Creative Refresh – Bringing New Life to Leftover Food

Some people can eat the same meal over and over again, day after day, without wanting anything else. Some people don’t like leftovers and don’t like having the same meal twice in a row (or even twice in a week). They always want variety. I fall somewhere in between, but it really depends on the food. I could eat chocolate every day, but I would always want some sort of variety after awhile. When I make a big amount of food to eat during the week, I tend to eat the same thing over and over again. I think 7 meals (lunch and dinners) is usually about my breaking point for wanting variety. But that’s just me.

When you are running advertising, it’s always good to have a creative refresh. You don’t want to keep running the same ads over and over again, month after month, year after year. The viewers get tired of seeing the same old thing and their minds want something new. A creative refresh is a way to bring the same or similar content in a different way. I decided to bring that to this blog with leftover food. I had plenty of slow cooked pork leftover from last week. I made a huge portion of shells and cheese this week, and had plenty of leftovers from that as well (still do, but they’re almost finished). I thought I would share some of the different ways I used my leftovers.

First up is some modified chilaquiles. I heated up some of my leftover pork in a skillet and added in some of my leftover salsa verde. I had the bottom part of a bag of tortilla chips (all broken up into tiny pieces), so I added those as well. I wanted those to cook in the salsa verde for a while to get nice and soft. I then added in a couple of eggs and cheese, and it was ready in a few minutes. All the flavors came together really nicely. The tortilla chips were softened, but still had the nice flavor of a tortilla. The pork, salsa, and eggs all worked well together, providing a different flavor of some familiar ingredients.

Next was an old standard. Nothing too special about this. Took some of the pork, added some barbecue sauce and slopped it on a bun. Still good, though. It was a familiar way to have the leftover pork, but it did the job.

Since I had made shells and cheese, I was provided with an opportunity to add two different leftovers together. Again, it’s another old standard, but still really good. I added some barbecue sauce to this one, but not everyone is a fan of that. Even without the barbecue sauce, this was still good. The flavor of the meat works really well with the pasta. But that was the last of the pork, and I still had quite a bit of pasta leftover.

This may not look pretty, but it was easy to do and worked out really well. I had some lunch meat available, so I made myself a quick lunch. I heated up the shells and cheese, then I heated up the meat for about 10 seconds in the microwave (turkey and ham). Made an easy rollup and viola – fast lunch. I was not sure if this would taste good, but it surprisingly did. I thought the ham worked much better than the turkey. The saltiness gave it an extra bit of flavor that was really nice.

This one is probably my favorite. You probably can’t tell, but this is a fried shells and cheese “patty” with some Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce on a bun. It was not a perfectly fried patty, but I didn’t mind. I took out a chunk of the shells and cheese and tried to flatten it with my palms (unsuccessfully). I coated it in some flour, then in an egg wash (1 beaten egg with a smidgen of water), then in a mixture of crumbled up bacon flavored crispy-and-thin crackers. I fried that in a cast iron pan that had a small amount of oil. I flipped it once when it was smelling extra crispy (close to a burned smell). If I deep fried it, it might have looked better, but I care more about flavor than appearance. This tasted really good. I was surprised at how good the crunchy cracker exterior worked in terms of texture and flavor. It was a lot of food in each bite, but it was delicious. The sweet ginger chili sauce gave it a slight kick, but a lot of good flavor.

I don’t always get creative with my leftovers, but I’m glad I did. It can be fun trying to come up with new ways to enjoy leftovers, breaking the monotony. And when they taste good, it makes it even easier to stay positive (and to stay full)!

Homemade Shells and Cheese

I’m going to start tonight’s post with a disclaimer. This site has ads on it. There have been some recent ads that imply you can print this recipe. Those are just ads and not part of my site. I don’t want to mislead anyone who might click on something accidentally. Thank you.

Now, onto the food. I was planning on making some pasta and cheese sauce for a few weeks, but I got busy making and eating other foods, and didn’t buy the ingredients I needed until this past weekend.

