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Seasonal Recipe: Homemade Salsa

20 Jul

Snack of champions: chips and homemade salsa.

Grace’s hippie sister, Emily, here, surfacing for the first time in months to share a recipe that should come in handy for anybody who has a vegetable garden (or a neighbor with a garden).

That’s right, kids: It’s salsa time.

Use an entire head of garlic. Seriously.

Start by throwing a big handful of cilantro (one bunch from the grocery store or whatever you have in your garden will do) into a food processor and pulsing it until it’s nice and fine and feathery. Next, take a head of garlic, separate and peel the cloves, cut off the ends, and throw ’em into the food processor. Give ’em a good whirl to mince them, then add hot peppers to taste. Four serranos will give you a nice medium-hot salsa; adjust the quantity to suit your taste, and feel free to substitute whatever peppers you prefer (or need to use up).

I like red onions, but red or yellow will work as well.

Next, add three cored, quartered bell peppers in any color and a peeled, quartered onion, processing after each addition. Add the juice of two or three small limes — proportions aren’t critical, but you want to get a little extra acid in there for canning purposes — and process to mix.

Tomatillos look like little green tomatoes with husks.

If you can put your hands on some tomatillos, peel and core about five of them and add them to the mix at this point. If you can’t, don’t worry about it; they aren’t absolutely necessary, but they do add a nice flavor if you happen to have them. Process, then dump the mixture into a large bowl to make room in the food processor for your tomatoes.

Core and quarter about three pounds of tomatoes (Romas are ideal, but any kind will do; just be aware that the juicier varieties will make a finished product that’s more like picante sauce than salsa) and chop them in the food processor.

Now, here is a neat trick: If you have extra cucumbers that you need to use up, you can add a couple to your salsa at this point, and nobody will be any the wiser. Just chop them finely and stir them in. You’ll never notice them by the time they’ve absorbed the other flavors. You could probably do this with zucchini, too, although I wouldn’t use too much, lest it compromise the texture.

Unless your food processor is huge, you'll have to do half the tomatoes at a time.

Stir everything together in a huge bowl. At this stage, the salsa will probably look kind of bubbly and unappealing. Remedy this by stirring in ground cumin until the froth goes away, then stirring in chili powder until the color looks nice and red.

Salsa cans well in a boiling-water bath.

You can either eat the salsa now or pack it into clean pint jars with an inch of headspace and process in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes. Serve nice and cold with plenty of tortilla chips or fresh vegetables for dipping. Makes about three quarts.

I like to bring this salsa to office parties. It always impresses people, and it’s safe for vegetarians, diabetics, and various other dieters, especially if you bring celery sticks and cucumber slices for low-carb dipping.


Winter Recipe: Spinach Tortellini Soup

12 Jan

To view text-only version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

These greens will warm the "snowy day blues" right out of you.

Nothing’s better than coming in out of the snow to a piping hot bowl of soup, but what happens when you don’t have hours to let the kettle simmer before dinner?

This soup recipe can be thrown together and cooked in under thirty minutes, and it’s got all the hearty flavor of something that’s been bubbling for hours.

If you can’t find frozen or refrigerated cheese tortellini at your local discount grocery store, you can substitute using either cheese ravioli, or just regular boxed pasta noodles + a little bit of grated parmesan cheese in the soup.

Start by melting a tablespoon of butter/margarine in a deep pot over MEDIUM burner heat. Once melted, throw in about a cup of diced onions. (I keep these in the freezer so I don’t have to mess with chopping them every night.) Continue reading

Healthy Recipe: Chicken Fiesta Salad

25 Oct
Note: Gracie is up to her eyeballs in work, so Emily is sharing her own family’s version of Fast Salsa-Ranch Chicken Salad below.

This colorful salad is as tasty as it is pretty.

Gracie’s hippie sister strikes again.

My husband likes taco salad. I’m not usually a big fan, but this particular version is so protein-packed and easy to make that it’s hard to go wrong with it. Continue reading

(Cheap) Low-Carb Recipe: Java Latte Mushroom Sauce

15 Jun

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

We were having flank steak for dinner last week and I wanted to try something new. I almost always cover it with onions, mozzarella and green peppers, which is one of my favorite low-carb options, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to think outside the box for one night and experiment a bit.

