Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Creative Ways to Clean Out the Fridge

Look Familiar?

At some point during every week, my refrigerator looks like this!

Stacks of bowls with prepped veggies and leftovers. 

It's not pretty, but Hey, I'm trying to keep it real from now on, right?

Possible Solutions?

There's always the makeshift "potluck" where everyone picks their favorite leftover, nukes it and eats out of the bowl.  But I value a civilized family dinner too much for that, and with one teenage boy and one not too far behind, they will resort to that in due time without my encouragement.

Dumping it all out?  Sure that's an option. But since a good portion of both my time and money budgets are dedicated to procuring healthy, sustainable and local foods, I REALLY can't stand throwing out food.

My solution?


Soup or stew in colder months.  Mostly veggie leftovers become a frittata.  Leftover spaghetti gets turned into sesame noodle salad.  AND with a little time investment for chopping, leftovers can even be transformed into meals that are super fun and customizable for picky eaters.

Leftovers Turned Pasta Bar

Pasta Bar
This is the favorite use of leftovers in our house.  Our most recent pasta bar featured: fresh green beans, roasted corn, grilled squash and red Gypsy peppers from CSA box, roasted chicken, cooked bacon, a few frozen peas, mushrooms, green onions, shallots, and garlic for flavoring.  For the sauce, we had olive oil, white wine and heavy cream, then of course, freshly grated parmesan. 

Before you start your chopping of leftovers, bring a large pot of water to boil, then boil whatever pasta you have on hand, saving 3-4 cups of pasta water before draining. 

We keep track of who wants what on our dry erase board on the fridge.  Everyone writes their order on the board, then my hubby (who is the resident Pasta Bar guru.) will set about making each order. Simply wipe out the skillet in between.  

Equipment Note:  You'll either need a skillet big enough to two servings at a time (if two people want the same items) or a couple of small or medium skillets for individual servings in order to make this go somewhat quickly. 

General order of cooking:

Saute the onions and mushrooms first until soft.  Garlic and shallots burn quickly so add them next along with any raw veggies, a few cranks of black pepper, sea salt and a big splash of white wine.  Cook til raw veggies are slightly softened and wine has evaporated then add cooked meat (not bacon, though).  Add cooked veggies, frozen peas (or other frozen veggies) 1/4 cup cream and 1/2 cup of pasta water per serving.  Let cook for a minute then add drained pasta (if it sticks just run a little water over it) and a little more pasta water then stir well.  Add a little cheese to the pan to thicken the sauce a bit and taste for salt and pepper adding more if necessary.  Transfer to a serving plate or shallow bowl.  Garnish with a little bacon, green onions and/or more cheese.

Salad Bar
This is an almost weekly staple in our house.  The same ingredients as the pasta bar with hard boiled eggs added to the mix (if none are made, I'm always glad to make them since they are a super quick and protein-filled breakfast) and obviously sans the oil, cream and wine.  We typically have a simple vinaigrette with 1 part acid (lemon juice, vinegar or a mix) with 3 parts olive oil flavored up with a bit of garlic and Dijon mustard, salt and pepper sitting in the fridge.  Then I let everyone have a big plate to make the salad they want.  BONUS!! It requires almost no cooking.

My kids will eat a giant salad this way and I feel virtuous for getting them to do so! (Check out this post for a "to-go" version of this!)

Fried Rice
This is the ultimate leftover-makeover.   The most essential ingredient is cold rice.  It CANNOT be freshly made, or you'll have a sticky, gooey mess. Brown rice works great in this.  It's already a bit more sturdy plus with all the flavors going on, you tend to forget you're eating the healthier version of the rice family.  Any kind of leftover veggies and meats can be used.  If I only have veggies, I'll quickly scramble an egg and fry it in a large thin omelet to cut into strips for our protein. 
 Cooking Order:
Saute onions and garlic in a little sesame oil then add any raw veggies along with a couple tablespoons of water.  When the water has evaporated and the veggies are soft, add cooked meat and rice and a big drizzle of sesame oil.  Stir fry until hot.  Add some frozen peas if you want and the omelet strips if you chose to make them.  Add any fresh herbs last (cilantro, basil or mint) Season with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar or lime juice. Serve immediately.  I add chile garlic sauce to mine for a little heat, too.
I'd love to hear of things you do with leftovers. It helps to have an arsenal of ideas to work with.  Thanks for sharing!

