Repurposing Leftovers



Any good cook or bad cook who happens to be a mother knows that the key to getting dinner on the table night after night is being able to cook a bunch of something and then transform it into a whole new meal the second night. I became very aware of this as a culinary trick my freshman year in college when my friend Lisa Mathews used to look at the cafeteria weekly menu and follow the food through the week.


“Following the food” was an important deciphering skill that helped us learn what not to eat because it had been around too long. For example the school chef might have started off on Sunday with roast chicken. Check, safe to eat. Monday might have brought hot open face Chicken sandwiches with Chicken Gravy at lunch. Still safe to eat, since the chicken was cut off the leftover roast chicken and the carcasses were used to make the gravy from just the night before. Skip a day of chicken to throw us off the leftover scent. Then on Thursday there might have been Chicken Tetrazzini for dinner. Big read flashing lights, “Wonk, Wonk, Wonk,” blaring horns. Do not eat! The chicken that was not all used up for Chicken sandwiches was then mixed with the leftover gravy, pasta and some new celery and topped with breadcrumbs made from the uneaten sandwiches.


Four days later for chicken that had been reheated twice was just too long in the repurposing leftover train. The real no-no was having the chicken and pasta soup at lunch on Friday.


Carter hates leftovers, but if I can repurpose them in such away that she does not catch on that they are the same food I can get away with it. My trick is never to publish a menu where she might learn to “follow the food.” By my sophomore year we had moved up to “Follow the food 201” because we started looking at the Sunday –Saturday menus back to back. The cooks were smart and started some new food on Thursday and if we were not looking at both menus we might have missed the fact that the Monday Taco Salad actually started with Hamburgers on Thursday — tricky.


Tonight since I am the only one home I don’t mind repurposing. I took last night’s leftover vegetable hash and put it in a fry pan to reheat, added some shredded leftover chicken breast and some a huge amount of raw angle hair cabbage and a little soy. My leftover not only tasted delicious, they changed continents, going from something Italian leaning to a purely Chinese dish. Who says I did not learn anything in college.

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