So glad I did, too. Hubby raved about this sauce, and asked me if I would make it again soon. It was so simple and so rich–I’ll never use condensed mushroom soup in recipes again. And what a lovely way to serve coffee with cream, don’t you think?

Itsy bitsy veggie pieces.

Heat 4 Tbs. butter or margarine in a large, deep skillet. While butter warms, chop 1 celery rib and 1 small onion into very small bits.

♥Chef’s Note: Old celery is much easier to finely sliver than new celery. About 2-3 weeks old is best for making gravy and sauces; before it turns yellow, but after it starts to lose its rigidness. You can chop it so thinly you could read a newspaper through it! 🙂

Sliced, fresh mushrooms.

Throw the chopped vegetables into the hot butter and sautee over MEDIUM heat for a couple of minutes. Add a package of sliced fresh mushrooms (about 8-12 ounces) and about 1 tsp. minced garlic (or powder).

Stir-fry mushrooms with 1 tsp. dried oregano and add a healthy dash of hot sauce, if desired. Add salt/pepper to taste. When the vegetables have softened, pour about 2 cups leftover brewed coffee over the mixture, increase burner heat and bring to a simmer for about fifteen minutes, leaving the skillet uncovered.

Don't let leftover coffee go to waste!

(This is a good point to start broiling a steak if you’re serving it that way.)

Simmer until coffee is reduced.

When at least 1/3 of the liquid has evaporated from the sauce, reduce heat back to MEDIUM and stir in 1 cup heavy cream or whole milk. Evaporated milk would probably work well, too.

Continue to simmer uncovered, stirring every few minutes to prevent scorching.

At this point the sauce should resemble a thin gravy. The longer it simmers uncovered, the thicker it will become. It will also thicken a little more after being removed from heat, so keep that in mind.

You could easily pass this off as a soup appetizer, too!

If you’re serving the gravy over a London Broil, slice beef into slivers about 1/4″ thick and ladle gravy over the top. This would also be nice paired with baked or grilled chicken. For an even less expensive meal, heat roast beef lunchmeat and arrange on a plate and pour Java Latte Mushroom Sauce over the top.

Gravy on a low-carb diet! Who’d have thunk it?

Caution: Extremely rich and awesome.

Low-Carb Recipe: Pureed Cauliflower

14 Jun

Two main ingredients are all you need to make this yummy side dish.

Grace’s sister here, invading the kitchen with a quick recipe that is both low-carb and vegetarian.

On a trip to Santa Fe several years ago, my husband and I treated ourselves to dinner at the Coyote Cafe, where my dinner came with a serving of a soft, delicately flavored something-or-other that sort of looked like mashed potatoes but definitely wasn’t.

I’ve never forgotten that first encounter with pureed cauliflower — or my delight at discovering how easy it was to replicate the dish at home.

Like most cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower normally has a tendency to taste a little too … well … cruciferous. You can douse it with cheese sauce and mask part of that unappetizing smell that accompanies cooked brassicas like broccoli or cabbage, but at the end of the day, it’s still going to taste like a slightly less obnoxious version of broccoli.

Pureed cauliflower changes all that. I have no idea why, but when you drain it and run it through a food processor with a stick of butter, cauliflower takes on a flavor that is vaguely reminiscent of mashed potatoes, but smoother and more complex.

Process cooked cauliflower with a stick of butter.

Bonus: It’s incredibly cheap and simple to make. Start by dumping a bag of frozen cauliflower into a big saucepan and covering it with water. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer until the cauliflower is tender (usually 20 to 30 minutes), adding water as necessary to keep it from boiling dry and scorching.

Drain the cauliflower, dump it into a food processor, and add a stick of butter. (You can use less if you’re worried about fat content, but I like it good and rich.)

Process at high speed until the butter and cauliflower have blended into a thick puree and serve. If you’re a carnivore, this goes well with steak and salad; at our house, where the resident vegetarian (yours truly) does most of the cooking, we just swap the meat for a big pile of sauteed mushrooms and call it good.

