Ah, the bane of every mother’s life: leftovers. Or as the First Reader calls them, Leftinders. As in, left in ‘der refrigerator. Left in there until they become interesting fungal experiments, or grow little legs like the Luggage and scuttle away when the light comes on. 

This doesn’t have to be the way it always happens. If you do what I once did, Once a Month Cooking, you know that cooking in bulk and freezing portions can be a lifesaver in a busy mommy’s day. The slow cooker is another book, and when you have 7 quarts of space in that baby, might as well fill it up. But when the kids object to eating it again, you know it’s time to repurpose that meal, and recycle it into something else. Sometimes, that might be the compost pile. I hate to waste food. I’ve eaten the same thing running three days because the kids wouldn’t eat it and I refused to toss it out. (Kids, I love you. Now you know why I always insisted you ate what was in front of you)

Freezing and saving for later is a good option. Once they haven’t seen it for a week or a month, they are much more likely to fall on it with approving noises. But it’s always possible to just make it into something else: dress them up, and let them strut their stuff in a new outfit. Leftover rice can become fried rice, or congee. Leftover pasta can go (if not overcooked the first time) into a casserole. Leftover pot roast, into a stew. My rule of thumb is that I won’t freeze potatoes that are not mashed/pureed. They go all gummy and nasty. Don’t try to freeze pasta. I’ve never been able to make that work. If I’m planning on freezing beef stew, for instance, I will use barley in it rather than potatoes for a starch, if I don’t leave them out all together. 

Leftover potroast. This could be beef, pork, or even chicken. The protein isn’t vital, it’s all tasty.

If you take a leftover roast – chicken, pork, beef, or what-have-you – you can make a really nice stew up out of it with little effort. This works beautifully in a slow cooker. 

leftover meal
Dice the meat and the veg, if needed.

I usually add more carrots, onions, and mushrooms to the leftovers. You could add potato, turnip, celery, shredded kale… anything that will take a long, slow cooking. I always keep cans of beef consomme and french onion soup (doesn’t have to be name-brand, that just happens to have been on sale!) in the pantry. A can of that, plus one of water, adds a lot of flavor. I will also add a bit of spices, thyme and garlic, usually, but whatever I’m in the mood for, and salt and pepper to taste. Keep in mind that pepper amplifies in flavor the longer it sits. What tasted fine last night might suddenly pack a peppery punch, so do taste as you prepare this. 

If you want ‘gravy’ you can make a roux or throw in some cornstarch (temper it into the broth, then pour into the stew). I’ve thickened it with instant potato flakes before. 

making stew
Throw everything into the slow cooker, stir, shut the lid, and let it go on low for 4 hours (or so, no upper limit on this, really).

You could serve this with biscuits, we like cornbread, or even bread if you’re baking that day 🙂 

beef stew
One of his favorite meals: stew, fresh cornbread, and a bit of raw onion.

For an even simpler illustration, I give you fried rice, Lebanese style. I didn’t cook the original meal, we’d gone to our favorite Middle-eastern restaurant and gotten dinner for two. It would have fed four, generously. So I brought home the go-box of leftovers, stashed it in the fridge, and the next evening, I made fried rice. For asian-style, I heat the wok, put in oil, ginger, garlic, and then soy sauce and rice-wine vinegar to moisten the rice. For this, I went with some sweet chili sauce, a splash of worcestershire, and sauteéd up a chopped onion and chopped garlic before tossing the rice in. I’d cubed the leftover meat and put that in, just before the rice. 

Stir-fry in hot wok for a few minutes, then serve. I served this with tzatziki sauce. This would work for the medjara rice recipe I put up on the ETWYRT post for Kate Paulk this week, if you make too much of it. Yummy! 

fried rice
Glam leftovers!

So what do you do with your leftovers to make them attractive again?


8 responses to “Leftovers”

  1. Your leftovers look far, far prettier than mine!

    My first standby is to freeze meal-sized portions of dinner in plastic tubs, so my Calmer Half can pull one out and have breakfast ready to microwave, and I can pull another out for lunch. We don’t eat enough to cover leftovers if I cook lunch and dinner all the time (and may, indeed, have defaulted to not-cooking days when we ran low on tupperware.)

    1. Well, the rice was prettied up on purpose for a photo 😀 But the idea behind reworking leftovers is to make them more appealing and you eat with your eyes first.

      I do the same thing here with the plastic containers, and they have saved my bacon at lunchtime during the school year more than once. Chili is excellent that way.

  2. Laura M Avatar
    Laura M

    Another thing that works is a little, single-serving carton of apple juice with a pot roast and veggies in the slow cooker. It works really well.

    1. Yes, that would work well. I’ve done a lot of cooking with cider in the past when we had access to an orchard and made our own.

  3. RealityObserver Avatar

    I’ve learned how to freeze and resuscitate pasta (so long as it doesn’t have egg).

    I have my big pot with boiling water, then I put the frozen pasta in my metal colander and steam it for a few minutes.

    It comes out a bit “stickier” than when I originally cooked it – which is actually a good thing when it’s being served with a sauce.

    Overcooked pasta (although I do that rarely after years of experience) doesn’t get frozen, of course. Drain off most of the water, though, and simmer it a while longer. Use the hand blender on it – then it goes into old yeast jars and off with the wife for school paste.

    It amazes me sometimes how much I soaked up as a child, without realizing, from my Depression-era grandmother (and WW2 rationing mother, for that matter).

    1. Cool! I have never frozen it successfully, but you know, I think that was usually when it was in soup. So it goes all to mush. Like your paste 🙂

      1. RealityObserver Avatar

        I usually only par-cook soup with vegetables (carrots, celery, etc.) that I’m planning to freeze, too (mushy carrots aren’t quite as bad as pasta, but still “yuck.”)

        No, I wouldn’t send the wife off with beef or chicken flavored paste. She works public school – and considering what they serve those poor kids as “lunch,” they’d definitely be eating it to get some kind of nutrition into them…

        OT – new site layout – I like it!

        1. Glad you like it! I was getting complaints about how the comments were working (or rather, not working) and it looked like the theme I was using was the culprit, so I switched it over. Hopefully the problem was solved, I like this format.