The period between Thanksgiving and the New Year may be the single longest stretch in the year when we repeatedly indulge in food. It is the perfect time to talk about leftovers.
Interestingly, such a wide array of information is available regarding leftovers that researching this article felt like sitting at a table where a feast is served without end, one dish replacing another before the first is ever empty. I felt like a fact glutton. Thus it is my turn to set the table, so to speak, and present such facts, but trimmed down… Leftovers, by definition, should be simple.
This is true for the cook, especially. Is it not said, “Cook once, eat twice?” Leftovers save energy, money and time and they reduce waste (I said waste, not waist). Leftovers save money not only by providing extra meals for pennies, but also because preparing large amounts of food at once requires relatively less energy than preparing several individual meals. In addition to this, a large volume of leftovers in your freezer acts like ice packs and contributes to higher cooling efficiency.
Leftovers do not have to be the outcome only when you have had company. Whenever possible, make it a habit to prepare larger batches of food than what you need for a single meal. For instance, you could plan one pressure cooker recipe a week. You could also pre-chop extra vegetables to use in a soup or grind extra nuts to use later on salads, in yogurt or sprinkled on desserts.
There are additional benefits to this approach. If you use the grain mill once for a large batch, as opposed to every time you need ground nuts or grains, then you only have to take it apart and clean it once. Same goes for the sauce maker, juicer, pressure cooker or any other appliance you need for a particular recipe. This will cut your work down considerably and make you feel quite efficient. It is especially true for electric counter-top appliances since not all parts can go in the dishwasher. Doesn’t this sound like an easy-going plan already? I say, “Cook once, eat trice, clean once.”
I came across a very instructive article about food consumption (September 2011) on a no less interesting Blog named Len Penzo Dot Com. The title reads, “Culinary Odds & Ends: How Eating Leftovers Saves Me $1400 Annually.” The author notes that he has a teenage son who can make it rather difficult to keep a full fridge.
“A few years ago,” he explains, “I did a painfully detailed study of my grocery expenses and discovered that the price of our home-cooked meals came to roughly $2.09 per person per meal… the cost per meal would have been much more if my family had tossed the leftovers in the trash instead of eating them.”
The self-imposed study revealed that by eating leftovers the author and his family were able to secure an extra meal every week as well as five to six breakfasts and lunches for their famished (just kidding) teenage son. Surely, he did not mind one bit. “My family saved roughly $1400 last year by consuming our leftovers. Not bad, huh?” concludes the article.
Portion sizes in restaurants are often more than twice the serving size recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture. This is not because their kitchen appliances and cookware are larger, but it does provide a clue to answer the question, “Why do we love leftovers?
Set aside all other considerations such as frugal living, waste reduction and time-saving and let me present my theory: We love leftovers because we need a sense of abundance. Leftovers send a clear and tasty message to our voracious instinct. They signal, “There is enough. In fact, there is more than enough. Feast, my friend, feast again and again!”
In its beginnings, “Boxing Day” was, partially at least, all about leftovers. On that day, in the 18th century, the wealthy “boxed” leftover pastries and foods from their Holiday feasts to donate to their servants as a token of appreciation for their work. Some were donated to the poor as well, via the Church. This tradition clearly signals real abundance, to the point of waste. It is good to know that all did not in fact go to waste, but one must wonder about food safety standards at the time.
We are not the only ones who love leftovers. Micro-organisms know what’s good for them too. Yes, even creatures with microscopic brains, or hardly any brain at all, know a good next-day feast when they see one; only what is next-day for you is actually next-moment for them. They’ll beat you to the spoils every time if you do not take simple precautions and bacteria is, well, the least of their concerns. Quick guidelines can save the day.
Do you ever eat pizza in the morning that was left out on the counter from the night before? Do you not know the “danger zone”? Food that is allowed to sit at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees for two hours or longer have been raided by a microscopic army the likes of which you do not want to observe under the microscope after eating a good meal. You cannot tell if food is safe just by looking, smelling or tasting it. Apply the 2-hour rule.
To ensure leftover food safety, cool food quickly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. For large pots of food, you can speed up the cooling process by placing the pot in a sink full of ice-water and stirring the food occasionally. Refrigerate promptly, in air-tight containers.
Now, back to enjoying our leftovers. Some dishes are actually better the next day. Of all leftovers, besides Holiday dishes, lasagna is the most reheated dish. Gourmet Chef and cookbook editor Sara Newberry agrees, “On the first night lasagna always seems too liquid-y…after one night in the fridge it’s always better.”
What about pie? If pizza is good for breakfast, why not pie? Good, wholesome, homemade pie that contains real fruit is closer to being a meal than most desserts. Here is what I recommend: a sliver after dinner, to satisfy the sweet tooth, and a more generous, re-heated portion for breakfast, to get a head start on your daily fruit consumption.
Finally, I hereby declare the sandwich to be the perfect leftover medium. It provides the right components for a hearty meal consisting of vegetables, protein and fiber. I dare say a sandwich is perfect food, and leftovers provide the perfect ingredients to make it so.
What are your outrageous leftover cravings and secrets? Or are you a leftovers basher? Granny loves you anyway.