It Started with a Chicken

Let me start off by saying that last week was a model week of non-waste.  And yes, I’m proud.

It helps that I chiseled out time to “cook” at least four times.  I shopped a couple times — once for two meats I used, and later in the week when I had to pick up milk anyway, I grabbed some additional vegetables. The rest of the ingredients came from leftover items or my “pantry stock.”  Carrots, celery, onions, and garlic – even for those of you who cook infrequently, I recommend keeping these around.  Maybe put some potatoes in this category too. They keep for a very long time (i.e. more than a month) and it is nice to not worry about them.

My friend Katie was coming over for dinner that night. In the morning, I put my ~6 pound roasting chicken, which was rubbed under the skin with a mixture of olive oil, rosemary, thyme, pepper, and salt, in the slow cooker, along with several whole cloves of garlic some some sliced onion.  The timer was set for 9 hours, and it stood on “keep warm” for about 2 hours, which probably deteriorated the texture of the meat a little bit. But it was still quite moist.

Two leftovers were featured in a side dish: smashed potatoes. I have been working through a ginormous bag of red potatoes I had bought for the Super Bowl, so I boiled some potatoes and added a little buttermilk, leftover from making Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day, and many of the roasted onions and garlic from the slow cooker.  I also made some buttermilk biscuits and steamed broccoli florets for a healthy side.

First things first: I got started on Melissa Clark’s basic chicken stock recipe. I separated the meat from the skin and bones, which I tossed into a pot with the other ingredients. What a shame I didn’t have any leftover parsley stems again, having experienced the amazing flavor impact they can have when making a poached egg recipe.

While that simmered, I used some other leftover chicken broth to make dinner. Have you guessed yet what it could be?

Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted from a recipe by Cecilia Light, sous chef at Chicago’s Balsan restaurant, via Tasting Table again
Serving size: 4, divided according to your serving dish of choice

5 buttermilk biscuits – I used my leftovers from Monday; that recipe came from Cooking Light. You can customize the biscuits with cheddar or parmesan cheese too.
2 small carrots
1 large celery stalk
1/2 small yellow onion
2 small red potatoes
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 tsp. Kosher salt (plus more for blanching vegetables and seasoning)
~12 ounces of roasted leftover chicken, some dark and mostly white meat
1 small spring fresh thyme (the thyme in our outdoor garden survives all winter, if you can believe it)
1.5 Tbs. unsalted butter
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1.5 C cold chicken broth
Cheddar, gruyere, or parmesan cheese (optional)

Chop vegetables into 1/2 inch cubes. I did my best to replicate the picture! It was a fun exercise.


But this is going to be in a pot pie, who really cares?

Make filling: Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add kosher salt. Add vegetables and blanch one at a time until tender, approximately 2 minutes each, fishing them out each time with a slotted spoon and transferring them to a medium bowl. Blanch potato last – it may take 3-5 minutes – and drain through a colander. Set aside all vegetables in a bowl. Rinse out saucepan.

Set saucepan on medium heat. Melt butter.

Once the butter is melted, use a wooden spoon to stir in 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture somewhat dry and grainy, 1 to 2 minutes (be careful not to burn).

Stir in ½ cup cold chicken broth and stir like crazy. I ended up pulling out a whisk too.  Once the mixture is somewhat smooth, add more chicken broth, ½ cup at a time, until all of the chicken broth is used and the sauce is thick, about 5-7 minutes. Taste and adjust flavor, if needed, with more kosher salt (but keep in mind how salty your roast chicken is).

Stir in the cooked vegetables and chicken, torn into bite-sized chunks.


Take half of your biscuits and break them into pieces to line the bottom of your baking dish(es). 

DSC_4148Cover them with your potpie filling. If using non-cheesy biscuits, add a little bit of shredded cheese on top of the filling. Place remaining biscuits on top of that.  DSC_4154

Place in the oven and bake until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits are warmed through, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve.


Everyone has had leftover roasted poultry in a sandwich.  I upped the ante by using a panini press.  I had leftover sourdough bread in the freezer, spread with a mix of leftover gouda cheese and butter on one side and leftover quince paste (in place of fig jam that was recommended in once recipe I referenced) on the other.  Once heated through, I added baby arugula leaves that had been dressed with lemon juice.  This sandwich could be replicated with almost any cheese and any jam (or with leftover turkey, perhaps cranberry sauce and brie cheese?). Sans Griddler, you could use two frying pans, preferably cast iron, and turn the sandwich repeatedly.20130321_182641

This doesn’t fit in perfectly with the progression, but I will mention that I did cook (with help from my husband Matt!).  The selection was enchilada casserole, using the cheddar cheese I had on hand along with some hot sauce in place of the Monterey Jack cheese.