Print Page Copyright 2012 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Monday, August 27, 2012

Meatless Monday - Roasted Corn and Heirloom Tomato Panzanella

On the table - Caprese Salad, an artfully arranged tray of backyard garden tomatoes and my dish, Roasted Corn and Heirloom Tomato Panzanella. You know it's the height of tomato season when the first three dishes to enter the door of a BYO gathering are centered on the colorful, juicy, umami-filled fruit. The meat eaters were less than excited, but for those of us who wait all year for REAL tomatoes, it was a feast.

Panzanella is yet another of the many ways Italian Nonnas (AKA grandmothers) use leftover bread.  Primarily it is bread and vegetables tossed with lots of olive oil and a touch of vinegar.  Sometimes the bread is used simply in its ultra stale form; but many interpret this differently by toasting it more in the vein of croutons.  With no appreciation for even slightly soggy bread, I'm definitely in the latter camp. 

I'm not sure if the Nonnas would scold me or not, but if they don't for that, they might for this...roasted corn.  Corn is not really used in its fresh state in Europe in general, but especially in Italy.  You see it in its dried form as polenta, but rarely anywhere else.  In the US, corn and tomato season are simultaneous so they land together in dishes quite a bit (as in this one) so I guess in the sense of Italians mantra "what grows together goes together", maybe I would be forgiven. 

My real inspiration to make Panzanella came out of the bounty of my veggie drawer and a last minute menu change.  My last CSA box had 6 ears and after roasting them, I've been throwing corn in almost everything so when I found out the menu for our friends' going away party had changed from everyone bringing appetizers to an actual dinner dish, I improvised.  My heirloom tomato and mozzarella bruschetta morphed into panzanella when I added the corn, some shallots and a little garlic.  And as many other culinary improvs, it was awesome and will be repeated. (Although knowing me, not exactly the same!)

Feel free to add whatever other late summer veggies may be piling up on your counter along with your tomatoes (And please do not ever put a tomato in the fridge) or in your veggie drawer - squash, cucumbers, peppers.  Let me know how your version turns out. My final result:

Roasted Corn & Heirloom Tomato Panzanella
1 baguette, cut into 1" cubes
garlic powder
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme, optional but great if you have it
3 lbs heirloom tomates, assorted sizes and colors
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1 large or two small shallots, minced and soaked in salted warm water
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 ears of corn, roasted and cut off the cob
8 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2" cubes, optional for a vegan dish
1 small bunch of basil (about 1/2 cup of torn basil or small, whole leaves), reserve a few leaves to garnish
balsamic or sherry vinegar

On a large cookie sheet, toss the baguettes with a generous sprinkle of garlic powder (yes, you could use real garlic, but it tends to burn and turn bitter.), the thyme leaves and a lot of olive oil.  Toast in a 375 degree oven until brown on the top side, turn and brown the other side. 

While the bread is toasting, cut the tomatoes in halves, quarters or lengthwise slices depending on their original size, basically bite-sized pieces.  Toss the tomatoes with 1 1/2 tsp salt, a large drizzle of olive oil and several cranks of black pepper.  Toss well and taste.  Add more salt or pepper if necessary.  The salt will begin to pull the juice out of the tomatoes which is crucial for the right amount of moisture to soften the croutons.

At this point you can layer everything else (drained shallots, garlic, corn, cheese, basil) except the vinegar in the bowl. Do not toss until close to serving.  (If croutons are super crunchy as ours were, that can be 30 minutes ahead, if they are "airy" or not very crunchy, only 10-15 minutes ahead max.)  When ready to toss, add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar and toss well.  Taste a little of everything and add more olive oil, vinegar, salt or pepper until it tastes good to you. Garnish with reserved basil leaves.

Print Page Copyright 2012 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Try, Try Again - Beer Butt Chicken Gone Bad!

I am a Texan.  Born and raised.

