This is what I shouted as I was assembling this patchwork pizza, which had all the classic Italian flavors of eggplant parmesan, lasagna and spicy pepperonata. Yep, all that on a crust. But make no mistake, I did not plan it this way.
The end-of-weekend fridge clearing ritual at our house took an interesting turn last night when my husband, Les, who will never, ever turn his nose up to anything pizza or anything eggplant, suggested that we take the remnants of a sausage and eggplant noodle casserole (which was already a leftover creation), and chop it all up to top some fresh N.Y. pizza dough. After all, he reasoned, the flavors were right for pizza and we knew from experience that cooked macaroni on a thin crust pie was next level comfort food—we had tried it last summer with some leftover mac and cheese and it was awesome—plus, we had just enough scraps of pepperoni and shredded mozzarella to hold it all together. Why not?
I wish I had taken just one photo of the “original” leftover creation, which was sort of a poor man’s lasagna, made of layered cooked elbow macaroni, two leftover grilled spicy Italian sausage links, the sautéed peppers and onions that had topped the sausages on sandwiches earlier in the week, a can of diced tomatoes, ricotta mixed with Italian herbs and our favorite parm-romano blend, plus an eggplant that I had sliced, sweated and quick-roasted, and every last random slice of provolone and thin-sliced mozzarella that had been taking up space in the deli drawer. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother cataloguing the details of the casserole at the time because I hadn’t planned to share it here on Comfort du Jour, and I also hadn’t really planned on sharing this pizza. I have no specific measurements of ingredients or step-by-step photos to share. Sometimes I need to just focus on feeding us, you know? But the end result—this I must share, because it underscores the fact that one should never underestimate the power of leftovers. It’s one of the essential kitchen rules I learned from my grandmother.
Not every idea in the kitchen has to be new and interesting, nor should everything be same old, same old. But sometimes, if you play it just right, the two collide and become something unexpectedly delicious, as we learned with this pizza. We had three slices leftover, naturally, and they will warm up nicely for lunch as leftovers of the leftover leftovers.
What crazy good thing have you made with leftovers recently? Drop it in the comments section so we can all be inspired!
One of the first things we make at our house with Thanksgiving leftovers is “something spicy.” After all the richness and decadence of the classic holiday meal, my taste buds start clamoring for Mexican food or Asian or spicy Italian—really, anything but gravy and potatoes, if you don’t mind. This year’s turkey went on the smoker with a spice and maple sugar rub, so I wasn’t sure how the flavors would work in some of our other usual “planned-over” recipes, but they were perfect for a spicy gumbo. We had heat, smoke, chunky vegetables and an all-day simmer, and that’s covering all the bases for my post-holiday cravings.
Is my gumbo authentic? Who knows, and I’m not even sure who is qualified to judge it. There are as many “authentic” gumbo recipes as there are grandmothers in Louisiana, and you’d likely find they run the gamut from thin soup to chunky stew. Some will be as brown as molasses and others will have tomatoes. Some will be spicy as all get-out, and others will be filled with sweet juicy crab. Okra is standard in most gumbo recipes, but some cooks favor filé, a powdered form of sassafras root that serves as a thickening agent. My gumbo has a roux base and okra, and it’s dang spicy because I make the roux with a blend of canola oil and cayenne-infused olive oil, the latter of which is really hot.
What I’m getting at is simple: my rules are mine, and this gumbo makes everyone at my house happy. It’s delicious as soon as it’s ready and even better after a day or two in the fridge. It uses simple ingredients and it’ll help you clear out some of the space-hogging leftovers (including that huge turkey carcass). And the most “exotic” thing in it is a half bag of frozen okra. You can handle that, right?
If you’re staring down the remains of a Thanksgiving turkey and feeling inspired for a new leftover tradition, give it a go. 🙂
Rule #1 – Do not rush the roux
I’m sorry, dear ones, but I cannot imagine this part is possible in an insta-pot. The roux (equal parts oil and flour) is the backbone of my gumbo, providing flavor and also an assist on thickening. Without roux, this would just be turkey and okra soup. The roux cooks low and slow on the stovetop for about an hour, and I use that time to prep all my other ingredients. If this seems high-maintenance to you, there are instructions online for roasting a roux in the oven (though I’ve never tried it), but this is a breeze on the stovetop. Get it started, then let it be except for an occasional stir. If you get impatient and rush the roux, you will end up with something that tastes either uncooked or burned.
