FOR THE past two days local cooks have been opening their refrigerator doors and quickly shutting them again. All those leftovers! Even if your escape following a feast such as Thanksgiving dinner, you may find yourself at this time of year staring at a pile of uneaten food following a cocktail party or reception.
Outside of the sheer volume, what gave leftovers such a bad name? Are they really a pain, or are they an opportunity? It's a question of mind over matter.
Most enthusiastic cooks I know don't "create" recipes while shopping at the supermarket. They innovate when they have to make a meal with the foods at hand. Leftovers are a great source of inspiration. Laziness can dissuade you. So can fear, but what do you have to lose? The food already has been purchased, and what you can't fit in the freezer is doomed in a few days.
More positively, leftovers provide the excuse to try a recipe or technique you've been curious about. Try preparing a curry. Make the first pie crust from scratch and use leftovers under it for a pot pie; or roll out some dough in a pasta machine and make dim sum or ravioli, using leftovers as filling.
One could go on, but perhaps it will seem simpler if we try to categorize the options for disposing of leftovers:
Eating food cold, straight from the refrigerator is the easiest and sometimes one of the most enjoyable.
Throwing them away plays no part in this discourse, but if the texture has been hopelessly lost or the amount is very small, it may make sense.
For cooking, think soup (of which stew is a subcategory), salad, omelet or pasta. There is no limit to the potential fillings or toppings for these last two. Pate or another baked loaf featuring meat or vegetables is a traditional escape route. No one needs to be reminded of sandwiches, either cold or hot. Pastry shells (from the freezer), plus a basic cream sauce, plus cubed leftovers equals a fancy main course, or so the French have proven with their various vol au vent preparations.
The essential first step, though, is to change the shape of the food. Your family doesn't like leftovers that reappear in the same form, and the food suffers, too. When reheated it loses color and texture. It wrinkles. It really looks and tastes tired. So cut it, shape it, mix it, blend it.
Consider a change of nationality. Vegetables such as broccoli and turnip (chopped) can be tossed with Chinese noodles and soy sauce along with cubes of turkey to make a cold or hot dish. Consider serving out-of-character foods a various meals -- hash or even soup for breakfast, salad as a main course for dinner.
You'll need the common sense to realize you can plug turkey into a pork recipe, or the courage to add some cranberry relish to a hearty stew. But once the light bulb snaps on, improving needn't be difficult. Seasonings help enormously, especially those that are spicy. Discreet amounts of lemon juice or alcohol heighten flavor.
To start near the beginning, here are a quartet of recipes.Turkey is born again in hash or in a salad. Warren LeRuth's dressing may cause new interest in old greens. The compote points the way toward disposing of at least part decorated the holiday table.
A few more inspirations, and you can go shopping for the next holiday meal. TURKEY OR CHICKEN HASH (2 or 3 servings) 2 cups chopped, cooked potatoes 2 cups chopped cooked turkey or chicken 1/2 cup chopped onion or scallion 1/4 cup chopped green pepper or chopped parsley 1/4 to 1/3 cup heavy cream 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 2 dashes cayenne pepper Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 3 tablespoons butter or oil
Place potatoes, turkey, onion green pepper or parsley in a mixing bowl. Add cream and seasonings and mix together. Heat butter or oil in a frying pan (preferably one of heavy cast iron). Spoon mixture into the pan and press it flat with a spatula.Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, pressing down on the mass frequently and turning it from time to time. Cook several minutes more, without turning, until a crust forms on the bottom. Invert onto a platter or cut into serving portions.
Serve at breakfast or brunch, or use as a lunch or dinner main course with salad to follow homemade soup. WINDOWS ON THE WORLD TURKEY APPLE SALAD (4 to 6 servings) 3 apples 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1 pound cooked turkey breast, cut in 3/4-inch dice 1/2 cup mayonnaise 3/4 cup walnut halves
Core the apples but do not pare them. Dice the apples (3/4-inch) tossing in lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Mix together the remaining lemon juice, salt and pepper. Toss with the diced turkey. Add apples and mayonnaise and toss again. Sprinkle walnut halves over top before serving. SWEET & SOUR CELERY SEED DRESSING 3 tablespoons catsup 2 tablespoons white vinegar 1 tablespoon sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup light corn syrup 2 teaspoons steak sauce 2 tablespoons water 1 teaspoon onion juice 1/4 teaspoon whole celery seeds 3 tablespoons corn oil
Mix well and refrigerate. Serve with salad greens. ELIZABETH ALSTON'S CURRIED FRUIT (6 to 8 servings) 3/4 cup dry white wine 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water 1 chicken bouillon cube 1/4 cup dark seedless raisins 1/4 cup pignolia or pine nuts 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots or peaches 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1 teaspoon curry powder 3/4 cup peeled, sliced bananas (about 2 medium) 3/4 cup peeled, pitted, sliced peaches or nectarines (about 2 medium) 3/4 cup peeled, cored, sliced pears (about 2 medium) 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice 1 1/2 teaspoons orange marmalade or apricot preserves
In a medium-sized saucepan combine wine, 2/3 cup water, bouillon cube, raisins, nuts and dried apricots. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. In a small dish mix cornstarch, curry powder and 2 tablespoons water. Add to wine mixture and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer, stirring constantly, until thick. Add bananas, peaches and pears and simmer 5 minutes longer, stirring 3 or 4 times. Stir in lemon juice and marmalade. Good served over hot rice as an accompaniment to broiled chicken or fish or lamb shish kabobs.