Dealing with Leftovers

by Laura on June 5, 2013

in Food, Planning

Dealing with Leftovers

Dealing with Leftovers

The topic of leftovers always needs to be revisited, so we dusted off this classic post on dealing with leftovers and bring it to you once again. Originally posted April 2010.

Dealing with leftovers is a science. You have to have a plan, know the food you are working with, and have an understanding of how it will stand up to Day Two of cooking.

I have to admit that I am not a fan of leftovers, unless it is a soup or chili, both of which taste even more delicious on the day after. I don’t like the taste of reheated meats and poultry, and as for fish . . . well, I don’t like it on the first day, so Day Two isn’t an option.

Despite my dislike for almost all leftovers, I remain diligent in making sure any leftovers are moved out of the fridge and on to the table. Yet every night I do this, I dread the point at which the family comes to the table, and the kids say in unison, “We already had that for dinner this week!”

Planning meals – including appropriate portion sizes – does cut down on the amount of leftovers in my fridge. But for those that still remain in my refrigerator, I am often challenged as to what I can do to make them appealing to the family.

Read on to hear what Chef Miki of Melissa’s has to say about the topic. [Our Family Eats Challenge Family, Janet and Jim, struggled with the leftover situation. Here are some wonderful suggestions that Chef Miki offered up to them.]


Leftovers never sound appetizing, but they can actually be better than the original dish because most flavors have married and become fuller.

Of course, casseroles, soups/stews, lasagnas, macaroni and cheese, or any other dishes that have lots of sauce or liquid work well as the flavors tend to marry.  You may need to ‘freshen’ the seasoning when ready to serve if you have frozen the dish, so always have some extra broth, canned cooked tomatoes, fresh veggies and herbs in your pantry.  A shot of citrus-y lemon, lime, or orange also helps to freshen some dishes.

Generally, my leftovers stem from larger cuts of meat or roasted whole meats-chickens, pork cuts, beef braises, and so forth.  This way I have a good portion to use for a second dish.  Whatever you choose as a left over, if you are freezing, be certain the left over is cooled, then well wrapped with little or no air to prevent not only flavor loss, but bacterial growth.  Try to wrap tightly with one large piece of plastic wrap, then foil, squeezing out all air and folding over all edges-like a gift wrap-to lock out the air.  For sauces and liquid dishes, I store in a container with about two inches of ‘head room’, then cover the food with plastic wrap so there is little air space, then the container lid.  Of course, mark the package, bag, or dish with the contents.  I’ve removed many dishes from my freezer thinking it was one dish and it turned out to be something totally different, resulting in Mystery Meal Night!  Reheat meat to a full internal temperature of 165F.  Liquids should be a full boil, 212F.

I’ll often make a large amount of sauce or marinade, then portion it for a second use.

Example: Unused teriyaki marinade, spaghetti/marinara sauce, alfredo, gravy.  These can all be frozen, too!  Use these for future dishes, or cover your leftover cooked cuts of meat with them and freeze.

  • Marinade. Add 1 Tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot to every two cups cold marinade.  Stir, then place on heat to a full roaring boil.  Use as a sauce on grilled meat, seafood or fish, or veggies.  Yummy on charred bell peppers or potatoes.
  • Spaghetti/marinara. Reheat and add chicken or beef stock to reduce if necessary, or cook on low boil to thicken.  Make lasgane (about 4 cups needed for 9×13 pan). Serve over breaded cutlets, use as dipping sauce or pizza sauce, great added to sliced zucchini, onions, and cooked (leftover) chopped bacon on low boil until cooked through.
  • Homemade pan gravy. Whether chicken, vegetable, or beef, thaw in micro or over stove until boiling, then use to serve with appropriate dish; pot pies, roast, potatoes, etc.
  • Alfredo. use sparingly and reheat for quickly blanched vegetables, dipping sauce, or cook fresh pasta and add blanched veggies.  If sauce is too thick, add a small amount of milk before fully heating.  You may need to add some butter if the sauce ‘breaks’.


Leftover roasted meats:

  • Chicken- cooked breasts work well for salad (grapes, pecan/sunflower seeds, yogurt-mayo, celery, etc), quick chicken soup, quesadillas, panini (don’t forget the cheese), enchiladas.  Roasted chicken: use carcass bones to add flavor to soup, strip carcass of smaller amounts of meat and use that meat for casseroles and pot pies.
  • Roast beef-What’s better than a beefeater sandwich? Just don’t tell my doctor!  Sourdough bread slices lightly brushed with olive oil, a good slice or two of swiss or jack, thin slices of left over beef; place on hot grill to heat through.  Also, I use leftover slices or chunks of meat to make burritos  or shred for tacos (add a little broth and season).  You can use this for pot pies and casseroles, too-shepherd pie (also good for leftover mashed spuds).
  • I do not recommend re-freezing any fish as it is so lean, unless breaded, cooked, and stored with lots of sauce!


Leftover veggies:

Unless crisp-tender, not a good saver because you are inevitably re-cooking them in your re-made dish.  I include them by cooking rice seasoned with chicken stock, coconut water, or veg broth where appropriate, then fold in the veggies and allow rice to steam and heat through veggies.  Also good in orzo, tabbouleh, or quinoa salad.  Toss in some nuts and dried fruit; use vinaigrette dressing.

Greens such as spinach, kale, collard, chard, work well in smashed potatoes.  Root veggies can be mashed well or pureed, seasoned as you wish, then baked and topped with seasoned/buttered breadcrumbs and baked, or brown sugar sprinkle where appropriate.

Of course, that good ol’ chicken pot pie or veggie soup is always needing more veggies.

Happy Eating – or should I say, Happy Re-Eating!

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