In Bucks County, our fridge was full of two things: condiments and leftovers; a taxonomy of mustards and chutneys and bar-b-que sauces competing for space with stacks of white china bowls wrapped in plastic and filled with this or that congealing something or other. And then there was the freezer, crammed with icebergs that now only vaguely resembled chili or soup anymore
Leftovers are a staple in my house. There’s no time to cook during the week, so weekends I take over the kitchen and make huge quantities of something, most of which will be frozen and remade and remixed over the next fortnight.
This has been a week of odds and ends. The Great Cabbage Roll Assemblage left me with a couple cups of chopped cabbage, carrots, onions and most of a bag of Bulgar wheat. Half a bowl of mashed potatoes sat quietly congealing in the back. A container of chili in the freezer had been glowering at me for a few weeks and needed something done with it.
The art of leftovers is the art of reinvention. Yes, you could just reheat and serve them again (and again and again, like dinner in syndication) but that would be boring and make you bad person. But dinner is no longer dinner once it goes back in the fridge. Now it’s an ingredient.
So the chili ended up the base for a spicy tomato and papaya sauce, served with Israeli-poached eggs over quinoa. Last night in a fit of procrastination, the cabbage, mashed potatoes, Bulgar and vegetable leavings became a colcannon derivative, swimming in milk, butter and sour cream.
(Disclaimer: There are always safety concerns when cooking with leftovers. Cooked food spoils faster than raw, so if you’ve no plans to reuse something immediately, freeze it. Use common sense. Don’t eat anything that’s acquired a fur coat, become discolored, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. Behave like the reasonable adults I know some of you are.)
By changing a few words and references here and there, what I’ve written here so far could easily be transformed from a minor primer on the awesomeness of leftovers into an essay on remix and appropriation in popular culture. At the heart of it is the idea that there is nothing final about the final presentation of something, be it a meal or a movie. If something has further utility, it should be used, creatively and well.
This applies to recipes as well as an actual fridge full of leftovers. The art of cooking and communities built around it embrace remix and open source philosophies naturally. The comment threads of popular recipe blogs and websites are filled with additions, edits, remixes, versions and suggestions from the audience/user/consumer. The Rombauers have yet to pelt me with DMCA take-downs, though most of the recipes I post are re-visionings of ones that appear in The Joy of Cooking. Cooking’s open-source (for what is a recipe but source code for food), sharing and teaching-based philosophy works to everyone’s advantage. When a recipe or technique gets released into the wild (either online, in a book, or by word of mouth), it not only improves the skills of the people who encounter and use it, but the recipe itself gets better. Those pages of comments, all those different versions of creamed spinach or pumpkin curry make the original recipe more valuable and useful; the most valuable recipes are the ones that get used the most, that have collected the most input from the community.
I have slightly idealized the prevalent cookery culture with regards to IP law. But the focus of the community has and continues to be on attribution when it comes to the use and reuse of existing recipes, not payment and control. Cooking communities encourage derivative and appropriative creativity and knowledge sharing as good creative practice. It’s all just so damn intuitive, isn’t it?
So, to paraphrase a t-shirt I wish I had: Get excited and make things out of other things.
Poached Eggs with Papaya-Chili-Tomato Sauce and Quinoa
Leftover chili/tomato sauce
dried whole chili peppers (not necessary if you’re a spiciness wuss)
dried fruit (I used papaya and raisins, but I’ve used apricots before with equally delicious results
one can diced tomatoes
six large eggs (two per person)
Combine your leftover base in a heavy bottomed pot with the diced tomatoes, chopped fruit, and chili peppers and bring to a healthy simmer. Crack in your eggs, reduce the heat and cover. Stir gently and occasionally to prevent the eggs sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning, but otherwise, ignore until the eggs are set.
When eggs are set, spoon them out with a healthy portion of sauce and serve over quinoa. Discard the chili peppers.
chopped cabbage (because this was leftover from making cabbage rolls, what I had was already cooked. You may want to blanche yours.)
one small onion, chopped
(this is where the pseudo comes in. Traditional Irish colcannon contains cabbage, potatoes, leeks and cream. But I was more concerned with using up my vegetable stash than with historical verisimilitude. So, for the purists, not real real colcannon. Real pseudo colcannon.)
Bulgar wheat (I had less mashed potatoes than I originally thought, so I added the Bulgar wheat to give the dish more body. The added vegetables made it unnecessary, though, and I’ll omit it next time.)
salt, pepper, thyme
Basically, combine all the above in a pot, simmer, stir and serve. Add the sour cream, salt, pepper and thyme last, to taste. Peter insists on eating this topped with cheddar cheese, but then again that’s how he eats damn near everything.