Corned Beef Shepherd’s Pie

For the first year in a long time, I did not do my usual DIY Corned Beef for St. Patrick’s Day. The continued time warp caused by COVID, combined with yet another home renovation project that has just begun at our house, has left me a little flustered and out of my routine. So, there’s that, plus a discovery that I made in our freezer.

Last year, we did two huge briskets in my homemade corned beef brine—one was fated to be a classic corned beef with cabbage and carrots, and the other went the extra mile to become smoked pastrami—and I recently uncovered not one, but two packages of said meat that have been hiding in the depths of our freezer drawer. I couldn’t justify making more until we finished what we already had, but what does one do with a pound of vacuum-sealed, sliced corned beef, other than the obvious sandwiches?

I love cooking up fun foods for special occasions, and shepherd’s pie is a classic for St. Patrick’s Day. A typical shepherd’s pie is made with ground meat (usually lamb or beef), peas, carrots and mashed potato topping. But I could not pass over the entire St. Pat’s celebration without the old standby of corned beef and cabbage. Last year, I shared my recipe for colcannon (which I also love), so I whipped up a new batch of that as my pie topper, and I picked up two fun (and Irish) ingredients to give the colcannon extra body and a boost of sharp flavor. Irish white cheddar was a no-brainer, and when I sought out a package of Irish butter (which I only splurge on this time of year), this embellished version jumped right into my basket!

This is how they make Irish butter even better!

Well, that was lucky! Butter that is already flavored with fresh herbs would make this dish even quicker to prepare.

I channeled my grandmother a little bit in making this dish. She was the absolute queen of leftovers, a real whiz at transforming a random thing from the freezer into a full-blown meal that had leftovers of its own. The shepherd’s pie was delicious, perfectly festive for the occasion, and finally helped me use up the frozen corned beef that I forgot I had.

If you’re staring down your own corned beef leftovers, give this dish a go. If you happen to have leftover cabbage and carrots, or leftover mashed potatoes, too—well, you’re way ahead of the game.

A shepherd’s pie is a fun way to revisit the classic flavors of corned beef and cabbage, and this reheats beautifully, even in the microwave.

Ingredients

There are three specific components to this easy dish, and I’ll break down the ingredients list and instructions accordingly. Follow along with the slides and scroll to the end of the post for a downloadable version you can print or save for your recipe files.

Corned Beef & Cabbage Filling

2 Tbsp. garlic and herb Irish butter

1/2 small head green cabbage, chopped

1 cup baby carrots, cut into bite-size chunks

1/2 large onion, chopped

1 lb. leftover corned beef, sliced or cubed

Melt the butter in a large sauce pot or skillet. Sauté the carrots, onion and cabbage until the onions are translucent and the cabbage is soft. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a glass 8×8 oven-safe casserole dish. Set aside, adding the corned beef later when you are ready to assemble the dish.


Colcannon with Irish Cheddar

1 lb. peeled potatoes, cut and cooked until tender (I used 50/50 russet and Yukon gold)

2 Tbsp. garlic and herb Irish butter

1 leek, cleaned and sliced into half-moon shapes

1/2 small head green cabbage, sliced thin

A fat handful of baby spinach leaves, rough chopped

1 cup shredded Irish white cheddar

Get the potatoes cooking (don’t forget to season the water with a generous pinch of salt!) and drain them when they reach fork-tender stage.

Meanwhile, melt butter in the same sauce pot or skillet used for the corned beef and cabbage filling. Add the leeks and cabbage and cook until tender (season them). Turn off the heat and add the spinach to the pan. Toss it around to wilt the spinach. When the mixture is somewhat cool, add it to the cooked potatoes and mash them together. Stir in the white cheddar and set aside.


Gravy

2 Tbsp. garlic and herb Irish butter

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (or beef broth)

2 tsp. beef base (optional, to boost beef flavor if using veg broth)

Melt the butter in the same skillet and add flour, whisking until the mixture is foamy with a slightly nutty aroma. Whisk in broth, cooking and stirring until the mixture is thickened. Add beef base, if desired, to deepen the flavor. Or, if you happen to have a Guinness in the fridge… I’m just sayin’.


