Tag Archives: ham

How to Eat Out on a Budget

The answer is .. you don’t.

At least, if I do, it’s very rare these days.

Dim sum, sushi and Red Lobster are my only dining out treats, but even they are quite rare … a few times a year.

Let’s do the math of dining out in comparison to cooking at home.

The last time I went out for AYCE sushi, I spent $17 and change. And that didn’t include a $3 tip.

In comparison, I spent $10 ($14 regular price with a 30% discount 30%) on a smoked picnic shoulder ham, and another $7 for a package of 4 fresh, skinless, bone in chicken breasts. Sometimes you can find boneless chicken breasts on deep discount.

After boiling the ham, I ended up with 18 cups of broth. I used half of the broth to make 11 cups/servings of ham and bean soup. I used 2 cups of diced cooked ham in the soup and still had enough ham left over for eight generous servings for other meals.

As to the chicken breasts, which were big enough to serve two people each if just simply breaded and baked, the possible usages are plentiful. Another option is turning the meat into breaded cutlets or chicken fillets.

Admittedly, chicken and pork are the most inexpensive proteins available … $2 – 2.50 a pound. Fish and seafood are a lot pricier. And a premium steak. The savings of cooking at home aren’t as obvious, but it’s still cheaper than dining out … two meals in for the price of one meal in a restaurant.

Every time I get tempted to dine out, I do the math.

Although, being frugal in my grocery shopping means that I CAN afford to treat myself occasionally.

What’s your favourite dining out treat? Do you eat out as much as you used to 5 yrs ago, 10?

ETA: I spent $18 on this name brand (Butterball) turkey bought frozen for $1.49 a pound. Lots of breast meat, thighs turned into a spicy Indian curry dish, roasted wings and drumsticks, turkey and rice soup, giblet and rice dressing, delicious gravy and the carcass will end up in a big pot turkey stock.

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Sweet Pickled Cottage Roll Dinner

I’ve never cooked one of these packaged boned, rolled and brined pork shoulders before but the technique is quite simple. It’s all written on the package.

After 2 hours of braising the cottage roll in 2 cups of water along with 1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns, a smashed, peeled clove of garlic and a couple of bay leaves in a covered dutch oven, at 325 deg Fahrenheit, the netting is removed, the thin fat cap is scored and the roll is transferred to a baking sheet for another 15-20 minutes (at 350 deg F) to brown the top. A drizzle of maple syrup or a tablespoon of brown sugar may also be added to the top and caramelized under the broiler.

For additional flavour, I took half a large onion and cubed it and then added it, along with a couple of peeled carrots cut into large chunks, and half a dozen whole, washed, new potatoes under the roll . The potatoes and carrots cooked in that first 2 hour baking period and then were kept warm in the dutch oven while the meat was finished off.

The result is a cross between a New England boiled dinner and corned beef and cabbage, without the cabbage. And with pork instead of beef.

If you like cabbage, you can shred half a cabbage and place it in the strained broth (discard garlic, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns) in the dutch oven. Transfer the potatoes and carrots to a medium bowl and keep warm. Cook the cabbage in the 350 deg F oven with the roll while it’s browning until the cabbage is tender.

Verdict: The meat is very tasty, tender and moist. However it’s a very fatty cut so you may want to limit your intake.

I used some uneven pieces to make a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches. You can also fry leftover slices of the ham and serve it for breakfast along with eggs and home fried potatoes.

Sad Anniversary and Happy Memories

Last weekend was the sixth anniversary of my dad’s passing. As we’re planning on bulldozing the old bungalow in the county, especially after six years of unfettered mouse invasion, I made a last pass through to see if there was anything left salvageable.

I found a 4 piece set of cranberry coloured dishes that my SIL had bought them years ago and that they had barely used, a couple of baking dishes and a large Japanese made chef’s knife. The ceramic snowman is a salt and pepper shaker set … and there’s home made rakija (home made fruit brandy) in the brown glass decanter.

I put aside some other dishes and glassware that can be donated. And bagged a lot of clothes only suitable for burning

I also found a gray sweater that my mom had knitted for my dad and a multi-coloured woven scarf which I’ll wear in the winter.

