Tag: Leftovers

Ingredients On Hand Challenge

Ingredients On Hand Challenge

I have a secret fantasy. In it, I’m appearing on The Rachael Ray Show to promote my book about living the Boozy Lifestyle and I’m asked to participate in a cooking challenge. The game is to create a meal out of five random ingredients. I know I’ll ace it since I perform this very activity at least a couple of times a week. My daydream may be less exciting than folks who imagine sipping champagne in a private jet en route to dine in Paris, or thrill-seeking adventures like climbing Mount Everest or sky diving but it’s my unheralded superpower, nonetheless.

This ingredients-on-hand challenge was initiated by cleaning out our pantry, stocked with those irresistible 10 for $10 sale items that have no immediate plan for consumption. Normally, I not very aware of the aging of canned and packaged goods in the cupboards since they’re meant to last for a few years. But when an elderly relative serves you dip from a jar with a “Best By” date sometime in the last century, it’s a wakeup call to check the dates.

To my pleasant surprise, there’s nothing in this pantry sweep that needs to be thrown away. I make a collection of items with expiration dates drawing near, including a package of Knorr Pasta Sides. Prepared packaged goods like Knorr side dishes or Kraft mac-n-cheese aren’t foods I prepare on a regular basis; but I keep these items on hand for occasions when we are inclement weather-bound, or overcome with laziness to the point of cooking incapacitation.

I choose the microwave directions and, for the last two minutes of cooking time, add a cup of par-boiled broccoli florets. It’s a tasty accompaniment to grilled chicken legs and thighs seasoned with Italian herbs and parmesan cheese.

Paired with Buena Vista Pinot Noir.

Next up in the Ingredients On Hand Challenge, we move on to cleaning out the refrigerator. Frequently there’s a smidgeon of ricotta cheese, a chunk of mozzarella, or a few ounces of cooked pasta left over after making lasagna, stuffed shells, eggplant parmigiana, or a homemade pizza. Here’s an easy way to put those leftovers on a plate instead of in the garbage pail.

Baked Spaghetti 


  • ¼ – ½ pound of cooked spaghetti (or whatever is leftover)
  • 3 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • ½ – ¾ cup of tomato sauce
  • ½ cup Ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of parsley
  • ½ teaspoon of dried basil
  • Pinch of salt and pepper


  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg and combine with ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, parsley, basil, salt and pepper.
  2. Add the spaghetti into the ricotta mixture and gently coat.
  3. In an oven-safe dish, pour a bit of tomato sauce on the bottom. Transfer the spaghetti to the dish.
  4. Layer the mozzarella over the top of the casserole. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the top and allow some to coat the sides of the dish to prevent the spaghetti from sticking and burning.
  5. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Baked Spaghetti2

Paired with McManis Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.




What To Do With Italian Leftovers

Baked Spaghetti2

After we made Eggplant Rollatini, I had about a half cup of ricotta cheese, a three to four ounce chunk of fresh mozzarella, and a half box of cooked spaghetti leftover. These paltry remains may only amount to a few dollars’ worth of food, but the Great Depression-era mindset passed on to me by my parents won’t allow me to throw away unspoiled food. With no immediate plan in mind, I put the leftovers in the freezer for future use.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the ricotta, mozzarella and spaghetti are discovered. Along with some tomato sauce and frozen cocktail meatballs, we can make a meal for two out of it. Now for some recipe ideas.

If I wanted to keep things really simple, placing the spaghetti and ricotta in a casserole dish and topping with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese would get the job done. Instead, I’ll take a page from a lasagna recipe and enhance the dish with a Béchamel and ricotta sauce.

Baked Spaghetti

Béchamel (half the typical amount)

  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Parmigiana cheese
  • 1 Teaspoon minced garlic
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Pinch of pepper (white if you have it)

You know the drill, but just in case you’re new to making sauces:

Use your smallest sauce pot for this half recipe. Melt the butter, add the flour, whisk it together so that there are no flour clumps, and be really careful not to burn it. Add the milk slowly and let it simmer and thicken for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, simmer for another minute, and remove the pot from the heat.

Ricotta Mixture

  • ½ Cup Ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Teaspoon of parsley
  • A few leaves of fresh basil, or a half teaspoon of dried
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together.

Casserole Assembly

  • 3 ounces of Mozzarella cheese
  • 6 frozen cocktail-size meatballs, cooked and cut in half
  • ½ Cup Tomato Sauce

This pasta dish will taste just fine without the meatballs, but you may have someone in the family who asks, “Where’s the meat?” In that case, it’s handy to keep a bag of frozen cocktail meatballs to add meat to a pasta dish on the fly.

Cook the frozen meatballs according to the instructions on the bag and cut them in half.

Mix the béchamel sauce and ricotta mixture together. Combine with the spaghetti, then lay it out evenly in a small baking dish.

Lay the meatball halves across the top. Slice the mozzarella cheese and lay it over the meatballs. Cover with tomato sauce.

Cover with foil and cook in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

What To Do With Leftover Chinese Rice

Gleefully we open the bag of Chinese takeout that just arrived; pork dumplings, spring rolls, shrimp with baby bok choy, pepper steak with onion, and pork fried rice. And then there’s that free carton of plain white or brown rice. It’s the poor red-headed stepchild that no one wants. Into the refrigerator it goes for another day.

A few days later, I re-discover the carton of rice in the refrigerator alongside a leftover hunk of kielbasa. I’m low on fresh produce but I saved the celery tops from the last bunch and have my usual onions and garlic. A recipe begins to take shape.

Kielbasa Dirty Rice

Leftover Chinese Rice with Kielbasa and Celery Tops

  • 1 pint cooked rice
  • Half pound of cooked kielbasa, cut into small pieces
  • Celery tops from one or two bunches, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Asian sesame sauce (you can substitute or mix with soy sauce)

Cook the garlic and onion in the olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the celery tops and kielbasa and continue cooking for a few more minutes. Remove the kielbasa and veggies from the pan and set aside. Put the rice and sesame sauce in the pan and heat on low for a few minutes.

Here’s a way to get the firm bits of scrambled egg without dirtying another pan. Push the rice to the outsides of the pan and pour the beaten egg in the middle. Let the egg set to the desired consistency, then break it up and stir it into the rice.

Add the kielbasa and vegetables back into the rice and let the flavors marry for a few minutes before serving.