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Crockpot (or not) Beef or Chicken Chili

12 Jan

SNOOOOOOOOWWWW DAAAAAAYYYY!

Not so much. We got a whopping inch. Enough to throw the TV weather guys and county schools directors into apoplexy but not quite enough to make us abandon our cars on major highways. But we came close! And between that and football playoffs this weekend (GO RAVENS! Was that out loud? Sorry.), it’s a great week for chili.

There’s a widely-held belief out there that chicken chili has to be white. White, my friends, makes for a lovely stew or soup or pot pie, but not chili. Chili is red and spicy and hearty and warms you for hours after the bowl is gone. And chicken, as we’ve discussed before, will take on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. So there’s no reason to avoid red chicken chili–I’ve made it for years and lightening hasn’t struck me yet.

This is a pretty straightforward recipe. There’s no mystery here. And you can make this a dice-and-dump if you’re in a hurry–just chuck everything into the slow cooker and let ‘er rip. I like to brown my meat with the onions first to give it a little texture, but feel free to skip that if you’d rather. The final taste will be the same.

Chili is a great meal for the winter, and this one gets better as it sits–leftovers are divine. It freezes perfectly as well. I hope you enjoy it. You need:

1 pound chicken breast or beef/steak (I use stew meat), cut into bite-size pieces

1/2 sweet onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced (or two frozen garlic cubes)

1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with chilis (try Ro-Tel)

1 14.5 oz can of plain diced tomatoes

12 oz tomato paste

30-ish oz canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained (I use one can of light and one can of dark)

2 bell peppers, chopped (I use one red and one green)

2 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 bay leaf

Chili flakes, to taste (more = way hotter)

In a pan over medium-high heat, brown the meat and onion until they’re golden on the outside (you’re not cooking; you’re just searing the outside). Stir in the garlic and cook another minute. Remove from heat and pour into large soup pot or slow cooker.

Add tomatoes (I drain them if I’m using the slow cooker, and just dump them in if I’m cooking this on the stove), tomato paste, beans, peppers, and spices. Stir well. In a slow cooker, cook on low 6-8 hours. On the stove, bring to a simmer and cook 1-4 hours (more cooking means a more developed flavor). Taste and add spices as needed–I usually add more chili powder and stir in some Smoked Chipotle Tabasco at the end). Serve alone or over rice or pasta.

Pizza Quesadilla

2 Jan

This one’s simple–you may have already come up with it yourself. But I made one the other night when I needed something easy and quick and had some leftover tortillas to use up, and thought it might be an idea some of you could use.

I came up with pizza quesadillas back when my son was a very picky three-year-old who wouldn’t touch the fajitas DH and I enjoy regularly. The boy would grumble his way through cheese quesadillas, but we all know how tiring the grumbling gets. One night, I spied an open jar of pizza sauce in the fridge, and put two and two together. Quesadillas aren’t that different from pizza crust, after all. I threw some sauce inside a regular quesadilla and fried it up, and a family hit was born.

The gist of this is that it’s a great way to use up those bits of leftovers in your fridge at the end of the week. If you’d put it on pizza, toss it in here. Pepperoni, crumbled meatball, chicken, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, pineapple. Bring it.

You do need to use real butter for this, at least if you want a crispy quesadilla. If crunch isn’t important to you, by all means, skip it. A tiny little bit makes a huge difference, though, so I’d encourage you to at least give it a shot.

My son is 9 now, and he still loves pizza quesadillas (along with the fajitas he wouldn’t eat long ago). I hope your family likes them too. To make one, you need:

2 flour tortillas

About 2 tbsp spaghetti, marinara, or pizza sauce

About 1/3 cup cheese (add more at your whim)

A sliver of real butter

Heat a small pan over a medium flame until it’s hot. Melt the butter. Lay down one tortilla, then top with sauce, cheese, and whatever goodies you like inside there. Top with the second tortilla. Cook until it starts to brown (about 3 minutes), and then flip and cook the rest of the way through. Let cool a few minutes before slicing into wedges and serving.

Freezer, Blessed Freezer

28 Sep

That right there? That is the bane of my existence.

That monstrous refrigerator was in this house when we bought it, and unlike the horrible oven (we’ll chat about that one soon) and totally dysfunctional dishwasher that have been summarily tossed since then, the damn fridge will not die. It chugs along, spitting out ice and keeping stuff cold, in its maddening side-by-side design that won’t fit a pizza box, ice cream cake (even regular boxes of ice cream are just this side of impossible and must contort to squeeze in there), or even a lasagna pan if there’s anything else at all on the shelf.

It’s a huge, massive appliance. And nothing fits. And it has this stupid water dispenser on the door which is very ooh la la, but which my one-year-old black Labrigator figured out quite some time ago and has threatened to flood my house every day since. I can’t touch it–she mimics me when I dare and I fear disaster will ensue.

Come into my house in the middle of my trying to cram one stupid thing in there, or opening the door to have something heavy tumble out onto my foot, and you’ll hear me whispering to it in a sinister display of a side of me most people don’t see. “Die. I hate you. Just DIE already.”

