Quick Cookery

What's for Dinner?
Some nights, all I want to do is cozy up with a bottle of red wine and a bowl of popcorn drizzled with truffle oil. Other nights, I want the whole shebang -- something roasted with a pretty green salad and a couple of tasty side dishes. Maybe even dessert, if I'm feeling ambitious. And the rest of the nights? I scrounge around the kitchen looking for something, anything that will resemble a quality meal, but can be put together in about 30 minutes or less.

While some folks will just give me a funny look and say--"Silly Gourmess, just heat up your dinner from the night before and be done with it!"--those folks obviously don't know me. And to them I say, "We should probably hang out more."

Those of you who do know me, know I abhor leftovers. Nothing is sadder to me than re-heating what was once a beautiful supper. All that effort and preparation and you're going to zap it into a soggy, colorless mush in the microwave? (Sigh.) So, no leftovers for me, unless they can be totally revamped.

Like the "risotto cakes" I made by packing some extra wheat berry risotto into patties and dredging in breadcrumbs mixed with fresh herbs. Just brown the patties in a bit of olive oil until crisped on all sides. Then, whisk together some fresh herbs, goat cheese and sour cream, and top the cakes. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt (I am loving smoked sea salt lately), and that's it. Serve with a salad, or your favorite wilted greens. Note: I don't have a recipe for the risotto because it was one of those dishes I just threw together without writing down, but it was made with chicken broth, porcini mushrooms, pecans, raisins, garlic and herbs. If you need a great risotto recipe, try this one.

Risotto not your thing? How about transforming tuna salad into a pretty tuna melt? I topped whole wheat mini pitas with a scoop of basic tuna salad (mayo, Dijon mustard, chopped cornichons, celery seed, fresh parsley, salt/pepper), then topped with some melty cheese. Place under the broiler for a minute or two until gooey, then top with some chopped scallion. Eat with a knife and fork, and turn a lunch staple into a satisfying dinner. Note, if you don't have pitas, which I love because they don't fall apart, you can also use croissants or pretty rolls sliced in half, or slices of thick-cut bread. But, toast them ahead of time so they don't get soggy. Or put some leftover garlic bread to good use.

Want vegetables? Sauté some minced garlic with a bit of olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat, until fragrant. Add in some chopped carrots and diced onion (if you can sneak it in past your onion-hating husband). Cook until the carrots are tender-crisp, then stir in diced eggplant, zucchini, colorful bell peppers, a can of diced tomatoes with their juice, and a small can of plain tomato sauce. You can add in some spices now, too -- cumin, paprika and garlic powder are nice, or use your favorite spice blend. I used some of the ras el hanout that we brought back from Morocco. It's a blend of more than a dozen different spices...yum! Once you mix in your seasonings, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes until the vegetables have cooked down. Then, add in a can of drained chick peas and a handful of chopped, fresh parsley. Uncover, and simmer on medium-low for about 15 minutes more, or until you have a lovely vegetable ragout. (If you have time to spare, keep it simmering for at least another 30 minutes, stirring often.) Season to taste with salt/pepper and serve with crusty bread, over rice or pasta, spread on flatbread, or as a side dish. Or, just eat by the bowlful, like I do. Note: Take the flavor up a notch and stir in a drop or two of liquid smoke or a couple pinches of smoked sea salt. Ah-mazing.

Need to empty out the fridge? Use up that batch of pie/pastry dough and make a tart. Grease a baking sheet or pie pan, roll out the dough, top with whatever you have, fold the dough up over the toppings until you have a wreath-like pattern, and then bake until the dough is browned and the filling is melted/heated through. Note: I used butternut squash, kale, fresh ricotta and minced garlic, but anything works. Try ham, cheese and sliced apple. Or sliced/shredded grilled chicken, artichokes, roasted red peppers, and goat cheese. Or mozzarella, tomatoes, olives, and a bit of basil or spinach.

See? You can make new, quick and delicious meals from foods you already have -- whether they are already prepared or just waiting patiently in the fridge/pantry to be transformed. That sounds a lot better than "heating up leftovers" if you ask me. (Wink.)