After the Barbecue: What to Do With All Those Leftovers

Yesterday, my husband and I threw a barbecue/potluck/housewarming—a little over a year after we moved into our house in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Yes, a little late for a housewarming, but this was the first real party we’d hosted at our home, and we had something to celebrate: the completion of our kitchen renovation. Somebody’s got a brand new playroom!

Not the This Old House photo spread I was hoping for, but you get the idea.

Not the This Old House photo spread I was hoping for, but you get the idea.

Oooh... shiny!

Oooh… shiny!

By the end of the night our fridge was full of leftover salads, half-finished condiments, and a ton of food we didn’t even get to eat—like 5 pounds plus of hamburger meat. I froze a lot of stuff, packed up lunches for the week, filled containers full of leftover potato salad, coffee cake, and nuts to bring to the office, and still there was more food left.

Time for some re-inventing.

Leftover item: Crudité

New dish: Roasted Veggies

IMG_0019Ever notice how the veggies left over on the crudité plate are broccoli & cauliflower? There’s a reason for that: they taste better when they’re cooked. The veggies are already washed and cut, so all you have to do is slide them into a roasting dish, toss with some olive oil, salt & pepper, and BOOM: tasty, healthy side dish.

Leftover item: a dozen lime wedges & the very last of a bottle of Hendrick’s gin

Concoction: Gin gimlet

IMG_0022To be fair, I make gimlets throughout the summer, but in this case I had exactly two ounces of gin, and a glass container full of lime wedges I cut yesterday for the Corona drinkers. Squeeze enough lime wedges to yield an ounce of juice, then add an ounce of simple syrup and two ounces of gin. Stir, pour over ice, add a lime wedge, and you’re golden.

Leftover items: ground beef, sliced cheddar cheese, tomatoes, red onion, salsa, sour cream and tortilla chips

New dish: Nachos

IMG_0027I always feel like a rebel when I eat nachos for dinner, probably because if my mother knew that’s what I was eating she’d never let me hear the end of it. But how can you argue with tortilla chips layered with spicy beef, tomatoes, salsa and coated with melted cheddar cheese? #winwin

Leftover item: bread

New dish: Bread Pudding

IMG_0024Paul (that’s the husband) and I make one of two things when we’re faced with an abundance of stale bread: Ribollita, which is a Tuscan soup made with tomatoes, spinach, beans and bread (which I make), and bread pudding (which Paul makes). The thermometer hit 92 today, so there was no way we were making Ribollita.  Bread pudding is great for lots of reasons: it’s delicious, it’s endlessly adaptable (we added dried cherries and chocolate chips), it’s pretty cheap and super easy to whip together.

So there you have it: leftovers reinvented. Happy post-partying!

My Summer in Food

It has been a very hot and very busy summer.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for fall. Apples, apple cider donuts, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin ice cream, butternut squash, hearty vegetable soups, braised beef…

The chilly air means sweater weather. Orange is the dominant color of my wardrobe. I am never without a hot beverage (or a chronic case of the sniffles). And every Sunday, the apartment will be filled with aromas of simmering soup, roasting vegetables or a bubbly, baked pie. I can’t wait.

But before autumn comes to Brooklyn, here’s a look back at some of my favorites this summer—the home-grown, the raw, the cooked, and the more successful experiments…

Late June

I discover garlic scapes at the farmers’ market. I’m so fascinated by their shape and aroma that I buy 2 bunches…and have no idea what to do with them.

Voi-la! Pesto. Made with garlic scapes, olive oil, parsley, parmesan, and some pecans I had in the freezer. As potent in flavor as it is bright in color.

JULY

Yellow corn grits with shrimp and bacon. A lovely mess, worth every minute spent in an infernally hot kitchen.

Cooking Light’s lightened-up Lemon Bars. Tart & creamy custard, crunchy nutty crust. A new fave.

August

My birthday cake, made from scratch by my mom. Layers of golden sponge cake, vanilla custard and chocolate cream, surrounded by toasted almonds and hazelnuts. I rationed out portions for myself for the week. The cake didn’t last longer than 3 days.

Raspberries from my mother’s garden. The bushes grow wild, and no matter how much she cuts them back, they take over half the yard every summer.

The fig tree dominates the other half of the yard, and threatens to take over the house. By the 17th of August, the tree has fruited completely, but not one of these little guys is ripe for the picking. Wait for Labor Day, mom advises.

Is there nothing in the world more emblematic of summer than a perfectly ripe peach?

Oven roasted ratatouille with garden grown eggplant, tomato and zucchini…

…makes an excellent topping for pizza!