This recipe stores well for make-ahead meals.

The finished product looks prettier if you serve it from nice dishes like Grace does, but I was cooking in advance, so mine went straight into an ugly Rubbermaid tub to be stored in the fridge until just before dinner, and it tasted so good that I forgot to photograph it on my plate before I ate it.

Pureed cauliflower is a good choice if you like to cook things ahead of time and store them for later use, as it will keep in the refrigerator for several days and can be reheated quickly in the microwave.

Low-Carb Recipe: Spaghetti Squash & Marinara al fresca

24 May

 For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

This is a good one for nights when you don’t think you can stand doing without pasta any longer. Granted, it’s NOT pasta, but with enough parmesan cheese, it will get you safely through another evening at home. 🙂

Begin by cutting a large spaghetti squash in half and scooping out any seeds or extraneously stringy or wet bits.

Place both cleaned halves face down in a glass or ceramic baking dish, if they’ll fit. (If not, and you’re like me, you’ll have to soften them one at a time.)

Add water to the face-down squash until about 1/2″ deep in the bottom of the dish. Cover with plastic wrap if desired (not entirely necessary if you ask me).

Clean that yucky stuff out of the hollow middle.

Nuke it until tender; about 8-10 minutes in my microwave, but everyone’s microwave is different so begin checking early if you’re not certain.

Cook squash halves rind-side-up in a shallow layer of water.

(You can alternatively cook the halves rind-side-up at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes in the oven, but still put a little bit of water in the pan bottom.)

MEANWHILE, warm a small amount of butter in a skillet over MEDIUM burner heat.

Sliver half an onion and add to skillet. Chop 2 zucchinis and throw in the skillet; sprinkle heavily with garlic powder and oregano (about 2 teaspoons each).

Stir often to judge texture. (You don't want it to turn into mush!)

Saute vegetables in butter just until zucchini barely begins to soften, then add 2 drained cans diced tomatoes to the mixture.

Add cocoa powder to marinara mixture.

To marry flavors, add about 2 teaspoons cocoa powder and stir mixture often until simmer is reached; then reduce heat to LOW or WARM settings until ready to serve. Salt to taste.

Chef’s Note: You’ll need less salt for this dish if you add it to the sauce rather than the cooked squash. Trust me.

Remove squash from oven or microwave; flip halves over to reveal the steamed inside flesh.

Using a fork, begin scraping the cooked squash away from the rind in quick motions. It should separate into small, firm strands about the size and texture of al dente-cooked vermicelli pasta (thin spaghetti).

Toss squash with oil, garlic and lots of parmesan.

Scrape squash strands into a large bowl. Once both rinds have been emptied, toss “spaghetti” with a couple of tablespoons oil, another teaspoon or more of garlic powder, and about 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese.

The perfect disguise.

(You need a lot of parmesan to overcome the “squashy” flavor and fool your mouth that it’s pasta, so make sure if you’re low-carbing it that there isn’t any starchy filler in your grated parmesan cheese.)

Spoon coated squash strands into bowl, top with the skillet vegetable mixture, and cross one more evening of diet-induction madness off your calendar! 🙂

Low-Carb Recipe: Inside-Out Egg Rolls!

19 May

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Asian-flavored cabbage rolls

This ain't your grandmama's homemade cabbage roll. Unless she was a low-carb dieter back in the old school, of course. And also possibly Chinese.

Yesterday I couldn’t stand the cravings I had all day for a Chinese egg roll–a real, honest-to-blog, greasy, salty, chewy, “carby,” restaurant-style, deep-fried, now-I-can-meet-Jesus egg roll dinner.

But alas! I’m low-carbing it right now and eating such a sinful goodie;was a complete non-option.

Nonetheless, by the time I picked up the family and pulled into the driveway last night, I knew I had to try–one way or another.

An hour later, I was sure glad I did.

Cabbage leaves.

Cabbage leaves.

I’ve never been much on the standard Italian-seasoned, soup-covered, vintage beef & rice cabbage roll. But these…these were something else entirely. Not to brag or anything, but DANG was this a great idea!

Shredded core.

Shred the remaining cabbage core.

