I don’t claim to be an expert in anything, but there is one thing I’m not too shabby at and that is effectively concocting meals using leftovers. My mama taught me well; she is the queen of making leftovers into casseroles that taste gourmet. Using up leftover food helps to squeeze more meals out of the food in your home, helping to make the most of your grocery bill. It also puts a smaller dent in your environmental footprint, I would argue, because heating up leftovers often takes less cooking time (and therefore less electricity or gas is used). The self-proclaimed “Frugal Zealot” Amy Dacyczyn (also mentioned here and here) wrote a great article called “The Art of Leftover Wizardry,” which outlines very basic tips on how to use up that tower of Tupperware guarding your fridge’s shelves. I don’t have the space to share the article in its entirety, so here are her main points…
All tightwads have their preferred methods for dealing with leftovers, most of which fall into one of seven basic categories: (Evelyn’s comments are in parentheses.)
1) The Menu Management Method. There are no leftovers. (Weird. That happens?!?)
2) The Leftover Lunch. Always eat dinner leftovers for lunch. (I often package up a Tupperware or two of leftover dinner for Caveman to take for lunch. Of course, if you work where there isn’t a microwave, you’re best sticking with a cold sandwich.)
3) The Perpetual Soup Container. Leftover remnants like sauces, bits of meat and vegetables, soups, etc., go into a large container or pot, which occupies a permanent spot in the freezer. When the bucket is full, cross your fingers and thaw. The result can be surprisingly good, especially if you avoid combining conflicting spices.
4) Smorgasbord Night. Thaw a variety of leftovers, line up the family and let them choose what they want on their plate. Then warm in the microwave. A single woman told me she regularly holds get-togethers with others for a meal of exchanged leftovers. To her way of thinking, someone else’s leftovers are new to her. (My mom often used this method for the after-church food rush. I recall more than one elbow fight over the outstanding best option. It gets kind of fun.)
5) The TV Dinner Method. Obtain TV dinner trays or microwavable dinner trays. Fill these with leftovers and freeze. Use when the family cook has a night out and the other adult in the household persists in a claim of kitchen incompetence. (Hah!)
6) Serial Leftovers. You deliberately make too much of something because you have a repertoire of recipes that use this item as an ingredient. For example, leftover ham gets packaged into portions specifically for future meals. Ham slices go into one package for sandwiches, smaller pieces are saved for casserole, and the bone is saved for soup. (I do this with mashed potatoes, which I use in these amazing make-ahead potato rolls!)
7) Leftover Wizardry. You perform a feat of magic, transforming leftovers into a completely new dish. The more skilled you become at this craft, the more types of leftovers you combine to make a single culinary sensation. If you have working knowledge of cooking you know there are few hard-and-fast rules. Look up any one recipe in as many cookbooks as you can lay your hands on—muffins, for example. You’ll see that each recipe is different. Many ingredients are interchangeable. Leftover hot cereals and fruits, as well as some vegetables, can be used in making muffins, waffles, pancakes, and cakes. Quiche makes a great leftover disguise, especially for mushy vegetables. To create casseroles you need only to combine meat and/or vegetables, a binder such as a white sauce, and a topping like bread crumbs or cheese. Any basic cookbook tells you how make a white sauce (or béchamel) and other variations. I save all bread crusts in the freezer to make crumbs for toppings.
Great tips, huh? I usually just wing it with leftovers, but if you’re an I-need-a-recipe kind of person, never fear. I hear good things about this Use-It-Up cookbook, which contains creative recipes for the frugal cook.
What are YOUR favorite ways to use up leftovers? Tell us below and/or share recipes with us. 🙂