Secrets of Great Second Meals | Sara Dickerman
Secrets of Great Second Meals
By Sara Dickerman
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table talking to cookbook authors.
Sara: Hi, I'm Sara Dickerman and this is my latest cookbook, "Secrets of Great Second Meals".
Suzy Chase: The last time we chatted was about the "Bon Appetit: Food Lover's Cleanse" cookbook that you wrote. And you even had lunch suggestions based on leftovers from the night before. So you've been a leftover supporter for years now. Talk a little bit about that.
Sara: Well yes, the Bon Appetit plans, because there were menus for two weeks of healthy eating, I started thinking about how to make it a little more reasonable, since it was based on home cooking. And even though we all love to cook at home, some days it's just too busy and just really trying to cook every meal at home would be complicated. So I thought about using beautiful leftovers and then reframing them in a way that made them feel new and fresh. So in the case of the Bon Appetit book, it was thinking about a lot of those proteins in salad form, in delicious, crunchy salads. All sorts of textures and all sorts of flavors. And it just reminded me how much I love that part of cooking, the cyclical nature of cooking where one meal trails into the next. I think it's a really beautiful aspect of cooking that allows you to treat your ingredients with the most respect. Of course it allows you to save money because you're not wasting as much food. But there's just something very natural about letting one meal inform the next.
Suzy Chase: You take uncommon delight in putting together memorable meals out of the morsels in your fridge. And it definitely comes through in this cookbook. Can you give us a brief history of the L word?
Sara: Sure. Leftovers, as such, didn't really have an existence until people had refrigerators, in the sense of a problem of having too much food left around the house. In the past, people probably would've eaten the stew the next morning just to use it up. But when refrigerators started being popular in American culture, first, in the late 19th century, it was ice-based refrigerators and then electric refrigerators, this idea that you have this food that was around and you didn't quite finish it and you could keep it for a while became an issue. And so around that era, at the beginning of the 20th century, cookbooks started to come out dealing with this new thing called leftovers. At the same time, women were encouraged to be very thrifty. This was the heart of the home economics movement in America. So housewives were supposed to use their skills and ingenuity to keep the household finances in good shape and to be creative and use up every little scrap of food in the house.
That grew through the beginning of the 20th century. And crowning achievements in the mid-century were like Jello molds with every kind of knickknack in them. And of course the era of casseroles with tinned soup and, yet last, leftover turkey in the casseroles. And of course, naturally, that kind of cooking wore down people's palates and it lost glamour as we moved into the second half of the 20th century. And people got very interesting in farmer's market and fresh foods and really connecting with foods and experimenting with foods from around the world. And that homey cooking I think felt less of the moment at that point.
What has happened recently? Well we're all becoming much more aware of the impact of our eating on the environment. So people are thinking a lot about food wastage, which wastes not just our money, our household money, but wastes water and it's a larger carbon footprint. So there is an activist movement that I'd say really got traction in England first and then came here. And you'll see people like Dan Barber really encouraging chef and home cooks alike to think about how much food gets wasted in our environment. There's an estimate that it's about 40% of food gets wasted in the United States. So it's a huge amount. And so I just combined that concern in my book with also the pleasure of creativity. And part of the joy of cooking in the kitchen can be, "Oh, I'm wasting a little bit less food but I'm also having fun thinking about this new environment for whatever I have around the refrigerator." It can make it really fun and a pleasing part of your cooking life.
Suzy Chase: In terms of food waste, we're all thinking about food waste these days but no one really talks about this way of thinking and cooking and how it's really budget friendly too. And you mention that in the cookbook.
Sara: It is. You need to know what you'll use. And if you can cook a few dishes that you know you'll enjoy and, if you have a family, your family will enjoy, and kind of cook a little more at the beginning of the week. Maybe you cook it kind of simply. Then you can reframe it and it takes a little less time the second time around because you've already cooked whatever that main ingredient is. And then it's also you're conscientiously thinking about different ways to frame your food, and so you have more fun and you're more likely to maybe eat at home instead of ordering takeout. And that also saves money of course.
Suzy Chase: It's so expensive. Especially in New York City, you get all these extra charges, the delivery changes. So a family of three, you can easily rack up a $50 bill just getting Chinese food. It's crazy.
Sara: Right. I never want to sound scoldy. I get bored very easily. I'm not the kind of person who can eat exactly the same meal days after days in a row. So that's where the fun and the creativity and the transformation comes to play, so that that simple roast chicken you had one day might become a chicken salad like on the cover of the book that has a wonderful ginger soy dressing. Or it might become enchiladas or it might become a Greek style lemon soup. It could go in any of those directions. And that allows for a little bit of spontaneity even if you're trying to be thoughtful.
