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Living on Leftovers

March 9, 2010

I try to be precise.  I try to be clear.  But try as I may there is always going to be a level of interpretation that readers bring to the pages of this blog.

Thankfully there are comments.  And thankfully many of you actually contribute every now and again.  Besides being an incredible validation that people actually read this thing, the comments allow me to see when an argument I’ve made somehow goes flying off the rails.  When that happens, it is incumbent upon me to correct the misconception and get the train back on the tracks.

Which brings me to the topic of the day.  Last week Beck wrote, “I know you’ve stated before that you’re opposed to leftovers, but I am not.”

This isn’t an entirely accurate representation of my position.  Although I can see how the nuance may have been missed.  I am opposed to oversized restaurant portions that try to create value for the customer by providing a massive quantity of food.  Value can be achieved in other ways, and good restaurant food should never be better the second day.

But I am not at all opposed to leftovers.  In fact, I live off of them.

Seriously.

My new attitude about cooking is that if something is worth cooking, it’s worth cooking in huge quantities.  So I make stockpots full of soup.  I make giant batches of bean dishes. When I make polenta, I make enough for soft polenta on the first night with plenty left over to pan fry for the week to come.  Marinara sauce is made to supply at least two meals and sometimes more.

Then I take the leftovers, package them up in tidy little containers, and either put them in the refrigerator or the chest freezer.

The creative part comes when trying to figure out how to use up the last little bits of things.  Leftover stir-fry and leftover rice turns into fried rice with the addition of an egg and perhaps some frozen vegetables.  One leftover sweet potato can turn into some Africanesque soup with chicken stock, peanut butter and spices.  A small amount of marinara sauce can be mixed with some ricotta, garlic and XV olive oil to make a pink creamy cheesy sauce.  One plate of pasta can be transformed into a frittata with a few eggs.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Even restaurant leftovers can sometimes be improved upon, especially if they weren’t that good the first time around.

I had a terribly disappointing risotto from Creo in Guilderland.  But as disappointing as it was, I am morally opposed to waste, so I brought home more than half of my dish.  The next day, I formed the rice into patties and pan-fried them in some XV olive oil.  Honestly, they were better on the second day then at the restaurant.  Good for me, bad for them.

The very promising-looking paella at the SCCC culinary school also faired better at home when I could cook the rice a bit longer so that it wasn’t sodden with liquid and actually could crisp up a bit around the edges of a hot pan.  Granted, it wasn’t as good as a proper paella should be right out of the gate.  But it was still better than its first iteration in the dining room.

At the end of the day, I suppose I make a distinction between leftovers and restaurant leftovers.

Ideally restaurant meals should be reasonably sized portions that do not result in leftovers.  But if you cannot complete your meal at a restaurant, I am all for taking the leftovers home and enjoying them as best you can.

At home, where the food can be prepared to hold for longer periods of time, leftovers are a great way to minimize cooking and to have quick meals on hand.

So enjoy your leftovers without the guilt or shame.  Just know I’m not reheating mine in a microwave.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2010 10:27 am

    Even as a stay at home mom, I find it helpful to cook large enough amounts of food for leftovers. Although with a partner who works a physically demanding job and a teenage athlete in the house it seems like I can almost never make enough. When my babies were small I made double batches of soups and stews and froze half in gallon sized Ziploc freezer bags. It was really helpful to not have to cook from scratch every night.

    Leftovers at home are completely different than leftovers in a restaurant. I agree with you about restaurants using giant portions to make people feel like they are getting value for their money but it’s a dubious value at best.

  2. tsetzer permalink
    March 9, 2010 10:39 am

    Leftovers are my life. When cooking for two it makes sense to make enough for lunches and/or dinners. Right now I am eating “clean” for my bodybuilding so my meals are a boring and routine as they come. Quite often I cook without the intention of eating it then or that day, opting for the tupperware routine. It makes my life simpler and helps stick to protein, complex carbs and green veg. I am so over chicken breasts right now….and leftover sweet potatoes remain leftover sweet potatoes.

