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Friday, I’m in Love: Cupcakes!

Happy New Year!… if a bit late, and happy returns… to blogging? Been a bit of a rough year, but there’s no way to get back to writing than to just do it! And what better way to do that than with a Friday treat? In fact, I plan to try and treat myself every Friday, hence this new “Friday, I’m in Love” series–thank you Robert Smith. It might be going out, staying in, but it will be a nice way to force myself to post something at least weekly, but I digress…

Curbside Cupcakes food truck I had earned a short day at the office today and was planning on a very quick walk to metro to get out of the cold. Since I was passing at lunchtime, the food trucks were out in force at Canal Park. Normally, I don’t bother stopping because of the cold and the lines, but fortune was smiling upon me as Curbside Cupcakes, one of my favorite trucks happened to be out there and how better to treat myself than to a ½ dozen cupcakes paired with some ice cold milk–or hot espresso–at home?

Continue reading Friday, I’m in Love: Cupcakes!

Sakuramen in Adams Morgan

Sakuramen Menu Mention “ramen” to most people and you’ll get a weird look followed by “you mean the stuff in the cup?” or others might remember the college days when your “pantry” consisted of packets of Kool-Aid and instant ramen noodles since both could be bought in large amounts for not a lot of money. In any case, it’s not likely to evoke a good reaction to anyone that isn’t aware of how ramen noodles are prepared elsewhere in the world. So when a friend suggested Sakuramen in Adams Morgan a few weeks back, I was intrigued but skeptical, after all, even if it isn’t instant, it’s still just noodles and broth, right?

Well that is true, but completely undersells the experience. Since my first visit, I’ve been back twice and it’s a welcome comfort each time. When it’s chilly outside, ramen is warm and filling and with flu season upon us, there’s nothing like a good soup to make you feel better.

Fried Pork Gyoza/Dumplings

Especially if you’re like me and start with Gyoza (or Jiaozi, Dumplings, Potstickers, whatever you like to call them). Dumplings are one of my food addictions, no matter how much I plan to eat, I have to start with them if they’re on the menu. Steamed if I’m trying to be healthy, fried if I just don’t care. You get a nice serving of five which is perfect for sharing… just not with me!

Gojiramen

I went for the Gojiramen: traditional shoyu (soy sauce/chicken stock broth) ramen with chashu (roasted Berkshire pork), menma (marinated bamboo shoots), scallions, nori (seaweed), and sprouts. I’ve had the Shoki bowl before as well and both were delicious and had me tipping the bowl after finishing to slurp up a bit more broth. Speaking of slurping, if you’ve ever seen the Spaghetti scene from Tampopo, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but slurping is definitely not frowned upon here.

A few more pictures are up on flickr, but I didn’t really “chow down” on this visit. A gentleman seated near me made the mistake of ordering too much and had to have his appetizers boxed up to take with him. There are other delights on their menu that I look forward to trying on future visits, but this little out of the way place is enough to get me down to Adams Morgan on a more regular basis and that’s saying something. I certainly won’t look at ramen the same way anymore and no microwaved cup with a seasoning packet will ever cut it again.

Cocktails @ Bourbon Steak DC

My love for Bourbon Steak DC is no secret, but we typically go for lunch or dinner, only spending a few minutes at the bar while waiting for our entire party to arrive. Mostly that was tactical since as some of our bunch are lightweights, indulging in a smattering of cocktails before our dinner would have them passing out before the entree arrived. So when a friend suggested heading over there for happy hour to celebrate her late mother’s birthday, it was a great reason to have some cocktails and laughs in the lounge.

I was well aware of the tempting libations from previous visits and the restaurant makes great use of social media, tempting their followers from time to time with food and drink suggestions…

I started things off with an Achilles Heel, hanger one frasier river raspberry, metaxa ouzo, fresh lime and ginger served in a salted glass with cucumber garnish. I’m normally pretty wary of ouzo, but I knew I was in good hands with Duane Sylvestre who made sure I got the most out of the drink by encouraging me to tuck into the garnish after having a sip. Who knew that a little salted cucumber could enhance one’s cocktail experience so well?