In the past week, I’ve eaten off the dishes, and made an apple pie in the blue glass Pyrex baking dish and baked macaroni and cheese in the white ceramic dish.

And this weekend, I made one of my dad’s favourite soups, ham and white bean. Although he liked this soup more like a stew in texture, I went for a thinner version which could be used to soak up some good home made bread. And that sharp chef’s knife did a great job on the veggies. I also made a red version of this soup for a change of pace.

Happy Easter!

After a modest meatless Good Friday meal, Easter is a celebratory occasion and this meal reflects that.

Soup was re-purposed from the salted cod, cannellini bean dip with the addition of egg noodles and ham broth.

Ham glazed with a plum balsamic reduction, mashed potatoes and peas with cherries jubilee

Washed down with strawberry lemonade.

I made a batch of crepes and paired them with the cherries jubilee sauce.

And drunken strawberries (strawberries macerated in sugar and Cointreau) over crepes with French vanilla ice cream.

And then, cause I had some cream puffs in the freezer and fresh strawberries, I sliced half open and filled them with sliced strawberries and sweetened whipped cream. I made a chocolate glaze to finish the presentation. Pretty but a bit messy to eat.

So, I piped the whipped cream into the rest of the cream puffs and served them with chocolate dipped strawberries.

Pick the one you want or eat one … or 2 of each.

Good Friday Meal Pan fried Panko breaded sole fillets, sauteed kale and a re-purposed white cannellini bean dip over dried salted cod. (No recipe cause I’m still working on getting it as good as my dad’s. After last year’s under-seasoned dish, this year, I didn’t soak the cod long enough and the dip needed to be baked longer as it was a bit too watery from the moisture in the cod. Eaten with the semolina sourdough bread, however, the saltiness was reduced somewhat. I started the meal with clam chowder.

Polish Pierogies – Potatoes, Cream Cheese and Caramelized Onions

There were a few dishes that my mother rarely, or never, made when I was growing up. Pierogies were one of them. Oh, she’d make the occasional Romanian “Gomboti cu prune” which my SIL identified as “Szilvas Gomboc” (Hungarian Plum Dumplings) for us, but I never remember eating the savoury version.

I always thought they’d be a huge amount of work so, over the years, I’ve bought the bags of frozen pierogies from the grocery store and boiled and pan fried them at home with diced onions, and served them with a heaping spoonful of sour cream.

I know that FB can be a waste of time/distraction, but one takes food inspiration wherever it’s found, and the recent flood of pierogi posts inspired ME to make a batch. (By the way, prime rib posts have been popping up in my FB cooking groups, like mushrooms after a rain. I don’t want to say that MY Christmas menu post has been the inspiration, but you can draw your own conclusion.)

I used a potato, caramelized onion and cream cheese filling … cause I had caramelized onions and the cream cheese in the fridge. I don’t know when/if I’ll make them again, though I DO want to make gomboti, the next time I find some plums at the grocery store. I think my mom used sour plums but it’s been a long time since I last had them so I’ll use whatever’s available.

The recipe is a somewhat rewritten version of one I found on Youtube. They were called “Polish Pierogies” so that’s what I’m titling this post.

Polish Pierogi – makes 24 – 32

Filling:

1 1/2 pounds potatoes (2 large russets)
2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced onion**
1 small clove of garlic, crushed or 1/8 tsp garlic powder**
3 ounces (1/3 cup) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

Dough:

2 1/2 cups (~11 oz) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup water, you can use a bit less

** I used about 1/4 cup of caramelized onions and the garlic powder, because I was too lazy to fry just the garlic.

Filling (make ahead):

Place peeled, quartered potatoes in a pot of cold salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender.

Meantime, brown onions & garlic in oil on med-low for 10 min.

Drain and mash the potatoes, adding onion & garlic, cream cheese, salt & pepper. (Or you can rice the potatoes into a large bowl and then add the rest of the ingredients and fork everything together.)

Set aside to cool. Shape into 1-tablespoon size mounds if desired for convenient portioning and to make the filling process go more quickly.

