Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Searching for leftovers ideas?

It's an endless quest, I think.

As soon as I figure out what to do with rhubarb, how to use up a lot of zucchini, or a bunch of eggs, the cucumbers or peppers or something else explodes in the garden. And on top of the produce, which in most cases could always be "put up" in some way for later use, there are all those true leftovers like the last few ounces of a baked ham, three stalks of steamed broccoli left from lunch, a half cup of plain yogurt, a half dozen small new potatoes boiled in their jackets and more. All just sitting in the fridge or on the counter. Sometimes when we're really swamped, the garden produce piles up on the kitchen floor in enamel dishpans and big plastic buckets.

There is hope, tho. Many cookbooks, especially older ones, have a section on using leftovers. Cookbooks that don't have a specific section on the subject can still offer help in the form of their index. Just look up the ingredient you're trying to use up and, if you're lucky, there will be recipes indexed under that heading.

This list of my cookbooks tagged as "use-it-up" on LibraryThing don't all mention leftovers in their titles, but they're books I've found helpful for that purpose. If I could only have a couple I'd probably choose Lois Carlson Willand's "The Use-It-Up Cookbook: A guide for minimizing food waste" and Jane M. Dieckmann's "Use It All: The leftovers cookbook." Both give actual recipes for many dishes but they also suggest general ways to use up leftovers such as using the juice drained from canned fruit to make gelatin or as the liquid in a fruit smoothie. Yes, some of the suggestions are plain common sense, not necessarily a new idea never before revealed to mankind, but then sometimes that's what I need. Menu planning can be boring and I can get stuck in a rut no matter how much I may enjoy the creativity of cooking overall.

There are also websites that let you enter one or more ingredients which you have on hand and will suggest recipes that use those items. (Start with one of these: bigoven.com, cookingbynumbers.com or recipematcher.com ) I don't think they were all set up with leftovers in mind but they can be useful for that purpose, too.

Also, when I come across recipes that call for pre-cooked ingredients or some other ingredient that I'm likely to have on hand as a leftover, I try to bookmark or save to a file where I can search for it by a keyword when the need arises to use up leftovers. (Sometimes that's daily!) And, since I like list-making, I have a few pages in a household journal labeled "recipes that call for ______" with foods like cooked poultry, eggs, day old bread, etc. filling in the blank. As I look thru my cookbooks (yeah, I like to read them even when not searching for a recipe) I note the cookbook title, recipe name and page number under the appropriate use-it-up heading.

I even set up a category in the recipe database I use, MasterCook, called "use-it-up." MasterCook lets me search by ingredient so it's not absolutely necessary to use the tag in order to find a recipe that calls for yogurt, say, but since the ingredients' names can vary (whole milk yogurt, fatfree yogurt, etc.) I like to be able to scan the category, too. Every little bit helps when I'm stumped for ideas. I know we save grocery money when we don't waste food and that's the whole point of the exercise. Well, that and I believe we should be good stewards of the earth's resources. I feel a twinge of guilt if I let something good go to waste just because I was too lazy to be bothered to figure out how to use it.

So, what leftovers do you always seem to need help using up? Maybe someone has a great idea and is just waiting for you to ask the question. For my part, I'm always looking for good ideas for bread -- we can only eat so many bread puddings, stratas, croutons, dressings and melba toasts. They're all good but I admit the chickens often get bread scraps around here.

And just to let you know what prompted this leftover essay, I found two partial pints of sweet cherries in the fridge when I cleaned it out this week. The fruit went into the following recipe, one of my favorite use-it-up recipes taken from WWII-era The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, and the juice was added to a pitcher of lemonade to make cherry-lemonade. Both went over well with the family.

Fruit Cottage Pudding
6 servings

2 to 3 cups sweetened fruit, canned, frozen or stewed*
1 cup flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup vegetable oil or softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
6 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.

In the bottom of a greased or oiled 1 1/2-quart baking dish, place sweetened fruit.

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl. Add oil, egg, milk and vanilla. Stir till smooth. May use mixer but a wooden spoon or spatula will do the job easily.

Bake 60 minutes or until the cake batter tests done. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Note: Try rhubarb sauce, applesauce, berries, pineapple chunks, cherries, cooked prunes, plums, etc. Combine fruits such as cooked rhubarb and frozen strawberries or raspberries, stewed prunes with apricots, pineapple with cherries, whatever you have on hand. If using fresh fruit, cook on top of the stove or in the microwave with a little water to soften first. Sweeten with sugar or honey as desired.

Check out Kitchen Tip Tuesdays at Tammy's Recipes for more good ideas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just made this cottage pudding with the rest of a bag of frozen strawberries and the last of our fresh peaches. It IS good!

I'm thinking I should try it with a can of fruit cocktail plus some (almost freezer burned) blueberries that keep falling out of the freezer when I open it. Thanks for the recipe!