The Best Leftovers

By / Food / February 7th, 2012 / 2

I can’t remember whether my bachelor friend, Jeremy, could cook or if he simply chose not to. Observing him for a couple of years, he seemed to simply muddle on through with the usual bachelor pickings, and along the way, scrounging what else he needed, from sympathetic friends and neighbours. Which is why, for his health, and because we enjoyed his quirky company, we invited him over for Sunday night dinners on any number of occasions.

Nothing special, mind you. He ate what we ate. From cold-weather soups and stews to snappy summer salads cobbled from the bounty of our garden; from stuffed tortillas to crusty, savoury tourtière; roasts paired with the lees of some good reds. Beggars and mooching bachelors can’t be choosers.
Sometimes, as may happen at your place, Sunday dinner was regurg … — wrong word — prepared in whole or in part from the remains of Saturday’s dinner, or, perish the thought, even Friday’s lunch! In tough times, or simply because why not, that’s the way it happens.

I mention this because one Sunday, as Jeremy was into his second or third mouthful of the main course, he paused, looked at me, and plaintively asked: “… Is this new food?” In an instant, I realized that despite the disguises I had concocted to make the meal appear otherwise, the game was up. He had cleverly detected that we were actually dining on … leftovers!

The “new” term stuck, and since then, with family, friends, or strangers hanging in for a meal, we’ve been quick to announce that what’s on the plate is indeed “new,” “partly new,” or possibly “none of the above.” Truth in advertising. It sets a nice tone to know what you’re eating.

The trick with leftovers, of course, is to do such a good job freshening them up that you can fool all of the people every second time round. There are famed examples. Shepherd’s Pie, for instance, is unabashedly new. Yesterday’s mashed potatoes top the day-before’s oomphed, seasoned, and moistened ground-up roast. Add a fancy pattern with a fork and a pat or three of butter into the potatoes, bake and brown under the broiler, and voila, new food! “Bubble and squeak” is a famous, some may say infamous, British breakfast take on yesterday’s veg. And so on.

Like these high-profile faves, all kinds of individual leftovers can become the beginnings of completely “new” meals to delight your own Jeremys, family broods, or best foodie friends. Make no apologies. Like love, food is often more beautiful the second time around.

And on the topic, think about the most mountainous bounty of all leftovers … Christmas! Much more than a tankful of soup fabricated from the forlorn remains of a bird, Christmas presents an opportunity for you to dig yourself out from the wrappings beneath the tree, and fashion all kinds of new foods from old. For the freezer, for romps on the slopes, for all of the rugged-up frolicking that will happen as you wait out the long, wintry week of wassailing for the promising victuals of the New Year.

The turkey, of course, is a trove of treasures. Soup if you must. But also pies, à la king, sammies, wraps, and on and on. Google it and see. Close to two million responses in the flick of a gizzard. So is the Christmas ham, so are the veg, the nog. Not to mention the iconic cake as door stop, and ahem, the sprouts for the composter. In short order, as the unwanted gifts of the season find new forward-gifted owners and destinations, the excesses of Christmas foods can find “newness” in the originality of limitless culinary adventures.

golden marmalade
Every holiday season, we are swept along by the tide of buying of foods that we don’t really need. It’s simply tradition that when the cold winds blow, and the tree-lot attendants patiently await our order, we load up excessively on the Christmas compulsories. Nuts, eggnog, Ferrero Rochers, other chocolates — and case after case of mandarins from trees somewhere in the Orient that, like the new wave of Hallmark cards, are ready to be miraculously harvested as Christmas comes to the Western world. And there will always be some left over.

24 mandarin oranges
Any other citrus, cranberries
10 cups sugar

In a large pot, simmer the unpeeled fruit until soft with an equal amount of water — about 45 minutes. Remove and retain the citrus skins, transfer the fruit to a cheesecloth bag, secure the tied bag to the pot and continue to simmer for another 30 or so minutes.

With a wooden spoon, squeeze the bag to remove juice from the fruit. Remove the bag from the pot and discard.

Add the sugar and boil, occasionally stirring, until the marmalade reaches jell point and “hangs” on a spoon. Be patient.

Finely julienne the skins and add to the mixture. Ladle hot into jars and seal.

More of Duncan’s recipes will be available throughout the month of February.


Our West Coast wordsmith Duncan Holmes likes to cook all parts of the meal—hot and cold apps for the eyes; big, generous mains, where timing, color and taste come together on sparkling, white plates—and there’s always enough for seconds. But it’s at dessert time when he really shines. Not with precious fancy dancy, but with a melt-in-your-mouth-pastry apple pie. Granny Smiths, of course, and French vanilla ice cream.

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