Living on Leftovers
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.
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.