I sense there is a thing going on in the food world across America, and it’s centered around leftovers. It could just have been that one episode of Chopped where the Food Network execs gave the okay to torture their four contestants with surprise baskets of—not the usual bizarre foods but—leftovers. Or it could be more than that. With the economy still waning, social networking constantly nagging us in the guise of our friends, and the ozone warming so much it’s dripping on even the least-conscientious of us, I’d say it makes sense.
I find leftover recipes problematic, because really, if you have something leftover the last thing you’re likely to be doing whilst staring in the fridge is either flip at random through your cookbooks or recal to memory that neat-o leftover mashed potato recipe you dog-eared last week. Okay, so that just might be me too, but I have no memory for stuff like that. And, on top of that, I really prefer recipes when I cook (even just as a guide; and no surprise, I am an inveterate rule-follower). If someone would make an awesome leftovers cookbook and have done with, well that would be useful, because you could go to it for anything you have leftover. But most the time, we’re left floundering on our own, and it’s no surprise our leftover creations are less than inspiring.
Here is some information and exposition from the old Green Notebook blog (my former, personal blog) on just this subject:
Now, I think that anti-leftover people mostly have one of two reasons for hating leftovers. One, they taste bad, or two, they just had that meal. I mean, who would want to eat the same thing two or three times in a week? (Actually, I don’t mind it, as long as the meal is one I like, but…)
I think these people could be converted by a handful of simple tips and some exposition.
First, (duh,) try not to make too much. When that fails…
Second, make sure that you store your leftovers properly. If we are talking refrigeration, make sure they are stored quickly, sealed (to avoid that “refrigerator” taste. I wouldn’t eat an open, half-eaten yogurt with the spoon sticking out, either), and eaten in a timely manner. There is more than plenty of advice out there on how to store any and everything properly and safely. Just look through your cookbooks or online.
Third, learn how to cook leftovers. Okey, this sounds stupid to most of you which is why so many of you don’t like leftovers. I mean, soggy-rubbery pizza out of the microwave? Soup with cold spots even though it’s steaming? Here are my quick tips: Don’t use a microwave. Your food doesn’t taste as good or fresh and does not heat evenly OR retain its heat worth bupkiss. Now, just pop on your stove or turn on your burner (most re-heats we’re talking 350F or medium heat) and re-heat. Sort of. If you hate to repeat-eat, then you need to be a little creative with your leftovers. Try turning sauces into soups or pairing them with something different: rice, noodles, bread, crackers, polenta, etc. Change the direction of your soups with some pureeing, some cream or milk, or some toppings: croutons, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, herbs… or even gratinee (topped with day-old bread and cheese and broiled). Leftover grains? They become a casserole with a bechamel (look it up) and leftover veggies or meat. At any rate, DON’T FORGET to re-salt your leftovers and, if needed, punch them up with a splash of acid (lemon, other citrus, vinegar, or wine).
Fourth, remember that–if you are eating like the average American–most of what you are eating from the supermarket shelves IS LEFTOVERS. Frozen french fries? Already fried. Canned soup? Already cooked. Hot dogs? You couldn’t just pop one in your mouth and chew if they were raw (or at least not in our culture). Crackers? Already baked. (So they are not actually left over, but they are sort of leftovers, for our purposes here.) The key to re-warming any of those things is following the proper technique for preparation, so I think you can learn to do that at home and save yourself a bundle of cash.
Fifth, and this seems counter-productive, but I promise it’s not: throw away what you will not use and what is too old! This way, you wind up with a shelf of usable, neatly contained, appealing leftovers that you can come back to day after day after day. If you HATED the soup, don’t save it! If will just muddy the view and confuse and distress you. Let it go.
So while my leftover habits may be a TERRIBLE example, follow it anyhow and re-heat those leftovers with pride and with dollar signs in your eyes!