The boy prefers his drinks on the sweeter side and cooled off with a classic Planter’s Punch to start while my friend opened with her usual, a Sazerac. It was a good thing we got there fairly early as we were able to chat with the bar staff and I could get out my cocktail nerdity before the lounge got too loud and crowded.

For my second round, I went with the Wooden Chair Rickey, Bourbon Steak’s entry into 2012’s Rickey Month competition.

It had a nice blend of flavors which I confess I can’t recall exactly at the moment–perhaps too much celebrating–garnished with pickled cherries. It satisfied the requirements of the classic Rickey, it was cold, tart and fizzy with more than a hint of sweetness, or as the drink is commonly called, “air conditioning in a glass”. I always try to order a few in the warm months and I’m glad I didn’t pass this one up.

Closing out the night with a delicious burger and a Planter’s Punch of my own, it was a really fun evening with a bit of nerdy celebrity spotting, many laughs and sharing memories and stories. Something I feel you can’t always do with your friends online.

As I’ve said before, unfortunately Bourbon Steak isn’t for the everyday meal or cocktail hour, but as a special treat to yourself every now and then–I think we’re up to once or twice a season, now–you will enjoy a great afternoon or evening with impeccable service, delicious food and as I can now confirm, amazing cocktails.

Super-Light Chili Con Carne

I am quickly becoming a convert on eBooks, especially cookbooks. I love buying cookbooks, but when it comes to that post-lunch surfing to decide what to make for dinner, I always resort to websites because I can’t flip through my cookbooks. eBooks are that nice compromise to be able to flip through recipes, make shopping lists and not worry that a recipe site or blog has left anything out.

In conjunction with our attempts to eat lighter, I’ve been reading Rocco DiSpirito‘s "Now Eat This!" and many of the recipes are pretty simple and fast though the creative ingredients substitutions for some recipes may give one pause. Last night I made his version of light–make that super-light–chili con carne with surprisingly delicious results!

The secret, though it’s hardly a secret, is that it doesn’t use any oil and hardly any fat. Ground turkey breast meat is 99% lean and the recipe didn’t call for any butter or oil, just vegetables, their juice, turkey and beans. We were wary, I caught my spouse readying himself for disappointment, but it turned out to be a flavorful chili with good texture and plenty of heat. See nutritional details after the recipe, but I’ll confirm that when he titled it Super-Light, that was referring to calories, not taste.

Super-Light Mexican Chili con Carne with Beans

Recipe from Rocco DiSpirito‘s "Now Eat This!"

Ingredients

  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into fine dice
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into fine dice
  • One 35-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, roughly chopped, juices reserved (a)
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder (b)
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces ground turkey breast (c)
  • One 14-ounce can black beans, drained (d)
  • Shredded 75% reduced-fat cheddar cheese, such as Cabot
  • Reduced-fat sour cream (e)

Substitutions/Notes

I usually place this section last, but when shopping for the specified ingredients, I noticed that the sizes in my local grocery store didn’t quite match up, something that can happen a lot when cooking from a book, especially a healthy recipe cookbook. My substitutions and other notes follow.

  1. I was unable to find a 35-ounce can of whole plum tomatoes in my local shop, so I compromised with a 28-ounce can + an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce.
  2. As mentioned before, I’m a heat wuss, so I used 2 tablespoons Chipotle chili powder with 1 tablespoon chili powder.
  3. At the local shop, ground turkey breast only came in a 20-ounce package, so I used the entire thing.
  4. Again, this size couldn’t be found, so I used a 15.5-ounce can of black beans.
  5. This is my own addition. It helps temper the significant heat produced by all the chili powder & cumin!

Instructions

  1. In a Dutch oven, combine the garlic, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes and their juices, chili powder, and cumin. Bring to a boil over high heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.
  2. Raise the heat to high and add the ground turkey, stirring to break it up. Add the black beans and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until turkey is cooked through, about 8 minutes.
  3. Serve the chili in bowls, with the cheese sprinkled on top.

