Leftovers are the source of a number of genius dishes that come out of our test kitchen; my coworker, Melissa Rubel, wrote about her terrific kielbasa-bread salad here that she made from extra kitchen scraps. I also love to transform leftovers into tasty meals. When the risotto serving at a restaurant is too big, I take the rest home to make arancine, little fried risotto balls. I scramble leftover white or fried rice from Chinese take-out with eggs and veggies for an easy, one-pan comfort meal. Rotisserie chicken, tossed with whatever I have in the fridge, becomes a salad the next day or, on occasion, I make soup, using the roasted carcass for the broth and shredding the juicy chicken meat to throw in at the end. Once, after eating at the West Village chicken joint, Pardo's, I even brought home ears of Peruvian corn since my friends didn’t like the large starchy kernels. Sliced off the cob and briefly simmered in stock with oregano, cumin, onions, chiles and leftover chicken, I had my own rough version of a superquick posole.

My favorite restaurant leftover to play with, however, is braised meat. I’ve made many ragus with extra short ribs and duck legs to serve over pasta or polenta. This past Monday, I went to New York City’s Resto, a cacophonous Belgian gastro pub with a deliciously rich menu that seems more appropriate to February weather. I ordered the meltingly tender, lightly lacquered beef cheeks served in a crock over french fries that magically stayed crisp, even under the fatty pieces of meat. After eating half a cheek and most of the fries, I wrapped up the rest to take home. Since the weather was too hot and horribly humid for a ragu, I pulled apart the cheeks with two forks and simmered them with sautéed garlic and onions in tomato paste, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and water until I had a beefy, saucy mess. Piled onto toasted hamburger buns and topped with homemade bread-and-butter pickles, it was my best leftover creation yet—one that I’ll fondly call, “Cheeky Joes.”