So, I have have this meal plan, for subscribers. I also plan meals for my family. I try to have it make sense so that I don’t end up with too many random bits but, inevitably, there are some. Since I hate waste (so much), I refuse to let the bits die, but rather rework them into new (hopefully) exciting meals. Case in point: recently I needed to make dinner for my family of 7 and this is what I identified as being available:
plenty of eggs
about 1/2 of a pint of cream
1 sweet potato
roughly 4 oz of kale
1 small bag of cauliflower
about 5 2 inch pieces of herbed chicken from 2 nights ago
roughly half a cup of shredded cheese
one cup-ish of cooked rice and a bit less of uncooked
somewhere between a cup and two of mashed potatoes
None of these components can be used as is for a meal. There isn’t even one piece of chicken per person, and are we all going to battle over the sweet potato? Of course not. It’s ok, though, these can all be reworked and transformed into an actual meal.
Oil the bottom of a baking pan. Spread those mashed potatoes in a thin layer along the bottom. Whisk 5 of the eggs with the cream. Chop up the chicken and sprinkle it over the potatoes. Salt and pepper the egg mixture, pour it over the chicken and potatoes. Sprinkle on the cheese. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.
Chop up the sweet potato, onion, cauliflower. Toss with oil, salt and favorite spice mix (today it’s Justice from Penzey’s). Roast for 20 minutes, add in the kale and cook another 10/15.
Cook the bit of rice and add it to the already cooked. Toss with oil (we are even out of butter!) and more Justice blend.
Suddenly, I have chicken and cheese quiche with potato crust (bonus for my keto kid), roasted mixed veg, and flavored rice. An actual meal! From nothing! Triumph.
The thing is, though it can seem daunting, it’s really not that hard. There are so many ways to use the bits. There are blank canvases that can be painted on with whatever you have on hand. Quiche, soup, casserole, stir fry, “bowls” – these can all become your very own refrigerator masterpiece.
Alternately, there are those times that you have too much left of just one thing. Bag of carrots, for example, just needed one, no one in the house likes to munch on carrot sticks. My favorite way to use them up is making “carrot pudding” – basically boiled mashed carrots mixed with a few tablespoons of cashew butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, then whipped up to a light consistency. For a little more of a treat I will add a bit of maple syrup.
Another example: I have a bag of frozen peas, recipe only needs half the bag. What do I do with the other? I smash the warmed peas with good olive oil, salt and any left over fresh herbs that I have hanging around. Then I spread it on toast and dig out the last feta cheese crumbles left from that Greek salad. Drizzle of oil before I bite into it.
Think of having a handful or two of a few different things in your refrigerator and pantry as an opportunity for a new meal, not as lost waste that will go in the bin. After 4 or 5 nights of cooking, you likely will have a few things to easily make another meal that is both budget and effort friendly. It is also an opportunity to stretch your kitchen creativity and skills, so take advantage. Fear not the leftover bits – they are your friend!
To get you started, here are a few recipes that can have the ingredients swapped out easily for what you have lying around, or simply added to the basic recipe:
The first day back to school after a vacation is always a tough one. The week of later bedtimes, days of freedom and lowered demands make the return to regular life feel a little grind-y (for me as well as the kids). To ease the transition I like to have something nice on those days. It might be a doughnut on the way to school or a special activity planned after. It always involves extra hugs (mostly for me) and a beloved dinner. This time that dinner ended up being mac and cheese. Now, I don’t want to brag (or maybe I do), but my home made mac and cheese is something to celebrate. It’s not difficult or complicated, just simple and delicious. I make many variations – with bacon and smoked cheese, or beans and pepper jack, for example, but for the small mac fans in the family, the folks effected by the school return, straight up traditional is the way to their hearts.
Here’s the rub, though – one family member with a lactose intolerance and another who has gone keto*. Welp, THAT complicates things. Luckily, the mac and cheese recipe is simple enough that it leaves time and room to make other components of the meal. This night that was teriyaki steak tips and a simple oiled and salted pile of spring mix (my absolute fave). Perfect. Everyone happy. Maybe even happy enough to get up a little easier for the next round of school. Find the recipes below.
Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb elbows or any short pasta, I like to use penne
4 tbs butter
¼ cup flour
3.5 c milk, warmed
½ lb sharp cheddar, grated
½ lb emmental or jarlsberg, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional, only for baked version:
4tbs butter, melted
2 c bread crumbs
Put your water on to boil. While waiting for it to boil is a good time to grate your cheese. If you bought time saving pre-grated, all the better. Pour yourself a glass of wine or make a cup of tea. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two so your cheese sauce doesn’t taste like flour. Add about half of the milk and whisk until smooth and then do the same with the other half. Cook this over medium until it thickens up. Meanwhile, the water has likely boiled so pour in your pasta. Check it after about 8-10 minutes. Very important – do not let it go mushy! It is ready when there is no hint of crunch but you still feel some *there* there. It shouldn’t all but disappear between your teeth. Drain when you deem it done. Back to the sauce – mix in the grated cheese a couple of handfuls at a time. When it is all incorporated, taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Pour in the pasta and mix until all the pasta is covered. If you are not baking, it is ready to be spooned out and enjoyed. If you are going for the baked version, preheat the oven to 375. Place the mixed mac and cheese into a casserole pan. Mix the bread crumbs into the melted butter and spread the mixture evenly over the mac and cheese. Bake this for about half an hour, until the bread crumbs are nicely browned and the casserole is bubbly.
2 lbs steak tips (or turkey tips if you can find them)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
⅓ cup soy sauce
¼ cup maple syrup
1-2 inch piece of ginger, grated
Lightly salt the tips. Mix together the garlic, soy sauce, syrup and ginger. Toss the tips well in this mixture and let them sit for 10-15 minutes (longer if you have the time). Heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add the tips in batches, being careful not to crowd them into the pan. Cook for a few minutes on each side. The time will vary greatly depending on the size of the pieces, how well done you like your steak, or if you are cooking turkey tips. As you likely know, the turkey needs to beef cooked fully through – there is no rare option here. You have wiggle room with the beef. I will sometimes cut larger pieces for faster cooking, but usually cook ours 3-4 minutes per side (cooking on just 2 sides – they almost always have irregular shapes) and that gets us medium rare on big tips. You will just have to check and experiment.
*I mention keto, but this tips recipe is NOT. Said diner has relaxed his keto-ness some, so though this works for him, if you are following a strict keto diet, this is not for you. I haven’t tried it but you could try subbing the maple syrup with erythritol sweetener.
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