BUT...I've never had a pair of boots.  Or a cowboy hat.

I HATE COUNTRY MUSIC!! (Is Lady Antebellum considered country? Please say NO!)

I just recently started eating barbecued ribs.


I've refused to make Beer Butt Chicken as it's so delicately called by some in my fair state.

Why???  Everyone says it's SO good and the best way to grill a chicken.

It's the name.  Plain and Simple. Really, how much more redneck could it get?

Then as I was planning dinner, I had a thought.  I had planned to grill a whole chicken anyway, then while searching for something else, I saw a photo that jogged my memory about this odd little method.

Rather than Beer Butt Chicken, we'll call it Wine Infused Chicken.  It sounds better and since I'm not a beer lover anyway, it will taste better.  I moved FROM Texas to be in Wine Country.  So it only seems right.  I can redeem this recipe somewhat from it's Redneck-ness!

I did a quick search to see the basic Can method sans the beer since cans of beer NEVER see the interior of our fridge!  (I don't drink it at all and Kyle only drinks a few very dark beers from bottles.)

My search led me to a new favorite website.  Based on these photos, I thought. "Easy Peasy! I can do this."

I had several Hansen's soda cans waiting to be taken to a recycling place and always have inexpensive wine, Thank You "Two Buck Chuck"!

So...off I went.  I picked fresh herbs from my wine barrel herb garden.

I chopped them up fine with some dried lemon peel from my huge lemon harvest.

After adding a little olive oil, minced garlic and red pepper flakes, I massaged my little chicken buddy with all this goodness.

Then set him atop the can.
By the way, it's hard not to personify this chicken when he's sitting up so properly.  (And why it's a "him" to me, I don't know...it just is.)

All went well until I took him to the grill.  (Cue ominous music...)

Not being a gadget girl, the Beer Can Chicken holder thingy had never grabbed my attention and I certainly wasn't going to go buy it.

Confidently moving along, I strode out to the grill with the soda can filled with wine and herbs along with my gorgeously slathered chicken.  After setting him on the grill carefully, I turned around to take the cookie sheet that was holding everything over to the patio table. "SSSHHHH!!"  As I turned around half expecting to see my chicken "boy" come to life, I saw the him.  On his side, "Shushing" me.  (Then I realized it actually was the wine spilling out onto the grill grates.)

Though I knew a flare-up was imminent with the direct contact of chicken skin, I also noticed some rather nice grill marks on the side that hit the grill, so wanting yummy char more than hair at that moment, I flipped it quickly to the other side, while deftly removing the now-empty can, to mark that side. 

Now...You'll notice no pictures from this point.

No, it's not because I'm now bald.  (Thankfully)

No, it's not because of a fear of failure.

And. No, it's not because I don't want to show mistakes in the kitchen.

It's simply that necessity kicked in and I had to quickly go to Plan B to feed my hungry family.  (This was a two-fer actually since at about the same moment I was having the chicken crisis, my oldest son was realizing that the project he had completed the day before wasn't going to work for his class and I was able to use my problem solving as an example of moving on, not giving up, "make lemononade" and any other number of additional parental advice theories I could drum up to motivate him to go to his own Plan B.  Which, proudly and thankfully, he did! But my time was spent elsewhere away from the camera.)

Plan B
Jack the oven up to 520 degrees.  Cut out the backbone of the chicken with my less-than-refined butchery skills (AKA used kitchen shears and just got 'er done! That's my Texan coming out!).  Flattened it slightly and placed on a rack over a cookie sheet (same one as before). At this high heat for 15-20 minutes, the grill marks were joined by beautiful browned skin, then another 30 minutes at 400 finished the job.

The Lemonade of Plan B?  Chicken Fat!

See those little, brown nuggets in the salad?

Gluten free baguette chunks dredged in chicken fat and baked til crunchy were completely AWE. SOME. .  They actually tasted like...well...Chicken!  Fried chicken that is!  YUM!!!!

Ok, I guess I have been a bit afraid to let you in on my kitchen disasters.  They have happened over the last two years and I just decided to wait til the next time something awesome came out of my kitchen to blog rather than post them.  My goal, though is to make cooking from real ingredients more approachable, not perfect!