NOTE: I ‘quartered’ the amount of filling I had in the bowl by eye, and then scored the top of the filling with a knife. I took out the filling, a quarter at a time and rolled each quarter into a log, which I divided into 6 equal portions. Then I rolled THESE into balls. After using up half the filling, I thought the ‘balls’ were too big so on the second half, I divided each quarter of filling into 8ths. This should give you 32 generously filled pierogies rather than 24 overstuffed ones.

Dough:

Combine flour & salt in a bowl. Make a well and add sour cream, egg and water, combining with a fork or metal spoon.

Place on a well-floured board and knead for 50 turns (using a scraper if needed) until smooth. Cover with a towel or inverted bowl & let rest at least 10 minutes. You can wrap the dough in food wrap and refrigerate until the next day, if you need to, though it’s a fast dough to put together the day you make your pierogies so it’s not necessary.

Shaping the pierogies:

Divide the dough into thirds. Keeping extra dough covered, roll each section 1/8” thick, adding flour as needed. Cut 3-inch circles, saving leftover scraps of dough. Combine the leftover dough scraps from rolling the three portions for your last portion of filling.

Fill each circle with about one tablespoon of potatoes or your filling ‘balls’, fold into a half circle, and pinch edges tightly. Place apart on a towel or baking sheet sprinkled with flour.

Place the pierogies in boiling salted water, stirring at first (with the handle of a wooden spoon so as not to pierce the pierogies) to keep them separated, and cook about 3 minutes until they rise to the top, then another 30 seconds to a minute. Remove to an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle some more oil over the top of the pierogies so they don’t dry out.

You may also freeze your unboiled pierogies on the floured sheet and then place them in freezer bags.

Saute your boiled pierogies in a pan with butter or olive oil until they’re golden and serve with caramelized onions and sour cream for a delicious treat.

You can also bake them on an oiled baking sheet in a 350 deg. F oven until lightly golden.

A beautiful accompaniment to a simple boiled ham dinner.

Baked Mac and Cheese with Ham and Peas and some Pepperoni and Cheese Balls

On the weekend, I thawed an 8 oz package of cooked ham, diced it up, and intended to use it in a pot of soup, along with a ham bone. There was a generous amount of meat on the bone, which I removed and added to the soup, so I only used half (4 oz) of the ham I’d diced up. The rest, along with a cup of thawed green peas, went into a baked mac and cheese. I started with Alton Brown’s recipe … but I made a couple of changes as I didn’t have Panko crumbs. And instead of chopping up an onion to add to the bechamel/cheese sauce, I used the last of a container of fried onions purchased from an Asian grocery store.

My usual cheese sauce is quite thick and the baked mac and cheese doesn’t really need to baked … just warmed through. However, this version is much looser, and uses an egg to add creaminess, so the baking is essential. My substitution of regular bread crumbs was a bit disappointing in that it didn’t brown as much as I would have liked so I turned on the broiler. And then got distracted by prepping the romaine for a salad. Disaster almost struck. It didn’t burn but a few spots were quite dark. I tried to spoon them off and then just gave up. 🙂

Baked Mac and Cheese with Ham and Peas

Baked Macaroni and Cheese – makes 6 to 8 servings

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp powdered mustard
3 cups milk
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced (or 1/4 cup fried onions)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp paprika
1 large egg
12 oz sharp cheddar, shredded (8 oz only used)
1 tsp kosher salt
Fresh black pepper

Topping:

3 tbsp butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray a large (2 qt/2.5 L) casserole dish with cooking spray.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. Make sure it’s free of lumps. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf.

These are the fried onions, I used instead.

Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into the casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese. (I chose not to do so and only use 8 oz of cheese.)

Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 30 minutes. (You may want to turn on the broiler for a minute or so if your breadcrumbs aren’t as dark as you’d like. Watch carefully though so you don’t burn the bread crumbs. ) Remove from oven and let rest for five minutes before serving.

NOTE: use 1 tbsp melted butter combined with 1/2 cup regular fine bread crumbs. No cheddar on top … just 8 oz in the sauce

Ham and Pea Variation: Stir 4-8 oz diced ham and 1 cup peas (thawed if frozen) into pasta/sauce mixture before pouring into casserole dish.

