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Tag Archives: Using leftovers

Just Because I Love You…


In the past two days, my son found out that he needed to have 6 teeth extracted as part of an ongoing orthodontia project, and a friend who I dearly love learned that his employment contract would not be renewed for next year. In both cases, I feel tremendous empathy, a desire to smite the wrongdoers (orthodontists and bosses) and a need to FIX these people that I love, and restore them to their pre-trauma glory. Since I can’t really right either situation, and there are limits to the helpfulness of saying “I’m sorry; it will be okay” 500 times a day, I made another plan. I’m making soup. Even if neither of my traumatized loved ones ever eats a bite (although I hope that they will) I am putting such support, encouragement and positive energy into this soup that its mere presence in the universe will begin the healing process.

It happens (I believe due to an act of God) that last night’s dinner was a roasted chicken, rice, and carrots. At the moment, I am making stock from the chicken carcass, using Michael Ruhlman’s method from The Elements of Cooking, which involves cooking the carcass and water over very low heat (not even a simmer) for about 3 hours, skimming frequently and adding aromatics (bay leaf, peppercorn, celery, carrots and onion) only in the last hour. I will then strain it, adjust seasonings, and be ready for the next step.

To this clear, flavorful broth I will add small bits of only the tenderest bits of white meat chicken, with any hint of gristle, vein or skin removed. (If you are curing someone of heartache and fear, you make sure they get the best bites imaginable, every single time). I will also add maybe two cups of cooked rice, and the leftover cooked carrots cut into coins. I’ll taste the soup again, heat it gently to warm all the ingredients (too high would toughen the chicken and turn the rice and carrots to mush) and ladle out full bowls for all available fallen warriors. I can’t fix everything, but I can’t think of a better way to express what’s in my full and sympathetic heart than to pour it into a pot of homemade soup.

P.S. If, like me, you believe in the transference of emotions through cooking (and you are open to a little magical realism) you may want to read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.


Which Came First: The Chicken or the Eggs?


Last night I played with fire for dinner, and it was so good that I did it again today. I served boneless, skinless chicken breasts and rice with black beans and corn, topped generously with a more picante version of the Roasted Chile Verde Sauce from Isabel Cruz’s first cookbook, Isabel’s Cantina. The sauce is labor-intensive, but absolutely fabulous in terms of flavor, flexibility and healthiness. I made it blow-your-head-off hot, but the original recipe calls for the removal of most of the chiles’ seeds, so it could actually be quite a bit milder. I also had to use winter-pallid plum tomatoes, but I think this will be even better in the summer when I get fresh, locally grown produce.

There was sauce left over, so for lunch today I scrambled eggs with white Mexican cheese and poured the remaining Chile Verde over the top. Honestly, it was so damned good that for a minute I genuinely believed that I could whip up some mole, make some tortillas from scratch, and challenge Rick Bayless to a throw-down.

Restored to my senses, I offer you the recipe for the Chile Verde sauce. As Cruz notes in her book, it would also be good with pork, or simply served with tortilla chips. I’d also like it over burritos, I think. If you are serving it with chicken, try it over grilled or sauteed breasts, or even roast chicken parts. If eggs are your pleasure, try this over a creamy plate of scrambled specimens or atop two fried or over-easy on a heated tortilla.


Roasted Chile Verde Sauce

(Adapted from Isabels’ Cantina by Isabel Cruz)


  1. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  3. 5 garlic cloves, minced ( I used big garlic cloves; if you end up with the tiny ones I’d use 6 or 7)
  4. 4 Anaheim chiles, roasted and chopped
  5. 2 Poblano chiles, roasted and chopped
  6. 1 pound tomatillos, roasted and pureed
  7. 3 plum tomatoes, diced
  8. Kosher salt


  1. To roast chiles and tomatillos: cook over the flame of a gas grill or other fire source until skin turns black and begins to blister and peel. Place in a brown paper bag and leave for 15-20 minutes. Remove chiles and tomatillos from bag and remove skin with the bag or a paper towel or kitchen towel.
  2. To prepare chiles: Cut off stem ends and split in half lengthwise. (WEAR GLOVES and if you don’t wash hands very thoroughly before touching your eyes or other tender parts of your body). The heat is in the seeds, and Cruz’s original recipe calls for “removing and discarding the seeds,” easily done with a knife blade. If you remove the seeds, the sauce will be flavorful but quite mild. I left all of them in, which made the sauce extremely hot. You could also remove any other percentage of seeds and adjust the heat to your liking. Once you have removed the desired amount of seedage, roughly chop the chiles.
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook onions and garlic for about 3 minutes. Add the chiles, tomatillo puree and tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add 1/2 cup cold water and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes or until thickened, and season with salt. (Note: the original recipe calls for adding 1 cup of water, but I found that at the end of 30 minutes the sauce was still very watery and had to be cooked over higher heat to evaporate some of the excess liquid. In future, I’ll start with the half cup, watch the sauce and add a little more water if it seems to be too chunky).
  5. Serve hot; sauce will keep in the refrigerator for three days.

Planned-Overs: The Transformers of the Kitchen

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”
-Calvin Trillin

Mine is not a family of happy leftover-eaters. While I would gladly eat the same thing twice in one week (provided, of course, that it was good the first time around), neither my husband nor my son is best pleased by the reappearance of anything unless it was a spectacular hit. In that case, they ate it already.