The recipe is very simple with only a few steps, so I had time to do a little bit extra. I “browned” the ground turkey–using non-stick cooking spray and a few spoonfuls of the simmering chili liquid–in another pot first before adding it to the chili. And I let the chili cook for longer than 8 minutes each step since this wasn’t a classic long-cooking recipe, I wanted as much flavor to develop as possible.

DiSpirito’s original recipe serves 4 at 287 calories per serving. My modified recipe (with more ground turkey and beans) serves 6 at 245 calories per 11.5-ounce serving. (Per Lose It! — Total Fat: 2.2g, Cholesterol: 60.4mg, Sodium: 544.5mg, Carbs: 22g, Fiber: 6.7g, Sugars: 3.1g, Protein: 29g) Sprinkle 18-cup reduced fat cheddar and top with 2 teaspoons light sour cream to add another 55 calories bringing each bowl to a nice even 300 calories per serving.

Having a kitchen scale is great for portion control/serving size. Admittedly to figure out the above, I had to find a large enough bowl/pot, tare its weight on the scale, then pour the chili from the Dutch oven into it, but after a little weighing and a little math, it wasn’t too bad. And even though this chili had me sweating from the heat, I packed up a serving to bring into the office for lunch today–with cheese and sour cream, of course.

I look forward to flipping through more recipes in this book and slowly making the switch–or in some cases, doubling up–from paper to eBooks when it comes to my cookbook library at home.

Better than The “Best” Sangria

I know, I know, I already posted a recipe for “The Best” Sangria a year ago that remains one of my most visited pages on this site. Well, no disrespect to America’s Test Kitchen, but while their recipe is good, I think I’ve improved upon the original. As much as I see Sangria as a make-ahead recipe, I wanted to change it up a little bit that would allow it to only have to sit for a short time but release the “bite” that wine can sometimes have. Also, I wanted it to really taste more like the drink that you’ve made when you have a few bottles left open the morning after a big meal with friends.

Since mentioning Sangria as a good go-to Summertime party drink, many people would tell me how they used to make Sangria in college–always college–and it generally involved adding vodka, brandy or grain alcohol to wine, fruit optional. And while there’s nothing wrong with boozing up some wine, I didn’t think that would create a smooth and sip’able drink. Still, there was some wisdom to be had in adding either more or diverse liquor to my original recipe. I also figured, if this was a next day drink/punch, one wouldn’t necessarily have all the same type of wine lying around, right?

Thankfully, I had a party to attend, so tripling the amount of Sangria–using three different wines–wasn’t a bad thing and it’s a lot easier to transport 3 liters of Sangria in a bucket than trying to funnel it back into bottles. It vanished rapidly, clearly a big hit and I was told by a friend that it was better than my usual, so the recipe is a keeper!

Better than The "Best" Sangria

  • 3 (inexpensive or leftover) 750mL bottles of red wine
    • Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Shiraz
    • Shiraz-Grenache
  • 34 cup sugar
  • 3 oz. triple sec
  • 3 oz. peach schnapps
  • 1 oz. St. Germain (elderflower liqueur)
  • 4 sliced lemons
  • 4 sliced medium oranges
  • 4 juiced medium oranges*
  1. Add sliced oranges, lemons and sugar to large pitcher (or bucket) and muddle–not crush–with a spoon until the fruit releases some of its juice and the sugar dissolves a bit.
  2. Add orange juice, triple sec, peach schnapps and St. Germaine; stir.
  3. Pour in wine, stir to combine and refrigerate for at least 2–and up to 8–hours. Overnight is best.
    • If making a day ahead, remove the fruit with a slotted spoon after about 8 hours. The fruit’s oils will have been imparted into the Sangria and after that point it starts to become bitter from the peel & pith.
    • Reserve the fruit to add back in before serving.
  4. Stir briskly to distribute fruit and pulp; serve immediately over ice.

