Thursday, January 13, 2011


It's not the first time I didn't know what to make for dinner. And it won't be the last. But that's when I turn to going into the fridge, freezer and pantry and try to get creative. I promised myself I wouldn't buy anything at the grocery until I started using up what I already have on hand. So here are three dishes I made with whatever I had on hand.

I used my usual recipe for salmon patties, but I added about 3/4 c. shredded mozzarella. What a difference it made! They were so much better than I'd ever made them before. The low fat mozzarella added a depth of flavor that can't be beat. Just bread crumbs, an egg, salt and pepper, with a dash of dill.

I love using canned salmon for patties and for things like casseroles that have salmon in them. A nice salmon steak deserves to be prepared and served on its own, not smooshed up into a casserole. Some people say you can eat the bones, skin and all in the canned salmon. I don't like to do that so I remove most of the skin and all the bones I can find. They ARE soft enough to eat. The canning process really breaks them down and they are said to have tons of calcium. I tried to eat them once by smooshing up the bones into the salmon, and although the taste was fine, I couldn't get past the "gritty" texture the bones left in the dish. So I always remove them now. Here's how I make them.

Salmon Patties (makes 4 patties)

1 14 oz. can of pink salmon
1 c unseasoned bread crumbs
2 eggs - beaten
1 c. shredded mozzarella
1 T chopped parsley
1 t. dried dill
1 t salt
1 t pepper
more breadcrumbs for coating
1 T olive oil for sauteing.

Clean the salmon of all the skin (or not) and of the bones (or not). That is up to you.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients gently until mixed well, but not turned into mush. I used a large ice cream scooper to make the patties. This is a good size and makes them all the same size. You can make them smaller if you like and get 8 patties out of the batch. Form each scoop into a fairly tight pattie, and coat with bread crumbs.

Heat a large skillet to medium with just a little olive oil. Put all the patties into the skillet and brown each side slowly. Cooking on heat too high will only burn the cheese in the patties, so be sure to keep the heat evenly medium. These are really good on a sandwich bun with a little tartar sauce. You could also make a white sauce seasoned with salt and pepper and add a big handful of peas to the sauce, and serve over the patties.

My next raid had to do with my serious craving for pasta earlier this week. Since I try to avoid eating a lot of pasta, I used wheat pasta which actually has some nutritional value and I've read is good for you in moderation. I found some frozen spinach, some stems I saved in the freezer from some swiss chard I cooked this past summer. (I think I've mentioned in a previous blog that I am quite thrifty. I don't throw anything away if I know I can use it and now I had a use for the swiss chard stems I trimmed. They were a little too "woody" to eat as is, but they were great in the pesto.) I made a fairly typical pesto with garlic, pecorino, parmesan, salt, pepper and toasted walnuts. Basil pesto has a much stronger flavor than this pesto does so it's one kind of coating I don't mind using with wheat pasta. I happen dislike wheat pasta with red sauce - I just don't like the way they taste together. A smidge of tobasco sauce and enough salt and pepper and maybe a little extra pecorino to adjust the seasoning. Some sauteed shrimp with only salt and lemon on top.

Chard and Spinach Pesto on Whole Wheat Linguine
Makes 4 - 6 servings

First, I'll go ahead and admit I forgot to take a picture of my finished pasta. I lifted this picture from the internet, but it looks just like my pasta did!! Really, it does! I was so hungry I just dove right in and ate all the evidence! I served it with some sauteed shrimp on top, seasoned with just a little salt and pepper. Here's how I made it.

1 cup thawed and drained spinach
about 1/2 c. cooked chard (use all spinach if you don't have any chard)
3/4 c. parmesan cheese
1/2 c. pecorino cheese (use all of one kind if you don't have both)
1 Big handful of toasted walnuts (use pine nuts if you like)
1/2 c. olive oil
3 - 4 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
2 - 3 drops of tobasco (optional)

chicken broth (low fat, low sodium)
1 lb. whole wheat pasta (linguine, fettuccine, spaghetti, any kind you like)

In a large pot, put up water to boil to cook the pasta. Add a good tablespoon of salt to the water and cook pasta to your liking. I like mine with just a little bite left in it. In the meantime:

Put all the ingredients except the chick broth and the pasta into a food processor. Whiz until smooth. I've kept the olive oil to a minimum so it may turn out pretty thick. If it is too thick, add a little chicken
stock , or you can add a little of the pasta cooking water. It should be the consistency of a thick spaghetti sauce. Taste the pesto and re-season with more salt and/or pepper if necessary.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and put back into the cooking pot. Now add the pesto and toss to coat well. If the pesto is still too thick to mix in, add a little more chicken stock. You can serve this just like it is, or add some sauteed shrimp, grilled chicken breast or a nice piece of grilled tilapia or other white fish.

This morning I raided the refrigerator yet again since we're leaving for vacation. We needed to use up the leftovers so they wouldn't turn into science projects while we are gone. And besides, I didn't want to leave all my odds and ends in the refrigerator for the house sitters.

I had a bowl of rice, and a bag full of veggies which contained a lot of green and red peppers. I was going to make a veggie and rice frittata. Then a recipe I saw on line the other day came to mind for rice balls. I really like those but I decided to make rice cakes instead. (The rest of the veggies in that bag will turn into a vegetable stew later this afternoon - carrots, celery, cucumbers. I'll add some potatoes and mushrooms to it along with a can of diced tomatoes and a whole bunch of herbs and spices..)

Rice Cakes with Sweet Peppers and Cumin

3 cups of cooked rice
1 1/2 c. chopped green and red sweet peppers
1/4 of a large sweet onion, chopped or 1 small onion, chopped
3/4 c. grated swiss cheese
3/4 c. grated cheddar
1 c. bread unseasoned crumbs
3 t. chopped parsley
2 t. cumin
2 eggs
1 T Olive Oil

In a large skillet saute on low heat, the chopped peppers and onions until they are soft, about 5 minutes. While they cook, put all the other ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Add the cooked peppers and mix well again. Form the rice cakes in your hands using about 1/2 c. to 3/4 c. of the mixture for each cake. Now, in the same skillet that you used to cook the peppers, place the rice cakes in the skillet on med low heat. No extra oil is needed to cook them. Cook them slowly like this until they are very brown on both sides. Don't try to turn them until the first side is really brown or they will just fall apart when you try to turn them. Flip and cook for another 5 - 10 minutes, as brown as you like. I like mine nice and brown. The rice gets crispy and has a wonderful nutty flavor while the inside is creamy and cheesy. We just ate them plain for breakfast. They would make a great side dish. If you make them smaller, about the size of a golf ball, they would be great appetizers too.

When we're back from vacation, we'll probably want to eat light so I'll raid the freezer. It's full of vegetables from the summer harvest. It's only two months until we start seeds out in the greenhouse again, so we need to eat up whatever we've got out there! I have a lot of squash in the freezer - I think I'll make a bisque out of it with some curry and flaked fish or crab meat.