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I threw out my back a week ago, and so I'm just now getting back to the stove. The other problem I've had is that throw-it-together meals are sort of intrinsically not the kind of cooking that I photograph, but I'll try. We're getting into cold weather now, and for me that is prime for this challenge.

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Okay, first entry. Everything was on hand, and as you’ll see a fair bit was leftovers.

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¼ box spaghetti, floppy celery, 1 onion, 1 fat carrot from a month ago but still good, year-old matzoh meal, half a poached chicken breast (in the little ziploc bag), and about 2 quarts of chicken stock I made from old bones and trimmings frozen for a while. Plus 2 eggs, the only thing really fresh here.

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Matzoh meal, eggs, a little stock, a little neutral oil, beaten up and left to sit until reconstituted, formed into little balls, poaching in the rest of the stock.

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Meanwhile, dice the veggies and shred the chicken. Note the baggie of vegetable trimmings in the back: this is how I keep making stock all the time.

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Veggies saute/steam for a while, then add the stock and a make-your-own teabag with dry dill from about 2 years ago (works fine so long as you use lots and don’t let it just float around loose).

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Add matzoh balls, chicken, and broken-up spaghetti, and cook another 10-15 minutes.

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Matzoh ball soup for pennies.

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Second entry. Again, everything was on hand...

First, make bread. Here’s the kneaded dough ready for its first rise:
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Rather later, here is a package of andouille (Cajun-style) from Costco, bought about a year ago, been in the freezer:
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White beans from the pantry with water, salt, smoked paprika, garlic, in the pressure cooker:
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Sauté the sausage in a little stored pork fat, then remove and add onion and garlic:
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In go a couple of dubious potatoes cut in chunks, then the beans with their liquid and half a bag of kale my wife bought to make kale chips and then lost interest:
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Bread is ready, and the sausages go back into the pot (can't seem them, but they're there):
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The final dish is a take on Portuguese kale-white bean-sausage soup:
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Thing is, this is how I cook in the winter anyway. What have i got on hand? What can I whip up to go with it? What can I do without buying anything? My wife keeps buying bits and pieces of whatever, and I keep turning it into things. So I'm not sure whether this really fits the brief....

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Okay, so I think this fits the brief, as I didn’t buy anything recently.

About 2 weeks ago, I did some deep-frying, which I never do, and saved the fat. Then I used that fat to do a sort of porchetta pork shoulder thing, and got even more fat, which I again saved. Then I used it again for making carnitas, and re-saved. By this point it has a gentle fragrance of pork and chicken, and refrigerates to a pale golden very thick goo.
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Now a week ago, I dug out a 1.5# frozen pack of chicken wings. This is from the same farm where I got the turkey. During spring and summer, we’re in a chicken CSA with them, and one week the chicken she had for me was a fair bit under-weight, so she threw in two of these little wing packages, and I put them in the freezer. Anyway, I thawed them, packed them with salt, garlic, and thyme, vacuum sealed them and refrigerated overnight, then rinsed well and re-packed with garlic, peppercorns, and some of the saved fat. Processed at 180F for 8 hours (per Thomas Keller’s recipe in Under Pressure), and had a pack of chicken wings confit (seen here with half a package of Costco andouille).
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Day before serving, a frozen turkey leg from last Thanksgiving went into the pressure cooker for 8 hours to produce stock. Meanwhile, ¾ of an old bag of supermarket Great Northern white beans went to soak overnight.
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Next morning, I dug out my ingredients. Chicken wing confit, fat, stock, one last fat carrot from a couple weeks ago farm run, the end of floppy celery, two questionable plum tomatoes, an onion, the remainder of the Costco andouille package I used for a previous recipe in this competition (the Portuguese kale soup), the last two strips of bacon from a not-too-old package.
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Dice the bacon and cook in some of the fat. Remove and sear the confit. Remove and sear the andouille. Remove and deglaze with minced onion and a bit of the stock. While all this has been going on, the tomatoes were pureed. Add the drained beans, 4 cups stock (I meant to add 3 and had to scoop off a cup later), the carrot and celery and the tomato puree and 2 bay leaves. Cover and cook 20 minutes.
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Remove vegetables and bay leaves, add bacon and andouille, bail off a cup of excess liquid because I’m an idiot, and bake uncovered about 2 hours at 325F.
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Break crust, lay confit on top, add back the bailed-off cup of stock mixture, and continue baking about 2 hours at 325F, breaking the crust every 30 minutes and once adding another 1/3 cup stock because it looked like it might be drying out.
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Result: a pretty good take on cassoulet.
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My only real negative here was that confit chicken wings taste great but fall to bits. They’re also too salty, I think because they have so much surface area compared to volume, so they absorb too much salt. Otherwise, pretty darn good cassoulet.

