Just Good Food

by John Ryan


Free Lunch: A Slice from the Recipe Pie


The recipe planet can be divided any number of ways. Some recipes are quick, others take all afternoon. Some are saved for special occasions while I make others all the time. I have recipes I only make from scratch and those I assemble from cans and boxes. And there's always the war of the healthy recipes versus the double chocolate chip cookies.

Then there are recipes that leave no leftovers and those you make because you want the leftovers.

I'm talking about the leftovers you can take with you to work so you're not held hostage to fast food or a box of Good Gourmet from the supermarket freezer case.

Leftover-generating recipes are well worth cultivating. Not only do you get a good dinner from them, you get a few lunches for free.

And who isn't interested in a free lunch?

I think that one reason this subset of the recipe pie has been neglected is that leftovers in general have gotten a bad rap. In fact, for years the rule of thumb in the recipe-writing biz has been that consumers don't want to deal with leftovers. So writers began meaning it when they said a recipe served two.

And industry cooperated in a big way. Almost overnight whole chickens vanished; we could suddenly buy a single chicken breast—boned, skinned, wrapped, weighed and waiting.

Growing up in the sixties, Leftovers were a fact of life and a mixed blessing. I loved corned beef hash; I hated turkey soup with dumplings. I skipped home-cooking during the seventies and eighties because I was working in restaurants and did most of my eating there. In restaurants I leaned how to make dinners to order. And at the same time, I was seeing books and magazines rejecting leftovers and embracing restaurant-style cooking.

Looking on the bright side, this New Kitchen Order meant that people could eat new dishes every night. No more turkey tyranny—turkey forcing itself into hash, soups, sandwiches, and casseroles all week long.

The dark side of the leave-no-leftovers ethic was that cooks had to start from scratch every night. Free lunches were extinct and free dinners were an endangered species.

The nineties brought cocooning and the return of comfort food. But by then we were all too busy to make meat loaf and mashed potatoes during the week. So the weekend cook was born. Interest in artisanal bread was rising. Casseroles came back. Barbecue was in. Smokers sold like hot cakes. What our mothers and grandmothers did on a routine basis became our weekend hobbies.

I like this trend because I like free meals. And since I started working an hour from home I've been spending more time than ever in the leftover slice of the recipe pie. The ones I've been especially interested in are the recipes I can double, such as quiche. Quiche is a great leftover—it reheats well and is sometimes better cool—and it doesn't take any longer to make two than it does one.


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John Ryan

Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.


This page modified May 2001