AND THEN THERE WERE LEFTOVERS

mushrooms and red peppersLeftovers is a dreaded word in some households, but not in ours. Granted, there are good leftovers, and there are, shall we say, boring leftovers. However, my husband, Clif, and I are very keen on using and eating the various tidbits that lurk in the refrigerator. There is the usual reason—a dislike of wasting food, which seems both morally wrong and financially stupid. Too many people go hungry in this world, and it feels, well, obscene to throw away food that could have been eaten. It also throwing away money, something both Clif and I have an aversion to.

But there is also the challenge of creatively using leftovers, of making something really tasty using the odd “this and that” tucked in small bowls in the refrigerator.

After the birthday meal—a tempura—we made for our son-in-law Mike, we had quite a few odds and ends leftover. A tiny bit of cut-up chicken breast. Some chopped red peppers, some button mushrooms, and some sweet potato sliced thin. Also, a little sweet and sour sauce that we had used for dipping. A fair amount of white rice.

All this cried out for a stir-fry, and the only question was whether I should make up another batch of sweet and sour sauce. Clif and I considered the leftover sauce. There wasn’t much, but we decided that rather than add it directly into the stir-fry, we could instead drizzle what we had on top of the food when it was on our plates, thereby using what we had rather than making extra.

My original plan had been to use the sweet potatoes in the stir-fry, but Clif and I love roasted sweet potatoes, and we decided to have them as a side instead. I heated the oven to 425°, oiled a cookie sheet, tossed some oil into the bowl of leftover sweet potatoes, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. I spread the sweet potatoes on the cookie sheet and put them into the oven.

About fifteen or twenty minutes after I put the sweet potatoes in the oven, I started stir-frying. I heated oil in a small frying pan, and I stir-fried the chicken pieces. When the chicken was all white but not cooked through, I heated some oil in a bigger frying pan and added the mushrooms and red peppers. When they were pretty much done, I added a large clove of chopped garlic, the only “extra” ingredient I had to use beside oil and salt and pepper. By then the chicken was done, and I put it, along with its juices, into the vegetables.

While all this had been cooking, the rice was microwaved, and the sweet and sour sauce had been simmering in a little pan on the stove.

chicken and vegetable stir-fry and a drizzle of sweet and sour sauce. Voila! The meal was ready, and what a tasty one, too. On our plates we had a bed of rice, topped with the chicken and vegetable stir-fry and a drizzle of sweet and sour sauce.  The meal was so good, in fact, that it would have been worthwhile to cook it with food that wasn’t leftover. But what a cheap thrill it was to use bits of what we had to make a meal that we ate with gusto and pleasure. As an added bonus, the drizzled sweet and sour sauce was perfect.

We didn’t need any more.

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A SUPER BOWL BIRTHDAY: PART II

Mike and ShannonIn yesterday’s post, I described the football decorations my husband, Clif, and I made for our son-in-law Mike’s birthday. And also the sugar cookies shaped like footballs. Now it’s time to move on to the meal itself. As I mentioned yesterday, in our house it is the tradition for the birthday boy or girl to pick the meal, and Mike chose tempura, with a special request for lots of chicken.

So tempura it was. Clif and I especially enjoy serving tempura. With the big red wok on a side table beside the dining room table, the process of dipping bits of meat and vegetables into a batter, and serving the food hot and fresh, the meal becomes a true feast. We also sometimes have tempura for special get-togethers.

Clif and tempuraAlong with chunks of chicken breast, we had sweet potato, white potato, red pepper, and button mushrooms. (Almost any chopped vegetable would do.) All of these were arrayed in bowls on the dining room table so that Clif could pick and choose which delicacy he wanted to dip into the batter, which he whipped up just before the meal.

I made a sweet and sour dipping sauce from a very old and falling apart Wok Cookbook. This is one of our favorite sauces. I also bought a bottle of barbecue sauce for dipping. While I have a good recipe for barbecue sauce to use on chicken or with black beans, I don’t have a good one for dipping. I’ll be looking for one.

Battered bits and wokI cooked rice, put it in a bowl, and set it, along with a bowl of pineapple chunks—left over from the sweet and sour sauce—on the table. Then we had our feast, which stretched out for an hour or two, and that is also one of the delights of tempura. It is a very deliberate meal, and it takes the concept of “slow food” to a whole, new realm.

