Leftovers have gotten us out of our meal plan routine and brought creativity to our table.
Nearly every week during our 44-year (and counting) marriage we’ve mapped out a seven-day meal plan. Restaurant meals were luxuries for a nurse and a grad student, so we cooked almost all meals at home. My culinary range was limited: Salisbury “steak,” tuna-noodle casserole, and other grad student staples were on the menu each week.
The habit has stayed with us. Tutored on TV by Julia Child, the Frugal Gourmet, Martin Yan and the Great Chefs of New Orleans, we prepared more varied dishes. Our cookbook collection expanded from one (“The Joy of Cooking,” a wedding gift) to an overstuffed bookcase of cooking treatises and magazines, now supplemented by favorite websites.
Lately we’ve been including at least one takeout restaurant meal in our weekly plans, supporting our favorite local eateries. This results in a refrigerator filled with leftovers we’ve cooked and the remains of takeout dishes. Just last week Susy made a quiche, something we hadn’t had for a long time. Alongside it in the fridge was a container of vegetable chow mein mixed with kung pao chicken from China House, already a culinary combo.
Circumstances as just described led us to start a kitchen game we call “Clean Out the Refrigerator.” The challenge is to use up the leftovers before they grow hair and need to be thrown out. We scored double points with a new Franco-Chinoise hybrid, quiche with chow mein — an item almost certainly never seen on any restaurant’s menu. It was surprisingly good, proving once again that international cooperation is still possible despite Brexit. If America is a melting pot, its cauldron is surely a microwave oven.
The possibilities for meal mash-ups are many and diverse. At least two of the five nutritional food groups should be represented. A half-eaten chile verde super burrito from Tres Amigos is already a perfect meal — protein, dairy, grain, vegetable and fruit. (A chile pepper is a fruit, though some may disagree, and to them I say, “Just eat your burrito.”) If you didn’t finish that 750 ml. bottle of Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. amber ale yesterday, it goes well with a burrito.
I would caution against truly random meal combos. For example, surplus pizza margherita from Mezza Luna might not go well with pork ribs from Three Pigs. Someone may be having that exact meal as I write this, and the more I think about it, the more I wish I was that person.
Italian entrees are great as side dishes. The remaining hand-rolled gnocchi with pesto, from It’s Italia, pairs well with a crab melt sandwich from Café Capistrano.
Then there are venerable “destination” restaurants. If you have half a local petrale sole sandwich from Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero and some seafood chowder from the Miramar Beach Restaurant in, well, Miramar, you’re all set. Mangia!
firstname.lastname@example.org encourages reader(s) to preserve these and other Coastside gems by enjoying their great food and beverages.