Put it all together – Preheat oven to 350° F.

Add the corned beef chunks to the cabbage and carrot mixture and toss to mix it in the casserole dish. Pour the gravy evenly over the filling. Top with dollops of colcannon (don’t smooth it) and bake for 45 minutes, until gravy is bubbling from underneath and colcannon has turned lightly crispy on its peaks.




Ultimate Thanksgiving Leftover Pizza

“Live, from Leftover Land!” Wouldn’t that be a fun name for a game show featuring contestants presenting their most creative effort with post-Thanksgiving overflow? At our house, we tend to go all out on Thanksgiving, regardless of whether we have a houseful or a handful of guests. This year, it was the latter, but that did not stop us from cooking a 17-pound bird. It was my year for the turkey, and I broke one of my own cardinal rules in my decision to try a new method, dry brining. My leap of faith paid off, big time, with a juicy, extremely flavorful bird. And now, there’s a bunch left over.

They say “don’t experiment on Thanksgiving,” but this risk paid off in a BIG flavor kind of way.

No matter who cooks the turkey (we alternate years, as part of our pre-marital agreement), the question of how to use the leftovers is always a big one at our house. I adore a good turkey sandwich on homemade bread, but I hardly ever have fresh bread at Thanksgiving, which probably seems strange to anyone who knows my love for sourdough. Despite my best intentions, I did not even save enough time to make the soft dinner rolls that I thought would be so perfect for miniature turkey sandwiches. But I am working today on a loaf of my favorite sourdough sandwich bread to remedy that situation. And Les is pitching in, too. He has all the ingredients he needs for one of his favorite Thanksgiving leftovers—a turkey shepherd’s pie, which also makes excellent use of our leftover garlic mashed potatoes (another of his recipes, and one that we don’t ever seem to make in small quantity). I intend to use up more of the leftover bird in some spicy turkey enchiladas, using handmade corn tortillas, at some point over the next two days before the leftover police come knocking. Food safety experts recommend using the leftovers within a few days, so time’s a ticking and I’ll be on top of it.

In the meantime, we brainstormed ways to bring all the favored flavors of Thanksgiving to a pizza, and this was our result—a deep-dish crust that tastes like sage and onion dressing, with sausage, turkey, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, all topped off with a quick drizzle of spiced cranberry mayonnaise. The best thing about this pizza (other than the fact we enjoyed it with friends we haven’t spent quality, sit-down time with since before COVID began), was that prep was minimal. Everything was already done on Thanksgiving itself, so it gave us more time to relax over cocktails and simply enjoy the company.

Whether your favorite thing is the turkey or the sides, it’s in there!

If you are struggling with leftovers, give this a try, even if your leftovers look different from ours. This pizza does not rely on traditional Italian ingredients, so you can skip the mozzarella. We used shredded gouda cheese in the base of the pizza, then arranged the other toppings in a way that afforded us a good, balanced bite in every thick, delicious slice.

The holidays are coming at me fast this year, as Hanukkah began last evening and that can only mean one thing. Latkes! Stay tuned…

Coming soon…

Ingredients

1 batch deep dish pizza dough* (see notes)

8 oz. gouda cheese, shredded

1/2 lb. bulk breakfast sausage, crumbled and cooked just until no longer pink

3 stalks celery, cleaned and chopped

1/2 sweet onion or leek, trimmed and chopped

1 generous cup leftover cooked turkey (we used mostly dark meat)

3 spinach balls, torn into bite-sized pieces

A few dollops of leftover garlic mashed potatoes

1 generous cup roasted sweet potato cubes

1 cup cut green beans, drenched in vegan mushroom gravy

Several spoonfuls leftover turkey gravy

1 handful French-fried crispy onions

Cranberry mayo:

Combine 1/2 cup leftover cranberry sauce and 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise in a smoothie blender. Or flip the ratio if you want it creamier and less tangy. What you don’t use on the pizza will be fantastic on sandwiches!