I pledge to share more and let you in on my good days and bad from here on out.  (It is actually a bit cathartic!) 

Oh, and if you've successfully made Beer Butt Chicken (especially without the gadgety thing) please pass this info along.  I'd love to try, try again!

Print Page Copyright 201 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Monday, August 20, 2012

Have This Baby for Dinner: Gluten Free Dutch Baby with Peaches

Searching for perfection?

Look for the hand-painted signs that take you off the two lane winding, country road and onto a very narrow, one-lane road leading up and around a mountain that also happens to be a hiking/biking path.  Turn left at the small Brazelton Ranch sign through the rows of plum trees (actually the Italian Prune varietal of plums destined to become the little SunSweet "Sun-Dried Plums".) and wind around to the farm house.

Peaches that don't need sugar.  

Peaches that leave you wishing for a stack of napkins. 
Or a wetnap. 

Peaches that make you dream of 100 ways to use the 20 lb box you just bought!

It's so worth going way off the beaten path.

Here in Northern CA, stone fruits are still in season.  Every year I wait for Brazelton Ranch's peaches. And every week when I go visit June, the proprietress of the farm, I ask how much longer they will be around.  I always silently mourn the words "this is the last week" because I know it will be 10 more months before I get them again.

"Who's going to peel all of these?" June asked as she heaved the box out of the makeshift cooler by the card table.  My two boys barely waiting to allow her to put the box down before diving in to choose their first peach, I informed her that with my family, they would most likely be consumed without preserving any of them. 

I truly love having a conversation with the person who grew my food.  It takes extra time both to get there and to actually exchange words, but food is both culture and community, so it's totally worth it. Especially when my kids can name most of the people who are responsible for what's on our table.

Back to my prediction.

Less than a week with 10 lbs gone, I was right.  I haven't even had to think about preserving them.

Mid-afternoon snacks.  Granola companions.  And for this "Baby" a fantastic topping with a little lemon juice and sugar to just make them syrupy.

(Oh! Ice Cream.  I'm having a major "Duh" moment.  Why haven't I thought about that before now.  This afternoon, It. Will. Be. Done.)

So this brings me to today.  It's Monday.  Meatless Monday for me and my fellow carnivores that want to just tip-toe into vegetarianism. Though I'm not a huge fan of Breakfast for Dinner, this protein-filled recipe would be a great option for this weekday dinner "fall-back" or it would be a fabulous and easy dessert following a big salad.

It is NOT vegan by any means.  (How many eggs??!!)

BUT it is a great way to incorporate a lot of seasonal fruit into dinner.  No peaches?  Cook the more-seasonal-everywhere-else pears or apples with a little cinnamon, sugar and butter and use that for the topping instead.

Gluten Free Dutch Baby

I originally found a GF Dutch Baby (German Pancakes) on this site a couple of years ago.  But after playing with the recipe a bit and making it bigger for my giant eaters, I came up with my own version.

10 eggs

1 cup gluten-free flour blend
1 cup milk (I used almond milk)
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla
4 tbsp softened butter

Powdered Sugar for sprinkling
Seasonal fruit and/or maple syrup for topping

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Liberally coat 2 9" cast iron skillets or glass pie plates with butter.

In a blender, whirl eggs for a couple of minutes until they are frothy.

Slowly add in flour blend, salt, milk, vanilla and butter to make a thin batter.  (I simply alternated the flour and milk and then added the vanilla and butter along the way.)

Divide evenly between the two prepared pans.

Place in the oven and bake 10-15 minutes or until it is very puffy.

Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar just before serving.  Top with fruit and/or syrup.

Print Page Copyright 2012 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Last Days of Summer

Two Days.

That's all we have left of doing nothing but hanging together, staying out of the intense Northern California inland heat, sitting in our blind-covered closed-window house, reading books, watching movies, OH and going on adventures as a family.

