Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

February 19, 2013

Dishing out the delish

ASHLAND — Ok, here’s one of those things where you’re either with me or going “Oh, yuck!”:I happen to like to mix macaroni and cheese into my chili.

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Something about the creamy cheese blends perfectly with the spice in the chili itself and the macaroni adds a nice texture.

If I don’t happen to have mac and cheese to add, though, I like to dump in some corn chips. While it’s not the same effect, those chips add a little oomph to an otherwise common food.

Maybe that started way back in my childhood. My mother was the queen of making marvelous meals with leftovers. Sometimes, in fact, we didn’t even know the basic ingredients were leftovers, her originality was so great.

I imagine part of her “use it all” philosophy came from having been raised during the Depression on the adage of waste not, want not. Being a farm daughter and then a farm wife, she also learned to use what was in season or just been butchered in her meal planning.

By the time I was in high school, all we raised on the farm were corn, soybeans or wheat. The cattle pasture had been plowed up and the barn was falling into disrepair. Even the chicken coop had become a storage building by then.

Yet my mother never changed her way of cooking even though the food came from the grocery store aisles. She could start with a big pot roast on Sunday and create a new meal every night with what was left.

While I do not possess her culinary skills, I tend to do the same thing. My leftover Sunday beef roast will become vegetable soup on Monday. If there’s still some left on Tuesday, it’s time for beef and noodles or a shepherd’s pie.

Leftover chicken goes into a casserole or made into chicken salad. You get the idea.

Being a widow and cooking for one, my standards aren’t as high as they were when I had a family gathering around the table. I’m perfectly happy with tater tots and cherry nut ice cream for supper if that’s what my taste buds demand. But there are times when I actually take the time to study the contents of the cupboard and make a real meal.

Since his father’s death, my son comes every Sunday after church for dinner. While I’d like to think it’s strictly because he misses my company, I secretly believe he’s happy to trade being a husband and foster dad for a few hours of being spoiled by his mom. Because, yes, I do cook that Sunday dinner with his tastes in mind.

The blessing is that he’s not picky and he doesn’t expect me to move outside my comfort zone. He knows there will be no gourmet meals, just comfort foods the way we like them.

So while some people are going to a nice restaurant for dinner after leaving church, we’re dining on the foods that we happen to like and don’t care if anyone else does. Like fried chicken gizzards and lima beans. Or my famous goulash, which is basically hamburger, macaroni and tomato sauce with a nice array of spices.

I did hit a home run last week, though, with what turned out to be almost a dish for a gourmand. I started with canned chicken breast, noodles and mushroom soup. A little milk, some onions and spicing, and I had a casserole that came out of the oven piping hot and smelling good.

But since I didn’t have crackers or potato chips to crush over the top, it looked a little dry. Checking out the frig, I found one of those little containers of garlic butter that come with pizza sometimes. Popping it open, I poured half of it over the casserole and let it soak in.

Oh, man, was that good. And did it ever remind me of my mother, who was surely with me in spirit going, “Yep, that’s my girl!”

CATHIE SHAFFER can be reached at cathieshaffer@zoominternet.net or (606) 473-9851,

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