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The kitchen is abuzz these days with the impending annual taping of America’s Test Kitchen – this is Season 13! If you didn’t already know, we tape 26 episodes shows in roughly three weeks. The days are long, challenging, and fun, but by the time my evening commute rolls around, I’m pretty well spent. I dream of plopping on the couch, enjoying a glass of wine, and reading over the recipes and notes for the next day.
But then, reality strikes – I’ve got two kids that still need to be fed (how selfish of them!) And this leads me right to my topic – leftovers. Frankly, I couldn’t even attempt to be “Super-Mom!” without them. In fact, these days I’ve become a little wiser and now engineer my dinners with leftovers in mind. Let me explain.
You see – I’m a doubler. I often double recipes; we’ll enjoy dinner that first night, and then I’ll pack up the rest to use later – either within a few days or freeze for later. It makes life so much easier, but not all food reheats the same…
Stews, Braises, Pot-Roasts, Chilis
These are easy. Leftover foods get packed into quart containers, labeled (date and item!) and then frozen for up to two months. The food can be reheated (slowly on the stovetop is my preference) and used as-is, or even dressed up. Heat your stew, place a few rounds of biscuit dough on top and bake it in the oven until the biscuits are brown and cooked through – you’ve just made a pot pie! You can use leftover chili as a filling for enchiladas, topping for hot dogs, or place it in a pie dish, pour over cornbread batter and bake. That’s one good tamale pie.
Braised and pot-roasted foods are great to shred and use as ravioli fillings, or added to pasta sauces or risotto. Shred the meat and use within a few days or freeze in zipper-lock bags until ready to use. You can also strain the sauce or gravy, and freeze it to have on hand for another day. I can always use gravy, can’t you?
Roasts, Steaks, Chops, Cutlets
Ah, these are the tricky ones. Inherently lean food—so moist and juicy when first served—will closely resemble the sole of your shoe when reheated. The best way to approach these foods is to make something different with the leftovers, and add them near the end of cooking – if reheating them at all.
For instance chicken, whether roasted or seared is perfect for mixing with mayo, a little Dijon, and seasonings to taste. Pile it on bread or add a little lettuce and you’ve got a light meal.
Chopped or shredded pork or chicken are great for stirring into a sauce at the last minute, or use with leftover rice to make quick fried rice. Mix them with cheese and salsa, make a quesadilla and call it a day!
Thinly sliced leftover steak is great seasoned with soy sauce and quickly seared with a little oil in a skillet for just a minute. The slices get an intense char and make the beginnings of a beautiful sandwich – my favorite is steak with arugula and Boursin on a baguette. You know, just in case you feel like cooking for me.
Yes, you can reheat vegetables. Leftover potatoes and carrots make a beautiful hash. Chop them into small pieces, pack them in a preheated skillet with a little oil, and let them get crisp and brown. You can even throw in some leftover chopped meat, or crumbled crisp bacon if you’re so inclined. Believe me – I’m inclined.
Tender veg like broccoli or asparagus are a natural fit to a risotto, stir-fry, or topping a pizza. Or, when I’m making a soup, I’ll add in these ingredients and let them reheat for a moment before serving.
Rice, Grains, Pasta
Ok, everyone knows that most rice and grains can be reheated beautifully, and I think that it’s a good idea to make a little extra than you’ll need and save for later. The aforementioned fried rice is always an option, or make a salad out of leftover rice, bulgur, or quinoa. Mix with beans, cheese, and/or meat to make stuffed zucchini or peppers.
But leftover pasta can be frozen for up to a month and reused too. Ok, so it won’t be al dente, but it will save you a heck of a lot of time in the kitchen. Many people will reheat pasta in the microwave, and that’s ok, but I prefer to add the frozen pasta to about an inch of boiling salted water. It reheats in seconds, and the salted water re-seasons the pastas. Just drain and serve.
Yes, by now you know that I’m going to tell you to have several containers of sauce on hand. Just about any sauce (save for emulsions like mayo or hollandaise) keep well – either for days in the fridge or months in the freezer. I always double (or triple) the recipe for making a simple tomato sauce. Then I’ll always have sauce for pasta, pizza, as a base for chili, etc. Make a double batch of our Bolognese and you’ve got the makings of a great lasagna.
So, my intent of this entry was not to provide you with specific recipes, but to get you thinking about that leftover food in your fridge, and how it can save you time and effort. Think of this as a springboard for ideas.
Do you have a great idea for saving time and effort with leftovers? Share it with me in the comments.
See the original version of this blog post, as well as other posts, on the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Instructor Blog.