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Her aim: Waste not, eat well

Self-named Leftover Queen's simple tips for stretching meals.

CHICAGO - Pat Salani, 73, is the self-proclaimed Leftover Queen. Like everyone else, Salani has been reading stories about the economy and feeling the shock of rising prices in her grocery bill. And yet all around she sees people throwing away food.

"When people right in our area are hungry? It's obscene," she says.

Leftover Queen

is probably not a title many people are capable of wresting away from her. She and her husband, Bob, 76, who live in Niles, Ill., are thriftier than most.

She freezes cooked rice, and can make three dinners out of a rotisserie chicken. They dine well on leftovers from their thrice-weekly $25 restaurant dinners (with one cocktail each) by filling in with staples from the grocery (where one of her pet peeves is the sell-by date easily confused with a use-by date).

She and her husband were children of second-generation European immigrants - she Polish, with relatives who "had absolutely nothing" but produced beautiful meals; he "very Italian," she says, with a mother who was widowed young with two kids and understood the importance of a giant pot of gravy.

"People don't even realize they are wasting," she says, sounding resigned. "They get tired of what they have, and they want something new."

Some thrifty tips

Always ask for a doggie bag. A half chicken breast can be shredded and added to a can of refried beans and cheese for quesadillas. Thinly sliced steak makes a quick dinner, with onions and frozen green pepper strips. A shredded pork chop makes a great fried-rice dish.

Learn to love rotisserie chicken. It's a quick and reasonable convenience buy. "We have the legs and wings for one meal and freeze the whole breast for another, saving a few pieces to put into the soup I make with the bones and some good chicken base."

Keep simple staples on hand: refried beans, tortillas, dried pasta, pasta sauce, salad greens, tomatoes and cucumbers, and frozen vegetables.

Freeze cooked rice. Good for fried rice or any rice dish.

Freeze onions. If you only need half, chop the rest and freeze.

Freeze mushrooms. "I'll slice and saute them in butter and onions and freeze in a couple of small bags." Handy for adding to gravies or scrambled eggs.

Don't forget to stretch. A two-pound meatloaf can make three meals. Freeze leftovers in two portions. Thaw one for a meal with gravy or for sandwiches. Crumble and saute the other with a jar of pasta sauce, seasoned to taste, and pour over pasta.