    I still cook for my other half but he is not getting the usual culinary awesomeness.

  3. maltnsmoke permalink
    March 9, 2010 11:42 am

    “Ideally restaurant meals should be reasonably sized portions that do not result in leftovers. ”

    Unfortunately, we cannot all be satisfied by identically sized portions. Perhaps biased by the fact that my appetite tends to be left unsated by fussy little portions, I’d prefer that a restaurant err on the side of more rather than less.

    An establishment’s total cost of serving a given dish is probably not greatly affected by providing a slightly larger portion. Serving a much smaller portion at a slightly lower price point would not necessarily increase most patrons’ perception of value.

    Of course a restaurateur must strike the correct balance. But giving a little more probably pleases more diners than it offends.

  4. beck permalink
    March 9, 2010 12:56 pm

    It’s a strange feeling to be a central point in one of your posts! I actually thought of the Fussy Little Blog last night as I was out to eat at one of those places that gives huge portions. I did bring more than half of my meal home and reheated it for lunch and it wasn’t nearly as good (although I didn’t love it the first time around, either). While I might seem to be contradicting myself – though hopefully, I am not – I agree with you in the wish that restaurants would serve more reasonable portions of high quality food.

    I agree that home-cooked leftovers are an entirely different creature than restaurant leftovers, and I much prefer the former. I, too, have a chest freezer that’s full of soups and stews I’ve made, which reheat so nicely on the stove. I only cook for two people the majority of the time, so we usually have leftovers. And little else makes me happier than taking odds and ends found in the refrigerator and/or freezer and turning it into something delicious! Those are the best kinds of leftovers.

  5. Ellen Whitby permalink
    March 9, 2010 11:12 pm

    We have lots of leftovers but our problem is always remembering what’s in there and making sure to use it before it goes bad. If you have some sort of a filing system you could suggest, that would be helpful.

  6. Sarah M. permalink
    March 10, 2010 11:38 am

    I find that gargantuan restaurant portions resulting in leftovers work well for me, if only because I’m a lazy food-preparer and a single lady. Enough leftovers for one meal the next day is ideal. Making a normal-sized batch of soup or casseroles or whatever and then being stuck with a week of identical lunches and dinners is a drag. In the same way that you refuse to microwave, I refuse to freeze and defrost leftovers. (I’m also bad enough at making food that anything I get from a restaurant is going to taste better than what I make. Even eaten cold out of the fridge.)

  7. Kate permalink
    March 10, 2010 2:26 pm

    I never finish my meals when I eat out, there’s always way too much food. I love it when I go somewhere and they offer half plates. Food from a restaurant is never better the 2nd time around and I’m always pretty appalledto see the amount of fat in the bottom of the dish. It tastes great the first time around but I don’t like to be reminded of how much fat I indulged in. Don’t get me wrong – I love butter and olive oil, just as long as I don’t have a visual reminder. But on the subject of leftovers – I love them. I have a freezer full of soups, pasta sauces, carmelized onions, stocks etc. There’s nothing better than on a busy night to open up a frozen dinner that you’ve made yourself. It’s much cheaper than getting it from the supermarket and you know exactly what’s in there.

  8. March 10, 2010 4:07 pm

    I am beginning to connect the dots of the Fussy household.

    If you have a microwave, restaurant leftovers are never a problem. Without, they are always a problem. There is no other way so simple to restore an item to an approximation of the state at which you last enjoyed it, so long as you follow commonsense strategies as not putting styrofoam in the microwave and heating fried items separately on a paper towel. (And they will still lose some crispness, I admit it.)

    I think it is time for a microwave throwdown a la the Wings War in which we bring a microwave into a local eatery and serve one meal fresh from the kitchen, the other reheated, and see who can tell the difference.

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