I love a "what's in the fridge" challenge. My favorite cooking shows include at least one episode in which the chefs have to work with what they have. To be fair, they often have slightly more sophisticated ingredients than I do, and theirs aren't leftovers. Transforming last night's dinner into something new — by marrying it with other leftovers and a few new ingredients — is a lot of fun!
My "what's in the fridge" skills improved a lot when I got married. My husband likes to go to the store and buy things like a ten pound bag of potatoes when he only needs one half of one potato. He leaves bits and pieces of things — a half an onion, enough cooked pasta for a third of a meal, a lone slice of sausage — and I hate to waste. Thanks to him, I always look in the fridge to see what I can toss into the pot for dinner.
I like to use the traditional wedding rule when revamping last night's dinner: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something...blue. Well, maybe not blue, but a little red pepper always brightens a dish! As for the something borrowed, I'm blessed to have generous neighbors with a well stocked pantry. More than once, I've sent my children across the crab grass with a cup for milk, a request for just one egg or, most recently, a plea for plastic wrap. (Oops! I still owe them a roll of plastic wrap.) I can always make a decent meal without a trip to the store.
Quiche is a perfect solution. Recently, I made the sexist, yet delicious Engagement Chicken. Instead of using a roasting rack, I roast the chicken over potatoes, fennel, turnips, onions or any other root vegetable we're craving. This time, we had leftover baby potatoes, flavored with delicious chicken drippings. The next night, I had a bunch of friends over for bubbly and snacks. My friend Sidney (who achieved some notoriety in the comment section of the bubbly post) and I assembled various meats and cheeses, including a large hunk of Gruyere she brought. She offered to leave it for me, only half joking when she said, "As long as you'll make me a quiche!"
Challenge accepted! The next day, I whipped up a pâte brisée in the food processor and went to work. I had milk and eggs in the fridge, as well as a package of frozen spinach in the freezer. They all made it into the quiches, along with the roasted potatoes, a few leftover slices of prosciutto, and huge handfuls of grated Gruyere. Delicious! We ate one for dinner the next night and I delivered the other to Sidney, as promised.
This time, I folded the spare pastry over the top of the quiche. Last time, I let my sister make an impromptu small pie with the scraps. She is somewhat artistic.
Here are a few more re-imagined dishes we've enjoyed:
- Venison spaghetti sauce turned into flat bread pizza. The next night, I added sauteed peppers to the sauce, spread the mixture over a pizza crust and added cheese.
- Chicken into just about anything. One roasted chicken is later used to make stock to freeze and at least one more dish, usually chicken soup, a casserole, pasta or chicken salad.
- Roasted vegetables into cream soup. Heat some of the aforementioned stock, add the vegetables and a dash or two of whatever seasoning you like, and puree away! With carrots or winter squash, I also add coconut milk. With most other vegetables, I add regular milk or half and half if we want something creamy.
- Salsa and leftover shrimp into shrimp and grits. We do this often at the beach, staying at the table after dinner to peel the leftover shrimp. Shrimp and grits for breakfast is a real treat.
- Spaghetti sauce turned into Sloppy Joes. I usually just add more vegetables to the sauce until it's thick enough to qualify as a sandwich filling.
- Any leftovers whatsoever into breakfast (or breakfast for dinner). Just add egg!
- Any leftovers whatsoever turned into quesadillas. Just add the appropriate cheese and a few more greens.
What do you do with the bits and pieces of meals left in your fridge?
(Image credits: Anne Postic)