I started by heating up some water over medium-high heat. I added a little butter and garlic powder to it, but that is optional. Once it was boiling, I added a box of pasta – my choice for today was shells. As soon as I put the pasta in the water, I knew I had between 8-10 minutes to make the cheese sauce.

I started by making a roux. With the burner on medium, I melted 1/4 cup of butter and then added 1/4 cup of flour (should be equal parts). As soon as the flower was incorporated and the bubbles started going, I was ready for the next step.

I added in 1 cup of heavy cream and 1 cup of milk. I constantly stirred this until the roux and the liquids were completely incorporated. It’s also important to frequently stir the pasta, to prevent any possible clumping.

I then added in 2 cups of shredded cheese. I used some extra sharp cheddar today, but there are days when I go with a milder cheese and there are days when I go with something with a little more tang. I turned the temperature to low and stirred in the cheese. It was right at this point that the pasta was done, so the timing couldn’t have been better.

I drained the pasta and then added it to the cheese sauce. I turned off the heat and mixed it in and it was ready to be served.

This was a lot of creamy, cheesy goodness. I only added a little pepper to it, but could easily have added more. This had a nice, smooth flavor. It was a bit mild, but still really good. This was a great way to get the week started with a positive frame of mind.

Warm German Potato Salad

I am a fan of Potato salads and macaroni salads. I like trying different styles as well, since each adds their own unique style and flavors. A potato salad that I tend to enjoy every now and again is a German potato salad. I had some potatoes, and I thought I should put them to use.

I started by boiling four russet potatoes. I boiled them until they were ready and they easily slid off of a fork when checking for doneness. I set them aside and saved the water (to be used later).

I sliced up one half onion and one shallot into thin strips. I cut them up this way because this is how I am used to enjoying them in a German potato salad. I used the same pot that I boiled the potatoes in, and heated up 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (your choice of oil should be fine). I added the onions and shallots and let them cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently.

While the onions were cooking and the potatoes were slightly cooler, I sliced the potatoes and set them aside. I also put together a mixture of dry ingredients in a small bowl. These were: 1 1/2 teaspoons flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon celery salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.

I cooked the onions until they started to slightly brown.

Next, I added in the dry seasonings and stirred those all around to get the onions coated.

Next, I added in 1/2 cup of the leftover water (you can use fresh if you would prefer) and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. I stirred it all together and continued to cook until it came to a slow boil. I then removed it from the heat, added in the sliced potatoes, and incorporated everything together.

The end result was a delicious, warm potato salad. The potatoes were cooked perfectly – they were not too hard to bite through and not so soft that they dissolved before you could pick them up. The onions had really nice flavor. They absorbed the seasonings and the juices well. The flavors and the textures of this dish surpassed my expectations. I know that my leftovers will be cold, but they will have had time to absorb the flavors, and I am looking forward to them.

This was a great way to start the weekend and I was happy to eat them (even the second and third helpings).

Crispy Carnitas Tacos

This past weekend, I made some slow cooked pork as well as some salsa verde. I did this with the intention of using them today. Today happens to be Cinco de Mayo, but it is also Tuesday, so I am counting that as a Taco Tuesday as well.

I started by taking some of those slow cooked chunks of pork and placing them on a pan that’s covered with aluminum foil. It’s important to note that this pan has four sides. The meat is juicy and I did not want to have to deal with any more mess than was necessary. I put this under a broiler for about five minutes. I made sure that it was not too close to the broiler, since I did not want any of the grease to catch fire.

Next, I spooned some of the saved drippings over the top of the meat. Since this is adding even more grease, it’s really important to keep a close eye on things. This was back under the broiler for another 3 minutes.

Once the meat was done, it was time to start assembling the tacos. I used some flour street tacos, and heated them a little bit first. A small portion of meat, some cilantro and chopped onion. I could have stopped there, but I didn’t.

