My week in leftovers. Dinner, a side, a salad and dessert with my leftovers. 

My friends always ask: “How do you just look into the fridge and know what to do with random ingredients?” Answer: I brainstorm.  I investigate.  I experiment.  And the people who eat at my table eat better because of that.  This week I made a series of #Cheftovers dishes with all kinds of stuff I had in the form of leftovers or extra ingredients.  

Now, I don’t profess to be an experienced recipe developer.  I do what I can to share what I am doing, or have done, with specific ingredients.  But the inherent nature of leftovers is that no one household is going to have the same ingredients (of leftovers) so it’s hard for me to share or spread “recipes.” I prefer to share ideas, and inspiration.  So in that spirit, here is what I did this week:


I roasted a whole chicken and prepared stuffing (confession: it was boxed and I’m not ashamed).  Needless to say, in a household of two adults, a whole chicken and a whole recipe of stuffing left us with excess.  I took the extra stuffing and added a beaten egg and pressed it into a small tart pan (no reason you couldn’t use a pie pan on a larger scale) then baked it for a while for a crust.  



Then I combined beaten eggs and a hodge podge of what I had around (shallots, zucchini, and some of that roasted chicken) and poured it into the “crust.” I topped it with a little bit of shredded cheese and baked it until the egg was firm.  Boom. “Dinner Quiche-ish.”


Hands down, my hubby’s favorite meal I make is bruchetta and spaghetti carbonara.  Made that Sunday.  But there was leftover bruschetta.  Shocking, I know.  I immediately thought of panzanella.  


It’s a bread salad of sorts using stale bread, basil, tomato, red onion and red pepper (which I already had on hand because I made chicken cacciatore over the weekend too) I chopped up the leftovers and looked up a couple of recipes online to see if I was missing anything. But it was super easy and super fresh, despite may use of leftovers.


Risotto is one of my favorite go-to dinners, because you can play around with it, kind of like a canvas.  I made a nice lemon and artichoke risotto, a hit with both my kids and my husband. But again, there was more than we needed.  So I thought of arancini.  Essentially they are fried rice balls. Now do I have our attention?  I took leftover risotto, mixed in a little grated cheese and a beaten egg, rolled them into balls and coated them in bread crumbs to fry them up.  Mic, dropped. 

 
Now to dessert.  It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, I am up early and thinking about what I am going to do, and cook.  When I wake up on a weekend, I usually put on Food Network to get inspired.  I landed on a nice episode of “Southern at Heart,” with Damaris Phillips, who I had the chance to meet at this year’s Fabulous Food Show.  


She was making a picnic for $30 date and prepared chocolate mason jars. I thought, “I can do that !” And I had some leftover eggnog in the fridge (yes, it’s still in stores, it is not a month old!) Instead of whole milk, I used the egg nog.  And I’ll be honest…it was kinda genius.  Just for show, I crumbled a little of the Rice Krispie treats my kids asked me to make that same day, and topped it with a chocolate covered almond.  And it was spectacular.  And easy.  And quick. And delicious.


The moral of the leftover story is, you have more around than you realize.  More potential and more deliciousness.  You just need to get adventurous!  And get to sharing.  Tell me what you’re doing with your leftovers. 

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Berry Boozy Arnold Palmer

Cheftovers is expanding into cocktails!  And if this first one is any indication of what I’ve got shaking and stirring around in my little head, happy hour is gonna be great this summer. 

Who doesn’t love an ice cold Arnold Palmer in the summer?  For those unfamiliar, this traditional summer drink is a half-and-half mix of iced tea and lemonade.  Cool and refreshing, it’s one of my favorites.  So I decided to give it a new twist and turn it into a “cooler.”  In summers past, I’ve been introduced to a few varieties of iced tea vodkas, Firefly Vodka is my pick.

