What we learned in hard times

Crossover Cooking

by Scott A Caughel

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Crossover cooking, born of necessity, continued in practicality. Making this practice a part of your life will stretch your money, your meals, and your minutes. This lifestyle was born in one of those "when I was a kid I walked five miles barefoot in the snow" stories. When I was a kid (see), money was tight and my mother had no choice but to find inventive ways to stretch a dollar and a meal. Like most people, we had mashed potatoes for dinner at least once a week, which inevitably produced leftovers. In many homes, those leftovers would land in the dog bowl. In our house, the potatoes were destined for something better, namely Saturday morning breakfast! No kidding, while we watched cartoons, mom would get out those potatoes, put a little bacon grease in a pan, rip up some white bread (usually the end crust and drying pieces), chop some onion and fry it all up until golden brown. Do not look at this negatively. When mom put those fried potatoes and an egg on a plate, smiles grew.

When I started cooking for my household, the time came to make a fried potato breakfast, not out of necessity, but out of the happy memories it triggered. As an adult, it still made smiles grow, and it occurred to me that mom was a genius! Those potatoes that lay before me were part of a great meal a few nights before and had already effectively served the purpose for which they were purchased. The bread was on its way to being dry enough to be bird food, but it was perfect for this use, and the bacon grease had been retained from Sunday breakfast a few weeks ago. What does all this mean? It meant we had that fancy Saturday breakfast for the cost of an egg and our share of a medium onion, or about eight cents a plate. I started to think, "How can I plan a meal that will produce leftovers, which will crossover as a substantial part of another?" It started simply. Ham for dinner produced sandwiches for lunch (the traditional use) and chopped up ham for omelets, turning a plain egg breakfast into something more. This train of thought resulted in two categories for excess food: leftovers and crossovers. Why plan just a single meal when putting together your weekly menu and shopping list?

Everyone with a mother understands the use of leftovers so let's focus on crossover thinking when meal planning. No matter how I try, a pan of spaghetti sauce will never feed less than two large families. Once this large pan of sauce has been produced, it is first used for the purpose it was created, "spaghetti night." Afterward, the extra sauce is divided into the two categories; a couple portions are put into containers for lunches or "leftovers," and the rest is saved to be used in my favorite "crossover" meal. Later that week, having planned this crossover meal into my menu and shopping, I pull out the necessary ingredients including the main ingredient, the extra sauce. I first cook up a pound of ziti noodles, rinse, and put half in a casserole dish. Then I pour half of the extra sauce over the noodles. Next I mix the ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, and spread half over the noodles and sauce. After repeating this process one more time, I put it in the oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes.

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What comes out no man could call leftovers! Who would guess this "baked (crossover) ziti" was not the unique meal it appears to be? As promised, you stretch your money. One pound of pasta costs about $1.29, 16 ounces of ricotta is costs about $2.69, and 16 ounces mozzarella costs about $4.78. In this meal, the hamburger, tomato sauce, stewed tomato, assorted spices and onion don't cost anything as the sauce crossed over from a previous meal. This dish makes four servings, equaling $2.19 per serving, plus four free bonus leftover servings. You stretch your meals by creating two unique dinners out of one great sauce. Last, you stretch your minutes. The bulk of time in any tomato-sauce based meal is spent on the sauce. The time spent making the spaghetti sauce would normally have been repeated to make the ziti sauce. For our "crossover" ziti, the prep time is literally minutes.

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Here is another idea for your menu. The first meal includes hamburgers, mashed potatoes, and a vegetable. For the crossover meal, in a casserole dish, mix broken up hamburgers, vegetables, and a can of cream of mushroom soup. Cover this mixture with extra potatoes and top with frozen Tater Tots. Finally, bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Remember it is not simply warming up extra food after the fact, but planning the crossover uses of the foods you like when meal planning and shopping accordingly for crossover cooking.

Reviewed May 2017

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