Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Use It Up, Baby

It just occurred to me today that our menus the last week or so here at the barn had a theme: making meals out of leftovers.

First there was the salad dressing made out of the dregs of a mustard jar. I found the idea in a recent issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, credited to none other than Nigella Lawson, who also inspired my current favorite granola. (Just today I ran across her intriguing idea for crumble topping. Apparently she's had a few good ideas.)

The basic technique is to mix up vinaigrette in the mustard bottle after it's down to a few smears on the glass that normally go to waste. She gave measurements that I'll share in a few moments, but I didn't follow them. I used sherry vinegar instead of red wine and scaled up for more quantity to match my generous mustard remains (see photo below), keeping in mind the standard 3:1 vinaigrette ratio I learned in school, although
I've seen recipes with all sorts of ratios. You could also do 2:1 or even 1:1 if that suits your taste better. You get to pick!

Way more than 1/2 a teaspoon here.
I should scrape better.

In case you're not feeling free-wheeling, here's Nigella's formula.

Mustard Pot Dressing
One nearly empty Dijon mustard jar (or 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
Pinch of salt

Pour vinegar, oil, honey, and salt into mustard jar. (Or combine mustard, vinegar, oil, honey, and salt in a clean jar.) Top with the lid and shake to mix ingredients well.

My other rescue-turned-dinner involved a roast chicken frame and veggie trimmings stored in the freezer. Combined in a stock pot and allowed to simmer, they became broth which in turn became the base, along with a few chicken tenders left from a cutlet experiment (don't ask), a Parmigiano rind and a bunch of cilantro stems, for chicken and barley soup. It was a simple one, with no other herbs or strong flavors. Just homey, chickeny, whole grain goodness--perfect for the early cold days we've been having. (Someone needs to inform the weather gods that it's not officially winter yet.)

Then, just last night, I turned a bit of leftover roast pork into a rice and pork salad with kalamata olives, pepperoncinis, feta, half a zucchini, and two of the final tomatoes from the yard that had finally (barely) ripened. With a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice and a bed of peppery arugula, it made a confetti-bright supper out of things that needed using.
Not bad eating from odds and ends. I'm very pleased to have redeemed these castoffs into quality suppers. Of course, yesterday I threw away the last of the previous week's pear crisp that got buried in the back of the fridge and a jar of sun-dried tomatoes that expired in 2009, but hey, I'm not perfect. I'm just learning to be improvisational at long last.

I'm sorry that I don't have denotated recipes for my leftover miracles, but now you have the ideas, which are the important things. And they are:

The carcass of a roast chicken can be used for broth. Simmer it gently with a couple of quartered onions, a couple of ribs of celery, a couple of carrots roughly cut, a few peppercorns, and a sprig or two of parsley if you have it. Any bits of meat can be picked off to go in whatever soup you devise or a completely different dish if you use the broth for cooking other dishes. If you don't need the broth right away, freeze it for later in ice cube trays and store in a freezer bag or container until you need it. Frozen this way, you can take out what you need--a few ounces for a pan sauce or a quart for soup or anything in between.

Parmesan cheese rinds can be simmered in soups to boost flavor, an old Italian trick. They contain natural glutamates that add savory depth.

Cilantro stems can be used to flavor soups. Chop into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces or tie together with kitchen twine and remove when the soup is done. This handy idea I picked up from Molly at Orangette, who got it from her mother, who got it from Gourmet magazine or somewhere. I'm just passing on the good news. Parsley stems can be used the same way--perfect for stock.

Bits of leftover meat are handy for chopping and adding to soups, frittatas, stir fry, fried rice, etc. They can always be stashed in the freezer for later, too.

Veggie trimmings can be saved for adding to the chicken stock pot or for making vegetable stock in its own right. Now those part of carrots, onions, and celery that you normally discard can be put to good use. Just stash them in freezer bags as you go until you need them. Some say that other veggies can be used, too, but I can't personally testify to that at this point. (Who's got money on me finding out? )

Isn't this great! Even the compostables can be part of great meals. Our great grandmothers would be so proud.

Now, what can I use up next?

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