* If you’re not in the mood to pick over oranges in the produce aisle, pick up a 3 lb. bag of oranges that don’t look too bad. It should contain 8 or 9 oranges and you’re all set. Juice the ugly ones and slice the pretty ones.

The type of wines and liqueur you use is up to you, obviously, but the above combo is a winner. It makes a sweet enough drink to have right away and a smooth enough drink to have the next day. If you really want a “quick” batch, I’d use all Grenache blends as they have less acid and tannins so already come with less of a bite, even when blended with stronger reds. Removing the fruit helps the Sangria keep longer–without added bitterness–and makes for a boozy snack that still lets you say you’re getting a daily requirement of fruit… right?

After my last party experience, I’m tempted to suggest that you double the above recipe so long as you don’t throw out your back trying to move it from the counter to the fridge. If there are other libations available, it should last the evening for a party of 10 or so, but don’t count on there being any left over to take home with you. The summer may be almost over, but consider this recipe–whether served in a bucket or tastefully appointed punchbowl–for those “last hurrah” and Labor Day parties.

Baked Maryland-Style Crab Cakes

No one can really explain cravings. When you have one, you either acknowledge it and move on or you give in completely and indulge. Yesterday’s craving? Crabs, or more specifically crab meat because I wasn’t about to try starting a crab boil last night.

Not that I’m opposed to a good crab boil, mind you. When I was a kid visiting my grandparents in Savannah–during that typical childhood exile where your parents gladly get rid of you for a few weeks–my grandfather would wake us up at dark o’clock to go crabbing. I’d start out with a bucket shaped crab pot, but once I got good at it I could dip a single weighted line with bits of chicken on it and slowly draw up one crab after another. Even if we initially argued at getting up so early in the morning to spend it out on a boat, we couldn’t argue with the results and headed home with quite a haul to be boiled, seasoned, cracked and devoured. It was a family event and since then, it isn’t really fun for me unless you’re sitting around a newspaper-covered table and gabbing away while picking sometimes the tiniest amount of meat out of the shells.

Still, the craving demanded attention, so I did the next best thing and planned on a trip to the market for crab meat. I was just going to steam it in some Old Bay and snack on it with clarified butter, but after a few minutes searching I found a recipe for Baked Maryland Lump Crab Cakes. I’m certainly not anti-fried foods, but in my own house I am pretty anti-frying, so any recipe that produces a good “oven-fried” result works for me. And with this recipe, the results weren’t so bad!

If I’d been thinking, I would have pan-seared the crab cakes before popping them in the oven to bake, but they still turned out nicely cooked and browned. And ignoring my photo efforts, this recipe isn’t time-sensitive. While it’s nice to have everything out and ready to dump in the bowl, this is a “dump it in the bowl” recipe. Mix wet stuff, fold in crab meat, mix dry stuff, fold it in, form cakes.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay™ or seafood seasoning of choice
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup cholesterol-free egg product
  • 1 pound lump crab meat

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a baking sheet.
  2. Combine bread crumbs, baking powder, parsley, mustard powder, pepper, and seafood seasoning; set aside. Stir together mayonnaise, butter, Worcestershire, and egg product until smooth. Fold in crab meat, then fold in bread crumb mixture until well blended.
  3. Shape mixture into 12 crab cakes, about 3/4 inch thick, and place onto prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn the crab cakes over, and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until nicely browned.

My modifications were using claw meat instead of lump as it was less than half the price but needed a bit more flaking with a fork to separate the meat before adding it in. I used a 1/3 cup measuring spoon to form my cakes so only ended up with about 6 large cakes, not 12. After the first flip, I raised the oven to 400° F because they were looking a little pale. They browned up much better at the higher temperature.

I wasn’t really thinking what to serve them with or atop them when I was shopping, but I tossed together a tablespoon of mayo with one or two minced (then crushed/pulverized) cloves of garlic, some Old Bay and a sprinkle of paprika for color as a quick accompaniment. The way these spread out while baking would make them great for crab cake sandwiches as well.