Sometimes you thaw pizza dough and then decide you really don’t WANT to make a pizza. These Pepperoni and Mozzarella Cheese Balls are a great appetizer idea for company or to treat your family on a week day.

Basic Bread/Pizza Dough – makes one 1 1/2 pound loaf or 2 12-14 inch diameter pizzas

3 – 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour plus more for kneading
1 1/4 cups warm tap water (test on the inside of your wrist)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 packet ( 2 1/4 tsp) granulated yeast
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

In a medium sized bowl, stir 1 tsp sugar into 1 1/4 cups warm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top. Let rise for 10 min until the mixture is frothy.

Put about 2 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the activated yeast mixture and the olive oil. Stir with a fork until it holds together into a rough ball. Remove the ball of dough to a floured surface and, using the remaining flour, knead 8-10 min until the dough is smooth and elastic. (Compare the smoothness and texture to your earlobe if you don’t have a baby’s bottom handy. 🙂 )Oil the large mixing bowl lightly and put the ball of kneaded dough in, rolling it around so that the ball is covered lightly with the oil. Cover with a piece of saran wrap and a large towel/cloth and put the bowl in a warm place for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Prepare a baking sheet with sprinkled cornmeal. Shape the dough into 2 baguettes onto the baking sheet, cover again and let rise a second time until the baguettes have doubled in size. That should take 45 min to 1 hr depending on the warmth of the room.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brush or sprinkle the tops of the baguettes with water and place a pan of boiling hot water on a lower shell in the oven. Place the tray with the breads so they’re in the middle of the oven. Bake at 400 F for 20 min. Remove and test for doneness by rapping the bottom (knocking) with your knuckle. It should sound hollow.

For Pizza: Divide dough into two pieces, roll out to fit pan. Brush edge of dough with olive oil, top and bake in a preheated 475 deg F oven for 20-25 min or until the crust is browned and toppings are cooked.

For Pepperoni and Cheese Balls: Divide your dough (1 1/2 lbs) into 16-18 portions, stretch each portion out into a 2 1/2 inch circle and stuff with a chunk or two of pepperoni and a mozzarella cube, pinch into a ball and place on a prepared baking sheet. Use either a greased baking sheet or line a regular baking sheet with parchment paper. and bake in a preheated oven at 375 deg F for 25-30 minutes.

Dip into your favourite pizza or spaghetti sauce


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Split Pea, Ham and Potato Soup with Fresh Peas

In the fall, before work gets busy, I make soup in my free time. I keep making soup until I use up all my storage containers and then, I’ve got several weeks of no fuss meals to look forward to.

I was certain that I had about a cup of lentils in my pantry but it turned out it was yellow split peas so the classic split pea and ham soup seemed a no-brainer. With a few twists. Like a cup of green peas from the freezer, a meaty ham bone and yellow potatoes for additional substance.

Split Pea, Ham and Potato Soup With Fresh Peas – serves 6

1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
3/4 cup (~4 oz) diced ham
1/2 medium (1/2 cup) onion, finely diced
1-3 tsp dried dill weed
2 stalks (1 cup) celery, finely diced
2 medium (1 cup) carrots, finely diced
1 pound/3-4 medium (2 cups) Yukon gold potatoes, medium dice
salt (start with 1/2 tsp) and freshly ground pepper (1/4 tsp)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or, if you have it, ham broth
1 cup dried yellow or green split peas**, picked over and rinsed
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (thawed if frozen)
water as needed (~2 cups)
3-4 tbsp plain yogurt

** Yellow or red lentils may also be used.

Mise en place

Heat the oil in a large saute pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery and carrots and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is golden.

NOTE: If you have a meaty ham bone, add it to the pot, along with the chicken broth and enough water to cover it, after having sauteed the vegetables. Simmer the soup for about half an hour. Remove the bone, cut off as much meat as you can and return the meat to the pot. Discard the bone.

Add the potatoes, split peas, diced ham (broth and water, if you didn’t use the ham bone), salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and split peas are just soft, 15-20 minutes.

Stir in the peas, yogurt and simmer until the peas are thawed.

