Shepherd's pie is a popular recipe that's also great if you're trying to cut down on expenses as you can often use leftovers from other meals. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

No doubt inflation is biting our grocery budgets, as it is doing in many places all around the world. A friend of mine observed, “I bet you haven’t noticed it as much as other people because of your garden.” That is certainly true — fresh vegetables and some homegrown fruit, plus hunter friends who share venison, certainly have kept this household a little more inflation proof. I’ll bet there are plenty of you who do the same.

When I did grocery shop lately, the price of butter and other dairy products, a favorite brand of bacon, and burger rolls, which I do not make at home, all were sharply higher. So were canning lids, where I really noticed price increases because of all the food I put up.

Mainly, I’m inflation proof because I buy in bulk, cook from scratch a lot and avoid the center aisles of grocery stores where you find the pre-prepared packaged stuff like breakfast cereal, cake mixes or those silly plastic cups of soup with a lid holding little crackers. (You can save money by taking homemade soup to work in a reusable plastic container plus a little jar or paper sandwich bag of crackers.) I don’t even buy pasta sauce because it is so easy to make my own and then freeze, or even can jars full of it for use whenever I need it.

Then, too, I am a semi-compulsive leftovers user. Now, I may be preaching to the choir here, so good for you if you already use your leftovers. Most of this advice is for new cooks, or those just a little shy about experimenting with dinner.

Using leftovers requires flexibility, moxie and a willingness to avoid recipes, most of which rely on specific amounts of ingredients. Of course, recipes can inspire how you use leftovers that don’t come in nice even cup or spoonful amounts. Be prepared for varying results — after all, no rule says what you cook has to be the same every time.

Some leftovers easily convert into another meal. Leftover beef stew with broth and barley added is wonderful soup. Leftover chicken becomes soup when you add chicken broth (water and bouillon), sauteed onion and celery, and rice. Or you can mix it with cooked noodles or pasta, maybe some white sauce, and bake a casserole. Or it’s good as chicken salad on lettuce or in a sandwich or wrap. Once I had leftover cold chicken salad to which I added a splash of milk, curry powder, then heated it to serve on rice with a dollop of chutney.

Leftover potato salad — with celery, onion, mayo and all — is fine as homefries. If you want to take a pass on the mayo, dump your salad in a colander and rinse it, then fry it up. Really.

A recent selection in this kitchen of leftovers and random ingredients, none of them ideal for a whole meal for more than one person, suggested a shepherd’s pie. I had a 2-inch slab of meatloaf, about a third of a pound of ground venison and a few mashed potatoes.

I didn’t want another meatloaf sandwich but there wasn’t really enough for a whole shepherd’s pie. That sent me to the freezer where I retrieved a container with the ground venison. I had to cook another couple of potatoes to amplify the leftover mashed ones, but that was no big deal. Since I had harvested the very last of the corn, a couple of remaining cobs gave me corn for the pie. Lacking gravy, I needed to make a brown sauce, directions below.

I browned the venison, crumbled the meatloaf and added it to the venison, stirred in the brown sauce, cooked up my extra potatoes, added them to the leftover mashed, cut the corn off the cobs and sprinkled the kernels over the meat, then smoothed the potatoes over the top and baked it.

(Actually, too many mashed potatoes are never a bad thing. It would have been simpler if I didn’t have to cook more of them, and if I had still more leftover potatoes, I’d have eaten them fried as patty for breakfast with an egg.)

That shepherd’s pie was delicious, and could have served four to six. As it was we had it as a lovely dinner with broccoli, and leftovers for lunches.

You can make the brown sauce below with bouillon cubes, or a bouillon paste (which comes in several different flavors including vegetable ones), or miso, familiar to vegetarians. Tamari, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, A1, tomato paste or good old ketchup can enhance the flavor. Use whatever you have and like. Bouillon is usually pretty salty, so be sure to taste before adding other ingredients. If you need a white sauce, you merely substitute milk for bouillon.

Basic brown sauce

Makes about a cup.

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup hot beef broth

Melt the butter in a saucepan.

Add the flour and cook, stirring for a couple minutes as the mixture foams and thickens slightly.

Gradually add the broth, stirring with a whisk to create a smooth and thickened sauce, adding more broth if needed to get a gravy-like consistency.

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Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...