I’d definitely make these again, and they look as though they would travel well either pre- or post-baking. Since crab meat is usually sold ready-to-eat, the only concern is getting the egg (product) cooked and they’re yummy fresh out of the oven or as a later Nigella-style fridge snack. These won’t replace some of the best crab cakes around DC or even the best I’ve ever had at Stoney’s, but it’s a good (and easy) recipe to have under my belt. However I’m betting there are some other good crab cake recipes out there too. Feel free to share them in the comments. Enjoy!

The “Best” Sangria

Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve posted an improved version of this recipe. It’s time to trade up!

We have tons of recipes for items that are a little past their prime. Whether it’s making bread pudding or french toast from day old/stale bread or using those browning bananas for banana bread, there’s always something that can be done with most leftover food. But when it comes to drinks, the field is pretty scarce, but Sangria is easily at the top of the list. While it’s mostly made with unopened wines, it’s also a perfect recipe for throwing together the leftover wines from the previous evening. Unless, of course, you’re like me and have to ask, “What’s leftover wine?”

My go-to recipe is pretty simple, but it’s not mine save for the odd alteration. This is “The Best Sangria” as determined by America’s Test Kitchen and the recipe’s been up on my other blog for a while now, but there’s nothing wrong with rehashing a classic, especially now that Summer is here. This really is the perfect beverage for a backyard cookout, a rooftop party or anytime it gets a little too hot and you’ve had time to prepare a cool beverage.

Ingredients

  • 2 large oranges, washed (one sliced, one juiced)
  • 1 large lemon, washed and sliced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup triple sec
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle inexpensive fruity medium-bodied red wine


Directions

  1. Add sliced orange, lemon and sugar to large pitcher; mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice, but is not totally crushed, and sugar dissolves, about 1 minute.
  2. Stir in orange juice, triple sec, and wine; refrigerate for at least 2–and up to 8–hours.
  3. Before serving, add ice and stir briskly to distribute fruit and pulp; serve immediately.

And it’s just that simple. A large orange produces about a 1/2 cup of juice in case you don’t have enough fruit around the house and I may change up the liqueur used, substituting out pear for orange or just adding it in to make it more potent. It will need at least 6 hours before serving to give the wine time to mellow out, so I usually make it the night before, or in the wee hours of the morning. If you won’t be enjoying it for a while, take the fruit out after about 8-10 hours and strain it to be stirred back in later.

As this is a “leftover” dish, it’s not meant for your finest wines unless you’re really into that. I usually opt for Fish Eye Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot because it 1: comes in screwtop bottles, which are great for transporting the sangria once made, and 2: it’s cheap. It costs $4.50 a bottle when you buy it as a 6-pack from Safeway. This recipe scales upwards nearly equally, so you’ll likely need a bucket when making a bigger batch, but I find that people appreciate that just as much.

As a special reward for yourself, you’ll find that, for example, making 3 bottles of wine into sangria results in about 4 bottles worth of sangria. So you can keep a bit for yourself at home in case you didn’t get enough of your own concoction at the party. But if–like me–you’re not proud, carting the sangria around in a bucket is just fine too and a lot easier. With the added potential of making new friends on the metro when they see what’s in the bag! And if you need a creative gift, buy some nicer bottles or make your own labels to slap on some screwtop bottles. This recipe keeps in the fridge for up to a week before it starts to go through a bit of fermentation which, while making it more potent, also turns it bitter faster. So it’s not something to keep around forever like regular wine.


If you can find it on the cheap, or happen to be gifted some Spanish wines, a Tempranillo or Grenache would be great or a big fruity French Beaujolais, but those are definitely bottles you’d use for next-day Sangria. This isn’t a drink to spend either too much money or time on. That latter because it goes fast. If you fear you haven’t made enough, be sure to fill each person’s glass with plenty of ice & fruit and as a last “stretching” resort, top each glass with ginger ale. In my experience, however, this won’t work for long but by the time it’s all gone people will be feeling pretty good anyway.

Now that my “secret” is out, I may have to start bringing actual food to potlucks and cookouts… the horror!

