to educate, inspire and equip the urban homesteader

The accidental leftover queen

July 16, 2010

I just ate the most amazing dish and I’m so overwhelmed that I have to share it.  Incredibly, it was a meal made entirely of leftovers from my fridge with the addition of one backyard farm egg and a dash of salt.  I would have taken a picture but it was so tasty that I was half-way done before the thought occurred to me to document this miracle.

It’s no secret that I can’t stand waste.  I spend more time than is really sane thinking about ways to reduce our waste or re-use items if there’s no escaping them.  I’ll never forget my best friend visiting from New York and being seemingly unable to fathom the tiny little paper bag we keep under the sink for actual land fill garbage.  Of course, it’s possible that she was really just trying to wrap her mind around the three compost containers (one for chickens, one for my yard compost heap and one for city-collected compost items).

It makes sense that I would feel the same way about food, one of my favorite things in the world, after all.  I grew up despising leftovers, really despising them.  In retrospect it makes a lot of sense – with all respect to my mom who was (and is!) amazing at general mom-ness – leftovers were frequently Hamburger Helper and canned corn from the night before.  I’ve heard West Oakland described as a food desert, but you should see central Kansas!  Surrounded by lush waving fields of grain and not a grocery store for 30 miles.  During the summer we had a garden and the produce was great, but those were never leftovers.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I started realizing that leftovers could be my friend.  It probably started with something incredibly rich that’s better the next day anyway, like chicken tikka masala.  I’m sure the situation advanced when I decided I didn’t need a microwave (admit that they’re creepy, just admit it).   It wasn’t long before I realized that leftovers weren’t just food to be reheated in a microwave, they were ingredients for the next meal.

Take-out almost never has enough veggies for my taste, even when I order vegetarian dishes!  It’s generally packed with noodles, rice or some other filler.  The next day I’m allowed free license to chop up as many vegetables as I want and add them to yesterday’s meal to tailor it to my taste, and those are “free” in my garden, just waiting to be used.  This method of stretching a meal sure makes it more justifiable to eat out when I do.  I know that $10 entree will last me three meals by the time it’s all said and done.  Plus, now that I have a To-Go Ware tiffin container I don’t even have to worry about the nasty styrofoam they’re going to pack my leftovers in!

Take-out isn’t the only way to extend your meals, though it is a great starting place for recovering leftover-haters.  It wasn’t long before I was taking a meal I made from scratch and re-arranging it the next day for something completely new and barely recognizable as a leftover.  Suddenly, I was excited to see what might be lurking in the fridge!  Plus, it’s much easier to make meals from scratch every night when you know you’ve got a starter dish that just needs some freshening and re-arranging.

Which brings me to my amazing breakfast feat.  Two nights ago I surprised my honey with what might be our very favorite Deborah Madison dish – and trust me, that’s a big deal for two reasons: first, it’s vegetarian and my boy is a real meat-worshipper; second, we love nearly everything that’s ever bounced from a DM cookbook into our kitchen so we don’t take choosing a favorite lightly.

The dish comes from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  If you don’t have it – buy it.  Really, go now, I’ll wait…  Now, turn to page 406 to Red Peppers Stuffed with Corn and Fresh Mozzarella.  It sounds simple enough – the three ingredients from the title plus some basil, tomatoes, scallions and bread crumbs (I use quinoa instead, but whatever) – but it’s fantastic.  The sweet from the corn, bright basil flavor with the fat of the mozzarella blend together to make a filling you’ll eat half of by spoon before stuffing the rest into the peppers.  I make this dish and serve it with the Grilled Tomato Sauce with Garlic on page 63 and it blows everyone away.  If you HAVE to have meat, then add bacon to it, but make it veg first to see how good it really is.

Anyway, back to my leftovers.  I had leftover Grilled Tomato sauce and leftover corn stuffing in the fridge.  I threw the corn stuffing on the side of my favorite cast iron skillet and put a pile of tomato sauce in the middle (aside: I’m aware that you shouldn’t make a habit of putting acidic items like tomatoes on a cast iron as it will eat away at the beautiful sheen you’ve built up over years- I do this rarely and it seems fine).  I made a little dip in the middle of the sauce, which is thick, and placed a fresh egg with dash of finishing salt in the middle and then turned the flame to low and added a lid.  This poached the egg in the sauce as the corn stuffing warmed to the side of it.  I knew it was brilliant as I put it together but I can’t even begin to explain how incredible it was.

Best part of it: these things are all in season so go to your Farmer’s market tomorrow and get fresh corn, tomatoes, basil and red (or any) bell peppers and make this for dinner tonight.  Then have the leftovers for brunch tomorrow or Sunday.  You will thank me – and Deborah Madison, of course.


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  • Wow, sounds amazing! My only regret is that I wasn’t here and had to go into the office this morning.

  • This inspired me to make stuffed peppers the other night. Thank God we finally found quino. W e stuffed them with said quinoa as well as roasted fennel and carrots, sauteed leeks and a slice of gruyere on top. We also had leftover curried carrot soup which I pureed and used as a sauce for the peppers. Home-cooked meals makes us feel the most at home while we’re getting adjusted here.

  • Jared, I wish you had been here too! Lisa, I’m so happy you found quinoa in Scotland. You know I’ll send you anything you can’t find right? Roasted veggies with melted gruyere melts my heart…

  • Hi — Thought I should say hello to a kindred spirit and kindred namer and all. Wonderful!

    I live in Portland now, grew up in the Bay Area, went to Berkeley a long time ago.

    After years in publishing and engineering, we gave up on the nonsense part of it all and started an urban farm here in NW Portland. We’re happy. We make pickles. We grow much of what we need here. Learning a lot.

  • Cathy, I was so happy to see you come up on Twitter and I love the double-entendre in your name! Yesterday I read the dogless post on your site with tears in my eyes and wanted to comment but realized you had written it earlier in the year and I didn’t want to send a reminder. Your farm looks so fun and you clearly have much more space than I do. I also love the ‘tone’ of your posts. I suspect we’d get along. :-) Keep up the great work and stay in touch!