You may be wondering why all this moaning and groaning.  Yes, technically there are still 40 days left of summer, but we all know that when school starts back up, even with the continued 100+ degree days, it's really over.  Fall sports pre-season has already started.(I won't mention any particular sport, but the Fall is ITS season and I deplore it!). The Fall TV season starts shortly.  Foodwise, apples, pears and grapes (all Autumn seasonal foods) are already appearing in veggie boxes around here.  So, regardless of what the calendar says, Fall is almost here and Summer. Is. Over. Baaah!

SO...in celebration of these last lazy days, I thought I'd capture some of the food moments and other wise with some photos.

Culinarily speaking, the highlight of these last few days was dining at Estate in Sonoma last weekend where we finished off a long day covering half of the 47 mile long county.  Sitting on the beautiful, large patio with a fireplace (it was even cooler than usual) we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks.

 Mathieu showing his subdued side.
The boys "cocktail" of choice.

 Harry (AKA the emerging food photographer)

I discovered that my oldest son is a natural food photographer, especially alongside my husband, who we long ago established was gifted at plate presentation.  Since Kyle and I chose La Cena di Famiglia, each of our courses was served on a communal plate. They weren't presented as beautifully as my food photographer wanted, so Kyle would go about composing the individual servings for us, then Harry would photograph. 
 Harry's first food photo, he composed the setup with the wine as well.
The Market Antipasti included (from the left):  
Arrancini with heirloom tomato sauce, citrus marinated olives, 
fresh figs with arugula, and house-cured Coppa. 
The Cline Sonoma Syrah accompanied each course.

The Primi:
Shaved Rainbow Garden Bean & Arugula Salad with Peppered Goat Cheese Croutons

The Secondi i Contorni:
Roasted Cornish Hen with Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce, Truffled Lentils 
and Roasted Belgian Endive with Saba drizzle

The Dolce:
 Though we had a fabulous chocolate sea salt tart, 
the boys' dessert choice was the only dessert photo we got. 
Zeppole with Peach and Nutella dipping sauces

This past weekend we went to the beach in Santa Cruz.

The only food photos were from our beach-friendly lunch.
Our take on the Salad in a Jar (see here or here just for starters) phenomenon.  
Chopped salad with beets, corn, roasted peppers, olives, boiled eggs, bacon, chicken and lettuce.  
No glass on the beach, so we used 6 cup plastic bowls so we could shake and eat out of the same vessel.  This is pre-shaking.  See how it looks all nice and clean. The dressing stayed on the bottom and moistened the chicken then once shaken everything was coated with dijon and garlic vinaigrette. 

 This is post-shaking.  
It's not pretty due to the beets "bleeding" onto everything, but for healthy beach eats, it was awesome.  
(And a great school lunch option I decided!)

 For dessert--locally grown grapes and peaches from a farm.  

Since I didn't capture any photos from the rest of our meals over our beach weekend, here are some of the highlights of our day in Santa Cruz.

Ready for a post-beach treat,  the boys insisted on Pull-Your-Own Slush Puppies from the Boardwalk, (Harry's with his by the yellow fence in the collage above).  But on the way into town, I saw this old shack at the end of a 40+ year old building on Ocean St.  The sign (barely) read Marianne's Ice Cream.  It looked the kind of place that would be all the locals' favorite but lost on tourists.

A quick YELP search and my suspicions were founded.  4 1/2 stars!

So before we even got TO the beach I made the executive decision that there WOULD be a stop here on the way out of town.  I told the boys to hold out, but they didn't, and soon wished they had. The AMAZING Mandarin Chocolate/Orange Sherbet combo we ended up choosing was so good we devoured it before even considering the fact that I should have photoed the location or the ice cream or something but I didn't.  So look it up and get yourself there if you find your way to Santa Cruz!  (By the way, we did give in and share a couple of bites with the boys.  Just enough for them to know that Slush Puppy is no longer the treat of choice in Santa Cruz.)  

I'm now beginning to look ahead at make-ahead lunch, breakfast and dinner ideas as our school year begins. Two of my people will have to be out of the house by 7:40 which doesn't leave a lot of morning prep-time.