Rule #2 – It must include the trinity
You have probably learned, from TV chefs Justin Wilson or Emeril Lagasse, that onion, celery and bell pepper make up the “holy trinity” of flavors used in Cajun recipes. The combination is essential, whether your menu includes gumbo, étouffée or jambalaya. Thank God there’s a use for the rest of the celery that didn’t go into the dressing. I use sweet onions, but yellow or Spanish onions are fine. I’ve long considered the color of bell pepper to be discretionary, and for this batch of gumbo, I went with a combination of red and green bells because it’s what we had on hand.
Rule #3 – Use a rich stock, preferably homemade
Gumbo recipes require a fair amount of broth or stock, and making homemade stock is the easiest way in the world to eke out every last bit of flavor from your Thanksgiving turkey. After you’ve picked all the useful meat off the frame, drop it into a heavy stockpot with any scraps of turkey skin, a cut-up onion, handful of garlic cloves, a few celery stalks, some peppercorns and a bay leaf or two. Add enough water to nearly cover it and cook it—and I mean really cook it—until you can pull the bones out clean. This will take hours, and nobody would blame you if you decided to do this in your slow cooker overnight. There’s a world of flavor hiding inside those bones, and a slow-simmering stock is far and away more nutritious than anything you could pour out of a can or carton. Plus, this fulfills one of my grandma’s golden rules: waste nothing. If you aren’t making gumbo, I hope you’ll make a stock from your turkey frame anyway, even if you just put it in containers to freeze for later.
Rule #4 – Use two kinds of meat
The options are wide open for gumbo—chicken, turkey, shrimp, crab, sausage, crawdads or whatever. But for the most interesting texture and flavor, I always use a combination of at least two meats. Turkey is obviously the main meat this time, and I’ve used the dark meat for its texture and flavor, plus a spicy leftover smoked sausage link. I got my hubby a humongous new smoker for his birthday this year, and he couldn’t see the sense in having empty rack space, so in addition to the spice-rubbed turkey, he smoked a large salmon fillet and about six flavored sausages. If you choose any of the seafood options for your gumbo, I recommend adding them at the very end to avoid overcooking them.
OK, and listen, if you want more mumbo jumbo on the gumbo, you can check out this link for more information than you could have ever hoped for.
Otherwise, grab an apron and let’s start cooking! My recipe makes approximately six hearty servings.
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil* (see notes)
4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup each chopped onion, celery and bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
Salt and pepper, of course
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, cayenne or smoked paprika* (see notes)
1 leftover smoked sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 quart homemade turkey or chicken stock (instructions below)*
2 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 1/2 cups frozen sliced okra
Cooked brown rice for serving
You can use vegetable, peanut or canola oil for the roux. Alternatively, if you like it spicy, use some amount of cayenne-infused olive oil, available at one of the specialty oil and vinegar shops that have popped up everywhere. I go half and half, canola and cayenne olive oil, and this combination delivers enough heat that I will typically forego the optional red pepper flakes. Note that the cayenne oil has a deep orange color, so you’ll want to consider that in determining when the roux is ready. For clear oil, a caramel color roux is dark enough. When using cayenne-infused oil, let it develop until it reaches a deep amber shade.
Your heat preference will dictate how much (or which kind) of optional hot pepper you should add to your gumbo. Remember that you can always shake some Frank’s RedHot sauce onto the gumbo at serving time. This is a terrific option when different members of the household have a different threshold for heat.
If you don’t have a leftover turkey carcass, or the time or patience to make homemade stock, substitute equal amount of chicken bone broth. You’ll find cartons of this in the soup aisle of a well-stocked supermarket.
The visual walk-through will probably do it for you, but if you’d like written instructions, keep scrolling. I’ve listed them below, along with a downloadable version for your recipe files. First, build the roux, and remember to take your time.
