How To Stretch Your Leftovers And Whip Up Quick, Easy Meals

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I’m a big fan of making the most of what you’ve got, which is why I always save my leftovers—but I’m also a foodie, which is why I’m not content to simply eat the same dish twice in a row. That said, there are lots of creative ways to dress up and rearrange food you’ve already had. Case in point: When we had nothing in our cooler but pizza and eggs, we poached the eggs and put them on the pesto pizza. It was spectacular!

Here are the things you need to know about reusing doggie bag food—even if you don’t have a dog.  It’s the easiest way to eat two-for-one!

1. Handling Leftover Food

Put leftover food into the refrigerator promptly and strive to protect it from air. If necessary, repackage the food: Good choices include containers in which food fits snugly, plastic wrap, and Ziplock bags with the air pressed out. For safety, eat restaurant food within two or three days. Eat leftover fish the next day; you have three days for something like leftover short ribs that you keep in the fridge.

2. Choosing Travel-Worthy Food

Don’t bother packing up fried foods like calamari or French fries, since texture is vital for enjoyment of those items. Similarly, dressed salads tend get too soggy and eggs don’t feel quite right when reheated (with the exception of quiche).

3. Preparing For The Second Feast

Since your food is already cooked, many of your dishes will be quick meals. Prep all additional ingredients like onions, carrots, cheese, eggs, and other products before you begin cooking. The leftovers should be the last thing you add to the concoction since they require heat, not more cooking.

4. Converting Your Leftover Chicken Dishes

Quick Chicken Soup: Chop and sauté one cup vegetables. Pour in 2-3 cups low sodium chicken broth and simmer until vegetables are tender, which should take about 10 minutes. Add cubed chicken and a handful of chopped herbs. Bring to simmer and serve.

Fajitas:  Sauté sliced onions & peppers and any other spare vegetables until translucent. Add sliced chicken. Sprinkle with Cajun spice or add chopped herbs like parsley or cilantro. Roll inside of whole wheat tortillas and add condiments like salsa, beans, and grated cheese.

5. Manipulating Braised Meat (Like Short Ribs, Pulled Pork, Osso Bucco) Into A Meal

Quesadillas Or Tacos: Combine shredded meat with any combination of the following: cheese, sautéed vegetables, mushrooms, beans, and salsa.

Salad Stuff: Toss meat with greens, raw vegetables, herbs and beans. If you have leftover brown rice, throw that in, too. Top with a splash of olive oil and lemon.

6. Repurposing Grilled, Roasted, Pan-Fried Meat: Use As An “Accent” To Other Dishes

Try stir frying or sautéing a few cups of vegetables and toss the meat in at the last minute. For another recipe, cook some pasta, and then throw in the meat with some staples such as roasted peppers, olives, capers, and parmesan cheese.  Alternatively, sauté leafy greens in your crisper with garlic, add a can of white beans, a handful of chopped sundried tomatoes, and the meat. I like kale, which lasts forever and is oh-so-good for you. Drizzle with olive oil.

7. Lending Pasta Some Personality

Revamp spaghetti and meat sauce by tossing with more sauce, any vegetables you can sauté, and some shredded mozzarella. Bake until hot. For plainer pasta, primavera or other dishes finished with olive oil, not sauce: Sauté the macaroni and add a can of tuna, a half can of white beans, some chopped flat parsley or basil, and a handful of chopped sundried tomatoes.

What are your leftover tricks? Share them with us, and we’ll do a follow up to on your tips and ideas!

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  • Apainfulcase

    highly practical

  • Polly

    I keep refrigerated pizza dough in the house, and like to take leftover veggies and meats and roll them with cheese into a calzone. I bake it, slice and serve with spaghetti sauce for dipping!

  • DG

    That’s a great idea, Polly. It’s a healthier option than what I like to do- I roll leftovers in a whole wheat tortilla, fry it up in a pan until crisp on the outside…and put it in the oven for about 10 minutes.

  • http://twitter.com/meggarooni Megan Kramer

    Basically ANYTHING can be cooked into a fritatta, which I LOVE to make! Leftover chicken or steak can be chopped up and extra veggies and potatoes too! Beat a few eggs with a little milk and put in a pan on the stove (one that you can put in the oven). Allow the eggs to cook a little while you re-heat the leftovers in another pan (or cook raw veggies in a little olive oil). Add the veggies and meat to the egg pan and reduce heat to low-medium and cover, cook until almost set. Then sprinkle the top with cheese and put under the broiler for about 5 minutes until completely set, golden and crispy! This actually reheats pretty well too – I took slices to work for the next couple of days.

    • Mallory

      Great recipe, Megan! Frittatas are one of my favorites, too!nMallory, EA at LearnVest