It was the stew that wouldn't leave. The dip that wouldn't TC disappear. And the pork chops that overstayed their welcome, by about a week.
They were aggressive leftovers. Every time I opened the door, they were at the front of the fridge. Once, when I reached in to grab a beer, the pot of stew slid out, and tried to force itself on me.
These were leftovers with an attitude. Getting rid of them was trouble.
I considered adopting the get-tough policy and tossing them in the trash. But that would make me feel guilty. These items were real food, made from scratch. They had another meal or two in them. If only I could figure out how to rejuvenate them, to give them a new look, a new flavor, and get them back on the supper table.
I needed counseling. And so I spoke with Joanne Lamb Hayes. She is co-author, along with Bonnie Tandy Leblang, of a new cookbook called "The Weekend Kitchen," (Harmony Books, $11). The idea behind this book is that weekends are when folks have the time and energy to make big meals from scratch. The book has recipes for such endeavors.
As for weekday meals, the book often recommends recasting leftovers from the weekend feasts. When I got Hayes on the phone at her office in Country Living where she is the food editor, she immediately had some suggestions for what to do with beef stew.
First, she said, I could put it in a pocket. That is, I could spoon the stew up in pockets of pita bread and warm up the beef stew sandwich in a microwave.
Or, she said, I could make it into chili. She said I could stir in a can of kidney beans, maybe a few more tomatoes, 2 to 3 teaspoons of chili powder, bring to boil then simmer 10 minutes.
If I topped my recycled stew with corn chips, Cheddar cheese and chopped onions, I might have something even kids would eat, depending on how heavy I was with the onions.
When I looked at the leftover pork chops I thought of tired pigs. But when I mentioned the chops to Hayes, she thought of leafy salads.
Chop the chops up and put them in a chef salad, she said.
She also saw spaghetti in the future of the pork chops. "Make tetrazzini out of it," she said, and described how I could make white sauce, then combine it with cooked spaghetti, the diced pork, and sliced mushrooms and bake it in a casserole.
Hayes saw a varied future for leftover red pepper dip.
It could easily be used as topping for a piece of grilled tuna. Or, she said, the red pepper dip could be spread on lettuce leaves and then doused with a cucumber chutney.
My time with the leftover counselor had ended. I thanked her and hung up.
She had given me the courage to go home and face my refrigerator.
And she had given me a new name for leftovers. In the book, when Hayes made more fish than she needed she referred to extra as "reserved fish."
So instead of having "leftovers" tonight, I am telling the kids we are having "reserves."
The following recipe is from "Weekend Kitchen" by Joanne Lamb Hayes and Bonnie Tandy Leblang.
Romaine with cucumber chutney
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into small chunks (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 medium yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely diced
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon diced dillweed or 1 tablespoon fresh dill
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Toss cucumbers with salt, let stand for 30 minutes, rinse, drain and press out excess moisture. Combine with bell pepper and onions.
To make dressing, combine the oil, vinegar, sugar, dillweed, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the vegetables, toss well, and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1 hour.
Line chilled salad plates with the romaine. Portion the vegetables over the romaine and serve.