Leftover Magic

Clean out the fridge, save money, eat well

My mother was the Goddess of Leftovers. I say that with all of the awe and respect she deserves. Around dinnertime, we would enter the kitchen drawn by smells that, although mouthwatering, we couldn't quite place. Was that cheese? Broccoli? Ham--no wait, hamburger.

When we asked her what was for dinner she would give us that "Mother's Secret" look and say it's a "Concoction!"

Although her cooking was 99% amazing, I can remember one time that her imagination just didn't make it into real life. It was some sort of funky hamburger-cornmeal pie thing that defied the laws of physics and weighed in at far more than any pie dish has a right to. Needless to say, that night we had peanut butter sandwiches.

All in all, her ideas were delicious and her theory is as follows:

Start with a starch.

Elbow (macaroni) noodles are a standard. Spaghetti works too, and if you are feeling particularly festive use spiral (rotini) noodles. Throw in potatoes of any type; if they are mashed, save them for a crust on top of the finished product.

Find some veggies.

Open your fridge and use what you have. This is a great opportunity to swear yourself to secrecy and use that leftover bit of peas that no one noticed sitting there so forlornly behind the jelly jar. Watch out for science projects; make sure it's SUPPOSED to be green.

Next, add any meat you have in there.

This is creativity at its finest and the old rule "One meat one meal" doesn't apply here. If you have a little leftover chicken and a little leftover roast, throw them both in. No meat? No biggie. Try canned or frozen cooked beans, frozen, thawed and crumbled tofu (gives it a burger-like consistency and absorbs flavor well), chopped and steamed tempeh, and of course, the old standby, a can o' tuna. Or salmon! No sense standing on tradition.

Finally, the pièce de resistance...

Cream of Whatever-You-Have Soup.

Mix the soup with a little milk or water until it is the consistency of thick gravy and stir it into the other ingredients that you have already place in a casserole dish. Alternatives if you don't like store-bought canned cream soup or are really trying to economize: Make a quick white sauce or use leftover homemade gravy (or make up some from saved meat drippings; this is why you should always save meat drippings, they're pure gold). Flavor your white sauce with a little fried onion, mushroom and/or celery, or what have you, and don't forget some herbs and spices--at least salt and pepper. Better and cheaper than canned, but obviously not quite as fast.

Add that mashed potato crust if you have it. If you don't, try topping it with any combination of parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, croutons, potato or corn chip crumbs, sunflower seeds and/or sesame seeds. Dot with butter or margarine if you want. Bake, covered at 350 degrees until a knife inserted in the center and removed burns your tongue (how's THAT for a visual)?

When your family raves about your masterpiece and asks you what it is called, proudly look them in the eye and say "It's a concoction!"

Warning: Due to the Spontaneity and Luck of Leftovers Clause, no recipe can ever be duplicated. It's impossible. So consider each concoction to be the pinnacle of your culinary career--until the next one.

Amy Rawson is a freelance writer, and is the attachment parent leader at http://www.herplanet.com. She also runs a home-based business making homemade salves, oils and balms for babies and mamas at http://www.welcome.to/lvmyboysessentials. This article © 1999-2005 Amy Rawson. Used by permission.