Ladle the soup into individual bowls and serve.

Freeze away extras for another day

Basic Quiche: Ham, (Mushroom) and Broccoli

I’ve made quiches with at least three different pie crust bases (Zsuzsa’s pie crust, Allison’s Vinegar pie crust and Ann’s No-fail pie crust, which I used here and posted below). I’ve even made a crustless version. But whatever the base, and whatever the filling you are using, quiche is a tasty, relatively inexpensive dish to make ahead, freeze and serve at your convenience. Or, pre-bake a few pie shells and freeze them away for when inspiration strikes.

ETA: I was sure I had made a salmon quiche but I couldn’t find the post. Guess that’s something I should remedy soon.

The quiche below is a simple version with leftover ham (and crispy bacon) from yesterday’s ham and potato soup, broccoli florettes and Canadian Swiss cheese. At $12.99 a pound, it’s cheaper than its imported cousin, Gruyere ($21.99 per pound), but nowhere near the sale price of cheddar ($4.99 a pound). Use whatever you like or what your budget allows for. I didn’t have any mushrooms in the house so I just increased the amount of broccoli I used a bit.

Basic Ham, Mushroom and Broccoli Quiche – fills a 9 inch pre-baked pie shell

3 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup cheese, grated (cheddar & monterey jack mix; swiss cheese; gruyere)
1 cup broccoli (cut into florets and pre-cooked)
4 oz cubed ham (or 5-6 strips cooked diced bacon)
1/2 cup sliced white mushrooms
dash tabasco (optional)
salt (~ 1 tsp) and pepper (~ 1/2 tsp) to taste
1 9-inch Pre-baked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the baking dish with the pre-baked shell on a baking sheet, in case of overflow.

Mise en place for quiche

In a large bowl, whisk (or beat with a fork) together the eggs. Stir in the flour, mixing well, and then add the milk and nutmeg. Add salt and pepper to taste remembering that the ham, bacon and cheese already have some salt in them. Add as much tabasco or hot sauce as desired.

Pre-baked quiche shell

Layer the cooked broccoli, mushrooms and ham into the pre-baked pie shell.

Sprinkle about 3/4 cup of the cheese over the vegetables and meat.

Pour the milk and egg mixture carefully over the ingredients. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.

Bake at 350 deg F for 45-50 min.  Let stand another 10 min before cutting.

Ann’s No-fail Pie Crust – enough for a 8-9 inch top and bottom or 2 bottoms

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup shortening or unsalted butter (or half of each)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 egg
water as needed (~1/4 cup)

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender.

In a 2 cup measuring cup beat together the egg and sour cream and add enough cold water to make a total of 3/4 cup liquid. Stir the liquid into the dough using a fork. If a hand full of dough holds together when squeezed, the dough is wet enough, otherwise, fork in an additional tablespoon of water and try again. Repeat.

Wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate until needed or roll to 1/4″ thickness.

I was a bit hasty in throwing together the dough for the pie plate … I should probably have re-rolled it. 🙂

For an empty shell, bake 12-15 min in a 400 deg F oven. For a filled shell, bake 15 min at 400 F, then reduce temperature to 350 deg F and bake an additional 25-30 min or until the contents are set.

If the edges get too brown, cover them with a strip of aluminum foil.

Remove the baked pie from the oven to a cooling rack and let cool for about 3 hrs before serving.

Sour Cream, Ham & Potato Soup and Sweet Potato Biscuits

I have several containers of ham stock/broth in my freezer and, rather than the usual ham and bean soup, I decided to make a ham and potato soup for a change. My only regret is not doubling the recipe.

Sour Cream, Ham & Potato Soup

Sour Cream, Ham & Potato Soup – serves 4-6

2 slices bacon, diced
1 very small (1/4 cup)  finely chopped onion
4 cups ham stock, divided (reserve 1/2 cup to mix with flour)
3 medium (3 cups) potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large (1 cup) carrot, cubed
1 stalk (1/2 cup) celery, cubed
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup (or more) cubed or shredded leftover ham
1 1/2 tbsp flour
salt / pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 cup sour cream

In a large saute pan or soup pot, render the diced bacon over medium heat until the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon to a small bowl with a slotted spoon, and save for garnish. Saute the diced onion in the bacon fat for 4-5 minutes, or until translucent and lightly browned on the edges, over medium heat.

