Monday, February 23, 2009

Reinventing Left-Overs

Being thrifty with your food dollar makes sense in today’s rough economy. The good news is cutting back doesn’t have to be painful. Get ready to take your creative cooking skills to the next level!

When you shop for single ingredients with multiple dishes in mind, you’re emulating our nation’s best chefs and elite restaurants. Nothing inspires a great chef like fresh, versatile flavor procured at a bargain.

Case in point: let’s say his food purveyor offers the chef a special on lamb shanks; now it makes perfect sense for the chef to offer a lamb shank special on Saturday night’s menu. In order to optimize his time, the chef may cook more shanks than he expects to sell. Utilizing those extra shanks is where the creativity comes in; to offer lamb shanks to his loyal patrons two nights in a row, would be BORING. So, what does he do? He offers braised lamb ragout served over asiago polenta. Mouths water and his (or her!) cash register ca-chings!

My grandmas, both products of the Great Depression, incorporated “left-overs” into their weekly meal plans. You just knew that whatever was served on Sunday night was going to show up again on Tuesday, (and for sure in your lunchbox!) at least a couple of days that week. We never knew that the meals were left-over –only that they were delicious!
Truth be told, left-overs are a mainstay in meal plans for today’s busy moms and dads. Thrifty moms understand the principle of working once to reap two (or more!) rewards. Just think about it. Cooking two chickens takes no more effort than cooking one; yet two chickens yield numerous meals, while one is good for only a meal or two. The dollar stretches further when these whole chickens are on sale for sixty-nine cents a pound, compared with skinless, boneless chicken breasts that sell for two dollars and sixty-nine cents a pound.

If there is a fly in the ointment, a flaw in the system - it occurs when the cook stops thinking like the chef. Left-overs are welcome, so long as they don’t taste or look like left-overs! Therein lies the rub – and the rub, so to speak, is the answer. Chefs incorporate everything in their arsenal to recreate the left-over…and so must we. Rubs and seasonings, fresh veggies and herbs, pantry staples – every ingredient is useful in a “re-invisioning” of what we enjoyed so much last night.

For example, cooking extra steaks for Saturday night’s Pan Seared Steaks with Bordelaise Sauce allows you to use them later in the week in dishes like Steak Panini with Havarti cheese, crisp arugula lettuce and a slather of sun-dried tomato Thousand Island dressing. It works just as well in Steak, Black Bean & Toasted Corn Quesadillas and Steak & Roasted Onion Salad with Poblano Pepper Vinaigrette. And then there is ravioli filled with diced steak, steak and eggs, steak parfaits – no, not really - just trying to get your attention!!
The whole idea is to have FUN with your meal plan, while you spend a little less time in the kitchen and save a little money along the way. These are a couple of examples of my favorite re-invented dishes. It would be wonderful if you would share your favorites with the rest of us. We can all benefit from the creativity of others, and, in these most interesting times, I think we can all agree it’s nice to share. Simply post your recipe idea here and we will all give it a try!

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