Suzy Chase: You write about the eureka moment. Talk about that.
Sara: Oh, it's just, like I said, I think there's this pleasure that cooks take, and maybe not all cooks, but that when you figure out how a few things can fit together and improve each other. And so I think about that when I'm meditating on this little bit of extra pork shoulder I have around and I realize that I could add a little more flavor to the pork shoulder, like adding some annatto and it will taste a little bit like Cochinita Pibil. It won't be a classically prepared Cochinita Pibil but it'll have some of that lovely lemony annatto flavor, and that that could be reframed into tacos after I'd had it maybe in more Italian version of it the night before. And then you just start thinking, "Oh, and then I have that extra half of that onion that's in the fridge." And then I'll pickle that. And then, look, suddenly you have this new meal. And the anticipation of how that meal will come together is what I think of as the eureka moment.
Soup is almost always an options. And there's a whole chapter in the book on soups. And that's often the way that you can figure out how to put all those puzzle pieces together.
Suzy Chase: So I want to chat about a question you brought up in the cookbook which was if we revered these ingredients that were painstakingly grown in organic fields and handcrafted by food artisans, why do we not also appreciate them after the first meal? And I was wonder why don't we? We're so quick to throw it away.
Sara: Yeah, I think we are. Well I think there's a few different camps I would say for sure. There are people who grew up and they just never liked leftovers. And they're a tougher nut to crack. But I think the key is reframing things and making things feel a little new and fresh. And then there's those of us who are more like me probably who just have good intentions and don't get around to it. And it's that delayed virtue thing that I think we all engage in a lot in our modern world. But it's true, I do think that there's a level of respect for ingredients that should extend beyond the farmer's market and extend into our daily lives. And it's always going to look glorious uncooked at the farmer's market. But what happens when it's in your refrigerator or in your freezer? And how can you really bring back that enthusiasm you had for the same thing before it was cooked and before you tried it?
And I always say I'm easily bored. So I think of ways of layering in flavors and layering in textures. So even if I'm not preparing one of these recipes from start to finish, I have great condiments in my refrigerator door like a harissa or a gochujang, which are two different chili-based sauces. gochujang, from Korea, which has the miso-y fermented bean taste. And then harissa which has lovely warm spices like cumin and caraway in it. So those are things I would anoint this second-day food with to just bring in that vibrancy. Or maybe I'll grate lemon zest over top of something or add a dollop of yogurt to add a freshness. So always thinking about ways that you can, even very simple ways that you can add another layer of vibrancy to food after it's been in the refrigerator. Of course it can get a little less sharp tasting once it's been sitting in the refrigerator for a little while. So you need to think about ways of reviving food, but really taking pleasure in it.
Suzy Chase: Give us some general rules on when to throw things out, like fish and seafood, vinaigrettes, moldy cheese or cooked meats.
Sara: Okay, that sounds good. Well with fish and seafood, no one wants old, cooked seafood around. It just really spoils quickly. So I tend to use that the next day. Actually I love having leftover salmon, especially if it's been a little smoked, like if I did it on the barbecue. But I do tend to use it the next day. The one exception might be something like an escabeche, if you've made a vinegar-based marinade, you probably can get away with another day or two. But basically that's a quick thing. Just think of a clever thing to do the next day maybe for brunch. You could make strata and throw in some of the leftover barbecue in that case.
With cooked meats, I think they generally can stick around for three days or so. The other thing I would say though is, because we sometimes don't get around to the leftovers we mean to, if it's something saucy or stewy I often just try to throw it in the freezer the next day rather than keep it around if I don't think I might get through it. And the freezer is always a good option for something that's got a lot of liquid in it. It's not such a good option for something that's like a dry roast, like if you just did a pork tenderloin in the pan. That's something you'd want to use from the refrigerator and not freeze.
Oh, and then you asked me, the last question was cheeses. Now there's a few recipes in this book that I really love because they're custom made for cleaning out the cheese drawer. And I don't know about you but I have a tendency to get excited about cheeses. And when we eat through two-thirds of it, and then there's this funny little nubbin of cheese that doesn't look quite as pretty anymore.
Suzy Chase: Yeah. Exactly.
