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Too much beautiful meat?

July 12, 2007

Tasty pasta

If you’re anything like me, you probably end up with tons of leftovers after any social gathering that involves food. And in the summertime, a lot of those leftovers are probably grilled. Our Fourth of July gathering was attended solely by people who believe it’s better to have too much than not enough, and the refrigerator at the end of the night, stuffed full of grilled sausages and hamburgers and hot dogs and steak, was a staggering sight. I mean, the guys manning the grill outside cooked up twelve hamburgers and two pounds of sausages and a whole, huge Tri-tip steak for about eight people. No one can eat that much meat.

As the resident chef in our humble abode, it fell to me to figure out what to do with all that leftover meat. I mean, no one wants to eat microwaved hamburgers all week. Of course there is the obvious: barbecue-sauce slathered grilled chicken breasts can be shredded for chicken salad sandwiches. Steak can be sliced up and added to salads or slapped between two pieces of bread. But who wants to be obvious?

In fact, figuring out creative things to do with leftovers is kind of a favorite pastime of mine. Ok, I guess you can’t really call it a pastime, and maybe it does make me a little too Sandra Lee or Robin Miller. But when you’re cooking for one, as I often am, leftovers are a fact of life, and eating the same thing for a week isn’t that appealing. I like to think it’s something of a culinary art, and one perfected by women cooking for families, stretching thin budgets, for generations. Kind of like quilting. Or…alright, I’m getting a little carried away.

Regardless of how artful any of it was, I did manage to put together a few tasty meals this week out of sausages and leftover hamburgers. One of these creations was actually suggested by our good friend Becky G. When she initially told me to make omelettes out of leftover hamburgers, I was a bit dubious. But I am nothing if not adventurous in the kitchen, so one morning I decided to give it a try.

Hamburger Scramble

I’m not that great at making omelettes. Actually, I’m crap at it. I’ve never been able to master the art of the flip, so inevitably my omelettes end up being scrambles. Which is perfectly fine by me. I prefer the ingredients to be mixed up all throughout, rather than laying between two thick layers of egg like an egg sandwich.

The hamburger omelette proved a little bit tricky only because I didn’t think to break up the cooked hamburger (which was actually a very cheesy cheeseburger) before putting it in the pan. When I tried to break it up with a spatula, the way you would sausage, it went flying right out of the pan and into the twilight zone between the stove and the counter. Ewww. Good thing I had another leftover hamburger.

I gotta hand it to Becky: This was a decadent and delicious idea. The cheese melted, but stayed pretty near the bits of beef. The hamburgers had been made with garlic powder and worcestershire, and that flavor with the eggs was unusual, in a very, very good way. The hamburger was hard to break up, so there were large chunks of beef in my scramble, but if you broke it up before putting it into the pan, you might be able to disperse it more evenly throughout the eggs. Though the big chunks of meat were good, in a sinful, “I shouldn’t be eating this for breakfast” kind of way.

I rarely, however, eat meat for breakfast, so I had to figure out some more dinner-oriented ways to use up the rest of our grilled meat. Pasta is a perennial standby, and of course it was one of the first things I thought of.

Leftover sausage pasta

You could just toss some leftover sliced sausages into a bowl of pasta, but that would be a bit boring, wouldn’t it? Instead, I turned these sausages into a kind of thin, tomatoey sauce, and surprised myself by how good it ended up being.

Leftover Sausage and Tomato Pasta

  • a few cups of pasta
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 leftover grilled sausages (we had jalapeno chicken sausages, which added a nice kick)
  • about 1 1/2 c. grape tomatoes
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c. chicken stock
  • parmesan cheese

The chicken stock is the essential bit that made this better than ordinary. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, and perhaps a bit of salt and pepper, and let them cook, stirring only occasionally. Cook them until the tomatoes start to blister and pop a little bit, and then add in the garlic and the sausages, sliced into quarter inch pieces. Continue to cook them together, stirring occasionally, until the sausages are warm and the garlic is starting to turn golden. The bottom of the skillet should have a layer of brown, sticky food bits–add the chicken stock to deglaze the pan and scrape up all those food bits. That makes it taste extra good. Then turn up the heat just a bit and cook it all until the chicken stock reduces to less than half what was there before and is thick and saucy. Then just drain the pasta and toss it in, mixing it all around to coat it in the tomatoey, chickeny, sausagey sauce. The grilledness of the sausage adds special smoky tastiness to an otherwise simple meal. Yay, leftovers!

Red Beans and Rice

And then, of course, there is the favorite: rice and beans. You can make this even easier by buying packaged rice and beans, which are usually pretty tasty and not too overloaded with bad things. Some of my favorite brands are Viga and Mahatma, but Goya’s rice and beans isn’t bad, either. I just cooked the rice and beans in a saucepan, and while it was cooking, sauteed the zucchini and green pepper in a little bit of olive oil. When the vegetables were almost done, I added the sausage, just to warm it up a little, and kept it all covered until the rice and beans were finished. Then you just mix it all together, and you have dinner.

Last night I used up the last of our leftover meat by making a barbecue chicken pizza. Of course, I used Giada’s dough recipe. I made it the night before and left it to slow-ferment in the refrigerator. And yet again, I had a disaster on my hands and had to run across the street to the hippy mart for pre-made crust. This is the last time, Giada! Two out of three disastrous dough experiences have convinced me to put that recipe away and never touch it again. Now, it might be possible that the problem lies in too humid air or too active yeast, but whatever the problem is, I just don’t want to face it again. Sorry, Giada and Bon Appetit. That pizza dough recipe is being laid to rest.

So, I know this post is a little cheesy. Creative things to do with leftovers? What a cop out! But I find it really hard to go to the market and cook up some crazy dinner when I know there’s a pound of meat in my refrigerator already grilled and ready to eat. And throwing some smoky sausages all covered with grill marks into your pasta kinda keeps the barbecue going on all week long, right?

Now that the leftovers are all gone, however, I can get back to doing interesting things in the kitchen. And those interesting things, hint hint, involve ice cream. The only thing I have the energy for when it’s as hot and humid as New England in July.

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