Homemade turkey stock (make a day ahead)
1 turkey frame, picked clean of useful meat
1 medium onion, rough-chopped (use the ends, too)
4 ribs celery, cleaned and cut up into chunks (leafy ends are OK, too)
4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1 tsp. black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Enough water to mostly cover the turkey frame
Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer several hours, until the bones are stripped clean and the stock is a rich, golden color. Remove and discard solids and strain stock into a large glass bowl or pitcher. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight. When the stock is fully chilled, it will be easy to scrape off excess grease, which will be congealed at the top. You’ll want to keep a small amount of the grease, though, for added flavor in your gumbo.
Instructions for gumbo
Place a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Add oil. Add flour and whisk until bubbly, then reduce heat to the lowest setting. Allow roux to develop for about an hour, whisking or stirring occasionally. When the color resembles caramel (or dark amber, if using a cayenne oil), proceed to the next step.
Increase heat to medium and add the trinity. Stir to combine, season with salt, pepper and optional hot pepper, then add the garlic, cooking and stirring for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and mixture feels “loosened up” a bit.
Add cut-up turkey and sausage and stir to coat them in the roux. Add the turkey stock, a little at a time, stirring in between. Add vegetable broth, dried thyme leaves and bay leaf. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about two hours.
Add frozen okra and stir to blend it into the stew. Increase heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, until okra is no longer bright green, and tender to your liking.
Serve gumbo over hot cooked brown rice. Spike it with Frank’s RedHot sauce if you’d like.
OK, who else got stuck with a bunch of candy after disappointing trick-or-treater turnout? The whole neighborhood was abuzz last week about whether (or how) to participate in Halloween this year—do we go ahead and buy candy? Will there be any kids? Is it even safe to do it this year? Without a pandemic playbook, we were all just guessing, but the consensus was “let’s give it a go.”
So Les and I scrubbed our hands, dumped our bags of candy into a wide bowl with our long-handled BBQ tongs, placed our face masks on standby and flicked on the porch light to signal our intentions. Mr. Bones did his best to draw them in with his spooky presence and vacant gaze. But when the clock showed 9:30, we gave up, having given out exactly seven pieces of candy—all to one adorable little witch princess.
It’s not that much of a surprise, and in some ways I’m relieved because it proves that our community has done a good job of recognizing the safety issues of COVID. Despite our preparation and “no contact” method of distributing the candy, we ended up with nearly as much as we started. In previous years, Les has taken our leftover candy to share with his co-workers, but that standard fallback doesn’t work this year, either.
I guess I had it coming, this big pile of leftover Snickers—just last week, I was re-living the childhood trauma of my father’s annual raids on my Halloween candy, under the guise of a “safety check.” Is this the universe’s clever way of paying me back after all these years?
Though it is true that Snickers has always been my favorite candy bar, there’s a limit to how many of them I can eat before I get bored. I fired up the idea machine in my brain, and these easy-to-make brownies were born. They are the best of both worlds. Rich, dark, soft chocolate-y brownies and sweet, salty, peanut-y candies. What could possibly go wrong?
Ghirardelli dark chocolate brownie mix (or your favorite, plus ingredients listed on the box instructions)
10 fun-sized Snickers candy bars (not the “minis”)
Coarse sea salt
Preheat oven as instructed on brownie mix. Prepare baking pan as directed.
Cut up candy bars into small bite-sized pieces.
Make brownie mix as directed by box instructions.
Fold in candy bar pieces, then spread batter into the prepared baking pan.
Give the batter a light sprinkle of the coarse sea salt.
Bake as directed on brownie mix and cool completely before cutting.
It strikes me funny that a dessert as simple and humble as bread pudding shows up so frequently on upscale restaurant menus. Rarely do you find it an option in a sandwich shop or a casual dining joint. But go to a “nicer” place, and there it is—usually spiked with some kind of liqueur and almost always drenched in a rich creamy sauce. They can make it as fancy as they like, but as far as I’m concerned, my grandmother set the bar on bread pudding. Hers was never quite the same twice, but it was always delicious.
