Friday, September 21, 2012

Little Bit of Leftovers - part 1

Cooking for two can be a little challenging, but it helps if you are willing to ear leftovers.  Which we are.  Sometimes, we can eat leftovers for a few days before I need to cook again, though my husband draws the line at eating spaghetti more than twice a week.

Some of the things I've learned along the way of cooking (and dealing with a slightly stubborn spouse) is that giving leftovers a facelift, or makeover, keeps the meals interesting and keeps me from eating spaghetti for 5 days straight.

For those that are looking for some new inspiration to keep the leftovers moving or just for quick throw-together meals for busy weeknights, here are some of my tried and true ways to move leftovers out of the fridge without throwing away food.

Leftover veggies and fruits:
If you have half an onion, part of a pepper, some garlic, mushrooms, some leftover celery, carrots, or tomato, here are some tips to use it up.

1.  Homemade stock.  Using a standard mirepoix (the holy French trinity of celery, carrots, and onion) and some aromatics like garlic, herbs, and even peppers - you can have an amazing stock that can do wonders.  Stock can be used:
In soups and chowders (cream of broth/stock based)
As a base for gravy
To roast meat in (gives roasted chicken and pork tons of flavor)
Replaces water when cooking rice
As a flavor base for sauces
Works well when making homemade dressing or stuffing

2.  Salsa.  Salsa is a great way to make small bits of vegetables disappear and can even be used with fruit.  When making a fruit salsa, simply replace the tomato portion with mango, peach, pineapple, apple, or even some varieties of melon (cantaloupe works well).  Adjust your seasoning (use slightly less onion and pepper for fruit based salsas) accordingly.

3.  Pies, Crisp, and Cobbler. If you have some fruit that you need to use up and have a fair amount of it, making it into pie filling or cobbler is a great way to go.  If you want to make pie filling ahead of time, for apple and other fruit based pies, simply cut up the fruit into bite sized pieces, toss with flour and sugar (1/4 C. each 2-3 C. chopped fruit).  Toss to coat the fruit well and freeze.  Thaw and pour into pie crust when ready to bake.  If you have complimentary fruits, it's best to freeze separately or you can make a cobbler or crisp, depending on the topping your prefer.

4.  Taco night!  Everybody loves Mexican food and when you brown ground beef, chicken, or turkey, it's so easy to sneak in some extra veggies.  I usually chop up half a medium onion, half a pepper, and a few cloves of garlic for every pound of ground turkey I cook up.  With a couple of hearty seasonings like oregano, chili powder, cumin, and a pinch of red pepper (if you like) you've got some excellent filling for tacos without buying those little overpriced seasoning packets at the store.

5.  Shepherds pie.  Another easy way to fold veggies into a quick meal, this British classic has seen quite a few modern updates and can easily use small amount of peas, carrots, celery, onion, and potatoes while making an easy dish to feed your family or a hearty dish for two.

6.  Soups, chili, stews, and sauce.  Soups and veggies go so well together, it's a match made in heaven.  Got some leftover meat bones?  Make it into a stew!  Pasta sauce is a favorite place for me to hide pieces of vegetable before they get overripe.  I love doing an arribiata sauce with some peppers and lots of garlic, adding in a little leftover wine and serving over gnocchi or pasta.  Chili can be a great place to use leftover peppers, tomato, beans, and small scraps of meat (if you're a meat eater).

7.  Smoothie time!  Leftover berries, overripe bananas, and many other fruits can combine with a little calcium from yogurt and a splash of milk to give a great breakfast on the go or a delish treat for after work or school or a healthier alternative to a rich dessert.

8.  Omelets and frittatas.  I love using leftover veggies, especially mushrooms in a heart omelet.  A couple of eggs, some salt and pepper, a little cheese and I'm in heaven! 

9.   Breads and muffins.  A nice way to use herbs and fruits, making homemade muffins is a great touch to any meal - breakfast, a hearty brunch, or to a rich dinner.  Make an herbed bread or an herbed butter to pair with a classic bread, use some leftover veggies like tomato and onion to top a foccacia, fold some berries into muffins, chop some apples and toss with cinnamon and add to the batter of sweet muffins, or fold bananas into banana bread.

10.  Cakes, bars, and fillings.  Make a classic pound cake and top with mascerated strawberries, fold some juice from a few limes into a pie filling, or cook down some berries to make a smooth filling to a layered cake.  Use orange zest in a batch of dark chocolate brownies or fold some raspberries
into the batter for some bars.  There are endless opportunities to use what you have on hand - never miss a moment to use some goodies in new ways.  Your taste buds will thank you for it.