I considered putting cranberries on the pizza, but decided a cranberry mayo was a better way to go. Whip it up in a smoothie blender.

*Notes

For the dough this time, I used the basic recipe from my post for Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza, but with a few Thanksgiving flavor additions—I added a teaspoon Bell’s seasoning (similar to poultry seasoning) to the flour ingredients and kneaded in about two tablespoons re-hydrated minced onion. These simple adjustments gave us a crust that had all the flavors of Thanksgiving stuffing, a great base for our pizza.


Instructions

Preheat oven to 450° F with rack in center position of the oven.

Stretch the risen dough into a 14-inch deep dish pan. If it springs back too much, cover and rest it 15 minutes, then proceed.

Scatter cheese over the entire bottom of the dough, then layer on the sausage, celery and onions. Follow that with a scattering of leftover turkey, sweet potatoes and a few dollops of leftover mashed potatoes. Top it off with the green bean casserole mixture and a few spoons of turkey gravy here and there.

Bake for 25 minutes, then sprinkle the fried onions on top and bake 10 minutes more. Allow the pizza to rest for 10 minutes before transferring to a flat pizza pan and slicing. Drizzle with the cranberry mayonnaise just before serving.

Do you notice how Nilla is never far away when the food is being served? ❤


Tri-tip Benedicts with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Everyone has hobbies, and one of my favorites is re-creating or upcycling a recipe I have enjoyed in a restaurant. I’ve been doing it for years, sometimes drawing inspiration from memories of something delicious from childhood and other times because I realize an expensive restaurant dish is easy enough to do at home for a fraction of the price, as was the case with mahi Hemingway, which is still the most-visited post here on Comfort du Jour. And occasionally, I will reimagine a meal as I am eating it—not because I think I know better than the chef, but because I know what flavors would elevate it for me. That’s what happened when my husband, Les, and I pondered the final meal of our recent getaway to Roanoke, Virginia. As you can see, we were not exactly roughing it.

The Hotel Roanoke

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re correct—I am a very lucky woman. For our 4th wedding anniversary, Les had booked us for the weekend in this luxurious, historic hotel, and we had a wonderful and relaxing time, including a luxury foot soak for couples that he arranged in the hotel spa (far and away the most romantic thing we have done together). We were within easy walking distance to some terrific local restaurants, and thanks to Virginia’s smart COVID policies and the protocols of the restaurants we visited (I was still a few days away from my second dose of vaccine), we were able to safely experience incredible food and drink, including this dramatic entrée, served up at a place called Table 50.

Blackened Ahi Tuna with andouille sausage and crawfish risotto and asparagus garnish. I ate every last bite of it!

By the time we got to Sunday morning, we were feeling pretty darn pampered, and we opted for a pre-checkout brunch in the fancy-schmancy hotel dining room. Les and I both zeroed in on the same entrée, which seems to happen more often than it did in our earlier years together. The benedicts before us were served with steak tips, wilted spinach and hollandaise.

Want to make breakfast fancier? Add a white tablecloth! 🙂

Very classic and delicious, though I’m not a huge fan of hollandaise. Les has picked up on my habit of upcycling recipes, and the gears were already turning in both of our minds. Why couldn’t we add some bold flavors to this otherwise classic brunch staple, and make it our own at home? Of course we could, and so we did.

This is our version of that brunch benedict—a toasted English muffin (only one between us), topped with spinach that was sauteed with onion, thin slices of our zesty coffee-rubbed tri-tip steak, a poached runny egg and a generous draping of the roasted red pepper sauce I shared yesterday. Upscaled, yet somehow more rustic and casual. Definitely a Comfort du Jour thing.


