Happy Hour at Home: Rebranding Leftovers as a Chef’s Tasting Menu

Be our guest for Happy Hour at Home, a small series about the joys of lesbian socializing from home, because let’s be honest with ourselves — we’re going to be here for a while.

I feel an overwhelming desire to play pretend games. Yes, escaping into the encapsulated warmth of a blanket fort sounds pretty good right about now. But I don’t think it’s just escapism that makes me want to play pretend — and it would be impossible to completely escape reality right now without willful ignorance, which could be dangerous.

I think the more plausible explanation for my sudden desire to slip into my imagination marks a regression to childhood. The last time I was this confined to a space and this beholden to rules outside of my control was probably back then. I grew up in the suburbs, and while my sister and I spent lots of time outside, the map we could occupy without adult supervision was small. We stayed in the house or in the yard or, when we got a little older, we could ride our scooters only as far as my mother’s work walkie-talkies could still reach the house.

I’m lucky for the space I have right now. My one-bedroom apartment is bigger than the three-bedroom one I lived in a year ago. I have an outdoor space. The weather is temperate and perfect in Vegas. Still, it’s a new thing to feel so confined. Or it’s something I can barely remember. But I think now of how my sister and I once turned our house into so many things: a movie set, a castle, an airplane, a secret island.

Even a restaurant. I’m reading the upcoming memoir Good Morning, Destroyer Of Men’s Souls by Nina Renata Aron, and a section brought me back to a time in life when my sister and I played pretend restaurant. I instantly had a memory of meticulously designing menus using Word Art on my mom’s work computer, laminating the pages, and securing them in a three-ring binder. My sister, cousin, and I turned the kitchen and porch into an indoor-outdoor restaurant serving delicacies such as spicy chicken flavored instant ramen or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a side of Lay’s.

A huge component of my relationship with my girlfriend has been going to restaurants. During our long stretch of living in different states, we were often on the road together, probably spending as much time in restaurants as in bed. Now we’re thankfully together all the time, something we absolutely wished for, though we didn’t quite imagine being literally quarantined together. From long distance to being the only people we see in person for the foreseeable future… quite the arc!

We’re not sure when we’ll sit safely in a restaurant again — low on my list of anxieties right now but a weird feeling nonetheless. Restaurants have always been a huge part of my life and have absolutely been a cornerstone of my relationship. Maybe it’s time to turn my home into a pretend restaurant again.

Cooking under quarantine has meant a lot of planning ahead. It also means making the most of every little thing we have. Earlier this week, I was simply too tired to cook another meal. Plus, we had a bunch of random shit in the fridge leftover from other meals I’d made. Leftovers for dinner certainly isn’t a new concept in our household, but in an effort to spice things up when a restaurant date night is so far out of the question, I decided to rebrand the leftovers as a “tasting menu” — complete with wine pairings.

For the one-year anniversary of my girlfriend sliding into my DMs, we had a tasting menu dinner at The Ravenous Pig in Orlando. That seems like approximately three billion years ago even though it was — *checks notes* — LAST MONTH. I can’t recreate the exact magic and indulgence of that meal (my wine selections at home are currently “red from a box” and “white from a box”), but all a tasting menu really means is lots of different dishes in small portions, picked by the chef. And baby, in this household, I am both chef and sommelier, so preparing a tasting menu looked like me doing whatever the hell I wanted with leftovers and random ingredients from the pantry and serving them in separate courses to my girlfriend. And you know what? It was very fun.

reheated breakfast potatoes with goat cheese, cilantro, and crumbled salt & vinegar potato chips

Get creative! I literally crumbled salt and vinegar potato chips from a nearly empty bag on top of some leftover breakfast potatoes with goat cheese and you know what? It was an excellent culinary exercise in TEXTURE and LAYERING. Did you know leftover risotto can be turned into fried risotto CAKES? Leftover Kraft mac and cheese can become fried cheese balls if you have a little time. And leftover chicken is wildly easy to turn into chicken salad or a nachos topping. When in doubt, Google “what to do with leftover X.”

If you’re currently at home with roommates, a partner, family, etc. — announce each dish that you’re serving. Seriously. Be all “for this course, the chef has prepared an amuse bouche of peanut butter spread on a salted cracker.” Handwrite the menu on some paper! Fancy shit! WHAT IS THE FUN IN PRETENDING IF YOU DON’T COMMIT TO THE BIT?

If you’re currently social distancing alone, you get to be the chef AND the diner. Wow! Maybe you could even come up with a name for your fake fancy restaurant. Mine is called Le Garlic. Why? Because I cook with a lot of garlic and I feel like restaurants just put random French words in their names to sound elegant.

The best part of Le Garlic? There’s never a wait.

Note: There are still ways to support local restaurants and service workers right now. Many restaurants are selling gift cards as well as wholesale ingredients/supplies (Can’t find flour at your grocery store? Try calling up a restaurant to see if they’ll sell to you!). Also: merch! Some restaurants are offering curbside pickup and contactless delivery, but consider going through the restaurant directly instead of using third-party delivery apps. Eater put together a comprehensive list of national and local relief funds for restaurant workers.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 868 articles for us.


  1. Indeed the weather is nice enough right now to have some leftovers outside(balcony, backyard, by an open window). Will have to do this for dinner tonight.

  2. Salt & vinegar chips are my favorite, so I’m loving their unique inclusion!

    Pro-tip: Randomly discovered a long time ago that avocado and salt & vinegar chips are a dynamite combo. The salt and sourness of the crunchy chips brings a nice contrast to the fatty, creamy avocado.

  3. Kayla this is genius!! I love it! I’ve been writing up a little post-it list each Sunday with ideas of things to cook during the week. I find that over the weekend I tend to get really creative and think up lots of ways to use up what we have on hand. (Peanut butter chocolate energy bites! Roasted garlic cheese toasts! Spicy tuna salad!) Then when the weeknights roll around, I’m like “Ummmmmmm… idk crackers for dinner?” The little post-it list/menu keeps me on track. 😄

    • yes! i haven’t ever been this thorough with my kitchen/cooking plans but it’s forcing me to be hella organized and forward-thinking

  4. Um that (or this?)is my cooking style, what can I make with what I have especially with leftover already cooked food or scraps.

    Oh yep risotto al salto is awesome. I once made a personal pizza out of some with judicious use of sun dried tomato paste and seasonings.

    And like if you wanna reheat leftover risotto no more than 3 days after cooking it but want the texture to be less off shall we say the key is “stirring” in a lil white wine before microwaving it.

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