Sunday supper and more

By Sheryl Julian
Globe Staff / December 2, 2009

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One of my favorite meals is chicken in the pot, a dish my husband and I started making one year in a rented house in the south of France, when we had bought a beautiful bird in the local market, intended for the roasting pan, but then couldn’t figure out how to light the oven (it really was complicated). Chicken in the pot is simmered on the stove top in a little white wine.

It’s not just that this dish makes a terrific dinner. After the meal is cleared and the dishes are clean, we tuck away lots of leftover chicken for tomorrow. Then the real challenge - and fun - begins. The next day, I boil brown rice and turn the meat into a light curry with apples. Our Sunday night dinner has evolved into a second, completely different, meal for another night or several lunches.

While it’s one thing to download or clip a recipe and follow it to the letter, or revive an old family favorite, it’s quite another to take what’s left and turn it into an improvised meal. If you do some planning and gain a little confidence to freelance at the stove, you’ve found extra time and money.

With time and cost in mind, we launch a new column today that offers you a meal for Sunday with enough left for another interesting dish. Most of the meals are based on economical ingredients. And though some Sunday dishes take a little while to cook, the techniques are uncomplicated. In most cases, after the food starts cooking, you don’t have to do anything more taxing than hang around. We think a cozy evening around the supper table is a fine way to start the week, especially when there’s plenty left for tomorrow.

Future Sunday suppers will include other comforting dishes, vegetarian recipes, and elegant meals nice enough for company. We want to help you stretch what you make with simple solutions. Each supper will have a shopping list, though we hope you’ll also depend on a well-stocked pantry and fridge - with nuts, olives, wine in ice cube trays, chipotle peppers, and more (see Page 23) - so you can pull out seasonings to uplift the second meal. All the leftover recipes are fairly easy. “It takes half the time to make one thing on Sunday and have it on Sunday, and for Monday lunch or dinner,’’ says Tanya Wenman Steel, editor in chief of “If you’re roasting something, prepare it, stick it in the oven, and you’re done.’’

Many of today’s good cooks learned from women who carried formulas in their heads. They cooked instinctively and frugally, taking dishes from one meal and turning them into another. New England boiled dinner became red flannel hash, roast leg of lamb turned into shepherd’s pie, a stale loaf emerged as bread pudding.

It’s an economical way to prepare meals and it celebrates the second dish as much as the first. We think it’s also the best way to feed a household, now that more people are cooking at home again. But planning is crucial, as is taking advantage of supermarket specials. “If you ask people in a survey about meal planning,’’ says president Lisa Aufranc Sharples, “they understand that if they plan out, it will save them money.’’

Chicken in the pot starts with a whole bird browned in a Dutch oven, then cooked with wine, tomatoes, and onions on the stove top. The next day, take a few more tomatoes and add them to a gingery curry of leftover chicken and apples; garnish it with cashews (dip into the snack jar) and scallions. Serve over brown rice (or whatever’s left from a recent takeout). The first meal takes 1 1/2 hours from start to finish, the second about 15 minutes.

Planning is the hardest part, but think of it this way: It’s a built-in system to save money. Go into a supermarket with no idea of what’s for dinner and impulse buying will run up the tab. Carry a list and your bill goes way down. “You can save 30 percent of your normal shopping bill,’’ says Steel, “by thoughtfully and efficiently going through [the market].’’

Steel, whose website averages 5.5 million users a month, says that epicurious’s peak hour is 4 p.m., when the cook in the family decides that he or she wants to make something from several ingredients already in the fridge. Type chicken and mushrooms into the website and you’ll get hundreds of formulas. If something looks interesting, the site will compose your shopping list., which considers itself the Facebook of recipe sites (if you like a recipe from a certain contributor, you can follow that person), sees most of its visitors in midafternoon. “We’re helping people cook dinner every night,’’ says Sharples, a Wellesley native. “We’re successful if everyone gets dinner on the table and everyone gives it a thumbs up.’’ In the last year, has seen less interest in fancy foods (prosciutto, steak, salmon) and more searches for low-cost ingredients (ground beef, ground turkey, chicken thighs) and recipes typically ordered in restaurants (pizza, Chinese food, Indian specialties).

Some simple solutions to second-day dishes are gratins, soups, and toppings for potatoes. For a gratin, spread what’s left of a stew or casserole in a buttered baking dish and top with a bread crumb and cheese crust. Slip it into a hot oven for a half-hour and you have an instant meal. Soup begins with a sauteed onion and some seasoning - a spice, chili pepper, fresh herbs. Tip in several cups of cooked meat and fish, plus some chicken or vegetable broth, a can of beans or diced cooked potatoes, and let the mixture simmer briefly. To stuff potatoes, simply bake the spuds as usual, open the tops, and spoon on shredded meat and vegetables.

If you don’t want to follow an exact recipe on the second day, we offer spicy black beans and roasted tomato salsa for tortillas, and an Asian dipping sauce to accompany meat rolled up inside crisp leaves of lettuce.

Steel, who is the mother of 11-year-old twin boys, cooks three dishes every Sunday, including “a casserole-y thing, like lasagna, soup or stew or chili, because it freezes well, and pasta almost al dente.’’ During the week, she might turn that pasta into a quick saute with chicken or add several cut-up vegetables and a little goat cheese to make what she calls pasta primavera.

Her goal, she says, is food she can cook fast or defrost in the microwave “while I’m changing or giving my kids a hug.

“Take a little bit of Sunday and do that,’’ says Steel, “and you’ll be rewarded the rest of the week.’’

One investment you can count on.