Ingredients

Serves 2

1 English muffin, split, toasted and buttered

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 onion, thinly sliced

1 fat handful baby spinach leaves

About 4 oz. thinly sliced coffee-rubbed tri-tip steak* (see notes)

2 large eggs, room temperature

About 1/2 cup roasted red pepper sauce*


*Notes

Obviously, to enjoy the benedict this way, you would need to first cook the tri-tip steak according to the recipe Les shared a couple of weeks ago, and you would not regret it. But maybe you have some steak leftover from a nice dinner out, and you could slice that into the recipe instead. Start looking at your leftovers differently and you never know what kind of fabulous creations will happen in your kitchen.

The roasted red pepper sauce is an extremely versatile recipe, and one that we have enjoyed across a variety of recipes. If you make it in advance, you will have about 2 cups, so this recipe only requires a portion of it.

For me, the biggest pain about any benedict is the eggs. I don’t have a lot of success with poaching eggs, and most of the time I just do a quick steam-poach in a non-stick skillet. I’ve tried various poaching gadgets, including the silicone one you’ll see in the slideshow, but they still argue with me. My first set of eggs was way overcooked by the time I had the rest of the benedict plated. I stuck with it and had better success with the second set of eggs, but the whole thing broke my momentum. Follow your own kitchen rules. And if you have any unusual tricks for poaching eggs, I’d sure love to hear them!


Instructions

  1. Put a pot on to boil if you are poaching the eggs, as this will take some time to be ready. Crack each of the eggs into its own custard cup for easy slipping into the water. Say a prayer—oh wait, that’s just for me.
  2. Slice the tri-tip into thin, even slices and set them aside.
  3. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat and swirl in the olive oil. Add the onions and baby spinach and sauté until most of the moisture is cooked out of the spinach. If it is still steaming in the pan, it needs another minute. Remove the skillet from the heat and lay the slices of tri-tip on top of the spinach. Cover it to keep warm.
  4. Warm up the roasted red pepper sauce, either in the microwave or in a small saucepan.
  5. Stir the simmering water and slip the eggs, one at a time, into the pot. Watch them closely, because they don’t take long. Or cook the eggs according to your own kitchen rules.
  6. Drop the English muffin halves to toast them, and swipe a quick smear of butter across their nook-and-cranny surfaces if you wish.
  7. Start layering—first spinach, then tri-tip slices, the poached egg and, finally, the roasted red pepper sauce.


Greek-inspired Frittata with Potato Crust

It’s that moment when you find that the package of chicken you were counting on for dinner is two days past its “best by” date. Or the panic that hits you when you suddenly realize at the end of a hectic work-from-home day that you completely forgot to go to the grocery store. Moments such as these demand improvisation, and when catastrophe occurs, I have one Plan B that I can always count on—breakfast for dinner.

Even if it’s slim pickings in the refrigerator, there’s a very good chance I have eggs and few random vegetables. There’s always some kind of cheese in the deli drawer, and that already sounds like an omelet in the making, which is our go-to dish when we are looking at breakfast for dinner. But this time, I went all in on a big-flavor frittata, pulling together a Greek theme with spinach, onions and red bell peppers I found in the fridge, along with some feta cheese, kalamata olives, oregano and dill. And though frittatas—which are basically quiche’s crustless cousins—usually only have eggs and fillings, this one takes advantage of that half-bag of shredded potatoes I found in the back of the cheese drawer. OK, who’s hungry?

Great Mediterranean flavors and plenty of nutrition in this filling “breakfast for dinner!”

Turning random leftovers into a flavorful breakfast for dinner on a busy weeknight? That’s Comfort du Jour.


Ingredients

3 or 4 slices bacon, chopped into one inch pieces

1/2 bag Simply Potatoes hash browns* (see notes)

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

2 fat handfuls fresh baby spinach leaves, rough chopped

1/4 tsp. dried dill leaves

6 eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup half and half*

2 oz. block feta cheese, crumbled

Fresh parsley (for garnish)

Handful pitted kalamata olives, rough chopped (for garnish)


*Notes

Simply Potatoes is a brand of pre-shredded potatoes, usually found in the refrigerated breakfast section of the supermarket, or sometimes in dairy (though I don’t know why). I use this convenience product when I make our favorite Easy Hash Brown Waffles, so I frequently have them in my fridge. If you prefer, use about two cups finely shredded fresh potatoes, but wrap them first in a clean towel and squeeze out as much water as you can. Better yet, skip the potato crust and make it a more traditional frittata. May as well keep it simple. 😉

For readers abroad, “half and half” is a common dairy ingredient in the U.S. that is essentially equal parts cream and whole milk. If you are minimizing fat in your diet, you may also substitute with evaporated whole milk.


