The art of artful leftovers?

Generations of cooks and frugal families have faced the dilemma of what to do with the leftovers. Bon Appetit has devoted issues to T-day leftovers…trying to spice up turkey so that it looks like something entirely different in new meals. Fun, interesting, and tasteful, leftovers that can incorporate different flavors are what make a leftover truly new and not, well, left-over from something else.

And so it was with this in mind that I embarked on a different kind of chicken soup. Whenever I roast chickens, I am haunted by a carcass that I just can’t toss, so of course I made chicken broth. I’ve even discovered that I can freeze a roasted chicken carcass to make broth on another day, when I have more time, or when I just need therapy cooking (this is something akin to therapy shopping). I’ve gotten much better over the years with my broth, and I no longer believe, as Martha and Ina would like, that I must boil a raw, cut-up chicken for a truly complex taste. I’ve discovered how to build intense flavors by throwing in everything possible with the done-up bird by adding chopped onions, celery and carrots, peppercorns, bay leaves, fresh parsley and salt. Then, I strain and freeze because, by that point, the last thing I really want to do is making something else with chicken.

However, I have to put a limit on the number of ziplocks in the freezer storing chicken broth. Something’s gotta give once I’m making the third batch. That’s where I was last Tuesday evening when I faced another leftover roasted chicken and a freezer full of broth. I’m just really, darn tired of most chicken soup. I’ve tried different shapes of pasta, and rice instead of pasta, and lemon and ginger with yakisoba. I wanted something different, and I thought about a Tuscan-style chicken soup, but it just didn’t feel right that particular evening; it wasn’t what I was craving. Then, I stumbled upon the idea of combining leftover, diced, grilled chicken–frozen from last month–with the jalapeno on its last legs in the crisper, and roasted bell peppers in the freezer (also grilled, peeled and sliced last month) with the smoked paprika that I bought at Costco and still haven’t used…because I didn’t realize I was buying a giganto container of smoked paprika, really. I thought it was regular paprika. Emeril would chastise me and say that I never should have spices around for more than a couple of months and always to buy small amounts from the bulk sections of grocery stores so I always have fresh, but that’s another story. These ingredients, along with ginger, onion, cumin, oregano, rice and pinto beans produced what I hoped would be a somewhat tasty “stoup,” and at least one that I would be willing to eat again…as its own leftover. I topped it with sour cream, avocado, cheese and crushed lime tortilla chips.

However, the family (or rather everyone but youngest son) is the real test, and I’m always a little reticent to ask for feedback because perhaps I won’t like what I get. “Delicious” and “fantastic” were what I heard. Still, they’re nice to me, and I never really know until I try it myself. Wow. It was good. I was surprised.

Now, if I can only figure out how to make it again. And I’m left wondering, when do we get to say that we’ve created art from nothing, and does it apply to the middle-class domestic cook?

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