Of all the cooking lessons Gram gave me in her small upstate New York kitchen, one of the most important—that she lived out every day—was to “waste nothing.” As a survivor of the Great Depression, she saved things that most people threw away, including scrap pieces of aluminum foil, fabric remnants, even used twist ties. But the best things she saved went into a bread bag in her freezer, until she had collected four cups worth, enough to make a batch of her famous bread pudding. End pieces of stale bread, that last uneaten sweet roll and even the occasional hamburger bun were revitalized into a delicious, custardy dessert that was cinnamon-y and sweet and tasted like a day at Gram’s house.
I was taken aback recently to realize that I only have four handwritten recipe cards left to me by my cooking mentor, but I’m thrilled that one of them is titled “Basic Bread Pudding.” When I got the news last summer that she had passed away, just as I was awaiting delivery of my new gas range, I pulled out every bread scrap we had in the freezer, and this pudding is the first thing I baked in it.
Like everything else she made, Gram’s recipe for bread pudding is flexible; it’s meant to make use of whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. The formula is simple, and you can dress it up (or not) however you like. If you like it more custardy, she had a suggestion for that on the back of the card (I’ve included it below, as a direct quote from Gram).
In honor of what would have been Gram’s 99th birthday this week, I’m proud to share her recipe with you. She would have been tickled pink, and also a little surprised, because to her, bread pudding was a given.
There’s a reason that bread pudding today is showing up on upscale restaurant menus. It’s rich, dense, custardy, and so, so comforting. You can flex the flavors to match the season, serve it warm with a creamy sauce or chilled, straight from the fridge. Frankly, I’m in favor of having it for breakfast. Bottom line, it’s a fantastic dessert that you can make yourself, and (by way of my pictures and descriptions) my grandma is going to show you how easy it is.
For this batch, I’ve followed Gram’s lead in pulling some scraps from the freezer. I made sourdough challah a couple months back, and I also found some leftover cinnamon rolls, just minding their own business in the freezer. I swapped out the raisins for chopped dates and dried apples, and some of the cinnamon for cardamom. Oh, and I also boozed them up a little bit by soaking the dates in some Grand Marnier (of course, I did).
Ingredients for “Basic Bread Pudding”
2 cups milk
4 cups coarse bread cubes
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup raisins (or other fruit)
1 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg
Pour into 1 1/2 quart casserole. Set in pan of hot water. Bake at 350° F for about one hour or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
For more “custardy” pudding, use 4 cups milk and reduce bread cubes to 2 cups.
Gram (on the back of the recipe card)
Follow along, to see how easy it is to create this luscious dessert! You’ll find a downloadable recipe to print at the end of the post. Enjoy!
I suppose you want to know about the rich caramel sauce that’s drizzled all over the pudding? It’s salted caramel sauce, which I might have made from scratch (but didn’t). This time, I took an easy shortcut by warming salted caramel ice cream topping in the microwave with a few tablespoons of heavy cream. It thinned out nicely and provided the perfect finishing touch. Gram would’ve loved that idea, I’m sure of it. Just wait ‘til Christmas, when I share her recipe for molasses cookies!
One of these days, I may write a cookbook including only wild and wacky ideas for incorporating leftovers into new recipes. No matter what you had the first time, there’s always a creative way to re-purpose what’s left over into something delicious. Vegetables find their way into omelets or onto pizzas, a lone chicken breast can be diced and turned into a salad spread, and even stale bread can be reinvigorated into a delicious dessert (soon, I’ll share the recipe for my Gram’s unmatchable bread pudding).
Recently, I rallied together some black beans left over from Taco Tuesday, more (but different) beans left over from a take-out fried chicken meal, several bits and pieces of leftover peppers and onions, and the remnants of corn from the sweet corn ice cream that I highlighted during National Ice Cream Month (I promised I’d do something fun with them, and here it is)—and turning the whole thing into dinner, covering Meatless Monday and National Waffle Day, all in one swoop. Did you follow all that? This is how my brain works, friends, so when I share with you that I sometimes wake up thinking about recipes, I do hope you realize I’m not joking.