Instructions

This was simple to make, as you’ll see in the photos. If you’d like written instructions, or a downloadable PDF for your recipe files, keep scrolling.


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F with rack in center of oven.
  2. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add chopped bacon and cook until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Drain off most of the bacon grease.
  3. Sauté onions and peppers until slightly soft and translucent. Season with salt, pepper and oregano.
  4. Add chopped spinach, one handful at a time, and cook until wilted. Transfer veggies to a separate bowl and set aside. Sprinkle with dried dill.
  5. Increase the skillet heat to medium-high and drizzle in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the shredded potatoes to the skillet, using a spoon or utensil to press it into the sides. Cook the potatoes in the skillet for about five minutes, then transfer the skillet to the oven for about 20 minutes (or additional 10 minutes for crispier crust).
  6. Combine eggs with half and half, whisking only until blended.
  7. When potatoes are golden at the edges, spread the veggies over the crust, and then scatter the crispy bacon pieces.
  8. Pour egg mixture evenly over the frittata filling. Crumble the feta evenly over the frittata.
  9. Transfer to the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until eggs are set and edges are pulled away from the skillet.
  10. Cool about 5 minutes before cutting into wedges. Top portions with fresh chopped parsley and chopped kalamata olives.

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Sausage and Eggplant Leftovers Pizza

“I’ve got leftovers on my leftovers!”

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.

Les was proud of the success of this leftover creation, and it just happened to have all his favorite flavors. 🙂

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!


Leftover Turkey Gumbo

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. 🙂

It’s a hearty, satisfying bowl of post-Thanksgiving goodness.

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.

Celery + onion + bell pepper = trinity.

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.


Ingredients

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)

2 cups leftover turkey, chopped into bite-sized pieces (dark meat preferred)

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

*Notes

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.

This is some serious comfort food for a chilly December night!

Instructions

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Leftover Snickers Brownies with Sea Salt

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.

See you next year, Mr. Bones!

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?

Ooey gooey, chocolate chewy!

Ingredients

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


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven as instructed on brownie mix. Prepare baking pan as directed.
  2. Cut up candy bars into small bite-sized pieces.
  3. Make brownie mix as directed by box instructions.
  4. Fold in candy bar pieces, then spread batter into the prepared baking pan.
  5. Give the batter a light sprinkle of the coarse sea salt.
  6. Bake as directed on brownie mix and cool completely before cutting.

I need a big glass of milk! 😀

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The Best Bread Pudding

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.

No matter what I add to the recipe, somehow it always tastes like Gram made it! ❤

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!


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“Leftovers” Corn Waffles and Southwest Bean Topping

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.

Flashback from the ice cream: Don’t think for a minute that I won’t find a good use for the leftover corn pulp!
Delivering on that promise today!

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!

Hearty, satisfying, meatless and made entirely from leftovers.

Waffle Ingredients

Adapted from this recipe from King Arthur Baking (formerly King Arthur Flour). I halve the recipe for just the two of us, as follows. It made 5 waffles, each about 4×6 inches.

1/4 cup sourdough starter (recently fed)

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)


Waffle Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


Topping Ingredients

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


*Notes

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


  1. Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté the onions and peppers until softened and slightly translucent.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
The savory chipotle whipped cream melted and oozed through the toppings, creating the most scrumptious sauce.

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Waffled Mac and Cheese—yes, please!

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!

Go ahead, drool a little. I know you want to make these.

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.


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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.


Ingredients

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


*Notes

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.


Instructions

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.

Too much cheese. Said NO ONE, ever.

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? 😊

The only thing better than mac and cheese is WAFFLED mac and cheese!

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