/veggies/gravy and sprinkled a little paprika on there for color.  Since everything was cooked already and the portions were not terribly big, I decided to broil them on high until the top looked golden brown.  But if you were making these ahead and were refrigerating them, I would bring them up to room temp, or throw them in the oven first before broiling so it’s warm throughout.

I got four portions of “Shhhheperd’s Pie” from only about a 3-4 inch slice of meatloaf and a handful of leftover potatoes.  This will surely become a new “go-to” meal with any sort of leftover ground meat.  

Please share some of your short-cuts and secrets to getting dinner on the table during the busiest time of year.  I could use them!