When I hear that word, I have a flashback to childhood. I would holler when the poor, sainted soul would walk in the door after a long day at the office. "Moooooo-ooooooom! What's for diiiiiiiinner?!" I was hoping for an answer like pizza or spaghetti or Poppy Seed Chicken. But her tired reply? "Leftovers." Ick.
Now that I'm in charge of meals, I love leftovers. It means you have a hot, homemade dinner without any work at all. Best. Dinner. Ever. But that begs the question, why did I hate leftovers so much as a kid?
I suppose leftovers can get a little boring if you just heat the exact same meal up again night after night. Now, don't get me wrong, I definitely do my fair share of re-heating. Some things are just better the next night. Pot Roast with Bacon, for example, gets more magically delicious after a night in the fridge. (Can I get an "amen!"??) But if you put a little twist on the original meal, it's more exciting for its encore performance. In fact, sometimes the husband doesn't even know we're having leftovers. I love getting sneaky in the kitchen.
Here are some of my favorite tricks for using up those pesky leftovers. And if you don't tell your family it's not a brand new meal, your secret's safe with me.
Make Mexican food.
I disguise leftover meat as a topping for nachos or a filling for burritos. Rotisserie chicken, pot roast, pork, whatever. I shred it up and stir in some chili powder. Pile it on chips or a tortilla, top with cheese, and bake until melty. Who doesn't like nachos for dinner?
Use your freezer.
I don't have a big chest freezer (someday....oh, someday!), just the standard unit that came with our fridge. But I pack that sucker full with leftovers. Making Lazy Beef Enchiladas? Double the filling. Put the second half in a baggie, squeeze out the air, and freeze it until later. Then you can just take 5 minutes to thaw it out and layer with tortillas when you're ready for a fast meal.
Toss a salad.
Shoot. I throw anything in a salad. It's a perfect meal for the summertime when you don't feel like cranking up the oven. Just the other day, for example, I sliced up the remnants of Ginger-Soy Marinated Steak and tossed it with lettuce, mandarin oranges, red pepper, and edamame. I drizzled on some balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and I had the perfect (healthy!) dinner. (Then I ate a giant ice cream cone. The end.) Now that corn on the cob is starting to show up in the produce section, there's all kinds of salad ideas. Make a few extra ears when you're serving corn on the cob. The next night, slice the kernels off and make Corn and Black Bean Salad or Therese's Corn and Tomato Salad.
Always buy a rotisserie chicken.
I know you're raising your eyebrow as you read this. "Uh, Erin? This is about leftovers, not buying new stuff." Well just hear me out. Every time I go to Costco, I buy a rotisserie chicken. Sometimes we eat it for dinner with mashed potatoes from a box. (Yes...from a box. I never said I was fancy.) Or I slice it up for sandwiches for lunch. Whatever we don't eat in a couple days, I chop up. Then I put one or two cup portions in baggies and put them in the freezer. Do you know how many recipes call for cut-up cooked chicken? Oh, about a googolplex. Curried Chicken Salad, Baked Chicken Chimichangas, Cheesy Chicken Quesadilla Bake, Cheesy Chicken Packets (made with crescent rolls...good gravy), Couscous with Chicken, Chevre, and Cranberries, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce... I could go on, but you get my point.
Make Asian food.
No need to call for Chinese take-out when you have leftovers to use up. Pull the Tupperware of rice from the bowels of your fridge. Chop up that half-a-chicken-breast or the nub of pork tenderloin from yesterday's dinner. Now make Healthier Fried Rice. You can thank me later. And let's talk for a second about Lettuce Wraps. Thai Peanut Pork in the slow cooker is delicious on its own, but the leftover potential takes it to stratospheric heights of awesomeness. Thai Peanut Pork Lettuce Wraps. Just do it.
Bake fresh cookies...Yes, I said fresh.
What tastes better than cookies straight from the oven? Uh, nothing. Some next time you're making Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies, roll the extra dough into balls, place them on a baking sheet, and pop it in the freezer until the dough is frozen solid. Then toss the frozen dough balls in a baggie and bake as many as you want when the cookie craving strikes. Just add a minute or two to the baking time.