For the Love of Leftovers

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I read a book last week called An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. If you haven’t read this book, run out and get it, it’s a game-changer. I’ve always considered myself to be a  thrifty and frugal cook, but this book brought me up to a whole new level. I mean, I make chicken stock from my clean-picked birds, but hadn’t thought about saving the skins and ends from onions, scraps and tops of carrots and ends and tops of celery to make my stock with, I always start with whole vegetables that I go out and buy. I’m familiar with the adage Waste Not Want Not, but this, this was different. Her creative use of what’s left and what most people think of as trash is outrageously amazing. We’re talking about saving artichoke cooking water to be the basis of soup, here. Stuff like this was head-slapping realization for me. Why not? As such, I’m rereading the book this week, a bit more slowly, and taking notes. In a time when we should all be a bit more cautious with our spending, I urge you to read her book.

And beyond her uses of these cast-away items, her description of food, how it should taste, her use of salt, her use of olive oil, her encouragement of nibbling and savoring, was, in a word, beautiful. It spoke to my food obsessed soul. Yes.

In reading this book, it’s changed my view of leftovers yet again. I’m pretty good about not throwing away food, but will admit my guilt about the things that compost in the vegetable bins (whoever named them the Crisper Drawers was either a liar or horribly misinformed). Now, though, with some of the new things I learned in this book, I’m armed with some new game plans for lifeless lettuce and dying cucumbers. Not that dinner last night contained either of these things. It did make use of some rather morose looking bell peppers, though.

The weather took a turn toward cooler this week, which I’ll be honest with you is fine by me. After last week’s 100+ degree blitz for more than a couple of days, I’ll take some overcast drizzly mornings, 70 degree afternoons, and cool evenings. Last night I almost wanted to put another blanket on the bed, it was so chilly! (Un)Luckily for me, the cat decided he needed to sleep on top of my feet all night long (no matter where I put them), so I had toasty toes without getting out a blanket. He’s such a needy little beast sometimes.

And with the turn in the weather, my appetite took a turn toward comfort. Last week I could hardly bear to turn on the stove, this week I made Chicken and Rice Soup for dinner on Monday. My mom thought I was crazy but it just sounded so good. I got myself a double-coupon deep discount organic chicken on Saturday (that cost me less than $5 for a 6.5 pound bird), and though I didn’t need one I couldn’t pass up the price. A whole chicken is a poor housewife’s savior if she’s a crafty girl, and can be made into not just one but upward of 4 dinners. Warm chicken bistro salads one night, another night he was Chicken and Rice Soup, last night he was pasta, and today he’ll be chicken stock to re-up my freezer coffers. Chicken stock means polenta, quick soup, and risotto base. I blast through a ton of it any given week and making it is a skill that I’m happy to have.

For those of you freaking out that it’s Friday and that chicken was just used up last night, well, calm down. The mystical powers of refrigeration and high heat made it perfectly safe to eat. I assure you.

And oh, that pasta. Sometimes a girl has to dispatch with the healthy and just have creamy pasta for dinner. On the whole the husband and I eat pretty healthy, but you have to give in every now and again. This pasta jogs somewhere in between. And for those of you who don’t think they like leftovers, I promise you, this pasta will change your tune. You see, the thing about leftovers is that they just need a little finesse to turn them into something else. This isn’t Saturday’s Chicken, this is Thursday’s Pasta.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta
Serves 8 (easily divides in half)

1 lb. short pasta (penne, spirals, something that will hold the sauce in. I used gluten free brown rice penne.)
3 strips of thick cut bacon
1 t. butter
2 c. chopped bell pepper, whatever colors your family likes (no bell pepper? Use whatever is about to die in your ‘crisper’ drawer)
1 c. chopped onion
3 c. cooked, shredded chicken (we used white and dark meat, the choice is yours)
½ c. low fat buttermilk
½ c. sour cream or mayonnaise (use light or fat free if you’d like, I used good ol’ full fat mayonnaise because it’s what I had)
½ t. dry mustard
½ t. dried oregano
½ t. dried basil
¾ t. dried dill
¼ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar or gruyere cheese
½ c. minced green onions
½ c. bread crumbs

In a large bowl, combine buttermilk through minced garlic, mixing well to combine, and set aside. Boil pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400*F.

In a medium skillet, cook bacon until very crisp, drain and crumble into bits. Drain all but 1 t. of the bacon drippings, add in butter. Sautee’ peppers and onions in skillet over medium heat until cooked and onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Add in chicken and warm through.

Add pasta, chicken mixture, and bacon to the buttermilk mixture, stir together well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. Pour all in to a 13×9” oven safe baking dish (if you’re halving the recipe, put it in your favorite 2 quart baking dish). Top with cheese, green onions, and bread crumbs. Bake uncovered at 400*F for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and dish is heated through. To crisp breadcrumbs, run the dish under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, if desired.

3 responses »

  1. sounds awesome! i’m going to give this a try, even tho the hubs does not like anything with the name of “casserole”. but i’m going to try anyway & get him over his hatred of the amazing baked dish.

  2. That book sounds great. I recently saw that the average household in Australia (where I live) wastes $650 worth of groceries/produce per year. Which is a rather worrying thought for so many reasons. So it’s always great to hear hints and tips about good ways to use produce that has seen better days!

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