Balancing a healthy, fresh dinner with a family-friendly budget can be a challenge. But Jennifer Segal, blogger and author of the upcoming cookbook, Once Upon a Chef, learned a thing or two about scrappy cooking in culinary school. Here, she shares how to approach leftovers with the mind of a chef, as well as a cheesy, kid-friendly reinvention of steamed broccoli.
When I was in culinary school, the chef instructors used to spot-check our trashcans to make sure we weren’t wasting food. And let me tell you, all it takes is one time being chewed out by a French chef in front of the entire class to learn your lesson. To this day, I’m paranoid about throwing away food and have a freezer full of old bananas, vegetable scraps, and hunks of bread to prove it.
Restaurant margins are notoriously thin, so nothing is wasted in a restaurant kitchen: bones and shells are made into stocks and soups; tough cuts of meat become stew for the staff meal; cake trimmings are turned into dessert trifles; day-old bread is transformed into croutons and bread pudding; and look out for today’s special—it’s likely a new twist on yesterday’s fish that’s about to expire!
When I was a line cook, I carved countless carrots into tiny football shapes every day—the pastry chef used my scraps to make carrot cake. In cooking school, we went through dozens of egg yolks learning to make hollandaise sauce. Guess what else we learned to make that week? Yep. Meringue, pavlova, and macarons—all made with egg whites.
For chefs, creativity is often born out of necessity. Instead of browsing through a cooking magazine, finding a delicious-looking recipe, and thinking: “I’ll go to the store after work, get the ingredients, and follow the recipe,” you might start by thinking about what’s in season (and thus less expensive) or what you already have in the fridge, and then try to find a recipe for those ingredients instead.
This recipe for broccoli tots only calls for a 1/2 pound of broccoli, which makes it a great way to reinvent leftover steamed broccoli. Though they’re baked in the oven, they taste strikingly similar to deep-fried tater tots, especially when dipped in ketchup. I often make these for dinner when the kids’ friends are over, and I’m always surprised by how voraciously they devour them. Who knew kids could go so wild over broccoli?
- 1/2 pound [230 g] broccoli, broken into florets, stems roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup [45 g] chopped yellow onion
- 1/2 cup [30 g] instant potato flakes
- 2/3 cup [75 g] grated sharp Cheddar cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Reprinted from Once Upon a Chef by Jennifer Segal with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018.