I finally got around to making The Kitchn’s Magic One-Ingredient Ice Cream. Google it, read the recipe, follow it to the letter, and be amazed by the texture and flavor (helped immensely by cinnamon and vanilla).

Early September

I love my mother’s hands in this shot. She’s shaping the foundation of our dinner…

Foreground: Mushroom/Sausage Pizza. Background: Margherita

More raspberries. This time, I make sauce: raspberries, sugar, Grand Marnier. Right now I’m having some with fro-yo. Mmm.

Sunday September 2nd. Finally, the figs are ready.

Sunday Cooking: Get Your Grill on Without Leaving the Comfort of A/C

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it’s hot. Almost too hot to cook.

I’ve spent the last few weeks eating more salads than I can count, and while the bounty of summer vegetables provides me with crisp, crunchy, and cold salad ingredients, there is also an abundance of veggies I love that demand cooking.

Like our friends from the squash family: zucchini and eggplant. Some people get tired of these vegetables by mid-summer – you can find loads of them at supermarkets and farmers markets, and if you belong to a CSA like my friend Tracie, you’ll be sick of zucchini before the end of July.

But it’s cheap and versatile, and I like that. I like zucchini ribbons, zucchini fritters, zucchini sticks and zucchini bread. But my favorite way to eat zucchini in the summer months? Grilled.  I was too hot (and quite frankly, too lazy) to hoof it up to my roof to use the charcoal grill, so instead I went to the cupboard and pulled out a little number I scored for Christmas.

Le Grille Pan (post-grilling, pre-cleaning).

Armed with 2 large zucchinis and a ripe eggplant, I set about the business of slicing and marinating – olive oil, balsamic (a light touch), salt and pepper. While the veggies marinated, I heated the grill pan (coated with olive oil spray) for 5 minutes at medium high heat.

I cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch thick slices; the zucchini into 1/4-inch slices.  At this width, the eggplant are perfect when cooked 4-5 minutes on each side, and I like to rotate the slices as they cook to get these pretty grill marks.

Since the zucchini are sliced thinner, they only need to cook about 3 minutes on each side. And 2 zucchini yielded enough slices to serve 4 as an appetizer.

I still had another eggplant and 2 more zucchini in my fridge, plus some leftover tomato sauce (thank you, Mommy!). That gave me another idea: sauce—but a sauce that would be delicious hot on pasta, cold as a dip, or room temperature to enjoy with cheese and bread.

This sauce gets its punch from lots of chopped garlic (seven cloves!) and hot pepper flakes. Yum yum yum.

This dish came together in under a half hour. First, peel and chop some garlic cloves (however many you like). Then cut the eggplant (1) into 1″ cubes. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil to the pan. Give it a minute or two, and then add the garlic. Let the garlic cook for a couple minutes before adding the eggplant, about a teaspoon of kosher salt and 2 tablespoons of water. Stir everything together, reduce heat to medium and cover. Cut the zucchini (2)into 1″ chunks, and add to mixture once eggplant has started to soften and release liquid. Stir and cover again. Cook for another 6-8 minutes. Once the zucchini has begun to soften a little (but still retain its bite), add tomato sauce—I had about 3/4 of a cup—and stir.  Add a pinch each of the following: hot pepper flakes, dried oregano and basil, plus salt and black pepper to your taste. Allow the mixture to cook uncovered at medium heat for another 2-3 minutes, and then that’s it. You’re done.

The last thing I made today was a fruit crumble (You can find my method for how to make one here).  As I’ve said before, fruit crumbles are endlessly adaptable—which I’ve learned from making a new every Sunday for the last month, each time with a different combination of fruits. Today I used a pear, a peach, a pint of blueberries and a half-pound of strawberries. I also added a new element to the crumble topping: chopping candied ginger.  I’ll post a picture of how this baby looks when it’s served properly (a juicy mess in a bowl, topped with ice cream), but here’s what it looked like right out of the oven.

Again, only Smell-O-Vision would do this thing justice.

Happy Summer!

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

My latest food obsession is rhubarb. I’ve been buying it every Saturday at the local green market since early May. But I’ve only made one thing with it: compote—which is fantastic and delicious on top of damn near anything—but after awhile I needed a break.

Then last weekend, on a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard with my boyfriend and his family, I had a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie from Morning Glory Farm (a place that I’ve heard makes the best pies on the island). And all throughout the following week, I had pie on the brain. I explored the interwebs looking for recipes, and by Friday decided that perhaps pie was too ambitious a project for my Saturday. There just wouldn’t be time.

