It’s pretty common for me to be chatting away on speakerphone while in the kitchen; in fact, I’d venture to guess that anyone who spends as much time in the kitchen as I do would have to make use of copious amounts of speakerphone chatting, or else risk cutting themselves off from humanity as we know it. Usually it’s my sister who happens to call at cooking times — oddly enough, we sometimes cook together while on the phone. (Maybe one of these days, we’ll coordinate and actually make the same thing at the same time. That would be an interesting twist.)
Last night, it was not only D. who called while I was cooking, but my childhood best friend, C., of the “red, round, or green” family. What’s interesting about the fact that both of them called is that they called at different points in the process, so they were able to weigh in on two completely different recipes — and both of them expressed some measure of amusement/skepticism about my projects for the evening. See, last night’s cooking frenzy (post-dinner, of course — our scheduled stir-fry, which we made with an inspired last-minute peanut sauce and some great purple Thai basil from Pak Express, was delicious) happened to be centered around some Leftover Lunacy.
Homemade “hot pockets” (yes, J. and I had several Dr. Evil moments over this) and brown rice pudding were on the menu, which earned me some raised eyebrows, giggles, and one outright “Yuck” — C. doesn’t like rice pudding. But I persevered, and I’m pleased to report this morning that both experiments went very well, at least as far as J. and I are concerned. The boys will have to weigh in after they taste the results, which are, of course, in their lunchboxes as we speak.
Both of the recipes were inspired by two goals: 1) the creative use of leftovers; and 2) my desire to get both children to eat a specific food. The pockets, as I’ll henceforth refer to them so as not to get slapped for trademark infringement, were my brainstorm regarding all that leftover sandwich meat from L.’s birthday party. It’s been sitting in the freezer, but in a large enough amount that I felt it would be more worthwhile to do something sort of transformative with it, rather than just sadly defrost it morsel by morsel for run-of-the-mill sandwiches. The pudding was a last-minute thought, spurred during the cooking of dinner, when J. found a Fast Rice Pudding recipe on the back of the brown rice package and started reading it aloud. I promptly dumped an extra cup of rice into the pot so we’d be sure to have enough “leftovers” (wink, wink) to justify making my own version.
Goal #2 being to get foods into the children that they might not willingly eat otherwise, I had to devise these experiments in a way that would incorporate one unloved ingredient, per child, per recipe, while also including things I knew they did enjoy. Since L. and P. have relatively opposite eating habits, it actually worked out quite well. L. is absolutely carnivorous — even before he had teeth, he would happily gum all the flavor out of a piece of steak, and when asked what he thought he might like for dinner the other night, he promptly responded, “Bacon.” In fact, his carnivorous nature extends to almost all forms of anything that walks, crawls, or swims, but he does have a special love for the porcine. (Animal lover that he is, he’ll still happily pronounce, “Mommy…I eat pigs!”) P., on the other hand, is more of an herbivore. A big pile of fruit and something with broccoli in it will go down nicely for him, while I’ve more than once witnessed him literally scraping his tongue with his fingers in disgust after trying the merest shred of meat.
So the leftover sandwich meat, of which there was handily quite a lot of nitrate-free ham, would have to cozy up to the head of Moosup River Farm broccoli that had been languishing in the refrigerator. Pig for L., greens for P. If they got glued together with cheese, both kids would (hopefully) be happy. And if the whole mess got wrapped in some kind of dough, it would be perfectly portable — just the kind of thing a lunchbox-obsessed Mommy like me loves to create. The pizza dough I whipped up on Tuesday had obediently risen by last night. A calzone-y, hot-pocket-y thing? (D. snorted at this — “You’re making. Your own. Hot Pockets?” she chuckled, in one of those rare moments when I couldn’t tell if she was amused, impressed, or a bit of both.)
Quick bechamel sauce. Shredded mild cheddar. Large quantities of extremely finely chopped broccoli. Diced ham. The whole gooey concoction got folded into little rounds of the puffy, stretchy pizza dough, sealed, and popped into the oven — 25 minutes later, 8 little hand pies came out, beautifully golden…and oozing. Oops. 3 of them had burst slightly, which probably means that I didn’t seal them as well as I had thought, but the leaks weren’t of epic, BP-style proportions, so a little scraping and stuffing made them salvageable.
While they cooled, I pondered the “leftover” rice. I cheated on this, I’ll freely admit — but since the package recipe that inspired me was also a “cheater’s” recipe, I don’t feel bad about it. Next time, I may try doing things the old-fashioned way, but for last night — at 9:30 p.m. — putting together a conventional rice pudding was not high on my list. I happened to have a box of instant vanilla pudding mix in the cupboard, purchased in anticipation of making a cake recipe for L.’s birthday that I ended up deciding not to try. A quick glance at the cringe-worthy ingredients had me making mental notes to buy an organic brand next time if I’m not going to do it up from scratch, but I was willing to let the standard slip a bit just this once, if it would give me any useful information about the overall concept of the dish.
Pudding mixed, brown rice added, I contemplated more leftovers — some softening bananas — and mashed them into the concoction with a hefty sprinkle of cinnamon. L. would eat it, I thought — he likes pudding, and he likes brown rice. P., on the other hand, doesn’t eat rice, much to my chagrin. But he loves bananas, and I assume he’ll like pudding. He likes yogurt, ice cream, and most other sweet things, after all. J. and I both approved (though I’m not a big rice pudding fan either, and could sympathize with C. when she gave me the thumbs-down on the phone), so it got scooped into little containers and chilled in the boys’ lunchboxes, with some extra set aside for us.
I actually ate one of the pockets for breakfast this morning — they looked too tempting to pass up — so I can attest to the fact that they are delicious, and that’s coming from someone who has at best a cordial relationship to ham. Now comes the hard part: waiting all day to see what the boys thought. With two new foods in each of their lunchboxes, it’s a nerve-wracking wait for Mommy, but on the other hand, those lunches are a triumph for my Leftover Lunacy. One of these days, I think, we’ll get to the point where we don’t waste anything anymore — it’ll all get chucked into a pot with some cheese, some garlic, or some sort of bread, and I’ll be snarling at the family “You’ll eat it and like it!” But when we get to the point where I’m reinventing the reinvention of leftovers, you have my permission to cart me away.