Got any great ideas?  I'd love to hear them.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Monday, August 6, 2012

No Meat, No Heat Monday - Vietnamese Summer Rolls & Table Salad

It's August.  And though the Bay area is actually experiencing the coldest weather of the year (strange, but true for every summer) we are just far enough away from the bay breezes and daily fog that we are experiencing the typical heat of summer. 

Even for me, cooking on 90+ days isn't the most appealing thing I can think of, so these little rolls are the perfect thing to get dinner on the table with little cooking.  Any time I get basil and cucumbers in my veggie box, they are the first thing that comes to mind.

They're light, the kids love them, it's basically salad in a roll format so how much more summer-light and healthy can you get.

These rolls are also a way to wrangle your family into helping since it does involve a lot of prep.


In spite of the many prep steps, the ingredients are very interchangeable.
Other than needing rice paper wrappers (Don't have them?...keep reading) to roll everything in, you can certainly Cook What You've Got

For instance:
  • You can use any sort of salad greens:  very thinly sliced cabbage, bok choy, lettuce, spinach, mixed greens.
  • Herbs can be any tender herbs you might find in an Asian garden:  cilantro, basil (any variety will work, but Thai basil if you have it is the best), mint, chives, scallion (green onion) tops - the green part.
  • Fillers can be any very thinly sliced (matchsticks) vegetables you might have around:  summer squash, carrots, scallions, cucumbers, sweet peppers, radishes even young turnips.
  • While tonights' version was strictly veggies, IF they are on hand, I might include some cooked rice noodles, but you could certainly use warm, cooked rice to give them more density also.
  • And finally, for vegetarians or those observing Meatless Monday you can use thin egg omelets cut into strips or you can use cooked shrimp or chicken for other not-so-food-conscious days.  If you leave all animal protein sources out though as I did today, you can make peanut sauce that will more than fill the protein needs.  
My basic peanut sauce (that I've trained my boys to make since they practically drink it) starts with 1/3 cup natural peanut butter mixed with a few tablespoons of hot water to thin.  I add tamari (or soy) sauce, agave nectar (or brown sugar), rice wine vinegar (or lime juice) and chile garlic sauce until it tastes good to me.  The whole idea with Southeast Asian food is to balance sour, salty, sweet and heat.  So when it tastes good to you and all those things are balanced it's ready to go. When my kids make it for themselves they tend to leave out the heat part so no chile garlic sauce for them.  For a more complex Peanut Sauce that is a bit more authentic, download "Rock Star" recipe collection.

So here's how it all goes down.
  1. Prep all your greens, herbs, veggies, noodles, sauce and protein sources if using. (May want to call in the troops for this or use it as your Zen time.)
  2. Make your sauce.
  3. Set a pie plate of warm water next to a large clean countertop area or cutting board for rolling.
  4. Grab your family to help with the next few steps for sure.

 Step One:  
Place one rice paper wrapper in the warm water and move it around until it's completely wet and soft.

Step Two:
Move it around until the entire sheet is saturated and soft.

Step Three:
Place some greens, herbs and veggies  and other filling ingredients as shown

Step Four:
Fold up the sides over the veggies

Step Five:

and tuck the ends under to make a tight roll

Step Six:
Cut in half in the diagonal or in thirds to reveal the colorful middle.

So full disclosure, I actually only made one spring roll tonight.  I was feeling lazy and my family was too busy at the moment to recruit them for rolling so I did this version instead. Place the prepped ingredients that you have in mounds on a large platter leaving room for a few ramekins of extras. Arrange large romaine, iceberg or butter lettuce leaves on another platter.  Fry some shallots in peanut or grapeseed oil (or whatever kind you have) until brown, drain on paper towels then place in a ramekin and sprinkle with salt.  Add a ramekin that has chopped peanuts, cashews or almonds, and make a quick dipping sauce from equal parts soy sauce, lime juice (or rice wine vinegar), agave and chile flakes.  Add a little sesame oil to balance it all out.  Instruct your family or guests to wrap what they want in a large lettuce leaf then spoon the dressing over each wrap.  This is called a Vietnamese Table Salad.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Copyright 2012 TablaVie Personal Chef Service

All photos and recipes may not be used without express permission from Christi Flaherty, owner and creator of Cook What You've Got Concept and blog.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...