I know some people who adamantly refuse to eat leftovers. They won’t even use leftover chicken to make themselves a lovely chicken salad. Madness! I confess, I’m less likely to take the “doggie bag” approach and consume something at a later date that I purchased at a restaurant – I’d rather just savor the shrimp and leave the extra rice and veggies behind, but when it comes to the things we prepare at home, I’ve come to relish leftover night. There’s very little prep work or cooking to be done, and I can have dinner ready – with a little help from my microwave oven – in just a few minutes. What’s not to love?
We tend to take four different approaches to leftover night.
1) The Planned Leftovers. This is when we make a ton of something because we want to be able to get more than one meal out of it. Chili, for instance, or Vegetable Soup. These are good examples of things that, around here, I tend to make in a big vat and we get to enjoy for days. The other advantage to this approach is that the flavors improve with time, so they don’t taste exactly the same at each meal. We also change up the way we serve them – maybe add crostinis one time, or a salad, or a grilled cheese – there are dozens of options – then our “leftover” meal is evolving and doesn’t really seem leftover at all.
2) The Leftover Buffet. This is where we have leftovers from 2 or 3 nights that have accumulated in the fridge due to poor planning, poor appetite or better than average self control, but we can’t decide who wants what. We heat it all up and we each get a little of everything. It’s actually kind of fun, and we can decide what works best as leftovers and what doesn’t. Sometimes we even get ideas for interesting foods to serve together that we might otherwise never have considered.
3) Divide and Conquer. I’ll have the pasta and he’ll have the curry. Because face it, those just aren’t going to meld very well on one’s palate. Depending on the volume of leftovers we have in this type of situation, we might add a salad or a fresh fruit dessert to fill it out a little bit.
4) A Whole New Angle. In the image at the top of this post you’re looking at one of these options – where we have taken a couple of leftover elements (which in this case were Spanish rice and spicy refried beans) and used them as the basis for an entirely new meal. If what we have left over is just part of a meal, a Marinara sauce, for instance, then we would complete the meal by making some pasta and/or chicken Parmesan to go with it. If we have a single component, like some grilled chicken, we can use it to make wraps for lunch or cut it up and throw it on a salad.
Thursdays and Fridays seem to be popular leftover nights around here, because our energy is flagging and when I ask “What would you like for dinner?” I often get “Food” for an answer, because we’re both too tired to come up with anything stellar. We open the fridge and peruse its contents in search of inspiration and the leftovers, usually forlorn and forgotten, sit there shyly – the answer to our dining dilemma.
Storing leftovers is always a challenge. I used to use various plastic containers, but I dislike heating things up in them, which meant multiple dirty dishes when it came time to serve – not a huge time saver. Now I just use plastic containers for storing foods that are going to be served cold, otherwise, I store things in glass bowls. Pyrex(R) makes some awesome bowls with vented lids that are designed for the microwave. I also use my prep bowls covered with plastic wrap, depending on what size I need.
Using leftovers effectively is a great way to save time and money. We’ve given you a few of the ideas that work well in the DIY Bistro. With a little planning and creativity you’ll find ways to bring your leftovers new life.