At the end of the meal, Clif decided to make some tempura pineapple. Utterly delicious but by that time we were all so full that we could each only eat one piece.

A happy birthday! As a final bonus, there were leftovers, and they in themselves are worthy of another post.

A SUPER BOWL BIRTHDAY: PART I

Football treeOn Saturday, we celebrated our son-in-law Mike’s birthday, and since it was so close to Super Bowl Sunday, I decided to go all out with football decorations. Full disclosure: I was inspired by one of my favorite blogs—Maya*Made. Maya, the young woman who writes the blog, lives with her husband and two children in upstate New York, on a beautiful piece of land with a swimming hole and a waterfall. Maya loves to “make & bake,” and her level of creativity is so high that it can scarcely be measured. At the same time, many of her projects and ideas are simple enough for less talented people (like me!) to tackle, and often the projects don’t require expensive materials. Do check out Maya’s blog, if you get a chance.

Anyway, thusly inspired by Maya, I cut a few branches, put them in a vase, and made football decorations for the tree. This was a very inexpensive project. Branches abound on Narrows Pond Road, and all I had to do was go out and clip a few. A brown paper bag we had on hand was perfect for the footballs, and we hung them with black thread on the branches. (My husband, Clif, helped with this project.)

Football sugar cookiesWhen I give birthday presents, I always like to include something I bake. What came to mind? Why, sugar cookies cut out in the shape of a football, frosted with chocolate icing, and then decorated with lacing. They came out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

Football place matsFor the table setting, we made placemats out of paper bags, and Clif was able to find little chocolate footballs to use as favors.

This, of course, was the prelude for the birthday meal. In our house, the tradition is for the birthday boy or girl to choose whatever he or she wants for the meal, and then we cook it. Mike went with a tempura, always a fun, festive meal as it is cooked right at the table. A tempura makes any celebration or dinner a real event.

In “A Super Bowl Birthday: Part II,” I’ll include pictures of the tempura along with a brief description of what we used for the meal.

BLACK BEANS AND SAUSAGE

garlic sausage and black beansIn yesterday’s post, I mentioned making a chili-like dish with garlic sausage and black beans. Since it’s my own concoction, I thought I’d give the recipe, such as it is. I had leftover black beans, so the amounts are approximate. I would guess I used two cans worth of beans. As for the sausage…that garlic sausage—from Herring Brothers Meats in Guilford, Maine—is, in a word, incredible. It turned a good dish into something truly memorable.

For readers who don’t live in central Maine and can’t get sausage from Herring Brothers, here is my advice: Buy the best local sausage you can find. This dish will taste just fine with any sausage you use, but the better the sausage, the better the taste. (It’s just like cooking with wine. Where in the world did the notion get started that bad wine will produce a good flavor?)

1 tablespoons of oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 pound of very good local sausage (I used a garlic sausage)
Two cloves of garlic, chopped
Two cans of black beans, drained
1 (28 ounce) can of diced tomatoes, blended smooth (I did not drain the tomatoes and used the liquid in the can.)
3 tablespoons of chili powder
½ tablespoon of cumin
Red pepper flakes to taste. I used a good-sized pinch.

In a big, deep frying pan, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook for five minutes or so. Add the sausage, either as chunks or broken up, and cook until done. Add the garlic, and stir for about a minute. Add everything else and simmer for at least 45 minutes. We ate ours on top of rice, but it would be fine alone, too. For those who like things hot—I do not—some kind of hot pepper could be added. We also had grated cheese on top. We used cheddar, because that’s what we had. A milder cheese, such as Monetary Jack, would be good, too.

Sour cream? Also a good addition. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any. Next time, maybe.

Addendum: We added leftover corn to the beans and sausage. (My husband, Clif, thinks it’s more photogenic this way.)

AND YET ANOTHER SNOWY DAY

Snow frogYesterday it snowed again. I didn’t measure how much, but it seems to me that it was well over a foot. My husband, Clif, and I hand-shovel and scoop our driveway, and it took us an hour and a half rather than our usual hour. Nature’s gym! Our little house in the big woods looks positively tucked in now, and we are running out of room to put the shoveled snow.

Never mind! The dog had a great time leaping and barking. We got our exercise, and for supper that night we had a cozy meal of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast made from homemade bread. Add a mug of tea, and what could be better?

