Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Feeling good about leftovers

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.
--Calvin Trillin

I'm feeling a lot like Calvin Trillin's mother.

Yesterday's fare involved lunch with two friends. I served leftover lentil soup to which I had added sweet potato and turkey sausage and whatever else took my fancy back when I made it a couple of weeks ago. It keeps very well in the freezer.

We also had fresh-baked bread, though I varied the recipe by putting 1/2 c corn meal and 1/2 cup oatmeal flour in the scale before filling it up to the 1-lb level with white whole wheat flour. Cindy brought a lovely salad of spring greens, dried cranberries, feta cheese, and pecans. Vinita brought delightful date bars, and if I can get her to divulge the recipe, I'll post it here.

Last night Mr Neff and I had the final remains of the soup, more bread, and a salad made of leftover arugula, clementines, and almonds. It may sound creative, but really it was what I found in my refrigerator.

So here I am apologizing, and that makes Jacques Pépin unhappy--
It makes me feel uncomfortable when people are apologetic about serving leftovers, because if the cook is good there should be no reason to apologize. . . . Born to a family of restaurateurs and having worked all my life in the world of food, I find it’s second nature to be thrifty and avoid spoilage. I actually hurt when I see food rotting in the refrigerator or people throwing out things like bones which could be used for a flavorful base for dishes....

In the normal working of a professional kitchen, the chefs save food instinctively. The meat is trimmed, the trimmings are turned into ground meat and the bones go into a stock which may be turned into a sauce, and so on. Things move naturally in a logical progression, everything is used in an endless cycle, and practically nothing is discarded. By the same token, at home a good cook should be able to transform a dish and extend its use by making it into a fresh and different creation, rather than a second-rate version of the original.

The most common mistake made with leftovers is to try to preserve the food in its original form. Roast beef will never be a hot roast beef again because it doesn’t reheat well. However, cold roast beef served with condiments and a salad is excellent, while sliced and sautéed with onions, garlic, and beef broth, it makes a wonderful Beef Mironton. . . . Similarly, a perfectly roasted chicken will never taste as good reheated, but turned into a cold salad it tastes fresh again. On the other hand, stews, as well as most soups, often taste better after reheating.

--Jacques Pépin, Everyday Cooking

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