The truth is, I already had these waffles in mind for using the leftover corn from the ice cream. These sourdough-based crispy gems are adapted from one of my favorite recipes from King Arthur Baking’s website. I’ve never made the recipe as written (theirs is for pancakes), but I have enjoyed various versions of it as waffles. If you don’t have sourdough going (this recipe requires it), use any other recipe for waffles with corn mix-in—maybe this one, but omit vanilla, cinnamon or anything else that would make them sweet or “breakfast-y.” The corn itself is sweet enough. Or just use cornmeal waffles or cornmeal pancakes—you know, be the boss of your own kitchen.
The southwest-inspired topping was a no-brainer for me, with the beans and bell peppers I had left over, and it will be a great dance partner to the corn and scallion flavors in the waffles. You may note that the King Arthur recipe calls for a “bean salad” topping, which is similar but more of a cool, relish-y accompaniment. I wanted something warm and hearty enough to be served as dinner.
I cook by instinct, rarely by recipe, and for no particular reason while dreaming up ideas for this meal, I had a question pop up in my mind about how to add another element to the finished dish so it didn’t seem dry, as waffles without a sauce sometimes do. We use sour cream as a topper on a lot of southwest-themed dishes, but I hate that it makes the entire dish cold before you take a single bite. Anything liquid would make the waffles soggy, completely defeating the purpose of the whole meal. And then, suddenly, every light in the world came on at once in my imagination. Perhaps one of the biggest “aha moments” my brain has ever experienced in the kitchen.
Whipped cream. But not sweet. Add a savory spice. But not salt. Boom!
The result was super light and airy, with a rich but subtle flavor that melted into a silky river all the way through the bean topping. It was absolutely delicious, and I cannot believe I’ve never had something like it in a restaurant. I seasoned it with chipotle, but paprika or cumin would’ve been just as tasty.
And oh man, just like that, I’m off and running with a million other things this savory whipped cream should accompany. Makes me ache for autumn, when I can spend a whole afternoon simmering black bean soup.
But it’s almost dinner time, so I’ll have to back-burner that idea for a few months. Let’s get cooking!
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour (remember to fluff, sprinkle, level when you measure)
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp. canola oil (if making pancakes, only use 1 1/2 tsp.)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup cooked corn kernels
3 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)
Combine the starter, flour and milk in a large bowl, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Cover and allow it to rest on the counter at least 30 minutes in a warm place, such as the microwave.
Add the oil, baking soda, salt and egg, and stir until combined. Fold in the corn and scallions, plus about half of the chopped jalapeno listed in the topping ingredients. Note that if you are making waffles with the mixture, you should use the greater amount of oil noted above. The oil in the batter helps prevent sticking and also ensures a lovely crispy exterior to the waffles.
Bake according to your waffle maker’s recommendations, and keep the waffles warm while you finish the topping.
I’ve made these waffles in both a Belgian waffle maker and a standard maker. Les and I decided we like the standard waffles best. If you don’t have a waffle maker, use the lesser amount of oil and make the recipe as pancakes, as suggested on the King Arthur website.
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 small jalapeno, diced and divided* (see notes)
1 1/2 cups leftover cooked beans* (I used leftover black beans plus Bojangles’ takeout beans)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Juice of 1/2 lime
Handful fresh cilantro for garnish
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp. ground chipotle powder
Maybe you don’t have this exact amount of leftover beans staring at you from the fridge? I get it. This is what I used because it was what I had. If you’re starting from scratch, any kind of canned beans would be suitable here, and you’ll need about a can and a half. Pinto beans would be closest to my leftover recipe, and I’d suggest do not drain or rinse them. The can liquid would be very similar to the leftover takeout beans I used.
We love spicy things in our house, but obviously you can simply omit the jalapeno if it isn’t your thing. I divided the total amount listed, using half in the waffles and the rest in the topping.
I recommend getting your waffles in order first, because the topping comes together quickly while they are baking in the iron. No waffle iron? Go get one. Just kidding—use the King Arthur recipe I suggested, which is technically designed for pancakes that would be every bit as wonderful in this kind of recipe. And then tomorrow, go get a waffle iron—I’ll give you plenty of reasons to love having one. 😊
Instructions for the topping
Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté the onions and peppers until softened and slightly translucent.