Firefly-vodka

Now this wouldn’t be a Cheftovers cocktail without a leftovers element.  I like a little splash of fruit in both my lemonade and my iced tea.  And it just so happens that I had a boat load of frozen berries in my freezer.

frozen-blackberries

I like to toss them in there when I get BOGO pints or when they’re getting too ripe.  Don’t toss ’em, freeze ’em!  I thought I’d substitute frozen cubes of fruit for ice cubes, so as not to water down the drink and add that subtle fruit flavor I was after.

frozen-raspberries

I tossed what I found in the freezer, (a mix of blackberries, strawberries and raspberries) into the blender, then added about a tablespoon of honey, some water, a squeeze of lemon juice from a single wedge, and a generous splash (like a 1/4 cup) of limoncello (an Italian lemon flavored liqueur).

blended-frozen-fruit

I blended it until smooth, then poured the mixture into ice cube trays to freeze.

berry-ice-cubes

When those were good to go, it was time to bust out the shaker.  Staying true to the original Arnold Palmer recipe, I mixed one part Firefly sweet tea vodka with one part lemonade, added some ice cubes to the shaker and did the “it’s almost happy hour” dance to shake it all up and chill the mixture.

berry-ice-cubes

I poured the iced tea vodka/lemonade over the berry ice cubes, and garnished it with a sprig of mint for a classy touch.  Cheers!

For another (and less sweet) take on this drink, try lemon flavored vodka (like Absolut Citron), and unsweetened ice tea.  What are you mixing up for your patio parties?  

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.

Risotto Redux

When my husband bites into something he really likes, he often uses a playful term to describe it: “tastycakes.”  I believe I’ve just created actual “tastycakes.”  You be the judge.   I’ve asked those close to me, and those of you  following me to send me a challenge.  What are some of the leftovers you often have lingering around your house, that you’d like to give a “Cheftovers” makeover to?  My sister is this week’s challenger.  The subject: leftover risotto.

leftover risott

We like to make a lot of risotto in my family.  It’s a great side in its simplest form, and it’s a great canvas for other ingredients (often bits and pieces of excess ingredients from other dishes like asparagus, artichokes or spinach) that can help boost it up to an entree.  It takes time and attention, and arborio rice is much more expensive than white or brown rice.  For those reasons, it’s a shame to toss anything not eaten.

Whenever I see arancini on a menu, I can’t resist.  They’re rice balls (often with a cheesy center)  lightly breaded and fried, and served with a marinara…kinda like rice croquettes.  I knew I wanted to go this direction.  Problem is, I don’t have a fryer, which is necessary to get that even golden brown finish around the entire thing.  So I decided to adjust the shape for easier execution.  Just smoosh ’em down and call them risotto cakes!  I also remembered a half a bag of teeny tiny shrimp I had waiting in the freezer (the kind you’d use to make shrimp salad)  Now…I was cookin’!

start of marinara

I started on a quick marinara.  I chopped up some garlic, and onion and let those sweat it out in some olive oil while I finely diced up a stalk of celery and a carrot.  (for best results, you should really grate those both…but to be honest, I was feeling a bit lazy, so I decided to get past the slightly chunkier texture at the end to avoid that tedious step)  I allowed the veggies to cook down and soften, making sure to season them with salt and pepper.  Then I reached for the other half of a large can of crushed tomatoes I had in the fridge (from a recipe earlier in the week) as well as some tomato paste (from the same dish).  I added those, and a generous dash of crushed red pepper to give it some kick.  If I had fresh basil around, I would’ve used it here too.  But since I didn’t, I settled for dry herbs instead.  Since I was winging it, I stirred it and tasted it frequently, adding salt and water until it had the consistency and flavor I was looking for.  In the end, I actually ran it through a food processor to get a smoother texture.

marinar

Then I got to work on the risotto cakes.  To the leftover risotto, I added about a cup of chopped tiny shrimp, a heaping tablespoon of parsley, an egg and a little bit of breadcrumbs (until the mixture wasn’t “wet” anymore).  I didn’t season them too much, as the risotto already had been upon first preparation (with s/p, shallots and garlic).  I took about two tablespoons of the mixture and rolled it into a ball, then coated it in more breadcrumbs.  I placed them on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then smashed them down until they looked more like crab cakes than meatballs.  I then froze them to prevent them from falling apart in the frying pan.

risotto cakes

When I was ready to cook them, I just defrosted them in the refrigerator to defrost, than pan fried them, just like I would a crab cake.  I warmed the marinara and served it on the side.  Tastycakes, indeed.

What’s next?  Give me something good to work with!  I’m ready.  Send pics or ideas and I’ll get cooking.