It gets better! Remember Monday’s broccoli? I had kept the brocoli stems instead of tossing them right away, thinking I might find a good recipe for them, and lo and behold, Tasting Table came through with perfect timing with a creamy broccoli soup! I just had to buy leeks, and skip the dill. (The title of the email was “Florets and the Machine” – how great is that? I’m singing “Shake it Out” in my head now…)

If only I could be so productive every week!

Smoothie Satisfaction


A few weeks ago, my husband and I had several house guests. I seem to recall a time in the past when these guests asked about orange juice in the mornings, and I didn’t have it, so halfway through the weekend I came home with a half gallon from Trader Joe’s. Alas, when the guests departed, hardly a glass had been consumed, and I faced an abundance of juice that I rarely drink and Matt never does.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I used the orange juice to make Orange MuffinsCinnamon-Orange Juice Cake (a delicious coffee accompaniment that resembled a doughnut in cake form) a marinade/sauce for pork chops, and the recipe I am featuring today, for an Avocado Banana Smoothie. All of these recipes would certainly have tasted better with freshly squeezed orange juice and orange zest incorporated, but I was content to “cook” almost exclusively from what I had on hand.

I just realized that my mantra should probably be: “when in doubt, bake it into a cake or blend it into a smoothie,” because I have previously used excess produce to make things like beet cake and avocado pound cake.

I actually selected this recipe because I had a very ripe avocado I needed to use, which I had bought because it was on sale and for no other reason–not a good idea, but I seriously have work to do in terms of controlling myself at grocery stores. It was a coincidence that I also bought a brand new blender this week and wanted to it work its magic. Never mind that I later verified the sharpness of the blending blade by slicing the top of my finger while trying to put the pieces away. (Boy is it sharp!)

Back to the food. This recipe was adapted from a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food and influenced by Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe for an Avocado Banana smoothie.

Avocado Banana Smoothie
Serving Size: One jumbo-sized smoothie or two regular glasses

1/2 avocado
1/2 banana (can be one that has been kept in the freezer, waiting to find a home in a smoothie)
1/4 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup of orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed)
juice from 1/2 lime, or to taste (I had about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger, or to taste (I keep ginger in the freezer for as long as a month to take out and grate from as needed, and it is very easy and neater to grate ginger from frozen)
2 teaspoons of honey, or to taste
1 1/2 cups of ice

Drop solid ingredients into a blender and then pour liquids on top. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, enjoy this liquid green goodness!


Last week, I took on the challenge of poaching eggs thanks to inspiration from a Tasting Table recipe found here. My previous attempts have not been impressive–I tend to lose a lot of the egg white. However, I liked the sound of this recipe and had most ingredients on hand. (To be fair, I substituted quinoa for bulgur and panko for breadcrumbs. I also left out curry leaves and ended up leaving my chile behind at the checkout of the grocery store. It was so tiny I didn’t even see it roll down the belt! I substituted a little green chile hot sauce I had in my pantry as a souvenir gift from Mexico from my sister-in-law. It still turned out great.) As for the poaching, well, check out the photo on the recipe page — my egg actually looked a lot like that!)
The item I did buy was parsley, for the parsley stems that flavored the poaching water.
Using up fresh herbs is tough. I ended up having both cilantro and parsley on hand, which fortunately triggered the memory of a chimichurri sauce and one of my favorite and easiest Cooking Light recipes.

Argentine Black Bean Pizza with Chimichurri Drizzle

Adapted from Cooking Light and

1 of your favorite store-bought pizza doughs, or dough from your favorite pizza dough recipe

1 red bell pepper, or previously roasted red peppers in jar if you have

Black Bean Spread (recipe uses only a portion of this):
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 (15-ounce) can 50%-less-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can organic fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green
chiles, undrained (such as Muir Glen), or whatever chunky tomato product you have on hand plus something to add heat.  During the summer, I grew a jalapeño plant next to my tomatoes, so I did once attempt to duplicate this with fresh ingredients. The depth added with the fire-roasted version is nice though.

Preheat the oven to 450°, preferably with pizza stone inside.

If you are roasting a fresh pepper, cut in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Turn oven to broil and set timer for 10 minutes. Watch pepper closely until blackened (I say “watch closely” because in my house, broiling=smoke detecter goes off, even if I swear there’s no smoke or fire!). Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and cut into 16 strips. Set aside.