I sprinkled on a little cheese, drizzled some of the salsa verde over it and topped it off with a lime wedge. I wanted the visual appeal and familiar feel, which is why I placed this on aluminum foil.

The carnitas were really good. I wanted to have the nice crispy exterior with the tender and juicy interior, and I succeeded. The salsa verde complemented the pork nicely, and the squeeze of lime juice was the perfect topper. I can’t say that this is better than what I used to be able to get in some hole in the wall restaurants when I lived in Southern California, but it was still really good.

This was a great way to shift into the middle of the week. With food that tasted this good, it was easy to stay positive!

Smooth Salsa Verde

Since I was trying to prepare some foods for this coming Tuesday, I also decided on making some salsa verde. This will be going well with what I plan on doing with my slow cooked pork, so I’m happy that I got the first pieces of the plan in place.

I started by setting the oven to 450. I used 10-12 tomatillos. I removed the skins and then rinsed them down (they were a bit sticky and I wanted to make sure there was no residue on them). I cut them in half and placed them in a roasting pan. I then cut two medium onions into chunks and cut two jalapeño peppers in half (removed the stem and the seeds). I cut the top off of one bulb of garlic. I drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and then put it in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Once it was ready, it smelled incredible. The juice of the tomatillos got out, but that was okay. The garlic was soft and melty and it was tempting to just it the cloves right then and there.

I was able to resist the temptation and put everything in a blender (minus the garlic skin. I decided to let it go until completely blended, but if you want some chunks, just pulse it for a few seconds.

I added the juice of one lime and 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro, and it was good to go. The jalapeños give it a nice bite, but it still has a coolness to it that doesn’t burn the throat. I snacked on this a little bit, but wanted to save the rest for Tuesday. A great way to finish the weekend!

Slow Cooked Pork

I am getting myself ready for this coming Tuesday. It’s a two for one – Taco Tuesday and Cinco de Mayo. I wanted to do some slow cooked pork in preparation for carnitas on Tuesday, and today was the perfect day to get it done.

I bought a huge bone-in pork butt (the smallest of the ones they had left, but it was more than 9 pounds). Instead of just putting it in the slow cooker as is and then shredding it once done, I cut it into chunks. I tried to get as many meaty chunks set aside for the slow cooker. I set aside the bone and the fattier pieces.

I started by putting 1/2 cup of apple juice in the bottom, then I put in the chunks of meat. I added one tablespoon of paprika, one tablespoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of cumin, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. I poured another 1/2 cup of apple juice over the top and then mixed it all together. I let that cook on low for about 7 hours.

While that was cooking, I heated the oven to 450. I put the bone and trimmed fatty pieces in a roasting pan with a drizzle of olive oil, some cracked salt and pepper, and let it cook for about 30 minutes. Once that was done, I set aside the meat and I also saved the drippings (I plan on using the drippings on Tuesday). I then made a broth with the bone and fat, and set it aside for another day.

Once the meat was done, I took it out and let it cool. The pork had really nice flavor, and the chunks were tender and juicy. I saved some of the juice, since I don’t want it to dry out for Tuesday. This was an effective way to spend the day inside, and it was easy to be in a positive frame of mind with the wonderful aromas in the house.

Home Made Kolaches – Sweet and Savory

I have been a fan of an occasional kolache for a number of years. It has not always been easy to find places that serve them, so it’s always a treat when I do. For my last birthday, one of the presents I received was a cookbook – “When Pies Fly” by Cathy Barrow. This has some recipes for foods I enjoy and want to try – Empanadas, Knishes, Kolaches, etc.

Since I like to go the non-traditional route sometimes, I decided to try my hand at kolaches with non-traditional fillings. I started my preparation last week when I purchased some ground venison and some fontina cheese. I bought them with the intent of being the filling for the kolaches, and yesterday I went ahead and made them.

