Archive for the ‘Leftovers’ Category

Mutiny on the Bounty

Suburban bounty

Suburban bounty

I am convinced that the compulsion to plant a garden and grow things is hard wired into us. Is this a good thing? You tell me. Growing things requires an array of talents. For some the talent lies in acquiring the needed real estate. For some the talent lies in understanding what plant life needs so that it is properly nurtured. It is a wonderful thing to be able to walk outside of one’s door, snip a few things, and feed soul and family.

You’d think Mother Nature could have made it a little easier. I know that gardening as represented by Ina Garten on TV—that brand of gardening where you grab a shiny little pair of clippers, sweep through a pair of French doors into your garden (“Isn’t it faaabulous?”) and end up with pesto –is a fiction drawn by the video editor’s magic wand.

Real gardening is that little patch of dirt you cleared away in the back yard. That little three-by-three square next to the fence where you got the dirt under your fingernails, sprinkled in the seeds from their skinny paper envelope, that sandy oasis in a desert of concrete that you checked on and fussed over each day for weeks, practically willing the first shoots to peek through the dirt. My Aunt Sarah had a garden like that, and the bounty was celebrated and boasted about and washed and eaten with relish…or as relish.

I do not make this statement from first-hand knowledge. I am a city dweller and as such my horticultural endeavors do not extend far beyond a small juniper tree that sits in my kitchen window. Mr. Juniper Tree, whose specialty seems to be looking pretty, will not be brewed for homemade gin, and is resolutely not staying for dinner.

Still, there comes a day early in the August of each year when the bounty of my non-city dwelling friends’ gardens appear on my kitchen counter. I am blessed. I am also compelled to ask, “How many damn tomatoes can I eat?”

I take comfort in knowing that the tomatoes in their tattered ShopRite bags appear before me because the people who grew them asked that same question. I am therefore, the beneficiary of bounty overrun. The tomato equivalent of the bargain book aisle at Barnes and Noble. I am the vine-ripened “Mikey likes it!” The average suburban tomato vine is seemingly so abundantly fecund, that I often feel people who want to plant a garden should get the same warning as the little kid who keeps asking Mom and Dad for a puppy: “It’s not just for Christmas, it’s for every day.”

If I were a member of a previous generation I would likely be readying canning jars and the related equipment needed to “put up” the tomatoes for winter. Back in the day that was how you ate tomatoes in the dead of winter. But I am a child of the space age: I can get anything I want, any time I want it. So the question is: what do I do with all these tomatoes now? Tomatoes look grand on my kitchen counter for a couple of days, but beyond that I’ll need to write place cards for the fruit flies that will start feasting on them. I have to act now. Or as my Aunt Sarah would have said, “RIGHT now.”

(Aunt Sarah, who is no longer around to defend herself, would nevertheless agree that she was successful at growing tomatoes not because of a green thumb but because the vines were intimidated by her.)

One of the reasons people grow their own tomatoes is that they usually do taste better than the ones you buy in the supermarket. This is mostly true, so for the first few days I eat sliced tomatoes with a few crackles of sea salt, and herb and garlic goat cheese—my preference because I find mozzarella a bit bland and goat cheese is easier on my stomach.

After I’ve had enough of sliced tomato salad, I make sauce—or gravy, as my Italian friends call it. This requires a bit of refined technique and the proper ingredients. Feel free to use this technique when cooking anything Italian. It starts with a generous dose of garlic, really good Extra Virgin Olive Oil, fresh oregano, a piquant, crumbly, Parmesan cheese, and, the most important item of all (and this is indispensible): Sergio Franchi. If listening to him sing “Volare” and “Quando, Quando, Quando” doesn’t put me in the right mood, doesn’t make me feel Italian, then I skip the project and have Chinese food. What can I say? The man was a god.

After I have made sauce—uh, sorry, gravy—I move on to a savory Tomato Tart. This is humble, farmhouse-style convenience food: make it Sunday, and you can eat it cold from the fridge for the rest of the week.

If I have been lucky enough to have been the recipient of cherry or grape tomatoes, then this confirmed old teetotaler reaches for the vodka bottle. I don’t know what it is about them, but I seem to sleep very well after eating cherry tomatoes that have been marinated in vodka. This was a party hors d’oeuvre standby about twenty years ago.