But that’s not what we’re talking about today (unless you’re talking to Santa by chance, in which case chat me up, wouldja? Ask the jolly old elf to bring me a bottom-freezer stainless model, preferably Kenmore Elite, pretty please I’ve been soooooooo good!). We are talking about freezers in general and their amazing way of making dinner easier. Because lots of you have told me how difficult getting dinner on the table is once school and sports and music and scouts and everything else starts up each fall, and the freezer can really be your friend in that department.

Let’s start with the basics. I told you about my bags o’ salmon from the warehouse club. Twenty minutes, freezer to table, I promise. Flavorful on their own, they need very little to make a really healthy, filling dinner. Throw a filet in the oven, pop a potato in the microwave, and then throw a bag of SteamFresh veggies in there while the taters sit on a plate, and whammo. You are the Queen of Dinner.

My freezer also has a bag of frozen chicken breasts (not the huge one because of the aforementioned godforsaken side by side issue, but I digress.) that can also give me a super fast dinner in no time. Defrost a chicken boob in a bowl of water (faster than the microwave and no risk of cooking the poor thing into a tasteless, rubbery slab), give it a pat, dip it in egg and breadcrumbs, saute it in a big pan, and pour some spaghetti sauce over it. Top with some shredded cheese, pop it under the broiler for a minute, and boom. Chicken parm. How awesome are you?

Also in my freezer: a bag of homemade meatballs (throw them into a bowl of pasta or or onto a hamburger roll with a little sauce), several bags of pumpkin, chocolate zucchini, and chocolate chip muffins, wrapped and bagged individual servings of baked ziti and slow cooker lasagna, and some pre-marinated tuna steaks from Trader Joe’s that go onto the grill almost straight from the icebox. A package of English Muffins, a bunch of SteamFresh bags of veggies and even rice (DUDE! Rice in three minutes! Rock ON!), and some veggie burgers, which are surprisingly healthy and delicious round things out. Oh, and a few containers of chicken noodle soup, chili, balls of pizza dough, and a load of spices are stuffed into the corners. Along with an Amy’s cheese pizza (totally squashed, not that I’m bitter or anything) for total emergency nights.

The freezer is your friend. If you’re hauling out pots and pans to make a nice dinner, it’s almost always just as easy to haul out one or two more, make a double batch of your entree, dole it into individual servings, and wrap, bag, and freeze it for another night.

So tell me…what’s in your freezer, and how do you make it work for your family?

Leftover Tian Omelet

5 Aug

I guess we should call this one “Playing with my Breakfast,” huh? 😉

I woke up this morning with a craving for a real breakfast. Something hot and stick-to-my-ribs. And savory–it had to be savory. Pancakes weren’t going to cut it today.

I knew I had eggs in the fridge, and I knew I had my leftover tian, which incorporated some of the freshest tastes of summer. I also had some leftover shredded cheddar from last week’s fajitas, and it all came together into a summery omelet that helped use up some of the little dishes of stuff in my fridge and started my morning off on a yummy note.

A few notes on omelets: You know how everyone says to heat your pan on low when you’re making eggs? That’s true for scrambled eggs–they come out fluffy and soft cooked long and slow. But for omelets, you want to build up a little crust on the outside so things won’t fall apart when you fold your masterpiece over in the pan. Pretty omelets require medium heat. You want those eggs to sear up a bit so you can flip them over without making scrambled eggs with vegetables and cheese (not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course).

I’m also going to let you in on an ingredient secret. Everybody puts onions in their omelets. But they don’t taste like onions in all that egg. Ever notice that? The point of the onions is crunch. They just add a little texture to the dish. So you can cheat and use frozen chopped onions here–grab a handful, run them under cold water for a second to thaw them, give them a squeeze to get rid of the extra water, and toss them into your hot pan. Nobody will ever know. There are always frozen chopped onions in my freezer–they’re cheaper and easier than using fresh sometimes, and in a meal like this, no one knows the difference.

This was a simple breakfast. I think it took five or six minutes, start to finish, and it was delicious. If you don’t have leftover tian, just dice up some tomatoes and beans, asparagus, peas–whatever summer vegetable you have around.

To make my leftover tian omelet, you’ll need:

Two eggs (or an egg and two whites, or four whites)

A tablespoon of chopped onion, frozen or fresh

About two tablespoons of leftover tian, given a quick chop (or just some chopped veggies)

Two tablespoons of shredded cheese–I used cheddar because that’s what I had.

Heat your omelet pan (usually an 8-inch fry pan) over medium heat and either melt a tiny bit of butter in there or spray it with olive oil (use nonstick spray if you’re using a nonstick pan). Toss in your onion and let them get a little soft, which only takes a minute or two.

Add the chopped vegetables and let them warm up.

Whip your eggs up in a bowl (don’t add water or milk) and pour them into the pan, stirring to distribute the veggies evenly. Let it sit, undisturbed for a minute or two to set up, and then gently lift the edges and tilt the pan to let the liquid egg run underneath. Give that a few minutes to set, and try it again. Repeat until most of the liquid egg is gone from the top.

Now, give your eggs an extra minute. I know you think they’re done, but just hang in there. You want that crust on the bottom, remember? Pretty omelet.

Sprinkle the cheese over half the egg mixture, and gently fold the omelet in half, so the plain half is on top of the cheese half. Turn off your heat and slide your breakfast onto a plate.

I can’t think of a better way to start a summer morning.

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