I’ll start with the dough, which comes directly from “When Pies Fly”. The ingredients are 1 packet of active dry yeast, 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 5 cups all purpose flour, 2 large eggs, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Since I was planning on going the savory route, I only used 1 tablespoon of sugar instead of 1/4 cup.

You start by putting in 1/4 cup of the lukewarm water in the bottom of the mixing bowl and add the yeast packet. Give it a few minutes for the yeast to activate. I didn’t see much of a change, so I just crossed my fingers that my yeast was still good. Next, add the sugar and stir everything together. Then add in the remaining ingredients. If you have a dough hook attachment, use that and beat the mixture for 7-10 minutes, stopping once or twice to scrape the bowl. Depending on the air, you might need a little more flour (or a couple more drops of water). Lightly spray a large glass bowl with cooking spray (or lightly oil). Work the dough a little bit, form a ball, and place in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. You can also try for a slow rise in the refrigerator for up to 16 hours, but it should be at room temperature for an hour before making them.

The instructions above are my somewhat modified version of the instructions. Before I started any of the baking, I had set the oven to 180 and then turned it off. I wanted a warm place for the dough to rise, since my house usually is a bit too cold for that to happen (I prefer keeping it in the low 60s when it’s cold outside). I wasn’t really sure if it was going to work, I was just hoping that the yeast would take.

I let it sit for an hour, and when I checked on it, my baby was all grown up! Since I knew that I would need an hour for it to get at room temperature, I punched down the dough and let it sit while I prepared for the filling.

For the savory filling, I started by chopping up 1 medium onion and 1 shallot. I heated up my pan and added in 1 pound of ground venison. This is not as crumbly as ground beef, so be prepared to use both hands to break this out into smaller pieces. Once there was a light coating of brown on the bottom, I added in the chopped onions and shallots.

I continued to cook them all together until the red meat became more pink. I added in 1/2 teaspoon of thyme and 1/2 teaspoon of rosemary, along with 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke. I had those go for another 3 minutes or so, until the meat was completely cooked through. I turned off the heat and set the mixture aside to cool (about 30 minutes). I then grated 1/2 pound of fontina cheese.

Once it was time to start assembling everything together, I put the oven to 350.

I worked the dough a little on a lightly floured board and then broke it down into 12 pieces. In the future, I think I will probably break them down into 16 or 20, but the 12 worked for today.

Using a rolling pin, I flattened out each of the portions. I made it a little thicker in the middle and thinner on the outer edges.

Next, I placed a large spoonful of the meat mixture and a decent portion of the grated cheese in the middle of the dough.

Holding the dough in the palm of my hand, I worked the edges to the top and then crimped them together to seal.

I then started to mold it together.

Finally, I rolled it into a ball and placed on a cookie sheet.

Since I wanted to go with sweet and savory, I decided to make six of the savory, three that were filled with peanut butter, cinnamon and a chocolate trip trio, and three that were just a chocolate chip trio. When I sealed up the sweet ones, I did not completely roll it into a ball, and I left the crimped side up.

The next step was supposed to be to cover with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water and 1/4 teaspoon salt), but I forgot to do it. I placed it in the oven for 15 minutes, and it was about half way in that I remembered. After the 15 minutes, I topped the savory kolaches with butter and put it back in to bake for another 3 minutes. It didn’t get that nice shine on top, so I’ll definitely remember it the next time.

These worked out much better than I anticipated. The bread was nice and soft, easy to bite through. The meat mixture had a lot of good flavor to it, and the melted cheese provided another layer of texture and flavor that enhanced my overall enjoyment of this meal. I’ll get better at putting it together next time, but as long as it tastes as good as this one did, I’ll be happy.

As far as the sweet ones go, I was also pleased. The peanut butter one was nice and gooey. The chocolate chip one was the right melting point – not all combined together, but the insides of the chips were melty as soon as you bit down on them. The bread didn’t have an overpowering flavor, so it was able to work well with the other components. Although the proportions look like there was too much bread, since this is a light and soft bread, it really worked well.

