A lot of people hate leftovers. Who wants warmed over chicken from the night before, served exactly the same way? Blah, boring. But leftovers don’t have to be bad. You can change things up a little bit to stretch one meal into without spending a lot more money. It also saves a lot of time.
This is one of my favorites. If you’ve got a leftover chicken breast, use it in fried rice. This is especially good for those runty breasts that aren’t quite a serving of chicken but you don’t want to toss. Simply dice the chicken and some veggies – whatever you have will do. I like bell peppers or snow peas (in season) because they add color and crunch. Scramble an egg and some green onions (optional) in a pan. Remove and set on a plate. Add oil to the pan. Add the chicken and stir fry until warmed, about two minute. Add the veggies to pan. Stir-fry about one minute, until warm but still crisp. Dump in the rice, chicken broth, soy sauce (get crazy and add a dash of sesame oil if you have it), and egg bits. Rule of thumb: for four servings, use a half cup of total liquid. Halve that for two servings. I’ll usually do six tablespoons of broth plus two tablespoons of soy sauce. If you have cashews or peanuts, toast them and add them to the pan. Mix and serve.
You can also turn leftover beef into a quick stir-fry. Slice it thin, and then add it to a pan with some cooked noodles (rice noodles or spaghetti) and veggies. Once again, soy sauce mixed with chicken or beef broth adds the last dash of flavor. It’s ready in minutes.
If you’ve got leftover meatloaf, it will make a great sandwich the next day, or you can warm it up in the office microwave and bring a small container of gravy. Somehow meatloaf at lunch feels luxurious.
Leftover ground beef – make a quick beef stroganoff with noodles and sour cream, serve it over pasta with tomato sauce, or add it to a pot of rice and beans. If it’s fresh ground beef, mix it with diced onion, form it into a patty, and freeze it for quick burgers another night. If it’s defrosted beef, you’ll have to cook the patties before you can freeze them again. I usually cook them to rare, and then freeze, so they can cook to medium when I defrost them again.
I tend to have a lot of leftover rice. If it’s a mix, I’ll just save it as a side dish for the next day. If it’s plain white rice, I might add some beans and sausage pulled out of the casing to make a quick rice and beans dinner. All you need is cayenne pepper and chicken broth to make a simple sauce for it.
Leftover veggies are the simplest. They can be mixed with other veggies to make a side dish the next day. If the veggies are raw, they’ll keep for a few days in the fridge. Use them in salads or add to stir-fries or rice and beans. If cooked, mix with other cooked veggies to make a veggie trio side dish the next night.
Leftover fish is the toughest to deal with. You have to be careful not to overcook it when reheating. Salmon does well cold over salad. Firm white fish is also good cold with salad. Shrimp, of course, make great stir-fries or spices up rice and beans. They also freeze really well in a zip-top bag. For other fish, I try to avoid having leftovers. Instead I buy it as close to the serving size as possible. It might not be the best thing to do, but you can break a thin frozen fish in half and keep it frozen if you have too many servings. Fresh fish also freezes well if you flash freeze it and then put it an airtight freezer bag.
Like rice, beans are easy to get rid of. Obviously, you can make rice and beans. You can also serve over pasta with a white sauce (for white beans) or a spicy sauce (for red or black beans). If you’ve got leftover beans and beef, make chili. They also make a good side dish with mixed with fresh herbs and diced tomatoes.
Most leftovers will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days. To avoid the whining about leftovers, wait a day before using it. If you’re stretching your grocery budget, then these tricks can help you save a few bucks and avoid wasting food. As your mom used to say, “There are children starving in Africa.” True, eating your carrots won’t make them less hungry, but if we all learn to throw out less food, and therefore buy less food, there will be more of it to go around.