Dry Rubbed Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

It’s funny how things come full circle. Just over a year ago, I was starting to discover and connect with the DC foodie scene. My cooking posts were tossed in with the other things I wrote about in DC and if you’d mentioned a “food blog” to me, I would have laughed in your face. And well… here we are!

When I got my first crock pot, my inbox and IM windows were flooded with recipes to try and one that worked out well for me was a pulled meat style barbecue. It was ridiculously simple, put meat in the crock pot with a bottle of your chosen barbecue sauce and set on Low for six hours, shredding it at the seventh hour and simmering in the developed sauce. I shared the technique with a friend and ended up getting a mention as a “foodie friend” in her post on Pulled Pork. After looking back at that recipe, I decided to give it a try with a pork shoulder I recently picked up at the supermarket. Instead of a wet sauce, it uses a dry rub and relies on a bit of water and the pork’s fat to develop a sauce as it slowly cooks.

The dry-rub recipe is a “classic” from Cook’s Illustrated and the method is pure crock-pot with just a little bit of fiddling. You normally can leave things in the crock pot and walk away, but this requires some turning early on and obviously some shredding in the later hours:

  • one 6 to 8 lb. pork shoulder
  • 1/4 cup water (optional, depending on how much sauce you want to form)
  • spice rub
    • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
    • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
      (2 tsp if you like it spicy, I substituted chipotle pepper to trade heat for smokiness)
    • 1 tablespoon chili powder
    • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
    • 4 tablespoons paprika
    • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
    • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon white sugar
    • 2 tablespoons salt

  1. Mix together the spice rub in a large ziploc/oven bag, shaking it to combine the spices thoroughly.
  2. Add the pork shoulder and vigorously shake the bag until the pork is fully covered in the spice rub.
  3. Place the sealed bag in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours/overnight. The longer the pork is allowed to marinate, the stronger the flavor will be.

Crammed into the crock!

On cooking day, remove the pork shoulder from the bag and place it in the crock pot. Discard any leftover spice that didn’t “cling” to the meat.

  1. Add the 1/4 cup of water, if desired, and place the pot on low.
  2. Cover the pot with the lid and allow to cook for 1 hour.
  3. After an hour, turn the pork shoulder over and continue to cook for 1 more hour.
  4. Turn the pork shoulder over one more time and let it continue to cook for another 4 hours.
  5. Check to see if the pork is starting to tenderize. If it is, shred the pork using a fork (or tongs–or bear paws!) and stir the shredded meat around in the sauce created during cooking.
  6. Cook for another 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your crock pot and the desired flavor/texture.

Shredded and ready to serve

If your pork shoulder is closer to 8 pounds, you may need a longer cooking time and vice versa for smaller cuts of meat. Because of the fattiness of pork, it’s hard to mess this one up. Please note, this recipe makes a lot. It would be great made in advance of a picnic or party, but if you’re making this for just yourself, plan on a lot of leftovers!

To appease the BBQ purists out there, I admit that this isn’t barbecue. It was slow cooked using a steamed/simmering method, not slow-roasted over low heat on a grill/smoker. Some people like the charred bits that barbecue brings and if you feel that’s missing from this recipe, I advise that you remove the pork shoulder at about hour 5 or 6, place it on a baking or roasting pan and set it under the broiler for a few minutes per side to crisp up the edges before returning it to the crock pot for shredding. Just be careful moving the pork shoulder around at this stage as it’s quite ready to fall apart.

Even if it isn’t traditional barbecue, it will do for me in a pinch. Especially if I see that a planned cookout might be rained out, this wouldn’t be bad to have in the fridge as a backup dish. And while a sandwich is certainly the most satisfying serving method for the pork, I could also see it going over couscous or steamed rice, rolled up in a wrap with chopped veggies or even tossed with some cheese into an omelette for brunch. As I said, you’re going to have a lot of it, so if you and your guests aren’t feeling piggy–pun intended–when it’s first served up, plan ahead to freeze some or make some unique dishes with the leftovers. Enjoy!