Add the cooked beans and give the whole thing a quick stir to combine. If it seems dry, add some broth or tomato sauce to compensate.
Slice and season the cherry tomatoes and toss them on top. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat to give the flavors time to mix.
Use a hand mixer or whisk to whip the cream until it is soft and pillowy. You never want to push whipped cream too far (they call that butter), because once it gets to the “chunky” appearance, you cannot rein it back in. Sprinkle in chipotle, paprika or cumin and whisk gently to distribute it.
When your waffles or pancakes are ready, spoon the bean mixture over the top and sprinkle with cilantro leaves. Dollop the whipped cream on top and dinner is served.
There are “leftovers,” and then there are “planned-overs.” The latter is a concept frequently referenced by my aunt, who is all in favor of planning to have extra portions of a recipe, specifically to be used in something else later on.
This is a planned-over that I’ve tried (and missed) before, but this time, it was a big-time winner. Friends, it’s comfort times two—mac and cheese, waffled!
These are easy to make, but obviously, you need to have a waffle maker to make this happen. My first (failed) effort was on a Belgian-style waffle maker—not a great idea, and I’m certain the thick, deeply indented shape contributed to the not-so-fab outcome. For the best texture and even, perfectly crispy edges, go with a standard square-style waffle maker. Mine has a non-stick coating, so pulling the finished waffles off the iron was cheesy-breezy.
To plan ahead for these planned-overs, skip back to my basic mac and cheese recipe, and follow the instructions, but stop after the stove-top stage—no casserole into the oven, or else your mac and cheese waffles will be dry and tough. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cheese sauce, for decadent drizzling on the finished waffles. Go ahead and bake some of the mac and cheese if you’d like, but hold back enough to make waffles in whatever quantity you wish.
Here, I spread the unbaked portion of mac and cheese evenly into a 9 x 13 glass casserole dish, about 1 inch deep. Cover and chill until you’re ready to dive into this decadence.
Ready to get cooking?
Here’s a quick recap for making my bechamel-based cheese sauce. Use the link to the original recipe for ingredient amounts and detailed descriptions.
Prepared basic mac and cheese, reserve 1/2 cup of the cheese sauce for serving.
1 large egg, beaten with a tablespoon of water
3/4 cup unseasoned panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or parm-romano blend*
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Reserved cheese sauce
1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half
At our house, we always have a 50/50 blend of deli-quality parmesan and romano cheeses. We purchase the cheese in blocks and shred it with the food processor. It beats the daylights out of store-bought parmesan cheese, and we save a good bit of money in the long run.
The visual description will probably cover it for you, but written instructions are included below, just in case.
Cut chilled mac and cheese into squares or rectangles, to match the size of your waffle maker sections.
Place the beaten egg into a shallow glass dish. Dip each piece of mac and cheese into the egg wash, using a spoon as necessary to fully drench the mac and cheese with the egg mixture.
Combine panko crumbs, parmesan, salt and pepper in a second shallow glass dish. Dredge the egg washed mac and cheese in the crumb mixture, pressing crumbs into the nooks and crannies to ensure even coating. Transfer coated mac and cheese to a parchment-lined cookie sheet and allow them to rest about 15 minutes.
Preheat the waffle iron to 400° F.
Press additional crumb mixture onto any bare spots on the mac and cheese. Arrange the pieces into the waffle iron, and press to close. Allow them to bake about 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown and lightly crispy on the outside. They should also release easily from the iron.
While the mac and cheese waffles are baking, warm the leftover cheese sauce, whisking in up to 1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half until the sauce is thinner and pourable.
Serve the decadent crispy waffles with a generous drizzle of the cheese sauce.
We served these as a hearty side to some juicy, quick-brined pork chops and leftover collard greens. But wouldn’t they also look great alongside some southern fried chicken or meatloaf or burgers or—OK, with just about anything? 😊
Until I launched this blog, the only pizzas we ever had at home were traditional, “classic” Italian pies. You know—tomato base, sausage, mushroom, mozzarella. Sometimes eggplant or spinach. I had tempted my pizza-loving man with stories of more “creative” pies I’d made in the past, but we always ended up making the usual, and it was all well and good.
