Real Entertaining: Turning leftovers into party food

By David Hagedorn
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Getting together with friends and neighbors, watching the Super Bowl and taking advantage of February's holiday weekend are fine reasons to host a Sunday afternoon open house. I might have come up with an even better one.

"We're starting the new year tabula rasa," my e-mail invitation began. "Clearing the freezer, pantry, fridge and bar to make room for new goodies." Feeling the need to make that sound more appealing, I added: "When a food writer does this, it's a good thing. Come hungry and thirsty."

I called the event, which took place 2 1/2 weeks ago, an Everything Must Go party, referring to what my partner, Michael, calls anything I create from leftovers. As in "Oh, I see. We're having 'must-go' soup tonight."

A batch of frozen turkey vegetable soup was really responsible. When its container shot out of my overstuffed freezer earlier in the month and banged my foot, I realized my cold-storage inventory needed to be thinned.

"You could feed 30 people with all the stuff you have in there," Michael said. We welcomed about that many, but had sufficient food for 50. (I tend to go a bit overboard; more on that later.)

The goal was to use what was on hand and supplement with a limited amount of fresh produce and mixers. I removed everything from the refrigerator and freezers (except for condiments and beverages) and laid it out on the kitchen counter. As I grouped items, a menu came together.

The idea of a soup bar became obvious pretty quickly. There were frozen soups in differently sized containers (northern bean with ham, that turkey vegetable, and lentil with duck, sausage and lamb), plus the makings for another.

From the freezer: peeled and deveined shrimp, corn, lobster stock and scraps of salmon.

From the pantry: canned tomatoes and a mistakenly purchased bottle of Clamato Tomato Cocktail.

From the counter: Yukon Gold potatoes, threatening to sprout.

Next, I tackled the breads left over from holiday meals and various recipe experiments. Brioche cubes and croissants wound up in a rich, custardy chocolate bread pudding based on a recipe from McLean pastry chef David Guas's "DamGoodSweet" cookbook.

Layers of plain corn bread, odd bits of scones, frozen summer peaches and blueberries became the components of a winter pudding constructed in a trifle dish. (As a former restaurateur, I can tell you that "bread pudding" and "trifle" are professional terms for leftovers.) I combined a second kind of corn bread (jalapeƱo-flecked) with ground lamb, garlic sausage and grated cheddar cheese to make sausage ball hors d'oeuvres, my riff on a Southern favorite usually made with Bisquick.

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