Combine ingredients for Black Bean Spread in blender or food processor and process until smooth.

Roll dough into the size and shape of your pizza stone or baking dish and to desired thinness. Place dough in 450° oven to pre-bake for approximately 7 minutes.  Remove from oven. Spread Black Bean Spread thickly over dough. Sprinkle with:

1-2 ounces finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese, enough to cover Black Bean Spread in a thin layer.

Return to oven and bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.


1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you could substitute lime juice!)
2 teaspoons minced garlic

Combine chimichurri ingredients in a small bowl.  When pizza is done and cooled slightly, drizzle mixture over.  Cut into pieces and garnish each slice with strips of red bell pepper.

Then, with remaining herb leftovers, I took advice I found online for freezing cubes in olive oil.  I also read some people using chicken broth or water.  The oil combination makes sense to me though, since I have already been freezing batches of fresh basil pesto for years. This was just whole leaves. What also makes this great is that olive oil and herbs are the start for another chimichurrri!

Any ideas for the leftover Black Bean Spread, besides eating it with tortilla chips?

Top Chefs

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the fact that my blog title can become oxymoronic in certain contexts. For example, it takes much less time throw away meat scraps and partial vegetable packages and leftover rice than to preserve them safely before putting them to good use. Home cooks might find the day flying by, but in general, we can afford to spend a few minutes finding a plastic bag or sealed container and adding a label. In restaurants, however, minimizing waste is a low priority.

Two weeks ago, I participated in a faculty and staff cooking competition at my place of work, organized by the food services division and held for an audience at the on-campus conference center. We had applied in teams of three, and upon arrival each team was given a different basket of several items with which we were to make an appetizer and an entree. There was also an extensive pantry of fruits and vegetables as well as spices and oils. The clock was set for 90 minutes. At the 45 minute mark, we had to present our appetizer, and at the end, our entree, to three judges.

Our basket contained: pork tenderloin, bacon, shrimp, fennel, brussel sprouts, spaghetti squash, and purple potatoes. Our setup was a table with two nice gas burners, two frying pans, a cutting board, some utensils, a couple of sheet pans and mixing bowls, and two tubs underneath the table, for trash. The ovens were nearby at a different table, and there were grills and a sink outside for washing pans and dishes. Conference center staff was walking around to provide us assistance with equipment, and to make sure no one got hurt.

A portion of the “pantry” of additional ingredients.

The 90 minute challenge might be fairly easy for experienced cooks or chefs. But when the clock started, I was stressed. Eventually we figured out what to do, starting with an apple-fennel slaw and marinated shrimp in an endive spear. Then I took on the pork, which I wanted to rub with spices and roast in the oven to keep it tender. The package had two pieces, and I knew the judges’ plates only needed one slice each, seeing how with appetizers and entrees from four teams, they might only be taking one or two bites anyway. What was I to do with the other loin? I felt a serious twinge of discomfort putting the perfectly good piece of meat in the garbage bin. I had no real time to ask questions, because part of our score was station cleanliness. So perfectly good shrimp, a quarter of a bacon package, and two-thirds of a piece of fennel were quickly dumped in the bins underneath the table, mixed with our used tasting spoons, dirty dishes, and other garbage.

Sharing a cutting board and contemplating brussel sprouts.

Sharing a cutting board and contemplating brussel sprouts.

It reminded me of the story I heard on NPR last November, which mentioned the waste reduction efforts of a company called Leanpath.  The idea is that food waste is harmful in several ways: it fills dumpsters, then fills landfills (food is the number 1 material there) where it generates millions of tons of methane, a greenhouse gas, and it wastes millions of dollars, both money and resources spent to grow the food, and money to buy it.  Your $100 grocery bill?  Go ahead and throw $3 in the trash.  These are alarming statistics, many of which are nicely laid out by Leanpath here.  Leanpath works to save restaurants money by having them monitor their food waste using a scale and tracking software–a definite investment in time. The company’s featured successes have been at colleges and medical centers, but in the NPR story, the Chef at Lupa Osteria Romano, a restaurant in Manhattan, decided to abandon the system to save time for the kitchen staff.

A grainy picture of me with my team's entree offering, which didn't look fantastic even in better lighting!

A grainy picture of me with my team’s entree offering, which didn’t look fantastic even in better lighting!

Like Leanpath, I am holding out hope that food waste tracking becomes a priority for restaurants. I won’t count on being given extra time at my next cooking challenge.  But perhaps customers will start to understand the extra minute or two they wait to receive their fresh pasta.