Budget: hard to calculate, really. If we figure that anything more than 2 weeks old is free, this was pretty much free; the tomatoes and the bacon might be more recent, but not by much. Definitely nothing was bought in the last week, and most of it has been in the freezer or pantry at least 6 months.

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Another entry. This time everything is really “found” as it were, resources on hand, except one major component. I think maybe this fits the bill a little better than I had?

Okay, so initially what I’ve got is as follows:
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Dried chiles (ancho and guajillo, I think, rather old but ok), peanut butter, some leftover chopped scallion and mushrooms from yesterday’s Japanese-style hotpot, garlic, ketchup, fish sauce.
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Sautéed the scallion and mushrooms in some of that same pork fat I’m slowly working through, and meanwhile stripped the seeds and veins and then soaked the chiles in hot water for a while. Then all of this stuff (about ½ cup of the peanut butter, which turned out to be too much) went in a blender, adding just enough of the soaking water to allow the blades to turn and make the sauce smooth. I added salt and a dab of vinegar as well, and ended up with a smooth, creamy, slightly sharp, mildly spicy sauce. Note: I should have used a scant 1/3 cup peanut butter, and I’d have had less but a much more effectively-flavored sauce. The couple-three Tb ketchup and fish sauce were about right. Also note that I used cider vinegar, which was fine, but I should have used sherry vinegar, which would really have lifted this.
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I dug out the rest of the stuff from the hotpot, including Napa cabbage, cilantro, shiitake, lime, and a little bit of tough ends of greens. I chopped the cabbage, added mayo and lime juice and salt, and had a simple slaw. The shiitake went back in a bag for tomorrow’s soup, and the tough greens ends went in the compost (better than trash, anyway).
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At this point I pulled out a pound of some kind of sole we just got from one of these places that delivers locally (not through the mail) each week. Seasoned with chipotle powder, salt, and lime, then sauteed and shredded.
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Served with diced tomato and rinsed chopped onion; you can see the sauce, the slaw, and the cilantro.
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On tortillas – yes, flour tortillas, my kids hate corn tortillas, the Philistines – fish tacos, with a sorta-kinda pipian!

My sole complaint was that the sauce, as I said before, was too peanutty and not chile enough. Otherwise it was pretty terrific. The notion is that I got some nice fish, and went to the scrap bin (as it were), i.e. the resources on hand, to make this into something special.

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@butzy The ketchup, fish sauce, and vinegar substitute for canned chipotle chiles, which are canned in a tomato-vinegar-garlic brine. Tomatoes, remember, are New World natives.

The peanut thing is interesting, but I don't know all that much detail. Apparently it arose some time in the last 100-odd years as a cheap way of doing a pipian, which apparently always uses seeds or nuts to make a kind of quick mole. I read about this in both Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless, and thought, why bother with whole nuts? It's a grind (zing!), so I'll use peanut butter. I was prompted in that by the fact that my daughter's school, in I think 3d grade, forbade her bringing anything peanut because there was a kid who could die, so we bought all kinds of soy-nut, sunflower-seed, and so forth butters. She's also a total addict to powdered soy "nuts," what in Japan is called kinako, which to me tastes exactly like peanut butter. So I basically subbed peanut butter for peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc., and it works dandy. Unfortunately this time I mucked it up by using too much, but the concept is great and I have done it with great(er) success in the past.

Note that if I'd had a can of tomato paste on hand, I'd have used a couple tablespoons. I definitely should have used a couple tablespoons of the vinegar brine that covers Brazilian chiles (malagueta, I think), which would've added a wonderful kick to the whole thing. I have lots of leftovers, and will probably do exactly that to make the sauce right.

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And.... One. Last. Entry. <phew!>

Some vegetable trimmings go in the Instant Pot for a while, and then the strained veg stock gets simmered a long time with a dashi teabag to give an infusion of seafood and umami.
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A diced big onion (on hand) and a diced very sketchy green pepper from the bottom of the fridge (it had gone soft, but there wasn't anything furry or whatever). Plus a spice mixture entirely from pantry staples (bay, salt, thyme, oregano, and cayenne, black, and white peppers).
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Make a medium-red-brown roux, saute the vegetables in it, stir in the spices and a couple minced cloves of garlic. Whisk into the boiling stock, then once it comes back to the boil for a while add the last freezer pack of andouille cut in 1" chunks.
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Simmer hard for 15 minutes, then leave for an hour or so off heat.
When ready to serve, I got out 12 frozen shrimp (at least 6 months old), a freezer pack of diced pollock that has to be a good 2 years old (you can see the freezer-burn!), and a pretty decent side of Arctic char, about 3/4 pound, skinned and cut in chunks.
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I brought the soup to a boil, stirred in the frozen seafood, returned to the boil stirring occasionally, and just when it was getting there added the salmon. Just back to the boil, heat off, let sit 3 minutes. Garnish with a diced scallion, and serve over leftover rice we originally made for the dog (he's a little under the weather).
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New Year's Eve seafood gumbo!
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