The Fast Supper: The Hewsons’ magic with leftovers

Leslie Hewson gives dinner ingredients a second chance.

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The Hewsons' last-minute meal calls for leftovers plus rice, garlic, salsa, cheese, jalapeño, sour cream, and tortillas. — Photo by Michael Cummo

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Leslie and Douglas Hewson’s secret for a quick and satisfying dinner is leftovers. “If you want to put together a meal in five or 10 minutes, you have to know what you have to work with,” Leslie explains. “You have to look at what you have. We always have leftover rice or a piece of sirloin or a chicken breast or the carcass of a roast chicken.”

Leslie and Douglas Hewson are the parents of two daughters, Haley, 21 years old and living on her own, and Emily, 15. Leslie discovered the recipe for Arroz con Carne or Pollo about nine years ago, and was taken by its appeal to her girls. “It’s an old recipe,” she says. “They like all those [ingredients], so why not put it together? It’s easy, and it’s a one-pot deal.” She likes to supplement it with a salad or one of their girls’ favorite vegetables.

Leslie laughs as she recounts her daughters’ differing relationships with the dish. “[Haley’s] taken this recipe to her apartment, and she’s like ‘Oh! I can cook now!’ which I find hilarious. She doesn’t really cook. The little one seems to be more kitcheny. She has a recipe book. The first recipe she put in the book was rice. The second is the rice dish.” In fact, Emily ungrudgingly helps out in the kitchen. Leslie knows that if she has to dash out to the store, she can depend on Emily to start the potatoes or rice. “She’s really good at sides,” Leslie boasts.

The Hewsons have been in the food business for 30 years, starting in their teens. On-Island since 1998, Douglas came here to work for the Black Dog, and Leslie eventually joined the staff. He is currently executive chef at Offshore Ale. Leslie is the seasonal pastry chef for L’Etoile and Offshore Ale.

The winter presents some culinary challenges for the couple. Leslie explains, “In the fall and winter, I’ve got a minimal amount of time to feed [Emily]. She has to be picked up at the high school at 5:30. You get out of work at 5:00. It’s a small amount of time — the night’s already slipping away. You know she’s going to be hungry, and if you don’t feed them, how do you get them to do their homework? You don’t want to feed your kids at eight — which we were doing in the summertime. I know she’ll eat [the Arroz]. If she had her way, she’d put it on the schedule every week.”

But Leslie seems a bit embarrassed about the simplicity of the dish. “I know that my culinary skills have been reduced,” she says with a chuckle, “but there’s something noble about just making sure your kids have proper nutrition.”

Arroz con Carne or Pollo

Serves 4

4 cups fresh or leftover rice (use less water if making fresh, to allow for salsa liquid)

¼ onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Oil

1 cup leftover protein:  sirloin, chicken breast, roast chicken

Pinch red pepper flake (optional)

1 jar favorite salsa

1 cup loosely-packed mixed cheese: jack, cheddar, muenster, mozzarella

Salt and pepper

Optional:

Minced jalapeño

Sour cream

Black beans

Diced squash

Tortilla chips

Preparation

Look in fridge. See what you have. Proceed.

Retrieve a big pan.

Prepare protein by cutting or pulling bite-size pieces. If the protein is already cold, follow directions. If it is fresh, add at the end just before cheese step.

On medium-high heat, sauté onion and garlic in oil (pepper flake optional) until soft and golden. Add protein and stir 2 minutes. Add rice, salsa, and any optional items. This is where the big pan comes in. … Stir the rice mixture till salsa is evenly distributed. Add more salsa if not wet enough. Add ⅔ cup cheese. Stir. Turn off heat. Top with remaining ⅓ cup cheese, cover with a lid or place entire pan under broiler and melt cheese.

“It’s OK to eat out of the pan, says my 15-year-old.”