Leftovers? Again?

Leftovers, that’s correct. Odd topic perhaps? We’ll see. Had ’em tonight. Had ’em last night. I have to admit I generally love leftovers, and not much of what I make goes to waste (unless it turns out terrible, which happens to every cook on occasion, regardless of their expertise). I like to think of leftovers as a “reward” for the cook, since you get to have it the next night with very little effort!

Tonight’s leftover was soup, which I made and froze last week. It was a chilly December day and night, and it just felt like a soup night. I use recipes (and commonly vary them to my taste) quite often … some soups just require a recipe. You’re not likely to remember the ingredients in a Paul Prudhomme gumbo without referring to one of his wonderful cookbooks. Julia’s French Onion should be done closely to the way she intended. New Basics’ Manhattan Clam Chowder, any of the French Laundry’s creations, many of the Silver Spoon masterpieces, and most of the regional specialties in Deborah Dinelli’s “A Taste of Lucca” have subtle ingredients and techniques that you really need to follow. At least the first time, after which you need to experiment!

Tonight’s leftover soup began as a simple, quick, after work concoction, last week. Chicken vegetable, of sorts. Began with a nice big sweet onion, which I sweated for about 8 minutes in a little bit of olive oil. Added a half cup of chicken broth, then a pound of diced organic boneless skinless chicken breasts. Sauteed for another 6-7 minutes, drained the liquid and returned everything to the stock pot. At this point, I added 3 peeled chopped carrots, 3 stalks of chopped celery, a clove of minced garlic, stirred, covered, and simmered at medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring a couple times. Once the onions are transluscent and everything else is al dente, add chicken stock of your choosing. For this one, I used a 48 oz can of 99% fat free Swanson’s, and a tablespoon of a stock concentrate that I like, and another 48 ounces of hot water. Chicken stock’s a personal thing. Swanson’s is a great canned stock, and the thick, pasty concentrate that comes in glass jars (or larger plastic ones at Costco) are great. Stay away from powdered anything or cubes. It’s just not the same.

Spices at this point included some chopped fresh thyme (I love thyme in my soups), two bay leaves, and a few leaves of sage which I leave on the stem, making it easy to remove when you have the flavor you’re looking for. I then added half a head of shredded white cabbage, and finally, a couple handfuls of uncooked orzo. This final ingredient could have been rice or any variety of noodles or mini pastas, but I was in an orzo mood.

Crank the heat, bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir and taste every few minutes, salt and pepper to your personal taste, and in about 45 minutes … it’s soup. Ladle it into bowls, garnish with some chopped Italian parsley, parmesan cheese if you’re so inclined … or if you’re feeling energetic, bake some parmesan crisps and lay one on the top of each serving.

I always make enough soup to freeze, and then on nights like tonight when it’s cold out and I’m short of time and long for some comfort food, it’s a matter of thawing in the microwave, and finishing on the stove.

As a kid, we didn’t have much in the way of leftovers. I’m the oldest of six children (five younger sisters, which explains why a good many of my “best friends” over the years, have been of the fairer sex). And when we did, it was probably a small piece of roast or ham which my mom would commonly jam into the fridge … uncovered, on the plate she served it on. Tin foil was a luxury that we never had in the house, and one that I didn’t discover until I went away to college in San Diego. Now I buy it in several weights from Costco, and always have it on hand. I can’t imagine life without tin foil!

My mom also made interesting cakes, which she called “sheet cakes.” Basically, a cheap cake mix which she’d make in one big layer on a cookie sheet, with some nasty sweet chocolate or white frosting. On Valentine’s Day it would be a pink frosting, on our birthdays the cake would have “Happy Birthday” written on them, but the cakes were always the same … white … sheet cakes. No wonder we were always overweight! Between the cakes, the fried foods, and the butter in everything, it’s a wonder we all survived without clogged arteries. Fortunately, I’m not genetically predisposed to cholesterol issues.

But even the leftover dried out meats and the ridiculously sweet and buttery cakes were eaten. Nothing went to waste, and I’ve made this a habit in my adult cooking as well.

I have a huge group of favorites in the leftovers category; Hot or cold chili, pizza, lasagna, pot roast, and spaghetti come to mind. Many of these are like a magnet, a mere few hours after the main meal they’re prepared for. And restaurant foods that happen to make it home in a “doggie bag” will commonly slide right down as soon as you get home, right? Amazing how much room you can make for a midnight snack between the time you leave the restaurant, and the time you arrive home … 15 minutes later.

Last night’s leftover treat (and my wife and her co-worker’s lunch today) were a result of this past Saturday night’s dinner party. The group consisted of a friend up from Morro Bay, my brother in law, a couple of our massage school girlfriends, and my wife and myself. One guest was a vegetarian and another didn’t eat any fish or pork. Hmmm. I eventually settled on three kinds of enchiladas … chicken, beef, and cheese.

Enchiladas are a lengthy process. Not as bad as tamales, but several hours of prep work. I made these for a wide variety of tastes, meaning … you can add all the “heat” at the end.

Appetizers included guacamole and chips, a cheese platter with two types of crackers, and a round of Margaritas. The enchiladas were accompanied by (vegetarian) refried beans, Spanish rice, and a killer salad with a cilantro Caesar dressing. One of the guests made an awesome apple pie (getting to know her new Kitchen Aid stand mixer), which was even better with a scoop of French vanilla.

And this wonderful meal was incredible the next night, and such an easy dinner. Indeed, one of the rewards of making a great meal is being able to have another great dinner the following night, with very little “cooking.” So make a little extra. Leftovers are a wonderful thing.

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