But for pure versatility Tomato Cobbler or Tomato Crisp is, I think, the best way of finishing off the tomato bounty. Of the two the cobbler is the more labor intensive, but, for your trouble, is also more satisfying. This is really just a bigger version of grilled, breadcrumb-topped tomatoes. I bake this in a soufflé dish. Toss four or five quartered tomatoes with some minced garlic, a bit too much grated Parmesan cheese, a few snips of fresh oregano, and salt and pepper into the dish. Top with some biscuit dough for a cobbler. To make it a crisp, omit the biscuit dough and substitute a generous handful or three of cracker crumbles mixed with just enough softened butter so the crumbles hold together in loose clumps. Bake in a hot oven until the top is browned and everything is bubbly. Easy, yes?

The fun there is experimenting with different kinds of crackers, although if you are a hopeless snacker (like me) you’ll end up eating the crust and realize that you are losing interest in the tomatoes.

And after all those tomatoes, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, should it?

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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Once More With Feeling

Pancakes Perdu

Pancakes Perdu

There’s something about writing about leftovers. I can’t say I know exactly why it makes me skittish, but it does.

Is it the unspoken question, “Well, if the original meal was so great why was there any left over?” Is it that I’ve grown to feel that leftovers are the food equivalent of “hand-me-downs”? Is it an irrational fear of salmonella? (Q: At what point does a rational fear become irrational? Never mind. I’ll leave that one for the philosophers.)

Is it the ages-old image of leftovers being synonymous with other kitchen drudgery like, say, dish-pan hands? The late manicurist Madge (“You’re soaking in it.”) solved dish-pan hands eons ago, yet there are still leftovers casting passive-aggressive glances my way when I open the refrigerator door.

I happily contradict this feeling when I make a big pot of soup or chili. I hoard that stuff and tend it for several days like a proud prospective penguin parent coddling an egg on its feet. But the thought of reheating anything else leaves me (pardon the pun) cold.

Could part of the reason be that I do not own a microwave oven? This is partially by design (dunno what I’d use it for), and partially because of space limitations (I refuse to cede kitchen space to something I’d likely use only to activate the magic of Orville Redenbacher). I have an open mind: show me something indispensable and irreplaceable that a microwave oven does, and I’ll buy one (they’re cheap enough) but ‘till then, I have baked potatoes, chocolate melting, boiling water, and food reheating covered by other appliances. Popcorn can wait for the movies.

(And then of course there’s its nickname, “Nuke” that fills me with caution. Timely, no?)

My Mother, whose appetite has diminished somewhat, shares my aversion of leftovers. While she rarely finishes a restaurant meal, with few exceptions she also can’t stand the thought of eating it the next day. A true child of the depression (although still in her forties), she has it packed up to go and, once home, gives it to her doorman, therefore unwittingly creating an entirely new subset of leftovers which I call “The Doggy Bag Gift Platter.” One can only speculate about the enthusiasm of the recipients. I suspect she’ll not be garnering much competition from Messrs. Harry and David.

I keep coming back to the word, “reheating.” Maybe that’s my problem. Instead of looking upon leftovers for a repeat performance, I think the answer lies in my looking upon leftovers as mere ingredients to be included in an entirely new meal. Yes, this is easier said than done. Can last night’s meatloaf ever be anything other than meatloaf? My answer is that only certain meals can make this transformation. Meatloaf will always be meatloaf, won’t it? Ever had Wendy’s Chili?

For me the surplus is always vegetables. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach, and the next day the honeymoon is over. I find veggies to be a little on the temperamental side: they must be cooked just right for me to enjoy them. Generally, this means that reheated, they’ll be over-cooked, with the taste and texture washed away. (Or is that me?) Sometimes the question is what to do with extra chopped onion and garlic that didn’t get used.

So instead of reheating I’ll be repurposing. If you’re a French Toast fan, you’ve been doing this for years, for the French name for French Toast is “Pain Perdu” which translates as “forgotten bread.” I’m ripping a page out of that book and making “Pancakes Perdu.”

Savory pancakes are certainly nothing new—Potato Latkes are the best example, and any Chinese food fan has had Scallion Pancakes at one time or another. Pancakes Perdu are just a happy addition to the menu.

Don’t think that you need to confine yourself to left over veggies. These packages are a great way to get veggies into the most veggie-resistant kiddie. Make them small enough, and they are perfect finger food.

Speaking of finger food, confine the veggies to some roasted corn, and plop a bit of Crème Fraiche and a snip of smoked salmon on top and you have an elegant hors d’oeuvre.

I’m a big fan of breakfast for dinner, and every now and then a bowl of cereal just hits the spot for me. But I’ve never been one to waste food, even if that means finding ways of using up food that may no longer be perfectly fresh.

But please rest assured: the writing here is fresh. The best way to test that? Smell the screen. Go ahead: no one’s looking.

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Click here for the recipe for Pancakes Perdu.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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