But now that I’ve broken him (haha!), it seems we can’t turn away from the unconventional ideas I’ve been posting here. It started with the Buffalo chicken pizza, and we’ve worked through a couple of vegetarian pies and the couple of jerks (as in “Jamaican”). We still enjoy a classic pepperoni and mushroom pie, don’t get me wrong. But we are also knocking down the walls with all kinds of flavors, and having a lot of fun in the process of it all! (I should say at this point that my fact-checking husband, who edits this blog, reminds me that we have had white-clam pizzas as our New Year’s Eve celebration each of the last two years. But I would say those count as traditional, since they are part of the lore of Connecticut’s nationally famous New Haven pizza places, like Frank Pepe’s and Sally’s and Modern Apizza.)
And they are awesome, truth be told.
But I digress. Today, I offer another example of how I like to use up leftovers, and this adventure began on the heels of a recent backyard BBQ meal, when we enjoyed gourmet sausage (among other things) on the smoker. One of our local markets has an exclusive “sausage” department, featuring 40+ house-made specialties, and all pretty fabulous.
One lone straggler called “The Grill Master” was staring me down from the leftover shelf, along with a little bit of leftover sweet and spicy BBQ sauce that Les had whipped up for the spare ribs he smoked (he is the sauce king). There is always a plethora of cheese odds and ends in the deli drawer, and because I keep homemade pizza dough in regular rotation in this household, why not throw it all together into a smoky BBQ sausage pie? Why not, indeed.
1 ball of my New York pizza dough
1/4 cup sweet-spicy BBQ sauce
1 link smoked sausage* (about 4 oz.), cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Handful of cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 cup combined white cheddar and mozzarella*, grated
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper (smoked, if you can find it)
Smoked sausage has a very firm texture, perfect here because I could crisp up the cut edges in a skillet for even more texture and interest for our pizza. Kielbasa is a common example of a smoked sausage.
For this pizza, I used the bits of cheese we already had. If I were shopping from scratch, I would have gone straight for the cheddar on its own, or perhaps even a smoked cheddar or gouda.
Preheat the oven to 550° F, with pizza steel or stone in place about 8” from the top heating element.
In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat and saute the smoked sausage until edges are crispy and some of the fat renders. Transfer sausage to a small bowl. Add onions and peppers to the same pan and saute until soft and lightly caramelized. Add mushrooms and cook until soft and some of the moisture evaporates. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Shape pizza dough into a 14” circle and transfer it to a greased pizza pan or floured and cornmeal-dusted pizza peel.
Brush dough with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Then, spread the sauce in a thin layer, leaving 1/2” bare edges.
Scatter half of the cheese over the sauce, then distribute the peppers, onions, mushrooms and sausage. Top with remaining cheese and slide the pizza into a preheated oven for about 7 minutes, or until crust is puffy and golden and cheese is bubbly all over.
I’m on a crusade to empty out all the random dishes of this-and-that in the refrigerator, and that usually leads to a short list of outcomes. We might end up having a “potpourri” night, where nothing really goes together but at least it’s sustenance. Or we might decide we’ve enjoyed the original dishes on their own for long enough, and we quietly turn the dishes out into the trash can, which is wasteful and leaves me feeling unresourceful. And every once in a blue moon, the random leftovers have a common thread and speak to me in a way that leads to a crazy good meal that hardly feels like leftovers at all.
Option No. 3 is on our plate this time, with leftover southern collard greens, a single leftover smoked sausage (infused with Texas Pete flavor), some crumbs of ghost pepper potato chips and too many half-used chunks of cheese in the deli drawer.
Kicked-up mac and cheese, baby. The sausage is cooked in smoke, so it has a nice firm texture, easy to cube and fry in a skillet until crispy. I’m inspired to add the collard greens because of a trip Les and I made to NYC in late 2018, and we took the subway up to Harlem for dinner at The Red Rooster, owned by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. He has a popular dish on his menu called “mac and greens,” featuring (you guessed it) cooked collards.
