Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Quick Cook: Chopped and Served

This is part of my continuing series on the Quick CookTips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. An earlier version of this post appeared there. The series, on some of those tips, let’s you see how it might play out in your kitchen.

I admit to an addiction. Addictions are compelling, you know. They grab onto you and force you to aberrant behaviors, behaviors you never thought YOU would be snared by. Yes, that’s right. I watch too much reality TV. I am addicted to the Food Network, and the show Chopped is especially addictive.

I was thrilled with the Iron Chef shows that had the mystery ingredient. What fun to watch these world-class chefs figure out what to do with lizard brains! But Chopped took it to another level. A whole basket with mystery ingredients. I loved imagining what I could do with them.

When I first watched Chopped, I was not so impressed, and on some level that is still the case. Shoot! A bunch of disparate ingredients to throw together in a few minutes? At my house, I call that dinner!

After all, isn’t that what happens at your house? [Opening refrigerator whilst simultaneously scouring pantry shelves] “Hmm. Dinner. What can I put together?” Seriously! They made a TV show out of every busy mom’s daily experience??? Who are they trying to kid?

Quick Cook Tip # 6: Develop a kitchen-awareness of foods on hand.

Okay, admittedly, unlike Chopped, I don’t typically have frog legs, kumquats, graham cracker crumbs, and mustard greens I have to combine in one dish in 30 minutes, but the principle is the same. Every mom I know looks at the food possibilities, puts them together, and calls it dinner. So take that, Chopped!

Recently, I had uncooked spaghetti, some cherry tomatoes on their way to becoming dried tomatoes the old-fashioned way, bits of some cheeses, some chopped veggies left from a salad (peppers, green onion), and some leftover roast chicken and chicken au jus.

I cooked the spaghetti and after draining added the au jus and chicken. I tossed in the veggies and added shaved cheeses. Dinner in ten minutes!

What’s sitting around in your refrigerator? If you play Chopped, it’s a lot more fun than moaning about the lack of your expected ingredients. Don’t get in a rut. Play Chopped a couple of times a week to use leftovers in unexpected ways.

Leftover meatloaf? Cut meatloaf into fork-size chunks. Add a can of chiles, black beans, Mexicorn, diced tomatoes, salsa, and Mexican cheese. Pop the casserole into the microwave for ten minutes. Warm up tortillas for bread. Dinner is served!

Two pork chops and four people for dinner? Thinly slice the pork chops and put half in the bottom of a casserole dish. Cut up two white and/or sweet potatoes (or use leftovers) and put half on top of the pork. Drizzle on some cream to make it gloopy and add cheese. Repeat layers. Cover and bake in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes (reduce time if potatoes are cooked). Uncover and bake for another 5-10 minutes to brown up the top.

See? How easy is that? Look at what you’ve got and throw it together. Odds are very good that you will create a memorable meal. And un-replicable since you will never have the same combo of ingredients again at the same time!

This is Alli’s kind of cooking. She would be a great contestant on Chopped, don’t you think? 

Has you gotten your copy yet of Mission Impastable? This book is the first in my culinary mystery series. With a tasty mystery AND recipes, what's not to like?


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Cathy. It does wander around in topics but I love writing it, too.