Meet Nick Evans, the King of Leftovers! You may recognize this gentleman as the mastermind behind such Kitchn recipes as these delicious Lemon-Thyme Chicken Thighs. Well, Nick has recently come out with an entire cookbook of tasty meals, all designed to fit into your busy schedule and use up handy leftovers — appropriately titled Love Your Leftovers.
Today, I'm grilling Nick about the contents of his pantry, his most-used kitchen tools (a $15 mini-zester!) and his advice for all of us busy, hungry, food-loving folk. Later this week, we'll have a recipe from the book and a giveaway!
Leftovers! How did you come to write a whole book about leftovers?!
I think that leftovers get a bad name and I wanted to change that perception. People think that leftovers means just eating the same thing over and over again, but I like to think of them as time and money that you've already spent.
What people may not realize is that chefs frequently use this technique in restaurants. They will make big batches of things and then repurpose it as daily specials and in various dishes throughout the week.
For some reason that method hasn't been very clearly explained to the home cook and I think it's a great way to make cooking at home easier.
What foods make great leftovers?
I think simple dishes that store well make the best leftovers. A basic roast chicken or even baked potatoes keep fantastically and can be used in more follow up dishes than you can shake a spatula at.
Talk about your approach to meal-planning — how (and when!) do you plan your week?
I have a whole chapter in Love Your Leftovers about meal planning, but I always do my meal planning on the weekends, usually Sunday. I'm pretty lax about what days I cook actual things, but I'll plan out 3 to 4 dinners for the week based on what I have in my pantry, what's fresh in the market, and what I feel like eating!
I also try to make a big batch of something on the weekends that I can use throughout the week as a base for meals. This could be a pot of black beans or just a big loaf of homemade bread.
I know some people who plan a month at a time instead of a week at a time, but I've never found that to work for me because I rarely know what I'm doing three weeks in advance. There might be a social dinner I want to go to or have friends over for dinner, and if you're planning too far in advance, that sort of thing gets tough to accommodate.
When do you actually cook your meals? How long does it take you?
The truth is that I cook at weird times if I'm doing recipe development or testing. We will frequently then just reheat that stuff for dinner. If I'm just cooking a normal dinner for me and my wife though, I'm like anyone else. I want it to be fast and delicious. For a weekday, I don't want to be actively cooking for more than 45 minutes... also known as one glass of wine.
What ingredients do you always have in the cupboard, fridge, or freezer for making leftovers into easy meals?
While I can't honestly say I always have it, homemade stock is my favorite thing to have on hand. It's so flavorful and can be used to make really delicious soups or pastas.
I always make sure I have a really robust and fresh spice cabinet. Knowing how and when to use certain spices is the fastest way to transfer leftovers. Even something like leftover salmon can be easily transformed into really delicious fish tacos with a small pinch of chipotle pepper spice.
What is the most-used tool in your kitchen — the one that never gets put away because it's always getting used?
The boring answer is my chef's knife. I use it every day and keep it sharp and honed. You can't be afraid to chop things if you want to be a good home cook.
The secret answer is a little $15 microplane zester. While they are great for grating citrus zest, I use mine for a ton of other things including grating fine Parmesan cheese over pasta, grating nutmeg and cinnamon into my coffee in the morning, grating ginger and garlic for a stir-fry, or shaving chocolate for a dessert topping.
What kind of storage containers do you recommend?
If you are really going to embrace the leftover cooking method (and I hope you do!), I recommend splurging on nice, glass containers with snapping lids. You can usually find a big variety pack of sizes and they work great in the fridge or freezer. They don't leach flavors or colors, and they keep forever. I've used the same bunch now for around four years and they are still like new.
Which recipe should we definitely make from your book ASAP?
That's a really tough one! While it might sound out of reach, I hope people try the weeknight gnocchi recipe. It's shockingly easy to make quality gnocchi at home (and I give you step-by-step photo instructions). It's especially doable if you have a few spare baked potatoes already cooked.
Last question — what are you having for dinner tonight?!
Well, tonight I'm eating light, just a salad and a light spinach and pasta dish because tomorrow I'm hosting my annual deep fry party (you bring, it I fry it). It's always a blast, but I always try to have a light meal the day before for obvious reasons!
→ Love Your Leftovers is out now! Find Nick's book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Love Your Leftovers by Nick Evans
→ Read more about Love Your Leftovers at Nick's personal blog: Love Your Leftovers