Monday, March 10, 2014

Re-purposing leftovers at camp

The cooks must find creative ways to re-purpose leftovers at Oakland Feather River Camp. Serving reheated leftovers in their original form is frowned on by camp management. With few exceptions, campers expect freshly prepared meals.

As the chef, I understand the restrictions. Campers pay over $90 per night to camp under the towering Ponderosa pines. They expect three newly prepared meals in the Chow Palace each day. It's not fair to serve to recycle meals.

While I try to plan meals as closely as possible to demand, there are times that campers don't eat what we expect then to. As a result, we're left with numerous pans of leftovers in the walk-in. So, I'm driven to find ways to work within the spirit of the policy. For obvious reasons, I cannot discard leftovers. It's cost prohibitive and poor management of limited resources.

Re-purposing leftovers is an important tool. Most of our solutions last summer were simple. We didn't have time to completely convert each leftover dish into something new. Where possible, our normal solution was to use the item as a basic ingredient in another dish.

I've saved leftover French toast to use in bread pudding for years. The custard-infused toast enhances the sweet dessert. It adds another layer of cinnamon-nutmeg goodness. Last May, in the wake of our first weekend camp, I learned that these campers weren't big on bread. Faced with some 150 leftover dinner rolls, I saved them in the freezer a later bread pudding.

The cooks routinely left the sauce off of one-third of the Friday night barbequed chicken. The meat was pulled from the bone and refrigerated. It was then used for chicken salad for the salad bar, chicken chili (as an alternative to beef or pork chili) or breakfast burritos.

Likewise, the meat was often pulled from the leftover pork spareribs. Sauced meat was repurposed as pulled pork. The smokey notes of un-sauced meat made for great chili verde.

Options to use leftover vegetables abound as well. Many work well in salads. Leftover whole kernel corn was used to prepare corn and tomato salsa. Add fresh diced tomatoes, minced chili peppers, garlic and chopped cilantro. We served the salsa with the appropriate meal.

Yes, there are times that I allowed the cooks to serve reheated leftovers alongside the planned meal. Our largest camp -- a private group of more than 300 campers -- expects leftovers. In that instance, they become a blessing by relieving the pressure placed on the regular menu by the large group.

We also served leftovers for dinner on Independence Day last summer. After stuffing themselves at a midday barbecue, most campers enjoyed the leftovers, which were served alongside limited portions of the regular dinner meal. The camp director was happy, as were the campers. It gave them a chance to eat as much or as little as they desired.

Not all of my attempts to repurpose leftovers have enjoyed complete successful. One time I renamed leftover macaroni and cheese and served it for breakfast to a limited reception. I named it "Thomas Jefferson Frittata" as a tribute to his role in bringing pasta to America. By the end of the meal the campers only ate one of the two leftover pans.

Most ideas that I've presented are basic. I'd love to hear your ideas for using leftovers in the camp kitchen. If I acquire enough ideas, I'll present them in a future blog post.

My personal breakfast this morning consisted of leftover sautéed cabbage and carrots, roasted broccolini and grilled Polish sausage.


Last summer, the cooks stocked leftovers in the staff refrigerator, which is located in the break room. They placed eight to 10 portions of the entrée and side dishes into zipper lock bags. As the week progressed, the stock of leftovers progressively grew to unmanageable proportions. I found myself discarding older leftovers two or three times each week.

This practice has it's limitations as most staff eat in the Chow Palace during regular meal periods. It's great for the occasional staff member who misses the meal and those with the midnight munchies. Space limitations are compounded by the fact that the staff refrigerator is the designated place for staff to store small quantities of personal food.

I plan to revisit this process this year. At times I felt the cooks were using the staff refrigerator to avoid stocking leftovers in the walk-in. If managed closely, it can work to the benefit of staff who find the need to miss a meal. Yet, the cooks need to respect staff that store personal food in the refrigerator.

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