Next week, I'll have some ideas ready for using leftover meats and cheeses!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Penne in a Sage Butter with Cremini Mushrooms

I've been in love with cooking with fresh sage for several weeks now - ever since my hubby and I saw a Cooking Channel show using this ingredient.  We started working with it when we made homemade ravioli.

We had a bit leftover and it keeps for about 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge, so I've had some time to experiment with it.  It's far more hardy than basil and rosemary, so it keeps extremely well.

It's another huge hit for us, sage has a natural earthiness and in its fresh form, it's far less overpowering than using dry sage (which I'm not a huge fan of).

I do love to use dry herbs in cooking - both for the cost and the convenience - but fresh herbs like rosemary and sage can be had for as little as $1 or $2 at most grocery stores in Chicagoland.  It's a small splurge that is well worth it and if you have a lot of the herbs leftover, simply hang them to dry and use them as dried herbs, just like you would store bought dry herbs.

I love pairing hearty herbs with mushrooms and sage is a natural pairing.  All you have to do is melt some butter over low heat, stir in some olive oil, and add 1 sage leaf for every tablespoon of butter and oil.  It's so simple to put this together, the bold flavor of sage takes only a few minutes to infuse into the butter and the mushrooms do a great job of absorbing the flavors.

If you do not have wine on hand or do not normally drink wine, a good substitute for this is chicken or vegetable stock.  It's better to use broth or stock versus water.

You could also add in heavy cream for a richer sauce.  I like the layer of flavor that wine adds and any variety of white wine will work, from chardonnay to riesling to even a moscato, they all can work well in this (and most) recipes that call for white wine.

A favorite place to look for deals on wine is at Trader Joe's.  They have a good selection of organic and California wines at very fair prices.  If you seldom use wine to cook with, buy a small bottle (sampler size), since you use very little in the recipe, it's an affordable way to go in the dish.

1/4 lb. penne or small shells (free after coupons)
3-4 small sage leaves ($.15)
2 T. butter ($.15)
1 T. olive oil ($.10)
8 cremini mushrooms, sliced ($.40)
salt and pepper to taste ($.05)
2-3 T. white wine ($.20)
3 T. parmesan cheese ($.10)
1 tsp. parsley, optional ($.05)

Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente, salt the water generously before adding the pasta.

Melt butter over a medium low heat in a medium nonstick skillet, stir in olive oil and add sage leaves.  Let the sage lightly fry to 3-5 minutes, or until sage is fragrant.  Remove sage leaves and add in sliced mushrooms.  When mushrooms are tender and lightly browned, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add in wine and 2 T. parmesan, continue cooking over medium low heat, until a light sauce forms.  Ladle in 3-4 T. of pasta water, stirring to combine with white wine mushroom mixture.

Drain pasta and add to sauce, cooking over low heat for 2-3 minutes, until sauce and pasta are well combined.  If sauce is thin, add more parmesan, if sauce is too thick, add more cooking liquid.

Top with parmesan and parsley.

Yields = 3 servings (as a side dish)
Cost: $1.20
Cost per serving: $.40

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Homemade Granola on a Budget

I am a granola bar addict - it's one of the few splurges I used to allow in the budget, but with couponing deals becoming more and more difficult to come by, I've finally broken down and given making it a shot.  I'm so glad I did!

I found a few recipes online and in some of my cookbooks, but I didn't have most of the "extra" ingredients that they called for.  So I had to get a little creative....

What I did have on hand was chopped hazelnuts (for $1.99/lb. from Caputos), whole almonds ($2.99/lb.), dark chocolate chips ($1.99/lb.), and maple syrup ($1.29 for a bottle from the last big coupon sale).  I made some quick swaps in and really liked how these turned out.  I made more of a rustic granola versus a neat, compact granola bar, but after making these from scratch, I'm hooked.

There are loads of recipes floating around for homemade granola - I found a lot of them called for expensive ingredients (honey, specialty dried fruits, pecans, etc.) so I made a lot of changes to fit what I already had on hand...and I was too lazy to go to the store, anyway.

I love the idea of having homemade granola on hand, so I did a lot of tweaks to a recipe I found and made half a batch - which is more than enough for 2 people.  Though, in my house, I'm the only granola fan so it made a HUGE batch for me.  Since I've been snacking it off and on since I made it, that's a great sign that the recipe is a keeper.

Feel free to swap in what you love and this will be a great breakfast or treat, perfect for this time of year.  This granola is not very sweet, if you prefer a sweeter snack, I've included an optional amount of brown sugar for sweetness.  When I make it again, I would probably add the brown sugar, as I like it sweeter.

I can't wait to have my newest treat with yogurt in the morning and for a late night snack.

