As long as there have been ovens, somebody, somewhere, has tried to invent something that would let them A) reuse leftovers that their family didn't want to eat, and B) make the evening meal and then walk away. Meat pies and casseroles fit the bill.
|Victorian Christmas Pie from the excellent Historicfood.com|
Most casseroles have a formula:
A starch (potatoes, pasta, rice, bread cubes...), Meat (poultry, beef, lamb, pork) and/or Vegetables, Sauce/Seasonings, and a Binder(cheese or breadcrumbs on top, to hold it all together).
Alton Brown, everybody:
Skip to 2:21, and then to 7:36 if you want the bones, but don't have time to watch the entirety.
My bet is that most people have an entire collection of recipes that fit this category, most of which (at least these days) use specialized meat cooked specifically for the task, such as chicken breasts. That does not need to be the case, though! Most casseroles take perfectly to shredded or chopped pre-cooked meat.
Some Examples, using chicken, from various backgrounds (remember that we're staying with a particular cultural palate?):
Mexican: Enchiladas are a great basic. Red enchilada sauce is easy to make at home, and if you don't have time, bottled Dona Maria moles are available at any grocery store, easy to prepare, and particularly good if you use leftover stock(no added salt) from a previous week instead of the suggested water. Fillings don't have to just be meat and cheese, either. Grilled or roasted chopped veggies(I like peppers and onions in the summer, and squash in the winter), olives, and even toasted almonds make great additions.
Chinese:: Most Chinese-American stir-fry recipes don't qualify as a casserole, but fit this same slot in the menu. Instead of starting with cooking the meat, add the chopped leftover meat at the end, so that it can warm up. If you roasted your chickens with Asian flavors, it will fit right in. Home-made fried rice also works great, and can often make whatever other appropriate odds and ends you have take on a whole new life. It works best with day-old rice, anyway!
Japanese food is a bit trickier. There aren't many recipes that are leftover intensive in the normal repertoire. Some, though, like Oyakodon, that are part of home-style cooking, rather then restaurant staples, work very well. Be sure to augment on the side with asian pickles, salad, etc. The place that a Japanese menu will really shine is once we get to soups later in the week.
The list goes on...lasagna, pasta dishes, sandwiches, and dinner salads all work great on this night, or the next, because all of the above were originally designed to make leftover meat interesting again.
One word of warning is required, at this point. When using two chickens start to finish this way, it is important to ration out the meat. Many current recipes use meat as the main ingredient, rather then a flavoring component. It might help to divide up the meat on Sundays, when you deconstruct the Chicken, and split it up for each day--3 or 4 ways, depending on the recipes you use. If you don't have as much as the recipe calls for, use more vegetable, rather then starch, as filler. Most Americans have a hard time getting all their veggies in during a day, and your body will appreciate it! You could also make the casserole smaller, and add an additional fruit or vegetable side, a salad, etc, etc.
Most of the above also applies to pie...after all, as Alton points out, what is, say, a pot pie, other then a casserole with a crust or biscuits on top?
Pies have a long and interesting history in Northern European food. While we tend to think of Marie Callendar-style contraptions, with cubed meat swimming in a thick, salty gravy with previously frozen vegetables, there are many other ways to make a pie.
My personal favorites go back to medieval roots, a choice that, interestingly enough, my family will eat much happier then the modern rendition. Chicken Pasties Lombard, a recipe I got from the book Pleyn Delit, has been a great hit, as has their recipe for Paris Pies, a predecessor of the Scottish meat pie with ground meat and spices.
Another variation that can be done, is instead of a pie today, switching days with the soup tomorrow, tasting and adding additional seasoning to the leftovers if needed, and making a traditional American pot pie with it, or if doing a red meat week, making a shepherd's pie. Again, recipes that were originally dressed-up leftovers.
When doing Asian menus, I often will grind or dice some of the meat small, and use it to make gyoza, instead.
It is also an excellent idea to make stock one of these two days, so that it's available for the soup or stew coming up in the next installment. Stock is easy to make, tastes amazing, and, when using saved bones and trimmings, free.