Friday, November 7, 2008

Today's Special: Leftovers

I love leftovers. I enjoy getting a break from standard lunchtime fare to sample a hot meal, and so many dishes taste even better to me the second time around. And best of all, with the minimal effort required to prepare leftovers, I gain more time for other creative pursuits outside the kitchen.

Unfortunately, I am the only one in my family who feels this way. Presenting Monday's meatloaf or Tuesday's turkey later in the week is usually met with groans from my husband and four children. So awhile back I came up with a fun way to please my food critics and take leftovers from old news to today's special.

As I peered into my refrigerator one Friday night trying to decide what to prepare for supper, I was amused noting leftovers from two previous weeknight meals: spaghetti and chicken enchiladas. I smiled wondering if we should return to Italy or Mexico for dinner that night. I had some of both dishes left, but not enough to serve the entire family either one. So an idea was born: Mom's Cafe.

I tried not to let my excitement spoil the surprise as I quietly set the table, printed menus and prepared for that night's restaurant opening. Tuesday's spaghetti became The Italian Feast, and Thursday's enchiladas became The Mexican Fiesta. With the document saved on my computer, updated menus could be printed with new specials if the restaurant concept went over well. In no time, Mom's Cafe was ready for customers.

When I called the family to supper, I met the children as they sauntered into the kitchen. "Welcome to Mom's Cafe," I offered with a smile. "How many are in your party tonight?"

The boys shot each other a look as I directed the children to their seats: "Right this way, please." They looked confused as they settled into their chairs and I handed them their menus. "Would you like to hear our specials?" I asked. They nodded silently, and I told them about our featured dishes. "Can I get you something to drink while you look over your menus?" With drink orders in hand, I slipped into the kitchen.

"That was freaky," Carson murmured to Christian.

Joe and I exchanged smiles, and he offered to work in the kitchen while I waited on our customers.

By the time I returned with their drinks -- chocolate milks all around -- the children were starting to enjoy themselves. "May I take your order?" I asked. The children acted so grown up looking over the menu and making their selections. My kitchen staff -- I mean Joe -- worked quickly to assemble and reheat the plates, and I delivered them to the children.

The children were fully engaged in Mom's Cafe by the time I placed the boys' Italian Feasts at their places. Carson was in the bathroom when I asked Christian if he would care for cheese on his spaghetti. "Yes, please," he replied, "and my brother would also." I almost giggled at his response, but I didn't want to break character. The children laughed, talked, cleaned their plates -- and offered their sincere compliments to the chef.

I think all the food critics in my house would agree that the opening night of Mom's Cafe was a huge success. Our role playing made for fun family time, and I'm thinking that down the road the children could learn a lot from taking turns waiting tables or working in the kitchen. The evening reminded me that presentation is important and little touches go a long way in creating a fun atmosphere. We received rave reviews at our opening, and I discovered that hugs and thank you's are the best accolades a restaurateur can receive.

By the time Mom's Cafe closed that night, I felt like a culinary genius. After all, I had gotten my family excited to eat leftovers!

Mom's Cafe serves up wholesome goodness prepared with love and presented with a smile. Little touches please even the most finicky customers and turn yesterday's leftovers into today's special.

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