Dinner's in the Fridge.

I don't know how to eat lately. Sudden and early Spring with near-Summer temperatures have me thoroughly confused. I feel as if I've channeled my inner European and have taken to eating larger than normal lunches; when the dinner hour approaches, I find I'm not really hungry at all. There is also this thing called March Madness that prohibits me from really scheduling anything that takes my Husband longer than about a half-time to eat, if he eats at all. But it's all fine with me. I like eating little meals, and I also like cooking a little something out of nothing - a good challenge to use up odds and ends in the refrigerator.

Lately I've also been concerned that something I eat is making my skin issues worse. I occasionally have eczema on my hands, usually a condition that only appears under stress and with too much water or overuse. During this particularly awful episode, I am re-examining every morsel that enters my mouth. That is no fun, but on the bright side I have a whole host of new ideas about using food as medicine, and renewed empathy for those who suffer with food allergies.

My worst fear is that wheat or gluten is the culprit of my discomfort. For the past few days I have been diligently avoiding my bread, who sits neglected on the counter, a prisoner under a glass dome. I don't think that gluten is my issue fortunately and, maybe a bit prematurely, have started a new loaf of whole wheat sourdough this morning. The combination of using up the contents of my fridge and my subtle, perhaps unfounded, fear of gluten did lead to this little casserole that I baked efficiently in my toaster oven last night:


When I don't have to worry about my Husband for supper, I feel like I have free reign to make whatever my heart desires. While I classify him as a picky eater, he does surprise me with his likes and dislikes. On the likes list: kale, intestines, and raw fish of all types. On the dislike list: fennel, carrots, and squash of all types. These are abbreviated lists of course, but as a person without any food aversions (except raw cuddlefish, I ate it badly prepared once and had to spit it out), I find it sometimes frustrating to say the least.

Take polenta for example. I really love it, but texturally it's something my Husband can do without. Generally I avoid making it altogether since I don't like eating leftovers for a week. Rummaging through my cupboards yesterday, and noting how they could do with some Spring cleaning, I couldn't get my mind off a quart jar of polenta stashed in the back of my pantry. When I saw a half gallon jar in the fridge filled with more bean pot liquid than beans, and a few tablespoons of sorry looking mango salsa from earlier in the week, I figured dinner was served.

I cooked a 1/4 c. of polenta in the traditional way and spread it into a buttered tiny casserole dish that usually holds my measuring spoons, corn on the cob picks, other kitchen odds and ends in the silverware drawer. I tossed the leftover pintos with cumin, Mexican oregano and chile powder (despite pangs of guilt I wasn't going all out and using whole chiles as I was reminded in this lovely article - but I was going for ease...), and spooned them over the polenta. I mixed my sorry looking mango salsa, complete with edible but totally browned avocados, with a few spoonfuls of canned tomato salsa, and then grated the last of a block of cheddar cheese which I figured would be the best bet for using up odds and ends. I meant to add candied jalapenos to the layer of polenta, and I meant to defrost a little frozen corn, but for about 5 minutes of actual work, this simple one-dish supper was pretty good!


For lunch today I'm planning to have another slice, rewarmed and topped with a poached egg, and maybe crowned with some super hot sauce that I keep forgetting I should use up (oh, and a scoop of cilantro raisin chutney). Then, I'll maybe clean out the fridge some more and see what other little meals may be birthed out of the leftover chaos that often exists there.

But I'll not give up my bread just yet, especially when working more with whole wheat flour, and a higher hydration dough... I haven't been this excited about wild yeast for quite a while. I've also been reading Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads book, which also makes me itchy (pun possibly intended) for new experiments. Real bread has become such a staple part of my life that living without it seems hollow. I don't realize how much I depend on it, long for it, transform it to my needs. I romanticize it to be sure, but it is beguiling and I know when the weather changes and I'm mentally calculating how that affects my rising times that I indeed have the soul of a baker. Any leftover, refrigerated project tastes better on a slice of bread!


poached egg on leftover leftovers.
(I think I liked it even better topped with an egg...)

Spring Greens: Leek, Asparagus & Ham "Shepard's" Pie

Spring. Green. Everything is a lovely shade of verde lately. A week full of rain has produced greens in all the shades of the green rainbow, colors of green that you forget exist outside of spring. Chives are happily poking up from my herb bed, and organic leeks at the Outpost were 79 cents a pound! It's really here, no denying it now.

Still thinking about the innBrooklyn call for Asparagus recipes, I decided to use up the rest of my Easter leftovers last night by doing one of my favorite things with leftovers: making a pie. I love quiche, but my Husband does not, fortunately for me it is never hard to get him to eat leftover's by making a Shepard's Pie of sorts, basically a crustless quiche with a mashed potato topping. It is amazing to me that I can go into the fridge, pull out several bowls of languishing leftovers, add a bit of heat and a simple sauce and turn it into something delicious. Perhaps not the most elegant, regal or photogenic of recipes, but satisfying nonetheless. Another plus is that it goes into the oven, so almost all the cleanup is done before dinner begins.

My recipe of sorts for Leek, Asparagus & Ham "Shepard's" Pie: (or the "Or so" Leftovers recipe)
  • 3 medium leeks, sliced
  • 1 c. or so leftover ham
  • 3/4 c. or so frozen peas
  • 1/2 c. or so asparagus (I used leftover already blanched from dinner on Wednesday)
  • 2 T. AP flour
  • 1 1/2 c. water or stock
  • 2 c. or so leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • salt, pepper, herbage of your choice - chives in my case
Saute the leeks in a bit of butter and/or olive oil until wilted, about 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper (and I also used some Aleppo pepper). Stir in flour, and continue stirring for a minute. Add stock and whisk until smooth and thickened, a minute or two depending on your heat. Add in the ham, asparagus and peas, and continue cooking over medium-low heat until everything is heated through. Pour into a 9x9 glass baking dish.