1 1/2 C. oats (quick or rolled oats) ($.25)
1/3 C. whole almonds ($.40)
1/3 C. chopped hazelnuts ($.25)
1/2 C. maple syrup ($.50)
1 T. butter, melted ($.10)
1 T. vegetable oil ($.10)
* 1/4 C. brown sugar ($.10) *this ingredient is optional, if you prefer a sweeter granola
1 tsp. cinnamon ($.05)
1 C. bran or wheat flake cereal (I used Frosted Flakes)($.15)
1/2 C. dark chocolate chips ($.50)

Heat oven to 325.

Toss together oats and nuts and spread evenly on a 13x9" baking sheet.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

Whisk together maple syrup, melted butter, brown sugar (optional), and cinnamon.

Toss together oat and nut mixture with maple syrup blend.

Spread back on pan and return to oven for 12-18 minutes, checking half way through the baking.  The granola is done when it is golden and slightly firm to the touch.

Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan to an airtight container.  Stir in cereal and chocolate chips.

Yields: 3 1/2 to 4 C. granola or 10 servings
Cost: $2.40
Cost per serving: $.24

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Penne with Sage Butter and 3 Meat Chardonnay Sauce

Inspired by Olive Garden's 3-Meat Chianti sauce, I figured it was a simple sauce, but for my taste could use a little bit of a spice boost, so I grabbed an open bottle of wine and got started.  I love using leftover wine for pasta sauce and this made a world of difference to an otherwise American staple of pasta bolognese.  This time I had less than a quarter of a bottle of a nice California Chardonnay in my fridge, which worked wonderfully.

I had some veggies to use up and made a veggie stock while preparing the pasta sauce, so when I needed a little liquid in my sauce, I just ladled in a little homemade veggie stock, fortified with lots of herbs and a splash of balsamic vinegar, it's a great way to clean out odds and ends in the fridge and it makes soups, sauces, and gravies taste fantastic, but that's a post for another day.  I'm addicted to using and creating homemade stock and love the simplicity of the process.

3/4 lb. penne (free after coupons)
1 small onion, minced ($.05)
6 cremini or button mushrooms, chopped fine ($.30)
1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped fine ($.20)
salt and pepper to taste ($.05)
1 T. olive oil ($.10)
1 T. butter ($.10)
4 oz. bulk mild or hot Italian sausage ($.35)
4 oz. pork sausage ($.20)
4 oz. browned ground turkey ($.30)
1/2 tsp. fennel seed ($.05)
3/4 tsp. oregano ($.05)
3 cloves garlic, minced ($.10)
1 1/2 tsp. basil ($.10)
1/3 C. chardonnay, or your favorite wine ($.45)
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes ($.50)
8 oz can tomato sauce (free after coupons)
3-4 T. parmesan cheese ($.20)
1/4 C. chicken or veggie stock (free)
Sage butter ($.40)
6 slices provolone cheese ($.60)

Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente.

Heat oven to 350.

In a large skillet, add oil and butter over medium heat.  Cook onions and peppers, season lightly with salt and pepper, until oil is slightly red and onions are tender.  Stir in basil, fennel, garlic, oregano, and mushrooms.  Cook for 3-5 minutes or until mushrooms (season with salt and pepper) are just tender, then add pork, Italian sausage, and ground turkey.  Brown ground meat until cooked thoroughly.
Deglaze pan with wine and let wine reduce by half.  Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce and half of chicken or veggie stock.  Cook over low heat on a light simmer for 15 minutes, add in parmesan to thicken sauce by tablespoonful, adjusting until sauce reaches desired consistency.  If sauce tightens up too much, add more stock or tomato sauce, do not add water (it will dilute the flavors of the sauce).

Toss pasta cooked to al dente with sage butter, then fold into the pasta sauce.
Pour into a 2 qt. oven safe baking dish, top with Provolone cheese, and bake at 350 for 7-10 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Serve with salad and garlic bread.

Yields: 5-6 servings
Cost: $4.10
Cost per person: $.82

Sage Butter

This sounds ridiculously simple, but it's the perfect pairing with any pasta - even one where you want a hearty red sauce or a creamy, dreamy Alfredo.  I've paired this simple 5-minute, 4 ingredient recipe with homemade garlic, mushroom, and prosciutto stuffed ravioli and with store bought penne, with fantastic results.

Very inexpensive and easy to make, this works wonders on pasta and would pair nicely with pork loin, beef, and roasted chicken and turkey.

3 leaves of fresh sage ($.10)
1 1/2 T. butter ($.15)
1 T olive oil ($.10)
1 clove garlic, minced ($.05)

In a very small pan, add olive oil and butter, heat over low until the oil and butter has melted completely.  Add in sage leaves and garlic, let simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.  Turn off heat and let set for 3-5 minutes.

Drizzle over beef, pork, poultry, or pasta.

Yields - 1 batch
Cost: $.40