Leftover Lessons

leftovers.jpgToday, Jules offers creative ideas for livening up leftovers:

“My husband and I recently realized we were in a food crisis. I love to cook and he loves to eat, but neither of us is too hot on leftovers; we were wasting too much. I just have this thing about them - I don’t enjoy them and am marginally freaked out by them. In reality, I know that anything I cook or eat fresh is good for another 3 days (beyond that, leftovers really do begin to collect bacteria). So I decided that what I needed to do was come up with creative ways to use leftovers for another entire meal. It turns out I do like leftovers…so long as they’re served in a totally different way than the night before.
Before we get to the ideas, here are a couple of preliminary notes about leftover handling:

  • When you reheat leftovers, they need to be reheated to 165° or brought to a boil.

  • If you freeze leftovers, make sure that when you thaw them, you thaw in the refrigerator (i.e., not at room temperature). If you are thawing to eat right away, you can thaw in the microwave.

  • When refrigerating large amounts of hot food, divide the large amount into smaller containers to encourage proper cooling once it is refrigerated.

    And finally, a note to the cooks: The below suggestions do not give specific amounts of ingredients and cooking times will vary. So a bit of kitchen experience or confidence is helpful; the goal is to provide a springboard for ideas to revamp your leftovers. Give it a try and experiment with what works for you.


    Leftover chicken breasts:

  • Shred the chicken with a fork and reheat on the stove top, adding some taco seasoning. Spread tortilla chips on a baking sheet then sprinkle with the chicken and add scallions, olives, black beans, and tomatoes (or any other favorite toppings). Layer shredded cheese over everything and bake in the oven until cheese is melted and you’ve got chicken nachos!

  • Or, dice chicken and sauté with veggies of your choice until veggies are soft. Tomatoes, scallions, and spinach would work well here. Set aside. Whisk eggs and a bit of heavy cream (as if you’re making scrambled eggs). Add in cooled chicken and veggies. Stir in your favorite cheese (try gruyere or Swiss) and top egg mixture with cheese. Bake in 375°F oven for about 20 minutes (depending on deepness of pan) or until set. Serve over bitter mixed greens tossed with a mustard vinaigrette (a blend of olive oil, mustard, salt, pepper) and you’ve got a chicken frittata!

    Leftover brown or white rice:

  • In a wok or large sauté pan with minimal oil, stir fry your favorite veggies (e.g., onion, peppers, mushrooms, snap peas) and add fresh shrimp. Add the rice, a few tablespoons of soy sauce and water (and ginger, if you’re a fan) to help the rice soften. Cook until rice is heated through. Finish by scrambling an egg in the pan and you’ve got shrimp stir-fry!

    Leftover cooked carrots, cooked cauliflower, or really any other root vegetable:

  • Reheat the veggies in a small amount of water, adding salt and pepper to taste. Once veggies are warmed and very soft, puree in a food processor with salt, pepper, and a small drizzle of olive oil. If puree is too thick (it should be smooth but not watery), add milk or cream. Add butter to finish and scallions or cheese for an added kick and you’ve got a yummy veggie mash (that your kids will eat!)

    Leftover baked potato:

  • Sauté onion and celery in a large stockpot. Add chicken (or vegetable) stock (how much depends on how many potatoes, but start with a half cup liquid per potato and add as you need to). Remove skins from the baked potato and add to a stockpot. Puree mixture using hand blender or regular blender (if you use a regular blender, you might have to blend in batches). Add additional warmed stock to get to desired consistency. Once smooth, add dry mustard to taste and cheddar cheese to taste and you’ve got potato cheddar soup!

    Leftover spaghetti:

  • Combine leftover spaghetti with extra virgin olive oil to taste, sautéed garlic, and onions. Salt and pepper to taste. Add olives, tomatoes, and basil. Set aside. Whisk together eggs and cream (about 4 eggs and one cup cream per ¾ lb spaghetti). Add 2 or 3 of your favorite cheeses to the cream mixture (fontina and mozzarella work well - a smoked cheese would also be great here). Stir in spaghetti. This is almost like spaghetti custard. Place in large skillet and bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until set (depends on the size of the skillet and how much pie you are making). Allow to cool before slicing and you’ve got savory spaghetti pie!

    Leftover steak:

  • Thinly slice steak and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together arugula or watercress, scallions, chopped carrots, bean sprouts, cucumber, and crushed peanuts. Make a quick dressing with peanut butter, lime juice, a touch of mustard, and olive oil. Reheat slices of steak on stove top or microwave until they are fully warm. Place atop salad and mix with peanut dressing and you’ve got peanut steak salad!

  • Or, slice steak. Set aside. Sauté peppers and onions with salt, pepper, and steak sauce until tender. Line your favorite kind of submarine or sandwich roll with cheese (provolone or American works well) and toast until cheese melts. While rolls are toasting, add sliced steak to veggies in sauté pan just to heat. Once steak is warm, fill rolls with steak and pepper mixture and you’ve got steak and cheese subs!

    Leftover meatloaf:

  • Thaw and prepare prepackaged pizza dough. Dice meatloaf into bite sized pieces. Following package instructions, prepare pizza and use diced meatloaf as the topping. Add tomato sauce and additional meats to your taste and you’ve got meat lovers’ pizza!”

    Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net