Sometimes you just have to use up the scraps of things you have hanging around your cabinets and fridge. And that is the very essence of “cabinet stew.” Using what you have on hand to create a meal.

For me that started waaaay back in my 20’s when after a late night out, you would come home starving – things weren’t as 24/7 back then – and pull stuff out of the cabinets to try to put together something delicious. “Cabinet Stew” was born! I can’t take credit for coining the phrase. It was the boyfriend of one of my friends, Karl, who invented the “Cabinet Stew” in the first place!

Other then a quiche, my favorite way to use up scraps is in a mac-n-cheese. I use up whatever random chunks of cheese I have on hand, of course there is always dried pasta in my cabinets and this time I threw in a small amount of fresh spinach, some diced Canadian ham and onion. It felt almost healthy. Almost.



Production Notes:

Cheese: this one was mostly Swiss cheese with a small amount of cheddar and some parmesan on top. It made a nice compliment with the salty ham.

Pasta: I used gluten free – make sure not to over boil!

Sauce: simply equal parts of your choice fat and flour whisked with warmed whole milk. I like to add the powdered spices in with the roux so they can toast a bit. In this case I used garlic powder, smoked paprika and ground nutmeg to compliment the spinach. In retrospect a little dijon mustard thrown into the cheese sauce would have been a nice compliment to classic flavors of ham, Swiss and spinach!





Crispy Bits

Doesn’t matter what you are actually eating, the crispy bits are always the best!

Lasagna, meatloaf, pizza, hot dogs or even french fries to name a few – all have crispy bits (and in the french fry’s case – the extra crispy bits!) And those are always the best part!

So recently when my husband asked me if I had used breadcrumbs on top of the macaroni and cheese (I had not) I knew the extra time in the oven “crisping up the top” was totally worth the wait!

mac and cheese with ham

A little paprika sprinkled on top makes it “fancy” 🙂

Now for a few secrets about this particular dish ( mostly to see if my husband is reading all the way to the end!)

I used a gluten-free pasta and thickened the cheese sauce with arrowroot flour! Also I added cubed ham but you could easily leave this out and have a vegetarian version too! Be sure to sprinkle some extra shredded cheese on top for that extra yum factor!

Not A New Idea

I thought I was on the cutting edge by adding pumpkin to my macaroni and cheese – after a quick check of google – I realized this was not a new idea!

That’s okay, it was new to my Thanksgiving table and that is all that counts right?

I was craving mac-n-cheese AND wanted to add seasonality to the dish so I could serve it at the holiday table, so that is how my “mash-up” came about. I simply started with my usual mac-n-cheese white sauce and added a little extra nutmeg and the tiniest pinch of ground cinnamon. For the cheese I decided to keep it kinda plain with a medium cheddar and lots of salty grated Romano. (You could use Parmesan, I just happen to have Romano) Next I stirred in 1 can of pure pumpkin. (Do I need to say.. “not pie filling, just pumpkin?”)

pumpkin mix

Next I combined it with al dente cooked penne pasta and topped it with some more cheese. You can stop here and let it cool and put it in the fridge till you are ready to bake it or even freeze it until then. Don’t you just love a good make-ahead-freezer dish? I sure do!

When you are ready, bake in a 350 degree preheated oven of for 30 mins (longer if frozen) until it is bubbly and brown on top!

This recipe is based on 1 regular box of pasta and 1 14oz +/- can of pumpkin. The basic white sauce recipe can vary for me depending on what’s on hand and how “saucy” I want the dish. But generally I start with 4oz butter and flour for the roux and add in 2 cups of whole milk. I probably used 8oz of grated cheddar and at least a cup of grated Parmesan and/or Romano. Don’t forget to season with S&P and what ever flavorings you like…dry mustard, smoked paprika, nutmeg etc.

This portions out beautifully for lunch leftovers….if there is any leftover!

pumpkin mac and cheese

The Not-So-Lucky Chicken

There are a lot of lucky “food traditions” surrounding New Year’s Day.  Across the world certain lucky foods are eaten on the first day of the year (Hoppin’ John) or at the stroke of midnight. (12 grapes)

But chicken wouldn’t be one of them. And a surprise to many New Englanders… Lobster! Lobster is considered a poor choice because lobsters move backwards and could lead to setbacks, regrets, and dwelling on the past. Chickens also scratch and move backwards too and could lead to the same kind of year!

Oh! And chickens also have the added bonus of taking all your luck as they fly away. Basically any “winged” food is off-limits on New Years Day.

Phew! Good thing I made this chicken dish well before New Year’s Eve!

red and green chicken

This is just seared chicken breast that I cut down and dusted with some basic seasoning blend before browning in a hot skillet. (Because everything needs to be “browned” in this house.)

After that I combined the chicken with cooked al dente  pasta, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, chopped fresh green onions and put it all into an oiled baking dish. I whipped up a quick basic white sauce (flour,butter roux – add warm milk) and then emptied the cheese drawer of its bits-n-pieces. Pour this cheese sauce over all, toss to combine and at this point you can either bake it for 30 mins at 350 degrees or refrigerate and bake-off for a later dinner time or even freeze it for another day altogether.

Just don’t eat it on New Year’s Eve or Day!

Dinner BEFORE Breakfast

Ask anybody.

I am not a morning person. Never was. Never will be.

BUT the other morning I found myself up and out of the house very early in order to drop my husband off at work on time. After I dropped him off I found myself with some time to spare before heading to my work.  (What is that you say?…head into to my work early… surely you jest?! LOL!)  So I headed back home with my thoughts solely focused on breakfast, a cat nap and coffee before it was time for me to depart to the coal mines. But as I drove, my thoughts turned to dinner plans for the night.  As I pulled in the driveway I knew I had a plan. A “cabinet stew” of ingredients that were hanging around, needing to be used up.

45 mins later….

…one cup of coffee, one casserole prepped and in the fridge awaiting a dinner re-heat, dishes done and oh yeah, some breakfast!

Now if only I wasn’t going to be late to work…

Ham and spinach macaroni and cheese.

The Recipe

1 box (16oz) elbow macaroni, cooked al dente and drained

1 pkg (8-10 oz) “ready-to-go” spinach leaves. (I just opened the bag – you can wash again if you want)

1 cup +/- diced cooked ham (leave it off for the vegetarians!)

1 cup +/- Shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 small onion finely diced

1 clove garlic finely minced

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp flour

2 cups +/- milk

1/2 Tsp ground nutmeg

5 oz crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (you know – the little “tub”)

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese for topping – a little or lot – your preference

Soften the onions and garlic in the butter. Add the nutmeg to toast for a minute. Add the flour to make a traditional roux. Add the milk slowly while whisking to make a thick white sauce. Turn off heat. Stir in Monterey Jack cheese. Taste and add salt/pepper as desired. Meanwhile in a large oiled baking dish combine the spinach, noodles , ham and Gorgonzola cheese. (This works much better if you commit to a large mixing bowl first and then pour it in the baking dish. If you do as I did and NOT use a mixing bowl ’cause you are lazy… then add the spinach in first with the HOT, cooked noodles on top of the spinach to kind wilt it down and make enough room to stir in the ham and Gorgonzola.) Pour the white sauce over the top. Stir to combine. Cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until time to “bake off” as the pro’s say.

When the time arrives… Bake covered with foil in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 mins. (if you put it in straight from the fridge you may need to go longer or hotter) Uncover, add grated Parmesan cheese across top and bake 15 mins more till hot and bubbly.

Makes way too much for two people so invite 4-6 friends over to share.