For reasons both budgetary and moral, I hate to waste perfectly good food. This waste-hatred dovetails neatly with the fact that I am entering the time of year when everything seems to move faster, and it is a blessing to have at least part of dinner prepped in advance. Enter the Planned Over. In a cosmic coincidence, as I was planning this entry, I happened to see Lidia Bastianich on “Lidia’s Italian Table” making a braised Pork Shoulder with a Salsa Genovese. She demonstrated the traditional pattern of saving the small, incidental chunks of pork broken up during the removal of the bone and carving, and adding them to the Salsa left over after serving the pork shoulder. The next day, Sunday dinner consists of pasta topped with the pork-enriched Salsa thinned with a bit of hot pasta water. Planned Overs.

The Planned Over is basically intentional recycling of food from one form to another, rendering it barely recognizable to other family members. If you re-heat a casserole and serve it two nights later with a different vegetable: leftover. If you serve pork tenderloin and rice one night and fried rice two nights later: Planned Over. It does require some thought, but I find it to be a brilliant way to save time and money while keeping dinner interesting. Here are some suggestions:

1. Meatloaf – Spaghetti with Meat Sauce or Baked Spaghetti

I tend to make meatloaf that is very much like a large, firm meatball: 2 pounds ground beef, 1 egg, 1 onion finely diced, 2 cloves garlic finely diced and about 1/2 cup of Italian bread crumbs or my own bread crumbs with some Italian spices (rosemary, oregano, parsley) added separately. I mix this with my hands, shape into a loaf and cook at 350 for an hour.

I cut leftover meatloaf into small cubes, about 1-inch in diameter (about the size of a meatball) and either refrigerate or freeze, depending on when I plan to reuse them. They freeze beautifully. When I’m ready, I boil a pound of pasta, and heat purchased or homemade tomato sauce with the meatloaf “meatballs” in it, and serve. Sometimes I mix the cooked, drained spaghetti with the meaty sauce, place into a 9×13 inch pan, cover with fresh, shredded mozzarella or Provolone cheese, and bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted.

2. Pork Tenderloin – Pork Fried Rice

To accomplish this feat of transformation, I buy a large or two small pork tenderloins. I cook all of the pork at once – on the grill if its warm enough, and in a slow oven if its cold out. If the pork is going to be grilled, I marinate the half for the first dinner, but leave the other half unadulterated. If I’m cooking the pork indoors, I brown it with some onions and garlic, put it in a Dutch oven with some carrots and celery and a bay leaf, cover the pot and cook slowly (275 or 300 degrees) until the meat is tender.

For dinner one, I make twice as much rice as we will actually eat (which is quite a lot) and serve the pork with rice, a salad and another vegetable or some pan-fried apples. After dinner, I cut the remaining pork into small pieces and either freeze or put in the refrigerator.

For the second dinner, I make a westernized fried rice. In a large bowl, I put my cold, leftover rice, my chopped pork, a bag or box of frozen peas, chopped green onions and/or cooking onions (I use both), two eggs, and a couple of dashes of good soy sauce. I heat a large pan or wok with about 3 tablespoons of peanut oil while mixing up the contents of the bowl, then add the mixture to the hot pan and cook, stirring constantly, until it is heated through and the egg is cooked. I then shake on a few drops of sesame oil and serve. this is a complete meal if you add a salad, and I often add other vegetables including carrots, broccoli and green beans to the rice.

Roast Chicken – Chicken Noodle Casserole

Although I used to roast chicken using Nigella Lawson’s recipe, I am still happier with Mark Bittman’s method. When small roasting chickens are on sale, I often buy and cook two; one to eat with potatoes and a vegetable, and one to refrigerate for soup, enchiladas, or a casserole later in the week.

This casserole from “Cook’s Country” (a homier version of “Cook’s Illustrated”) is not only loved by my family, but is my standard dish to take to a family suffering a loss, enduring an illness, or (busy) celebrating a new baby or a move. It is also popular at “bring a dish” occasions, particularly with picky child eaters.

I leave the mushrooms out when I know I am preparing the dish for people who hate them (including my own child), and compensate by increasing the egg noodles from 12 to 16 ounces and using 4 1/2 -5 cups of chicken instead of the 4 called for by the original recipe or I use about 2 cups of either chopped broccoli or green pepper.

Chicken Noodle Casserole

(developed by Judy Wilson and published in the February/March 2006 issue of “Cook’s Country”)


  1. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  2. 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  3. 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  4. 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh parsley


  1. Salt
  2. 12 ounces egg noodles
  3. 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  4. 1/2 small onion, chopped fine
  5. 1 pound white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thin
  6. Pepper
  7. 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  8. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  9. 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  10. 3 tablespoons dry sherry (If you are cooking for someone who prefers not to consume alcohol, just substitute 3 more tablespoons of broth)
  11. 2 cups sour cream (I use “light” for us, full fat for others)
  12. 4 cups cubed leftover chicken
  13. 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  14. 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  15. 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1. For the topping: Mix melted butter, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and parsley together in bowl.

2. For the filling: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in Dutch oven. Add 1 tablespoon salt and noodles and cook until nearly tender. Drain and set aside in colander.

3. Melt 2 tablespoon of butter in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook until mushrooms begin to brown, about 7 minutes.

4. Stir in remaining 4 tablespoons butter until melted. Add flour and stir until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Gradually whisk in broth, sherry, and sour cream and cook, not letting mixture boil, until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in chicken, noodles, parsley, thyme, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

5. Transfer mixture to 3 quart baking dish. Top with bread-crumb mixture and bake until browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Serve.


  1. I always deliver food in disposable containers so that the family that is bereaved, exhausted or sleepless due to a new baby doesn’t have to worry about washing your pan and returning it.
  2. If you suspect that you are delivering this meal to a family that has several other offerings waiting to be eaten, stop after transferring the mixture into a baking dish and topping with crumbs, write out the baking temperature and directions (I just use a Sharpie on the lid of the container) so that it can be cooked fresh when the family is ready to eat it.