This helped me get my weekend off to a great start. I’m looking forward to doing some more cooking today, but I was definitely able to stay in a positive mindset with food that turned out much better than I was expecting.

Super Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Cookies

Today I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies. It has been too long since I last made them, and I’m glad I did. My recipe has some slight modifications from the traditional Nestle Toll House Cookie recipe, and it works for me.

I started by preheating the oven to 375. In a bowl, I mixed in 1 cup (2 sticks) of softened, unsalted butter, 3/4 cup of light brown sugar, 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Since I was not trying to rush things along today, I took my time and did the mixing by hand. There is quite a bit more effort that goes into it, but I needed the workout. Once the mixture was well combined, I mixed in 2 eggs (1 at a time), and 2 teaspoons of milk.

It was time for the dry ingredients. On top of this mixture, I added 2 1/4 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. I combined everything until the dry ingredients were completely incorporated. Next, I added 3/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips, 3/4 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips, and 3/4 cup of dark chocolate chips. I spooned them onto a cookie sheet that was lined with parchment paper.

I cooked two trays at a time for 5 minutes, then rotated them and cooked for another 5 minutes. If your oven cooks evenly, then you should aim for 9-11 minutes. Mine took about 13 minutes total. Once the first two sheets were out, I had enough dough for one more cookie sheet. After they are out of the oven for about 3 minutes, it’s a good time to run a spatula under them to make sure they are loosened up. Once the cookies are completely cooled, they can be put away. This batch made a little more than 3 dozen cookies, but it would have been more had I made them smaller.

These cookies were delicious. There was a chocolate overload, which I was happy about. The chips were still melty, and the cookies were nice and soft. This is one of my better batches, and I’m glad I decided to make these today. I’ll have some good desserts for the rest of the week. It was a great way to end the weekend and a great way to get started for the work week ahead.

Fresh Bakery – Owings Mills, MD – 04/25/20

Although I was up in Westminster in the morning, I decided to go in a different direction at lunch time. It had been awhile since I had been to Fresh Bakery, and they were still open, so I decided to make my way to Owings Mills. They still had plenty of good options available, and it was just a matter of narrowing my choices down and then making my selections.

I decided to go with the Appalachian Cookies and Cream cupcake. I didn’t realize that this was only available on Saturdays, so I’m glad I was there. The cupcake was light, and moist. Perfect cupcake flavor and consistency. The icing was really good and was also the perfect portion. The cupcake was easy to bite through, was not too messy, and did not leave a bunch of crumbs all over the place.

I also ordered their Death By Chocolate Mousse. I’ve had this before, and I’ll have it again. It’s delicious. There is a chocolate baked layer, a mousse layer, another chocolate baked layer, another chocolate mousse layer, and then the topping. When biting through all three of these components, it is a happy feeling. Wonderful flavor without being too sweet. Each component on their own are good, but combined, they are even better. This was definitely a great way to end my day on a positive note!

Molli’s Cafe – Westminster, MD – 04/25/20

While I was up in Westminster, I not only got my coffee drink from Birdie’s, but I wanted to get something to eat. I have walked by Molli’s Cafe several times, but never actually went inside. I had decided last week that I wanted to go here, and I was able to do it today.

I was thinking along the lines of something portable, so I decided to go with their Biggins’ Breakfast. Egg, sausage and cheese on my choice of bread, and I decided to go with whole wheat. This was sort of a double sandwich. The sausage was sandwiched between two eggs, as well as the bread. So it was a nice surprise for me. The whole wheat bread was a nice change of pace for me, and it worked well with this sandwich. This was a good first visit to Molli’s Cafe, and I look forward to going back there again. They have some Waffle Sandwiches on their breakfast menu, and I would definitely want to give those a try. This was another continuation to a great Saturday morning and it continued to keep me in a positive frame of mind.