Dual-duty dinners

While I love finding new recipes to try, I like making up my own, too–or tweaking something someone has told me about. Even better, I like using one meal to create a brand new one on another day.

A couple weeks ago, I made ratatouille for the first time. That might make me sound like a late-bloomer, but since I only recently learned how to pronounce it, I figure I’m doing pretty well.

I suspect, although I’ve never checked to see, that ratatouille is one of those dishes that depends entirely on the cook and what happens to be in the refrigerator. Slavishly limiting oneself to the ingredients in a recipe probably isn’t necessary, but since this was the first time, that’s what I did.

So, I used the specified veggies: eggplant,

Via Bing Images

sweet peppers, onion, garlic, zucchini, tomatoes and yellow squash. I think that was it. Sautéed some of them in a bit of olive oil first. I added some fresh mushrooms I needed to use up and then seasoned it with oregano, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper flakes and some garlic salt. Covered that with water, and let it simmer on the stove.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the results. They made a movie out of this? I thought. I wished I’d used the other cooking option; I wished I’d baked it. This way, it was more like soup.

The recipe made a lot, so George and I had it for two days just like it was, eaten with toasted slices of garlic bread topped with havarti-dill cheese. We took a couple days break from it and had other things, and then I tackled it again.

This time, I drained all that savory juice and saved it, and put the veggies in a casserole dish. I figured that by now, those well-cooked veggies needed a little something extra, so I decided on a topping.

Via Bing Images

First I crushed some soda-cracker crumbs. Then I added some grated pepper-jack cheese, and drizzled a couple tablespoons of melted butter into that, mixing it well with a bit of garlic salt. Sprinkled that over the ratatouille, and baked it at 350° for about 45 minutes. That nice, crisp topping was absolutely perfect. We got two more meals out of it. Not sure if could still be called ratatouille, but neither of us cared.

I still had all that flavorful juice left, though. I thought of making a hearty vegetable-beef soup, or perhaps a nice, thick stew. Instead, I dug a piece of beef out of the freezer, thawed it, and tossed it into the crock-pot, generously covering it with that juice. Since it was morning, and we eat our big meal at noon, I set the crock-pot on high and went about my business.

As dinner time approached, I boiled some potatoes–with the skins on, of course–and then mashed them with a little butter, milk and garlic salt. Took the meat out of the crock-pot and sliced it. Thickened the juice with a little flour and turned it into gravy, heavy with the flavor of the beef, the long-gone veggies, and those herbs and spices, and poured some over the meat. The rest was for the mashed potatoes. Then I added a vegetable.

What we had before us, two days worth,

Via Bing Images

was the epitome of comfort food. Warm, filling, savory–and actually very healthy, since there was no fat on the beef and none in that ratatouille juice.

It was also inexpensive, and not a single bit of it went to waste. Three different kinds of delicious meals as a result of that first recipe. We satisfied our hunger–but also our sense of efficiency and economy.

I feel better about that than finally learning how to pronounce ratatouille.


About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
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4 Responses to Dual-duty dinners

  1. gtrgeorge51 says:

    I just love this… I improvise on the guitar, you improvise with ingredients and even whole recipes…

    GREAT article!

  2. monica says:

    you sound a lot of what I do with food, I can’t ever keep a recipe straight as it is. Its just not enough fun…
    Btw: I really recommend that you guys watch that Ratatouille movie… I love it.

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