Mix mashed potatoes with the beaten egg until smooth, and spread out over the top of the dish. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes until heated through and the potatoes start to get brown around the edges.

Recipes like these always beg for inspiration, you could add cheese to your mashed potatoes, or add more leeks and veg for a vegetarian version. Ham is a highly seasoned meat, so I really didn't feel the need to add any other flavors to the mix. I added a fair amount more of black pepper at the table, post photographing:

Which reminds me of the saying, "Be a miser with the salt, and a Demon with the pepper". I'm not sure who said that, but I like it, and usually feel that pepper is tremendously unsung in the culinary world. I often add it to the oil/butter I'm sauteing in, to release those oils that bring out the surprising heat in plain old black pepper.

Now my leftovers are gone, and I can start a new week of adventures with no jumping off point. This is good and bad, but something will emerge, I'm sure of that.

On leftovers, and dining alone...

Tuesday evening before the concert, we ate dinner at Carnevor, the downtown "Steakhouse Moderne". It really is visually, in all its acidic 70's yellow, moderne: a rack of curved logs hanging above the narrow space like a rib cage, and a classy black-dressed staff and clientele that more than a little intimidates me. I have eaten there before, but not for some time - and I credit them for my full return to red meat.

When I ate a steak there about 3 years ago, it was a near epiphany for my reformed vegetarian self. That meat was so GOOD, and properly cooked that it was an event. I've looked forward to going back ever since, though it just didn't happen until this week. My Husband had the surf and turf: an enormous lobster tail and 8 oz. steak, which he precluded with a lobster bisque. I opted for amazing pea soup with Nueske's bacon and scallops and the Strauss veal, a whopping 9 oz. that I knew before I began would be at least partially coming home with me. It was served on a bed of rainbow chard, had some baby potatoes with mushrooms on the side, and had a really nice reduced wine sauce. I ordered it done however they recommended, and it did turn out a bit on the rare side. But I knew that the leftovers could be seared to perfection, and I was right.

I had one small slice atop the sandwich I made for lunch yesterday out of the few leftover greens, potatoes and mushrooms. Probably one of the best leftover lunches I've had in quite awhile.

For supper last night, I made my Husband the remainder sliced and served with eggs. He topped it with an appropriate amount of hot sauce.

Tonight, I was dining alone, since we are in the throes of the NCAA tournament. I actually like eating alone once in a while, and I especially like cooking for myself. It's a liberating thing to not worry about anyone but myself. My Boy-O only wanted a couple of graham crackers with peanut butter and a pickle for supper, so I was truly on my own. After he ate, I decided I would actually cook for myself instead of picking at whatever is around - it is easy enough for me to do that and be satisfied. I had a little container of leftover creamed spinach from the Carnevor dinner, and figured I could doctor it into a pasta worthy of a dinner to myself.

A month ago, I started a jar of preserved lemons. Preserved lemons are lemons and salt, that remain tasty and perfect for cooking with for about 6 months. Every week or so, I take off the lid and smell them, completely astounded that they are floral and deliciously lemony smelling. They are probably one of the easiest things to make, and have the biggest payoff reward. I have to thank innBrooklyn again, for making them look so delicious that I had to try them for the first time.

In tagines, which I have a particular affinity for, I always substituted regular lemons. Never again. These have such an amazing flavor and texture that they are like a exotic relative of a common lemon. My first batch was made with organic, regular lemons, but I started another batch this morning with organic, Meyer lemons which I scored from the co-op yesterday. If you are interested in making a quart jar, pick up about 10 of the nicest organic lemons you can find, a box of kosher salt, and arm yourself with a method such as this, and in a month's time you too will be swooning over lemons of all things.

I sauteed a quarter of a Spanish onion in some olive oil while some pasta cooked, and then added a quarter of a diced preserved lemon (first rinsed well to rid of extra salt). There was enough garlic in the leftover creamed spinach to ward off a trove of vampires, so I only seasoned with salt and pepper. I tossed the warmed mixture with hot pasta, grated some Parmesan over the top and in ten minutes time, dinner was served.

I used to eat alone often when I worked and lived the life of a blue collar person. I'd get home from a first or second shift life and usually make something for myself, eating in the quiet calm of my kitchen alone, in front of the window usually. Now that I've 5 years of marriage under my belt, it seems hard to remember those days, and the ones where occasionally I was so tired that I decided to sleep instead of eat. Anything after enough time can be romanticized, I guess, and now I almost relish a night to myself of concocted dinner - no one to please but myself. The only downside could be that instead of good conversation, my dining companions were Brian Setzer, a bit of Curtis Mayfield, and a side of Miles Davis, but even that one way conversation isn't so bad once in a while.

I know that March Madness will soon subside, Wrestlemania will be over, and life around Casa Rcakewalk will return to normal until closer to my birthday when the inevitable football begins again. Meanwhile, baseball is in there, but blessedly it is the one sport (kind of like boxing) constant enough that the DVR can be relied upon. Admittedly, I kind of like baseball once in a while, too.

It's easy to eat too much in restaurants, the portions are usually always larger than you would eat at home. I think I may be onto something ordering red meat a little more rare than I normally prefer. It caused me to eat only the more well-done edges (though who am I kidding, I did eat more than half of it), and save the very rare amount to remake. Three whole meals, and another lunch of leftover pasta tomorrow, is not bad from a small box of takeout leftovers. Just think what I could have done if I saved a bit more to take home. Maybe I'll remember that next time.