Not only was the filling in these cabbage rolls a dead ringer for regular egg roll centers, it was easy to make, low-carb, lowfat, low-cal, and even vegetarian! And cooking them uncovered at half-time meant in addition to being speedier than their traditional counterparts, the rolls’ outer “shells” kept a wonderful firmness that separated them from your average, soggy, run-of-the-mill stuffed cabbage.

Toss the filling veggies.

Toss cabbage, carrots, celery and green onions.

Chef’s Note: It is infinitely easier and produces infinitely prettier results if you freeze a head of cabbage overnight and then fridge-thaw & core it before peeling the giant leaves off for roll wrappers. Plus, you don’t have to waste time boiling the cabbage then, either.

Stir-fry filling mixture.

Add eggs to filling and keep stir-frying until less wet.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and warm 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a large skillet over MEDIUM heat. While stove heats up, core a thawed, previously-frozen head of cabbage and remove stem.

Place spoonfuls of filling into each cabbage leaf.

Spoon filling mixture into each cabbage leaf.

Slowly peel away 8 to 10 large cabbage leaves, keeping them as much intact as possible but cutting away any stiff parts that were near the stem. (You want the leaves to be kind of floppy all around.)

Take the remaining portion of cabbage left on the head and shred it with a large knife. (You’ll get about 2 or 2-1/2 cups left on a medium-sized cabbage after stripping the best leaves.) Throw shredded cabbage in a large bowl.

To shredded cabbage, add about 1/3 cup shredded carrots (♥see note!), 1 petite-diced celery rib and 4 petite-diced green onions (scallions). Toss all of the chopped vegetables together.

Stuffed cabbage leaf.

Roll leaf around filling mixture.

Note: While carrots are generally discouraged during the induction phase of many low-carb diets (Atkins, South Beach, etc.), the small amount (1/3 cup or about 1-2 small handfuls) I used in this recipe is fairly benign, particularly when you look at a bag of shredded carrots and notice how much empty space is actually in that bag.

Meanwhile, if you feel uncomfortable having them in there during induction phase, just leave ’em out. It’s no biggie. They just add a little bit of extra texture and some welcome color to the filling, but they’re still expendable. Throw the veggies into your warm, oiled skillet. If you’re making this vegetarian (I did), add 1 cup dehydrated texturized vegetable protein (TVP)♥ (What’s TVP, you ask?) to the skillet, along with 1 cup of water.♥Chef’s Note: If TVP isn’t available at your discount store, you can easily make this recipe using a pound of ground turkey or other (ground) meat instead; just add it to the skillet first and throw in veggies once meat begins to brown.

Sprinkle stir-fry mixture with: 2 teaspoons ginger, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1 teaspoon Oriental 5-Spice Blend (or your own choice of cinnamon/nutmeg/anise/whatever), and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Shake in about 2 tablespoons soy sauce and crack 2 eggs into skillet. Break yolks immediately with spoon and continue to stir-fry until vegetables are tender but firm and TVP or meat has fully browned. (No pieces of egg should be discernible.) Remove skillet from heat.

Mix oil & soy sauce for basting.

Place 2-3 spoonfuls stir-fry mixture in the center of each cabbage leaf, stopping to roll each one before moving onto the next. To wrap, first roll leaf like a tube around the filling and then tuck each cabbage end underneath the “tube” you just made. Place rolls side by side, tucked side-down, in a greased baking dish.

Raw, basted cabbage rolls.

Baste the tops of the uncooked wraps with a mixture of 1 tablespoon oil & 1 teaspoon soy sauce before placing UNCOVERED into hot oven.

Browned & ready to eat!

Bake approximately 25 minutes, or until cabbage glows bright green and filling mixture can be seen through the now-translucent leaves.

Remove from oven; use tongs to distribute rolls onto plates. Allow to cool about 2 minutes before eating. Freeze or refrigerate leftovers.

Inside-out egg rolls.

Inside-out is very delicous!

Make a pouch.

Low-Carb Recipe: Sweet & Spicy Jalapeno Black Beans

18 May

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Black beans & jalapenos
These satisfying beans are teeming with flavors!