But I went to the green market yesterday—as some of you may have seen from my previous entry—I found some beautiful rhubarb, and [finally!] some reasonably-priced locally grown strawberries. I went for them, and then popped into Key Food to buy refrigerated pie dough.

Not to sound like Anne Burrell, but look at these cuties!

(Side note: Unless you’re entering a pie contest and trying to prove you’re the best pie-maker at your job/in the county/the state fair, there is absolutely no shame in buying pie dough from the store. It’s a time-saving short cut, and if what you’re buying has a very short ingredients list that includes butter, you’re set.)

I went home and put together a recipe that incorporated elements from recipes I had read online over the week (thank you, Saveur and Martha Stewart). The resulting pie, while not perfect, was indeed beautiful—a golden brown and buttery shell, smattered with siren-red stains of juice, containing a soft, garnet fruit—tender to the bite and exuding the sweet-tart nectar of early summer.

Ta-daa.

 RECIPE:

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie I

Ingredients:

Shell:

  • 2 refrigerated pie crusts (I went with Pillsbury)

OR

  • Enough pie dough for two 9” pie crusts (top and bottom)

Filling:

  • 1 pound rhubarb
  • 1 quart strawberries (the smallest, ripest berries you can find)
  • 1 cup plus 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. corn starch
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp. butter

For Topping:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp. turbinado sugar

Tools:

  • Clean hands
  • Sharp knife
  • Large and medium-sized bowls
  • Pie plate
  • Wax paper
  • Rolling Pin
  • A brush (for the egg wash)

Method:

Allow pie dough/refrigerated crusts to come to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

Rinse and dry rhubarb. Cut each stalk into thin slices (between 1/8 and ¼ of an inch thick). Put the sliced rhubarb in a large bowl. Rinse and gently dry the strawberries, then cut them in half (if they’re small) or quarter them if they’re larger. Combine the strawberries and rhubarb in the bowl – you’ll have about 7 cups of fruit. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine granulated sugar and spices. Sift the flour and cornstarch over the mixture, then mix well with a whisk or fork.

Cut butter into small pieces, set aside. Beat an egg in a small bowl, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Add dry ingredients to the fruit, mix well with your hands.

Roll one of the pie rounds between two sheets of wax paper until it’s about 11-12” in diameter. Remove wax paper and set crust over pie plate so you have about 1” overhang. Press dough into pie plate.

Combine the dry ingredients with the fruit and mix thoroughly with your hands, until all the fruit pieces are coated. Transfer the fruit mixture to the pie plate, making sure the top is even. Sprinkle the butter pieces on top.

Roll out the 2nd crust the same as the first, but this time remove the top sheet of wax paper and score the crust with the tip of a sharp knife. You can cut out little shapes like I did if you feel like being fancy, but this isn’t necessary. You just have to make sure steam can escape from the interior of the pie so it doesn’t explode in the oven.

Peel the back sheet of wax paper off the pie dough and lay it very gently atop your half-built pie.

Crimp together the edges of your pie with your fingers, by folding the edge under and pressing them gently into the rim of the pie plate. Next, grab a fork and press it all away around the edges of the pie. (Cute, right? My mom taught me that.) Finally, brush the egg wash lightly all over the top of the pie, and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.

Tip: If you don’t want to shell out the bucks for a box of turbinado sugar (like me), snag yourself two packets of Sugar In The Raw the next time your buy yourself a cup of coffee. Done and Done.

Set the assembled pie over a cookie sheet or piece of foil to catch any juice that might leak, and place in the oven. I baked for 55 minutes, until the crust turned a rich, golden brown color. The edges of the crust were not burned, but if you see yours start to burn during baking, cover the edges with foil.

As you can see, the inside of the pie was so juicy that some liquid escaped through the top. I don’t mind; I wasn’t entering this baby in a contest, and more than anything I wanted to make sure the taste and texture were perfect. To that end, I let the pie rest nearly 8 hours before cutting into it.

Right out of the oven.

The results: a perfectly flaky top crust, tender fruit, and running juices. Delicious, but messy. The bottom crust, while cooked, was not cooked enough to my liking. I wanted it to be crisp, but all the juice in the interior made for a semi-soggy bottom. Again, still delicious, but it was impossible to cut a slice of this pie neatly. I have a feeling the crust would have turned out better if I had blind-baked it, but I have not seen the method called for in recipes for double-crust pies. And next time, I’ll add a half-cup of the flour/corn starch mixture, instead of just a quarter cup. In short, more experiments are definitely in order (much to the delight of my boyfriend).