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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Reinvent Reuse Recycle

Rachel Ray's latest cooking show features cooking 5 meals in one day (Week in a Day link: to sort of help another wise busy cook plan ahead and sometimes feature an ingredient in more than one dish to economize. I've watched the show and love the concept but prefer to prepare each day's meals on that day. However, on the rare occasion when we have leftovers from a meal, I like knowing in advance what I can turn them into.

For example, for the longest time if I had left over beef it would either be re-purposed into a stroganoff, pepper steak or a stir fry. Sometimes the beef would find it's way into tomato sauce or served with eggs. These were my culinary secret weapons. Now, I may consider using beef in a burrito, taco, shredded slow cooked beef sandwiches or some sort of pie. Just sitting here thinking about precooked beef has forced my culinary muscles to stretch.

The trick about left-overs is to not try to represent them in their original form. Just as we wouldn't simply stuff tissues in a used/empty box, or wrap new paper towels on an old roll, the bits we are left with should instead be redesigned into something entirely different.

This week's New York Times Dining Section also addressed these thoughts. In "Starting from Scraps," by Andrew Scrivani (link readers are prompted to think about ways to reuse bits of various dishes that may not, at first look, seem to go together. Tossing veggies into a quiche or frittata, or a pasta dish seem the easiest - but how often are we putting them to use?

In this house, if a mere spoonful of something remains 3 out of 4 family members will opt to throw it out for fear of it turning into something unrecognizable that will have to eventually be tossed away. I have been teased for my unwillingness to give in to this line of though and reasoning. I would rather at least give the remaining food a chance. Especially during soup season, or for risotto, omelets... the list is fairly endless.

The components of most meals can be broken down and used in a recreated dish. Stop thinking of this food as simply "left-over." Sunday's broken down meatloaf may be the star in Monday night's pasta, maybe as lasagna filling or a simple meat sauce. This is not just about being frugal (although we all know we waste a ridiculous amount of food even with the most care) it is about stretching our willingness to experiment and create in the kitchen.

Last night, we grilled simple thin cutlet chicken breasts. A ton of them. They were served with a tossed salad, a fresh potato salad, corn and tabbouleh with mushrooms, peppers and onions. So, tonight we have about 1/4 ton remaining and while it would be easy enough to simply reserve the same menu as last night, maybe instead they will be served as sandwiches, shredded into fajitas, be coated in melted cheese, chopped into salad, or tossed with fresh crispy veggies and land on a bed or brown rice.

Thanksgiving turkey is jokingly re purposed into every available form from Friday to Sunday. In this house, the family favorite is to simply dump leftover sides including stuffing, veggies, gravy and the turkey into a stew topped with dumplings (or sinkers) made of Bisquik. They look forward to this more than the original meal.

So, tonight when clearing away the dishes from an incredible Sunday meal, don't be so quick to throw just a few scraps into the garbage, the dog's dish or the compost pile. With a little thought and creative thinking, you may just discover your new favorite meal and when all else fails - stir fry is a pretty good answer.

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