This low-carb, diet-friendly dish is one of my favorite concoctions when I’m on the bandwagon because it goes with so many other things: taco meat, lean pulled pork, cottage cheese, etc. Last night, it was just as at home with Asian-inspired baked chicken thighs.

The best part about this version is that you don’t have to wait until right before dinner’s ready to heat up the beans for fear of them turning to mush on the stovetop. I discovered years ago that jalapeno brine right in the pot with them has an awesome effect on preserving the beans’ texture, whether they’re spending a couple of minutes or a couple of hours on the stove!

Canned beans

Double the recipe and use the whole jar of jalapenos--leftovers keep well!

I think the reason has to do with the vinegar keeping the peels from separating off the beans, but I’m not pretending to understand science here–I just know that it works!

Rinse black beans

Drain & rinse beans.

Begin by draining and rinsing a can of black beans (recipe can be doubled).

Put beans in bottom of small/medium saucepan and place over LOW burner heat.

To the saucepan, add half of a (12-oz) jar of sliced jalapenos (or any other sliced pickled pepper) along with 1/2 of the jar’s brine/vinegar.

Jar of jalapeno peppers

Sliced pickled peppers.

Chef’s Note: The easiest way to divide the peppers and brine in half is to first drain the juice into an empty measuring cup (will be about 2/3 c. juice), shake half of the peppers into the pot, pour half of the brine over it, and then empty the rest of the measuring cup’s contents back over the jalapenos still in the jar.

Jalapeno brine.

Use a measuring cup to divide 1/2 jar's brine.

Stir in 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon instant chicken boullion granules (or crushed boullion cube) and 4 artificial sweetener packets (I use Splenda but anything will work).

Keep over LOW heat.

Keep on LOW heat.

Mix in 1 or 2 tablespoons steak sauce. Many popular steak sauces are somewhat low-carb to begin with, and in this particular case that one “serving” of sauce is being spread out over several servings of the beans–and also the leftover bean “juice” that won’t even be consumed in the end– so there’s actually no real carb danger here.

Artificial sweetener.

Artificial sweetener.

(Now, if you were slathering loads of sauce all over a single portion of steak three times a day, that might be horse of a different color. Maybe.)

Diet or no-diet; these are great!

Diet or no diet; these beans rule!

 Pour in 2/3 cup water and stir lightly. Cover saucepan and allow to heat over LOW burner until thoroughly heated. Serve; refrigerate or freeze any leftovers still in the “juice.”

*If you’re not low-carbing it per se (maybe just lowfat?), you can bring those leftover beans out of retirement and give an otherwise “ho-hum” pasta salad an exotic makeover.

Cheap Recipe: Mexican-Style Stuffed Peppers

13 May

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Mexican stuffed peppers.
An ethnic variation on a classic oven-baked dish.

A sale on stoplight-packaged bell peppers last week was timed perfectly with some leftover rice I had sitting in the refrigerator. On a whim, this version of an old standby (usually prepared with Italian seasonings and ingredients at my house) was born.

You can whip up a small amount of chili sauce for this recipe (like I did), use thawed leftover chili (this batch variation freezes quite nicely), or even substitute a can or two of Hormel in its place. My version is vegetarian, but obviously you can use ground beef or shredded chicken in the chili or even in the rice mixture if you like.stoplight bell peppers

My new Pfaltzgraff dish

Thanks, Pfaltzgraff, for my adorable new casserole dish!

Begin by preheating oven to 400 degrees. Remove stems/caps from and hollow out the insides of 4 bell peppers (green, red, whatever) but try to leave shells intact all the way to the top opening, forming a sort of tall bowl.


Meanwhile, mix 1 can of black beans (drained) with 2 regular cans diced tomatoes (undrained) over medium burner heat in a large pot. Stir in 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

tomatoes, beans and spices

Tomatoes, beans and spices.

When mixture is thoroughly warmed, incorporate 1-1/2 to 2 cups leftover cooked rice into the bean mixture. Stir well until heated through.

leftover rice

Leftover rice. (Mine was saffron rice but it really doesn't matter.)

The excess liquid from the tomatoes will prevent the rice from drying. Cover warm mixture and remove from burner heat.

