How to Be a Master Leftover Wrangler

Too much leftover rice? Stuff Something!
Too much leftover rice? Stuff Something!

I have a slightly bizarre sense of pride regarding my ability to make an exciting meal out of left over food. I prefer to think of these meals as transformations, rather than leftovers. As a cook for a community where many events and retreats are held, I often find myself serving anywhere from 30-100 people for meals. Depending on the popularity and quantity of previously made dishes, there are often leftovers, sometimes very large amounts of them. Since I really hate throwing food out, I always try to make something different with leftovers so the community members don’t find themselves stuck with the same meals over and over. Simple and effective transformations happen regularly. Have an excess of leftover vegetables? Blended soups are excellent ways to transform veggies into something fun and new. Sick of all that chili? Turn it into an enchilada casserole.

Sauces and spreads help entice. Blend your leftovers into a dippable delight.
Sauces and spreads help entice. Blend your leftovers into a dippable delight.

Here are a few tricks behind the Art of Leftover Wrangling:

a) You have to be fearless. Don’t be afraid of flavour. Don’t be afraid to do something unconventional. This also means you can’t be afraid to fail. Honestly, if I’d have given up after making that horrible vinegary collard green soup that one time, my tail would still be down marking my shame.  If you do ruin a dish (or several) don’t let it deter you from future transformationing.

b) Use your senses, not your preconceived idea of what you think does or does not go well together. Taste everything in combinations before counting them out.

c) Blend. Blend. Blend. Blend soups, blend sauces, blend dips. An emersion blender is a cook’s best friend.

d) If you’ve overcooked a piece of meat or let your fish get too dry, turn it into a sumptuous burger by mixing it with a grain, blended vegetables and some raw eggs to bind it. Transformed!

e) If all else fails, throw your leftovers in a pan and top it with some cheese. Seriously. Melted cheese makes everything better.

 

When all else fails... wrap in bacon.
When all else fails… wrap in bacon.

I actually find working with leftovers to be fun and rewarding, especially when you thought it was a lost cause. It forces me to be creative with what I have available. This blog will feature leftovers transformed. I will regularly post re-creations, tips and ideas.

fish burger rows

 

Happy transforming!

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Transformation: Spicy Tilapia Quinoa Burgers Crusted With Almond and Hurricane Sandy

With Halloween coming up so soon, I’ve been spending a lot of my free time working on my costume (posts on that to come soon!). Unfortunately, because of the impending destruction of Hurricane Sandy, I might be all dressed up with nowhere to go. Oh Sandy, you’re such a costume block. 

Hurricane Sandy is supposed to reach New York tomorrow evening. We have been warned about possible flooding, power outages and very high winds. There is a possibility that we will lose power for about a week. Eww.

My area of the Berkshires is just outside of the affected region and hopefully shouldn’t be hit too hard. My mum has informed me that our water is connected to the electricity, so if the power goes out, we’ll have no running water. Eww squared. Being in a wooded area, trees fall often. The biggest threat to us that Sandy will throw our way is falling trees. We’ll see how that goes.

fish burger stuff

My transformation recipe this week was inspired by the extra baked tilapia (with a gorgeous tamari, Dijon, garlic and ginger sauce) that I had hanging out in my fridge. Tilapia is a flakey white fish – delicate in flavour and not too fishy. It easily gets overcooked and disappointingly dry, which no one is fond of. I needed to find a way to make the texture more appealing.

 flaked fishfish burger spin

Quinoa provided some answers to my query. The chenopod quinoa is often confused as a grain due to its grain-like appearance. Actually, it is closely related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds. Light and unique in flavour, quinoa provides many nutrients like phosphorus, iron and calcium.

fish burger crustfish burger rows

I wasn’t concerned about the quinoa overpowering the fish, so I made them into burgers.
fish burger bite

Spicy Tilapia Quinoa Burgers Crusted With Almond

Ingredients

  • 2-3 leftover filets of tilapia
  • 2 cups of cooked quinoa
  • ½ cup oil cured black olives (kalamata will also work)
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 or 2 jalapeños
  • 2 small green bell peppers
  • ¼ cup fresh basil
  • 2 small carrots (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup pickles (2 large spears)
  • 1 cup spinach or arugula
  • 1 cup onion
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger
  • ½ to 1 tsp salt
  • crushed almonds (about a cup)

Directions

Preheat oven at 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6

In a bowl, flake the filets into small pieces and add the quinoa.

In a food processor, blend all of the ingredients except the fish, quinoa and crushed almonds. Blend until there are no big chunks.

Mix blended contents with the fish and quinoa.

Form the mix into burgers and coat them with the crushed almonds. Lay your burgers on a lightly oiled pan.

Place in the oven and allow them to bake for about 30 minutes. They should be brown on the outside and not threaten to fall apart if moved.

Immediately place a burger on toast with avocado and alfalfa sprouts and devour.

Makes 8-10 burgers.