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Leftover Awesome

June 14, 2010

Nearly eight months ago I challenged myself to cook 104 new dishes from the 124 cookbooks crowding a bookcase in my basement. Here are the lessons I’ve learned and two good recession reinvention ideas.    

 1)      When I actually plan out my meals on a weekly basis I save $75 a week on food shopping. That’s $3,900 a year. Unfortunately, I have to admit that this process proves I have wasted a lot of money and food in the past.    

2)      Warehouse clubs – I really don’t need the big boxes of food. I tried it, but the five-pound bag of Dunkin Donuts coffee beans won’t fit in my kitchen cabinets. Also, two of my three children have lived away from home this school year. Except for weekends, we’re primarily a three-member household. So I use the warehouse clubs for specific purchases, like printer ink and cleaning supplies.  It’s still worth the membership.    

3)      Every three weeks I have so many leftovers of basic ingredients that I need to schedule a Leftover Awesome week. For instance, one big bundle of fresh asparagus takes me two weeks to eat. An economy-sized box of whole grain rice will last for two months. That’s a week I eat through the cabinets. I feel like I’m saving so much money, because I’m  only buying milk and bread.    

4)      I still go out to eat.  The local economy will not improve if everyone is irrationally despondent about not spending any money at all.  So my food budget includes one dinner and two lunches out somewhere. Still, I’m fiscally responsible about it.    

5)      In the course of learning 104 new recipes, I’m really venturing beyond the ho-hum of everyday cooking. This isn’t about reproducing the Julie-and-Julia scenario, but, rather developing better routines, new habits and expanded taste buds. (Favorite Habits: I uncluttered my kitchen as a New Year’s resolution, became a online coupon clipper, recycle more and tote reusable shopping bags everywhere) So every three weeks, usually coinciding with using everything up in the house, I have a week of meal invention. I’m not necessarily cooking anything directly from a cookbook, but rather inventing new dishes.    

Here are two dishes I made with leftovers.    

Haddock with peach salsa


Taking over my kitchen recently, my daughter made the best pork sliders I’ve ever devoured – Cumin-spiced Pork Sliders with Peach-and-Sriracha Citrus Salsa.  They dove down my throat in twos. It’s the kind of barbecue party you want to have after spending an entire day doing yard work or painting. You’ll want to eat a platter full with a beer or root beer chaser. I took the leftover salsa, added another chopped up peach and layered it on a filet of haddock. Drizzled the fish with a little light olive oil and a few capers and cooked it at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Yum.  We’re going to try this again with Salmon.    

Sunday’s homemade banana pancakes were reinvented as Leftover Banana Pancake bread.    

Leftover Banana Pancake Bread


I made enough pancake batter for eight people last Sunday and I didn’t want to throw it out. So I added ¾-1 cup of King Arthur whole grain flour, 4 chopped lemon essence prunes, ¼ cup of raisins and a handful of chopped nuts. Sprinkled some vanilla sugar on top and bakes it at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the famous toothpick comes clean.       

The Monday morning coffee break never tasted that good.

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