Stand the hollowed peppers upright in a square casserole dish so that each pepper helps to hold the others up. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup shredded cheddar/jack cheese in the bottom of each pepper.

rice & chili mixture

Rice and chili mixture.

Spoon enough rice/bean mixture over the bottom cheese layer until almost level with top openings of peppers.

Cheese in the bottom

Cheese in the bottom.

Smush about 1/4 cup additional shredded cheese over rice mixture, or as much as will fit without spilling over.

Use a small spouted pitcher or cup to pour about 1/2″ water into bottom of casserole dish.

Rice in the middle.

Rice and beans in the middle.

Place uncovered dish in preheated oven; cook 20-25 minutes or until cheese is entirely melted and peppers have begun to soften slightly.

Water in the pan

Cheese on top and water in the pan bottom.

A fork inserted into the outer skin of one of the peppers should indicate doneness.

Serve in small bowls or freeze individually in small, lidded containers.

Microwave frozen leftovers individually on HIGH for about 3 minutes each. These travel well to work for eat-at-your-desk lunches! (Just remember to pack a knife!)

Top with sour cream if you're in the mood...


Cheap Recipe: Ranch Pita Pizza

12 May

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Ranch Pita Pizza
Tidbits of leftovers morph into one of my favorite meals.

This is a variation on a breakfast dish that was offered many years ago at a now-defunct Carbondale restaurant called MacClelland’s Bistro. As they were the only place in town that delivered real breakfast food, I was an immediate fan.

When they went out of business, it was left to me to try and replicate their “Portabella Pita” at home. Over time, I discovered there were many different base ingredients that would produce similar results: pitas, pocket bread, refrigerated pizza crusts, sandwich flat rounds–the list goes on.

Similarly, I also discovered this made just as excellent a lunch/supper/snack as it did breakfast. We eat these pretty often at my house, around the clock, made from whatever bread base I find on sale at our local grocery store that week, or whatever’s been sitting on the counter a while at home. (I think the most awesome version I ever made was with miniature Boboli refrigerated pizza crusts, but I haven’t seen them available in years, at least around these parts. Such a pity.)

Ranch pita ingredients.

The simplest of ingredients.

The recipe here is for one single serving; you can replicate it as many times as you like. I made this batch out of small sandwich rounds, so I count two pieces as one sandwich round (a top and a bottom split apart). The two halves are about equal in size to one regular pita or individual-sized pizza crust, so the other ingredient ratios even out that way.

Sauteed mushrooms.

Remove from heat before mushrooms begin to reduce in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt a couple of tablespoons butter/margarine over medium-high heat in a skillet. When skillet is hot, toss in a handful of fresh, sliced mushrooms. Sprinkle on liberal dashes of garlic powder and dill weed if desired. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon until heated but not shriveled.

Jamie choosing his piece.

Jamie pointing at which piece will be his.

Meanwhile, dice half of a small tomato into 1/2″-sized pieces and toss with a dash of fresh parsley (optional). Lightly oil (any kind) the surface of the flatbread and spread about 2 teaspoons of cheap ranch or buttermilk dressing evenly over the oiled bread.

Coat with ranch dressing.

A good rule of thumb: A large smiley face is just about the right amount of dressing.

Sprinkle a small handful of shredded cheese (any kind) over the dressing.

Spoon hot mushrooms and diced tomatoes onto the “pizza” and top with another small handful of shredded cheese.

layer toppings

Layer the toppings.

Place open-faced breads in oven and cook about 10 minutes, or just until cheese melts and bread is hot. (You don’t want a crispy crust on this.)

 Remove from oven and serve.

Chef’s Note: If flatbread pieces are large,

More toppings.

The plain one in the back is Jamie's, of course.

 serve folded over like a gyro. If round servings are small, like sandwich rounds, you

Finish with more cheese.

Seal it on with additional cheese.

can either serve open-faced or stack two into a “sandwich.”

Also good to know? Leftovers make perfect microwaveable traveling companions. 🙂

Mmmm. Delicious!



Hot from the oven.

Hot from the oven.

I want one right now.

I want one right now.

Stack leftovers to avoid mess.

Make yourself a leftover "to go" sandwich.