Cooking with Mom: “Leftovers” Tapas

Yes, I am the self-professed queen of leftovers. And, if you asked my family – or pretty near anyone who has joined our table for a meal – they would confirm this. Look, I am a child of the children of the Great Depression. My dad used to tell stories about times when they had nothing to eat but potatoes. They ate boiled potatoes for dinner and had the fried peels for a meal the next day. No doubt the boiling water got used for something like soup stock (which is wonderful, by the way). So I come by this handle honestly.  I don’t waste anything and can turn disparate items into a dish.

You might not be surprised to discover that my favorite Food Channel program is “Chopped.” Those chefs are amazing. I’m not a chef, I’m just a woman who enjoys the creative process, and I love to cook. I have successes and I have failures in the kitchen, but it is the exploration of food and ideas that keep me slicing and dicing.

Here is my Leftovers Rule:  I don’t use leftover meat that is more than 2 to 3 days old and everything else has to pass my taste test. If it doesn’t taste fresh enough, it actually does go in the garbage. But I try never to leave anything in my fridge very long. As soon as I have a leftover, I’m thinking of how I can “re-purpose” it.

On of my favorite ways to use up “this and that” is to create a menu of tapas (Spanish for small plates of food), which is exactly what I did last Saturday night – 5 small tasting dishes and a good bottle of wine. I spaced the dishes out in 15 – 20 minute intervals, which made the meal fun and relaxing. Each plate was its own little experience. Lovely.

Stuffed Potato Skins:

These were left over from a dish I made earlier in the week. I had two slices of bacon left in a package – I know – two? – but anyway, I fried them crisp and crumbled them into the skins, heaped sharp, white cheddar on top, along with some chopped chives. Heated them in my toaster oven until the cheese nicely melted; then served them (one to a plate) with a dollop of sour cream and a nice round of freshly ground pepper.

Crispy Chicken Finger with Hot Sauce Ranch and Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives:

I had 2 leftover chicken fingers from lunch two days before, however my husband secretly ate one, so I had to bump up the dish by adding the olives. Some tasty hot sauce, left over from wings we had on Friday, got mixed with ranch dressing to make a killer sauce (the rest of which I will keep to make Buffalo Chicken sandwiches).

I heated the “single” finger in the toaster oven, then cut it in bite-sized pieces, plated them with the olives and drizzled the chicken with sauce. A dusting of chopped parsley finished the dish. (By the way, the blue cheese olives tasted so delicious dipped in the sauce – who knew?!)

Italian Tomato Salsa with Pita:

I decide to add this dish at the last minute once I discovered that one of the chicken fingers was missing in action, because the portion size of that dish got cut considerably. I had leftover pita triangles from a terrific meal we had at “My Big Fat Greek” two nights prior. While heating the pita in foil in the toaster oven, I chopped up two Roma tomatoes, diced a slice of onion and minced a good-sized clove of garlic; then all into a bowl with a tablespoon of capers, a good shake of Jane’s Crazy Mixed Up Salt (one of my favorite seasonings, along with Hawaiian seasoned salt) and freshly ground pepper. I dressed the mixture with a round of basil oil and a few dashes of red wine vinegar, then let it sit to marinate.  When it was time for Course Number 3, I served the salsa in mini dishes with small spoons, and the warm, soft, pita slices on the side.

Keftedes with Lemon Sauce and Sweet Potato Fries:

With a huge Greek salad and grand-portioned, garlic shrimp appetizer at the Greek restaurant, my husband and I decided that something had to come home with us. There   were six, Large! delicious slices of keftedes on its appetizer plate, so that’s how they joined this party.  Heated in the ever-handy toaster oven, then layered with MBFG’s accompanying, sumptuous, lemon sauce and paired with a few Alexia’s sweet potato fries, made for a perfect dish. I added a small dollop of cayenne-dusted mayo for the fries and sprinkled the plate with chopped garlic chives to finish the presentation.

Salad Greens with Roasted Beets and Olives:

A few roasted beets left over from a previous meal got diced and tossed with two chopped, garlic stuffed olives, dashed with a bit of lemon oil and white balsamic vinegar and left to marinate. Chopped red lettuce, a few thin slices of sweet onion, dashes of sea salt and cracked pepper tossed in olive oil, only, became the base for a nice little heap of the roasted beet mixture … and the final course of my “Leftovers” Tapas meal.

Anything is possible with a few lonely items in the fridge. It was a fun evening of food and relaxation. I enjoyed the preparations and my husband enjoyed every bite.

What is your best leftover creation? If you don’t have one, start playing with what you find in your kitchen. Try “re-purposing” what’s in your fridge. I like the way that sounds.

Author: Plynn Gutman

Plynn Gutman is a certified coach with a refreshing and holistic approach to achieving an Integrated Life. Specialized retreats, workshops and classes are all a part of Plynn’s wide array of resources that she offers along with useful life lessons, tips and advice through her blog. A writer at heart, with several titles available, Plynn's variety of work appeals to everyone.

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