 

Cheftovers Pantry Must-Haves

You can’t make Cheftovers magic without some must-haves.  I’m not suggesting you take this list, and go out and buy everything up.  However, these are the things I like to keep in my fridge, freezer and pantry, that allow me to successfully cobble together dinner or reinvent last night’s meal.

pantry must haves-pasta

Pasta.  Like any good Italian girl, I always have several pounds of pasta on hand.  Short and long, frozen and stuffed.  To me, pasta is the perfect canvas for a lot of things.  Think you only have enough chicken for one serving?  Not so, if you chop it up and toss it with a bowl of pasta and add a savory cream sauce or pesto.  Have leftover Chinese food?  Use some linguini to whip up a cold noodle salad/side for lunch the next day and toss in that excess beef and broccoli.

Tortillas.   Another great blank slate.  I love making a quick quesadilla for my kids.  They also take the edge off when I get home from work and don’t plan on eating dinner for a while.  So I always keep a variety of shredded cheese on hand to make ‘em melty, and marry the bits and pieces I have around from previous dishes.  These Mexican staples can also serve as a vessel for MYOP, or make your own pizza pockets…again, using things like veggies you’ve got around.

I made a risotto to celebrate our  anniversary using arborio rice and wine from Santorini.  (we honeymooned in Italy and Greece)

I made a risotto to celebrate our wedding anniversary using arborio rice and wine from Santorini. (we honeymooned in Italy and Greece)

Rice.  White, brown, long grain and Arborio.  I love making a risotto with the rest of the expensive asparagus or artichokes I purchased for a dish earlier that week.  Sometimes I’ll stuff a green pepper when I’ve got a few extra in the produce drawer.  Stuff a chicken breast with long grain or brown rice, onion, garlic and spinach.  It’s tasty and filling.

Bacon.  Wrap almost anything in bacon and it makes it instantly and infinitely better.

Produce.  Not a day goes by when I don’t use several of the following: onions, celery, garlic, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, lemon, lime, tomatoes, corn, peppers.  Frozen: corn, peas, spinach, kale.

egg bake2

Dairy.  Sour cream, cream cheese, and butter/margarine are “duh” items.  I like to keep a lot of half and half in my fridge, not only because I like it in my coffee, but also because I can use it where you might want heavy cream in a recipe.  Most of the time there is skim milk and whole milk in there too.  Having a dozen eggs around opens up the possibility for a lot of delicious dishes.  I like to concoct egg bakes using what I’ve got around…a little leftover ricotta from lasagna, sun dried tomatoes from a pasta dish, spinach from a stuffed chicken recipe.  You get the idea.

Spices.  Building a good spice cabinet takes some time.  If a recipe calls for a spice I don’t have in stock, I’ll search for a substitute or I usually move on.  Things like garlic salt, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, cumin, chili powder, paprika, herbs de Provence, ginger, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, thyme, and parsley I always keep in my cabinet.  It’s rare I find use for things like turmeric or saffron.  But it depends on your taste.

Dressings/Condiments: mayo, mustard, dijon mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire, hot sauce, peanut butter, salsa, and BBQ sauce.  These items find their way into many sauces, marinades or dressings that change yesterday meal into today’s “original” offering.

Almonds.  I use these as a nice substitute for most expensive and harder to come by pine nuts.  They also serve as a delicious stand-in for bread crumbs when breading chicken or fish.  But bread crumbs also make my list.  Turn leftover salmon from a cook-out into salmon cakes you can freeze (with some of the above mentioned veggies like corn and peppers, plus some cayenne or Cajun seasoning)

Stock or broth.  I go through this like water, literally.

Oils and vinegars.  Make a one-time investment in some of these and you’ll open yourself up to different dishes that you wouldn’t normally make.  I buy olive oil by the gallon sometimes.  Canola or vegetable oil is a must.  Sesame oil can is useful in many Asian sauces and marinades, plus you can make your own hummus with it.  Balsamic, red wine and white wine vinegar are pantry staples.  But cider vinegar makes its way into a lot of my recipes too.

I combined a can of diced tomatoes with some fresh tomatoes that weren't going to last much longer for the base of a fresh marinara.

I combined a can of diced tomatoes with some fresh tomatoes that weren’t going to last much longer for the base of a fresh marinara.

Canned goods.  Black beans can “pinch hit” for a protein in one of my quesadillas, or be added to white rice, leftover fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime for a side dish, a la Chipolte. Various canned tomato products are enormously useful.  I try to stock the cupboard with tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.  And because I’m part Mediterranean, I always like to have olives within reach.  They’re like a great culinary accessory.

I’m always interested in an ingredient or tool to make things tastier, or easier?  What are your pantry #musthaves?