Add 3 1/2 cups of the ham stock, potatoes, carrots and celery to the saute pan. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the corn and diced ham and cook for an additonal few minutes in order for the soup to return to a simmer.

Whisk together the 1/2 cup of reserved ham broth and flour until smooth. Pour into the soup in a small stream while stirring, to avoid lumps. Let the soup simmer for 3 more minutes until the soup is thickened and the corn is cooked. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the saute pan from the heat and let cool for a couple of minutes. Add the heavy cream, then the sour cream, stirring very well to combine. Do not let the soup boil after sour cream is added, to prevent thinning or curdling.

Serve with a few strips of crispy bacon on top.

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Sweet Potato Biscuits – makes 4-6 biscuits

1 tsp lemon juice
1/3 cup milk (fat free or 2%)
1/2 cup mashed sweet potato
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 tbsp brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, diced**

** Shortening used cause that’s what I had handy

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and milk; let sit for 5 minutes to make buttermilk.  Add the sweet potato and stir until smooth, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and chopped rosemary.  Add the butter and cut into the flour with a pastry blender or two forks until the butter is -pea-sized.  Make a well in the center.  Pour the sweet potato mixture into the flour and stir until just combined.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured working surface.  Knead together 3-4 times, then form into a 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick round.

Use a 3-inch biscuit cutter to stamp out as many biscuits as you can, reforming the dough scraps as needed.

Transfer to the prepared sheet and bake for 13-15 minutes, until the biscuits are set and the tops are golden.

Serve hot.

Once cooled, store in an air-tight container for up to one week on the counter or two weeks in the refrigerator.

Basic Cheese Sauce: One Dish Ham and Pea Mac and Cheese Bake

My cooking strategy for the past few years has focussed on the 3 R’s – Reuse, Recycle and Repurpose. I try my best not to waste food that I’ve bought though fresh leafy herbs and vegetables are still my great failing.

A basic cheese sauce is the start of many a great meal, snack or veggie side dish. Start with a bechamel sauce. After that, you have a world of possibilities.

This cheese sauce started with 1 1/2 cups of pepper jack, 1 cup of old cheddar, a couple of slices of American cheese and a few tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese.

I took one of these containers and turned it into a main dish for 3 people.

Basic Cheese Sauce – makes 2-2 1/4 cups of cheese sauce

2 tbsp butter, salted or unsalted
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 – 2 cups milk
3 cups or more grated cheese
salt, if needed
ground black pepper or a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and as it starts to bubble a bit, stir in the flour until it’s all been blended into the butter. Whisk in the milk, about a half a cup at a time. Keep stirring and bring to a boil.

When the sauce has thickened sufficiently, in a few minutes, take the saucepan off the heat and stir in grated cheese a handful at a time. When all the cheese has melted, taste for seasoning. You may have to add a bit of salt but generally that’s not the case. Some ground black pepper and or nutmeg may also be added.

Cheese Sauce Variations:

Mexican cheese sauce (Monterey or pepper jack, white or yellow Cheddar cheeses and some salsa) – nacho dip or Nacho grande
Italian cheese sauce (Mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, Provolone) – meat or veggie lasagna, over pasta
Swiss cheese sauce (Gruyere) – veggie dip ie cauliflower or broccoli, Philly cheese steak

One-Dish Ham and Pea Mac and Cheese Bake Pictorial Recipe

I used one of these containers (half of the cheese sauce made previously), 1 cup of thawed peas, 4 oz (~1 cup) diced cooked ham and another tbsp or so of Parmesan cheese over the top before it was put under the broiler for a couple of minutes. I cooked 1/2 a pound (200 gm) of elbow macaroni and the result was enough for 3 servings.

Combine and pour into a buttered baking dish.

Sprinkle the grated Parmesan cheese on top and place under the broiler until browned and bubbly.

Add a salad, and a soup, and a cookie or two and you’re all set