Bacon Eggs and Blue berry toastFor added satisfaction, it was a “mostly Maine meal.” The eggs, milk, butter, and bacon all came from Maine. The flour for the bread didn’t, but the bread itself was certainly made in Maine. In Winthrop, Maine, to be exact.

We bought the bacon at Barrels Community Market in Waterville. The bacon came from Herring Brothers in Guilford, Maine. The bacon is smoked and uncured. It doesn’t have added nitrates or nitrates. We fried the bacon until it was crisp; thick and smoky, it was some of the best bacon we have ever had. (Ditto for the garlic sausage we bought that also came from Herring Brothers. That sausage really jazzed up a black-bean chili I made a couple of nights ago.)

In a week or two, we’ll be heading back to Barrels for more sausage and bacon.

Snow on closeline

Bird feeders

And, I hear there is more snow coming our way on Saturday.

AN APPLE PIE FOR MARILIS

Aple pieTwo weeks ago, my friend Marilis Hornidge died. The death was unexpected—Marilis died of heart failure—and could even be considered a “good” death. She was seventy-eight, and while that’s not old nowadays, it is not young, either. She had a reasonably long life and, more important, a creative one filled with friends, books, and writing. But, oh, how I miss her, and none of the facts of her life and death will take that away. Nor should they.

I met Marilis in the early 1990s through Maine Media Women, a group that supports women in all aspects of communications—from radio to television to the written word. Marilis was a writer who loved literature as much as I did, and something between us just “clicked” right from the start. Perhaps it was because we both had a passion for the late, great Canadian writer Robertson Davies. (Obsession might be more like it.) Perhaps it’s because we both had what might be called a loopy sense of humor. Perhaps it’s because she was from the South and I was from the North and opposites attracts. Who knows? But for eighteen years we were friends, and even toward the end, when we didn’t see each other much, the bond was still there. (I expect this is true for many, many of Marilis’s friends. Marilis had a knack for friendship.)

I live well over an hour from Marilis’s home, and after she died, bringing food to her family was not an easy option. But I wanted to do something in her memory, and last weekend I decided to make an apple pie—complete with decorations—in her honor. I invited my daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike, to share it with us, and after we toasted Marilis, I told them a little bit about her.

Marilis was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1932. One of the stories she loved to tell—and I encouraged it—was how she sang with Elvis at church. This was before he became ELVIS, when he was a “sweet boy,” as Marilis described him. If my memory is correct, their voices blended nicely, and they often sang together.

Marilis had a graciousness we often associate with Southerners. She always seemed to know exactly the right thing to say, and when she would meet me for lunch or at a meeting, she made me feel as though seeing me was the best part of her day.

“Laurie-belle!” she would exclaim in a soft, slightly Southern accent. “I’m so glad you’re here.” This always made me smile.

Here’s another story that still makes me smile. “Laurie-belle,” Marilis said, “In my generation there were two things that every Southern girl was supposed to know how to do—make good biscuits and good pie. Fortunately, my husband was a Northerner and didn’t know this.”

Marilis was a lover of cats and wrote a book called That Yankee Cat: The Maine Coon. It was published in 1991, and as far as I know, it has never been out of print—a remarkable achievement for any book. No surprise, then, to read what the magazine Cats & Kittens wrote about That Yankee Cat: “The best reference guide to the first truly American breed.”

What else to say about this woman who had a fine, strong face and a melodious voice? Her love of sending notes and cards? Her aversion to phones and computers? How do you condense a life into a short piece?

You can’t, of course. But, Marilis, you have been honored with pie and with words. You have been lovingly remembered.

And truly, you will be missed.

MARK BITTMAN SPEAKS UP

With “A Food Manifesto for the Future,” Mark Bittman has made his first appearance on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. In his “Manifesto,” Bittman has laid out an ambitious set of guidelines for our country to follow to promote healthy eating as well sustainable farming. Some of it seems perhaps a bit too ambitious, but kudos to him for speaking up. If enough people hear it enough times, then just maybe there will be progress. 

I was especially taken with the following: “Encourage and subsidize home cooking. (Someday soon, I’ll write about my idea for a new Civilian Cooking Corps.) When people cook their own food, they make better choices.” 

A Civilian Cooking Corps! I love it. 

I’ll certainly miss the Minimalist columns, but I look forward to reading more of what Bittman has to say on the Op-Ed page.

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