E. Ayers is a multi-published author of over twenty books and has spent plenty of time on Amazon’s top 100 authors list. She’s best known for her sweet westerns and her sexier River City novels. She’s also a proud member of the Authors of Main Street, which means her books are suitable for the average adult audience. Her newest release is Campaign (Brad and Ryn’s Story), a River City novel. Just jump into this series because the glue that ties the books together is the city. Learn more about E. at her blog and website.
Today E. joins us with some interesting suggestions for leftovers.
Hi Cloris, it’s fun to see you again. Cooking can be boring or wonderful. I think the day-to-day drudge used to get to me. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch… Then all it takes is one picky-eater in the family and well, you know how that goes. Add to it a tight budget, and I got creative in the kitchen. In those days, there was no surfing the web for exotic recipes, but I often hit the cookbooks looking for something different.
Parents who had been through two World Wars and were married during the Great Depression raised me to eat everything that was on my plate. They encouraged me to try new things, but once it hit my plate, I was expected to eat it. Omigosh, do not waste food! Mom saved every little thing, then had a meal that she called her merry mix-ups, which was nothing but leftovers from the week. I tried that a few times but my husband refused to eat leftovers no matter how I tried to disguise them. Nor would he eat that last tablespoon of green beans. I didn’t have the heart to toss them in the trash. What was I to do?
Guilt crawled over me and I’d eat whatever was left. My husbands motto became waste it, don’t waist it. Okay, I got his point. I didn’t need to gain extra pounds.
The most important thing I learned to do was keep clearly marked containers in the freezer. One was for leftover veggies, the other for leftover potatoes, then one for beef, one for chicken, and one for ham. Leftovers hit the containers! Not plate scrapings but leftovers. You made six hamburgers but ate five, that little end piece from the roast, the ham bone from Sunday’s dinner, the tablespoon of peas, the leftover squash, a quarter cup of beans, that dollop of mashed potatoes, those ten little french-fries, and that half of the baked potato because the youngest only eats half. These containers became my budget stretchers and my source of free or almost free meals!
Leftover mac and cheese can easily be added to a beef-based soup, as can leftover spaghetti. I’d cut the spaghetti up into tiny bits before freezing. And add it to beef soup.
Also do not use plastic containers that had once contained store bought foods or takeout. Use containers specifically designed for freezing. This is important to maintain the quality of the food being stored. I’d permanently mark the containers and reuse them for the same foods.
To save time later, I’d cut up the vegetables before I froze them. And depending on the size of the meat, I might or might not cut it up. That little wedge of beef will flake apart, but if I cut it up, it won’t take as long to cook. Most of the time, I pulled the chicken off the bones, but allowed any leftover legs or thighs to remain whole. Chicken leg bones make better stock than the thin breastbones or wings. Ham tends to remain whole, so cut it into small chunks. Always save that ham bone for the stock!
When I had a full container of chicken, I dropped it in a large soup pan and covered it with water. Let it simmer with a carrot, onion, that celery that lost its crunch, and a dash of salt to taste. I’d lift the chicken and pull it from the bones. Then I’d lift the veggies from the pot, strain the broth, run the carrot, onion, and celery through the blender with a little broth and return it to the stock, add the chicken meat, a pinch of turmeric to give it a little yellow color. Often I’d return the stock to the refrigerator overnight or for several hours. This allows the fat to come to the top and be skimmed or lifted off. No one wants greasy soup. A few little bits of fat does add flavor, but lowering the overall fat content is important.
If you’ve made a huge batch of stock, you can freeze the plain stock. This will save time later. It can be added to other recipes or used as a base for gravies.
Use some fun noodles such as ABC’s or stars. There are lots of interesting miniature noodles and pastas available today and they aren’t that expensive to use. Kids love seeing different types of noodles from the traditional ABC’s or stars. Most of the time you will find these on the grocer’s shelves near the spaghetti noodles or in their gourmet section. (Don’t forget to check the Chinese food area!) Or you can use rice or beans. Put the stock, meat, frozen veggies (optional,) pasta or rice back on the stove and cook until the noodles or rice are done. Free or almost free soup.
Or thicken it a little bit and add dumplings and a handful of frozen peas, and maybe a little more sliced carrot for chicken and dumplings. Keep the noodles out of it and add potatoes. After it gets good and thick, put it between two pie crusts and you have chicken potpie!
Do the same thing with the leftover beef, except this time add the vegetables and potatoes for a hearty beef vegetable soup. If you have lots of potatoes, you can cook it longer. It’ll thicken until you have beef stew! Or put it between pie crusts for beef potpie.
Ham? Lentil, split pea, or bean soup. (We’re talking under a dollar to buy some dried beans and make a big pot of soup!)
Vegetarians can make a vegetable-based stock with leftovers. I’d often make such stock especially in the summer when my garden was overflowing. I’d cook everything and then when it cooled, I run it through the blender and make a slurry. This can be added to gravies or used as a soup base.
It doesn’t take a lot of meat. If you have two or three pieces, you can make a small pot. Most of the time, I had enough leftovers to make a beef soup and a chicken soup at least once a month. Occasionally I’d buy a beef soup bone from the butcher. (After making the stock, your pooch will love the bone, just be certain it’s bigger than his mouth. You don’t want him choking on it!) If I didn’t quite have enough to make a hearty soup but I had a tasty stock, I’d cut up an extra potato and add it, or I’d use more pasta.
With today’s crock-pots, it’s twice as easy!
Free or almost free food is a great way to avoid waste and stretch the budget to the max. And you really don’t need a recipe, just do it. No little pastas? Use the big ones! That half-cup of ziti or rotini at the bottom of the box - toss them in. Rice noodles, bean threads…experiment! If you want to add some basil, cilantro, or oregano, do it. A little sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and extra onion… You know what you like. Taste it as you go! If you hate it, toss it! You would have thrown all those leftovers away, anyway.
Things I learned not to add: pickled beets, cabbage, okra, or any strong tasting vegetable. I kept my tomato-based things in a separate container. Tomato and chicken didn’t go over very well in my house. Pickled beets would show up the following day as my favorite leftover. Cabbage does work with ham-based soups so I’d freeze it in a small container, but sauerkraut didn’t seem to be worth saving for soup. Mashed potatoes will thicken anything!
When the empty nest set in, I figured my days of leftovers were gone. I think they doubled. No matter how hard I tried to cut down on portions, it was impossible for two people to eat everything! But I did learn to make smaller batches of soup or I’d share with my married children, or an elderly neighbor. Soup is freezable! I’d freeze it in individual-sized batches, dump one in a microwave-safe bowl and nuke it for lunch!
Campaign (Brad and Ryn’s Story,) a River City novel
Brad Shoemaker was blindsided when he discovered that love could be silent, and Kathryn “Ryn” Demary is mute. But when Mayor Bruno Giovanni is forced into early retirement, he chooses Brad to run in his place. Ryn is determined to campaign at Brad’s side, but instead of being an asset, she just might be his biggest liability. Ryn finds herself campaigning not just for Brad to become mayor but also for his love. Politics can get dirty and Ryn’s caught in the middle.
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