Land of Leftovers

Growing up in the country meant a lot of things for me. I spent my springs in the woods making fresh maple syrup, my summers splashing through the nearby stream, my autumns in the woods again collecting mushrooms and firewood, and my winters curled up in front of the wood-burning stove. It meant spending hours in the garden in the spring, summer, and autumn -- planting and cultivating and harvesting -- and having the taste of summer in the middle of frigid winter. But, perhaps one of the most important lessons I took away from my childhood was that of the art of using leftovers. My mother would toil away on Sunday afternoon -- with the kids "helping" -- making a huge dinner. We rarely finished what was on the table, much less the extra helpings hidden away on the stove. However, during the week, that pot roast or baked chicken or ham or whatever would show up again. But, this time, it would be different. We might be enjoying a barbecued pork sandwich or a smoked turkey and bean soup or a spicy beef salad with horseradish dressing that had graced our table in a different form just days ago. I kept my eyes and my ears open and brought my mother's talent to my table -- and I've added some new tricks of my own through the years.

This column is all about sharing the art of using leftovers. Every month, a new way to use the same old thing will be introduced. Along the way, we'll take some detours to investigate how to stretch one or two ingredients into creative meals too. I encourage you to share your ideas about using leftovers too. I'd like this to be a learning experience for all of us. And now, without further ado, let's talk about one of the biggest producers of leftovers: ham.

I remember family dinners in which the star of the show was a beautiful marinated smoked ham. Now, however, with just two mouths to feed at Sunday dinner, ham can seem like a never-ending rerun. Don't despair! If your family can't finish that first meal -- and few can -- you don't need to worry about monotony taking over. All you need are a few ideas to dress up your leftovers.

One of the keys to making your leftovers different is adding extra texture and color to them by including new ingredients such as rice, red peppers, carrots, pasta, or peas. It can also be helpful if you opt to present what had been a main course dish as a first course dish or appetizer. If what had been presented on a large serving platter several days ago revisits your table on a salad plate, soup bowl, or appetizer platter, you might not hear groans of boredom coming to you from across the table.

I'm including five recipes in this month's column that take the fullest advantage of that leftover ham in your refrigerator. However, if you don't plan to use it all within a week -- and most of us choose not to -- repackage it in smaller containers and freeze it. If you want to save yourself time later, you can store some of it in slices, some cubed, and some in strips. Make sure you label your containers! Frozen ham doesn't always reveal much about itself. Another tip is to prepare extra amounts of your leftover dishes and either freeze them or make a point of having them for lunch. You'll beam when people stop by and ask what smells so good! Now, here's our line-up of leftover recipes:

Between all of these recipes, you can still enjoy a good marinated ham -- especially if there are going to be leftovers! Enjoy!

Baked Ham and Rice

The combination of ham, carrots, onion, pepper, and rice make this a dish that has something to offer to everyone. Make your job quicker by having the vegetables and ham cut in advance.
  • 1/2 c. onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c. green pepper, chopped
  • 1 c. carrots, sliced
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 3/4 c. minute rice
  • 1 1/2 c. ham, cubed
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the first four ingredients in a medium saucepan. Boil, then simmer for 5 minutes until the veggies are crisp-tender.

Without draining, stir in soup, uncooked rice, ham, and seasonings. Spoon into a 1 1/2 quart casserole.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the rice is tender and heated through. Serve hot with fresh bread or muffins.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Ham and Apple Slaw

This tangy main dish salad pairs sweet apples, salty ham, and a sweet and sour dressing that's sure to impress. Warm corn bread rounds out this flavorful meal well.
  • 1/3 c. apple cider
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 c. onion, chopped
  • 2 c. cabbage, coarsely shredded
  • 1 c. carrots, shredded
  • 1 c. ham, cubed
  • 1 c. sweet apple, chopped

Combine first four ingredients in a small saucepan; mix well. Cook over medium heat until boiling. Stir well and remove from heat.

In a large bowl, mix remaining ingredients. Toss well with warm dressing to coat. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Cheesy Ham-Stuffed Mushrooms

One of my favorite ways to spend an evening is with good friends, good conversation, and good food. Having a nice spread of appetizers and sweets can often make a full sit-down meal unnecessary.
  • 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms
  • 4 T. margarine
  • 1/2 c. ham, cubed
  • 2 T. parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 1 T. parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms. In a food processor, combine the mushroom stems, ham, cheese, zucchini, parsley, and seasonings. Process until the mixture is of spreading consistency.

Put the mushroom cups in a single layer in a shallow ovenproof dish. Fill the mushrooms with the ham and zucchini mixture. If desired, sprinkle each mushroom with cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes. Serve immediately. *Note: Filled mushroom caps can be refrigerated until ready to bake.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 25 minutes

Ham, Barley and Lentil Soup

This hearty soup is a delight to make and eat. Because it uses a combination of lentils and barley, it's also easy on the bank account!
  • 1/2 c. dry red lentils
  • 3/4 c. onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 5 c. water
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. basil, crushed
  • 1 tsp. chicken bouillon granules
  • 1/4 tsp. rosemary, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1 1/2 c. ham, diced
  • 1 c. carrots, thinly diced
  • 1/2 c. quick-cooking barley
  • 1 can tomatoes, cut up

Rinse and drain lentils.

In a stock pot, cook the onion and garlic in olive oil until tender, but not brown. Stir in the lentils, water, seasonings, and bouillon granules. Bring to boiling, then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

Stir in the ham, uncooked barley, and carrots. Simmer, covered, another 20 minutes until carrots are tender. Stir in the undrained tomatoes and heat through. Serve piping hot with an assortment of crackers.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Tortellini with Ham and Peas

There's something magical about the combination of ham, peas, and tortellini in a creamy sauce. This rendition calls for an extra baking to seal in the flavors and melt the shredded cheese. Add bread and a green salad and you've got dinner!
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. ham, diced
  • 1/4 c. onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. basil, crushed
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 c. frozen peas
  • 2/3 c. milk
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 3 c. cheese-filled tortellini, cooked
  • 1 c. Swiss cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 1 1/2 quart casserole with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, cook ham, onion, garlic and basil in olive oil over medium heat until onion is tender, but not browned. Stir in soup and peas; heat to boiling. Remove from heat. Stir in milk and pepper.

Place hot tortellini in prepared casserole. Pour sauce over tortellini and toss lightly to coat. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and mixture is bubbling. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes