Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for November, 1999
While it sure is frugal to use up leftovers and anything that's about to spoil, it may not feel like too much fun--unless you do what I do.
I see it as a challenge: to use up these odd bits of food in the most creative and interesting ways, serve my family a feast, but do it with just what's lying around, and without spending enormous amounts of time on it, either.
Yesterday was such a day. I had done in, a few days earlier, a giant Hubbard squash, about two feet long. I'd made four quarts of squash puree, half of which went into four pies and the other half into the freezer (along with a jar of the cooking liquid) for the winter doldrums. And of course I toasted the seeds, always a good treat.
But only half the squash fit into my two 8-quart soup pots, so the other half went into the oven. I'd used a big chunk of the remainder on a splendid cous cous stew, but that still left about two pounds to be used before it went bad--plus half a delicata squash I'd baked at the same time.
Also on hand: about a pint and a half of milk that would spoil within a day or two and was already getting a bit of an off taste, a couple of red peppers (one sweet, one hot) that were starting to get soft, some whole-grain bread that was less than popular, some leftover mesclun salad and some not-yet-washed lettuce. And about half a cup of extra-virgin olive oil that my daughter had poured out for a cooking project, not realizing that we use the lower grade olive oil to cook with.
So I got creative. Then my inspiration came: a fajita-like squash hot dish. The lettuce was too far gone and went into the compost, but I used up all the other stuff in a meal that both my wife and daughter pronounced "delicious."
I made a marinade with the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, seeds from the hot pepper, and some cumin, let it sit a while. Then I took the two kinds of squash, peeled off the skin and put them, in chunks, in the bottom of a flat baking pan. I sprinkled on some of the marinade and let it sit some more. Then I topped it with sliced mushrooms, minced fresh hot pepper, and sweet red pepper slices, added more marinade, and let it sit until just before dinner.
Getting out the double-boiler, I heated the milk and grated in some cheddar cheese. While it was heating, I toasted two slices of the bread. Cutting the bread into chunks, I threw it into the cheese mixture and continued to cook it, eventually adding a little sage, white wine, and black pepper. I didn't know exactly how this would come out. It had an ugly color but a great flavor, and I decided to call it stuffing.
Since these were both pretty experimental, I threw up a pot of fail-safe pasta, served it with garlic and the rest of the olive oil, and the assurance that we'd all have *something* to eat--even my 6-year-old son, whom I knew wouldn't touch the other stuff.
Finally, I stuck the squash under the broiler and the stuffing in the oven for about six or eight minutes, and meanwhile spread the mesclun and a few of the sweet red pepper slices festively around everyone's plate. Since the meal was so festive it felt like Thanksgiving, I even brought out some cranberry jam.
Preparing this four-course meal (squash, pasta, stuffing, salad) took just about an hour, total. It was great fun and made the evening feel really special. Meanwhile, my wife and kids had been out shopping, and the dinner was even better because it surprised them.
I admit--not everyone likes to cook. But it's one of my favorite creative outlets, and few things are more pleasing to me to serve an elegant multi-course dinner with family members saying "how wonderful"--instead of the dreaded "leftovers again!"
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