We were lucky to get a table at Red Rooster during the holiday season. All of New York was bustling, and the restaurant was lively and loud and fabulous. I ordered Poppa Eddie’s Shrimp & Grits, which was like a rich and flavorful gumbo served over creamy cheese grits. Les enjoyed the Hot Honey Yardbird. Yes, it was half a chicken, and yes, he finished the whole thing. But the restaurant staff told us, by far, the most popular menu item was the mac and greens, so we ordered it as a starter to our incredible meal. It was so crazy good, and I can’t explain why it has taken me until now to create my own version of it at home.
This is another perfect example of Comfort du Jour—a classic comfort food elevated with unexpected ingredients, and, as a bonus in homage to my frugal grandmother (and role model in all things kitchen-y), this one happens to empty out a bunch of leftovers to boot. Oh, this is gonna be fun!
I haven’t made mac and cheese since my first blog post back in April, so it’s definitely time. If you missed that post, you can check it out now, but I’ll offer a quick refresher course on making the star of the dish, which is the bechamel-based cheese sauce.
For starters, get some American cheese for the melting quality that cannot be matched with only block cheeses. The rest of the cheese is best freshly grated rather than pre-shredded in a bag. We are looking for extreme creaminess, and if you have an immersion blender, pull it out of the cabinet because that is my secret weapon for the silkiest, creamiest cheese sauce in minutes. Ready?
6 oz. orrechiette* (I had half of a 12 oz. box)
3 Tbsp. each butter and flour
1 3/4 cups whole milk (2% would be OK, but less rich)
5 oz. American cheese (the kind you get by the pound in the deli)
6 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded* (most of a regular block)
A few twists of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup leftover cooked collard greens, drained if resting in liquid)
1 leftover “Texas Pete” smoked sausage*
Leftover crumbs from the bottom of a bag of Ghost Pepper potato chips from Trader Joe’s (c’mon, you have this, don’t you?)
Orrechiette is a small pasta shape, and I happened to have a half-box of it. Its name translates to “little ears” in Italian, and it can easily be swapped out for another small shape of pasta, such as elbows or rotini—essentially, you want a shape that will grab hold of your delicious cheese sauce. I’ve noticed that the popular pasta shapes have been in scarce supply, which makes this a fun time to try new ones!
I had cheddar in abundance in my deli drawer, but of course any cheese that melts well would work. Most of the time, I gather up all the scraps and bits and throw them in—it’s why my mac and cheese is hardly ever the same twice.
The smoked sausage was a lone straggler from a meal Les had grilled up a few nights before. Smoked sausage has a really firm texture (think kielbasa), and this one in particular was seasoned before smoking with Texas Pete sauce.
Here’s a visual run-through for you. Because it was leftovers, it made enough to feed the two of us for dinner, with a bonus portion of mac and greens without the sausage.
Melt butter, cook flour until bubbly, add milk and whisk until smooth. Melt American cheese into the sauce and whisk until smooth. Add grated cheddar, whisk until smooth.
Use immersion blender to emulsify cheese into an ultra-smooth mixture. Season with smoked black pepper.
Cut smoked sausage into bite sized pieces, cook in small hot skillet to crisp up the edges of the sausage.
Cook pasta to “early al dente” stage. It will soften further in the oven with the cheese sauce. Add finished pasta to cheese sauce, add cooked collard greens and stir until evenly combined.
Layer mac & cheese in ramekins with the crispy sausage bits, top with crushed potato chip crumbs. Bake at 350° F for 30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and top is lightly browned with crisp edges.
I made ours in individual serving ramekins, and put the rest in a small casserole we can use for lunch sides later in the week.
From the oven, the mac and cheese is hearty and satisfying, with an ultra-creamy sauce and occasional bites of crispy smoked sausage. And the savory collards add another level of flavor, not to mention the nutritional value they bring to the table.
Now, if I could only plan ahead to come up with these exact leftovers, because I sure would like to make this dish again. Of course, who knows what will be taking up space in the fridge next week.