Sara: So all cheese melts together for the most part. And so there's some wonderful recipes. One of my all-time, classic, favorite things to make are gougeres, which are those wonderful cheese puffs. And you can mix those extra cheeses you have around the cheese drawer in a gougeres, and they're just so extraordinarily delicious. The other fun thing is that gougeres I've found bake up best for me if I've actually made the dough, piped them onto the pan and then freeze that dough. I find they bake better from the freezer. So not only am I saving this extra cheese that I've had around the refrigerator, but then I have them in the freezer. And if guests come over and I want a nice little appetizer, it's super easy to just pop into the oven for 20 minutes and you have these wonderful, crisp, fragrant, hot gougeres to serve your friend.
Suzy Chase: This is funny. One time I asked Dorie Greenspan what she would offer me if I came to her house, and she said gougeres. I said, "I'll be over in 15 minutes. It's done."
Sara: It's just they're so pleasing. Kids love them, adults love them. And very simple. If you want to get fancy, you can cut them in half and put [inaudible 00:13:26] as a little sandwich. But you can also just serve a big pile of them, and next time you turn around they'll be gone.
Suzy Chase: So the other night I made your recipe for the sesame roasted winter vegetable party on page 47. It's such a unique way to roast vegetables. I always do the regular olive oil and salt and pepper. But yours mixes together olive oil, tahini, garlic, sea salt and sesame seeds. Describe this dish.
Sara: Okay. Well, like you, I often just do the olive oil things. But sometimes I want a little more substance to a roasted vegetable and just a little more flavor. And so I love, when I'm working with sesame, to hit it in more than one way the sesame. So there's the tahini, there's the sesame seeds which toast up in the oven and get crunchy. And then the idea is you make just a big batch of those roasted vegetables. And you might them use them in a salad and just enjoy them throughout the week that way. You can puree them together and make a wonderful soup. But on their own they're also delicious. And that extra sesame flavor just gives them a little richness and a little depth.
Suzy Chase: I'm so excited to have this recipe now because I'm so sick of the regular olive oil. It zipped up my vegetables. It was really delicious.
Sara: It is fun. Actually roasted vegetables are great that way. There's a couple of other methods that I'll share, that aren't in the book, that I love to do. Sometimes it's really great to cook them simply but then hit them when they're just coming out of the oven with some fresh grated garlic and maybe a little parsley and maybe a little Parmesan. In that case, the hot vegetables hitting the garlic just really adds this big burst of aroma. And that's another fun way to have a little more fun with your roasted vegetables.
Suzy Chase: That's a good tip. So here is a brilliant tip that was a light bulb moment for me in this cookbook. Hang a list of what's in your fridge on the front of the fridge. It seems so simple yet so effective.
Sara: And one, I will tell you, that I go through phases with because I am a human too. Sometimes I'm better organized than others. But it is, it's true. If you know you have those things that are in the fridge, that's a restaurant, organizational tip. Knowing the inventory of your fridge is really helpful, so if you write it down or even if you just do a visual check. And also, of course, another restaurant tip that's so important is just to make sure to label what you put in the fridge. And again, it's not like I'm perfect with this. But I always regret not labeling things because something gets shoved to the back and then you don't see it. And then it's a week later and you're like, "Oh no, this was that lovely lamb stew."
Suzy Chase: I know.
Sara: "I intended to do something with it."
Suzy Chase: It's the most defeating moment. You're like, "Oh, rest in peace lamb stew."
Sara: Exactly. You know what I like to do? And there's many different ways to label. I have a roll of bright yellow masking tape and a sharpie hanging from my kitchen shelf, just like a lot of restaurants do. And I just try my best, even if I had a glass of wine at dinner, when I throw things in the fridge to slap that label just to say what it is. And then it really makes a big different.
Suzy Chase: For my segment called My Last Meal, what would you have for your last supper?
Sara: Oh, that's such a good one. It would be ... I feel like I just would want a giant bowl of spaghetti bolognese. I just love a meaty spaghetti sauce, I think it's just a childhood memory, with a lot of delicious cheese nearby. And a crisp, green salad too because you need something as a counterpoint.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media?
Sara: I'm on instagram @saradickerman. And then I've also started a new community on Facebook that I'm hoping people might enjoy that is Second Meals. And that is where people could share their ideas or their creations of great second meals that they've come up with or invented for their leftovers. And then I love Instagram. I'd say that's where I'm most active.
Suzy Chase: I'm totally going to check out your Facebook group and join it. That's exciting.
Sara: Great. Thank you so much.
Suzy Chase: Well thanks, Sara, for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
Sara: Oh, thank you so much for having me. Really great to talk with you.
Outro: Follow Suzy Chase on Instagram @cookerybythebook and subscribe at cookerybythebook.com or in Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening to Cookery by the Book podcast, the only podcast devoted to cook books since 2015.