What to do with all those leftovers?

ImageAt the end of every week my family’s fridge is plagued by stacks of half-empty Tupperware containers.  Leftovers are not always the most intriguing thing to find when you love to cook.  Ideally I would love to create a new dish every night, but I don’t believe in wasting perfectly good food.  With our house constantly full of my teenage brothers and their friends I usually cook for more than just five people. However, we somehow always end up with a couple servings left.  For a while I went around urging my family to eat the leftover food for lunch or have a second helping at dinner just so I could cook a new dinner the following night, however; I started experimenting with some new dishes that incorporate the leftovers.  It has now become my challenge to transform all our leftovers into innovate dishes that my family can enjoy a second time around.  Here are some ideas for all those leftovers.  These meals are usually created on the fly so I haven’t created any exact recipes for them.  The loose format of these recipes will also give you flexibility with your leftovers.  If you would like a recipe, however, you can request it in the comments and I would be happy to give you more precise directions. 

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Soup:  Soup is a great way to use up all those leftover veggies.  I love taking left over roasted root vegetables (like carrots, parsnips, sweet potato), squashes and onions and turning it into a pureed bisque.  It is different every time I make it because it depends on the left over veggies but the roasted/already cooked vegetables give the soup a more concentrated flavor.  You can follow this outline to create your own soup. First, sauté an onion and some garlic in a large pot.  Add salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne or red pepper flakes.  Then add your leftover vegetables (if there are not a lot of veggies add a couple sweet potatoes or a butternut squash for some texture and body).  Cook everything together for 5-7 minutes and then cover with a no sodium stock (I always use vegetable broth).  Cover the pot and cook until the vegetables are tender.  Then using an immersion blender puree the soup (you can use a regular blender but you will need to do it in batches – be careful when blending hot liquids.  It is necessary to let it cool for a while first).  My soup usually turns out to be some combination of a butternut squash and sweet potato soup because we usually have leftover homemade baked sweet potato steak fries, half a red onion, and bruised apples sitting somewhere in our fridge.

ImageFrench toast: A couple times a week my family will get a loaf of Italian bread or whole wheat bread to have with our dinner; however, we never eat more than half of it.  My favorite thing to do with leftover bread is to make is French toast the next morning.  Leave the bread in an open bag or on a plate overnight so that it gets stale and becomes crusty on the edges. It will better absorb the batter that way.  In the morning mix together in a large dish: equal parts eggs (usually one per person) and milk (you could use half and half or cream, but milk is a little bit healthier).  Then add the zest of an orange, one tablespoon of vanilla, and a dash of cinnamon.  Then, soak the bread on either side for about a minute and transfer onto a heated/buttered skillet. Let it cook for 3-5 minutes on medium-low heat until it is golden brown on either side.  I like to top mine with a drizzle of Vermont maple syrup, chia seeds, half a banana and some fresh berries.

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Croutons: If you are not a fan of French toast you can always make homemade croutons with your leftover bread.  This is a great source for all those bread ends and crushed pieces of bread that accumulate in the bread drawer.  Stack up all of your stale loaves and unappealing bread ends and cut them into 1 inch by 1 inch square.  Toss into a gallon freezer bag and drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Pour them onto a cookie sheet and sprinkle with sea salt, pepper, and rosemary.  Place in a 350º oven for 20-25 minutes until they are crispy and golden brown.  You won’t buy croutons at the store again!

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Quiche/fritatta:  Ever wonder what to do with that half bag of spinach or the half full container of ricotta.  We always have some kind of cheese leftovers and a drawer of sad looking vegetables no longer salad worthy.  I have found that the best way to use up all these vegetables and cheese at once is to make them into a quiche (No pie dough? Make a frittata).  Combine in a bowl 4-6 eggs, about a cup of milk, and a cup of ricotta cheese.  Then add vegetables like the spinach (make sure it is already cooked), tomatoes, onions and zucchini. Add whatever you have on hand!  Then mix it together and season it with some salt, pepper, and cayenne and pour it into a pie pan either lined with pie dough (quiche) or greased pie pan (frittata).  Top it with some shredded cheese (my favorites to use for this are sharp cheddar and feta). Bake at 350º until the top is golden brown.

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Quesadillas: A gourmet quesadilla is a great way to use up leftover meat, cheese and vegetables. Everyone in your family will be happy because their quesadilla will be custom to their palate.  Some of my family’s favorites include:

BBQ chicken ranch: These are my brother’s absolute favorite.  Take two flour tortillas and pile on some leftover chicken, cheddar cheese, your favorite BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing.

Very veggie: Take two flour tortillas and add a leftover mix of veggies (sometimes I blend them to create a relish/salsa texture). Then I like to add either mashed sweet potato/butternut squash and/or an avocado in addition to the leftovers. Finish with some cheddar cheese.

Apple n’ cheese: Dice up a tart apple and add to the flour tortillas with sharp and pungent cheeses like cheddar, Gorgonzola, goat cheese and Swiss.  (Sometimes I caramelize an onion as well.)

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Overcooked cookies/brownies: Ever forgot about those cookies in the oven? Then you know what a complete let down it is not only to not have warm, gooey cookies but to have wasted all those ingredients and time. No fear! Add the crumbly overdone baked goods to a food processor or in a plastic bag (use rolling pin to crush) and you then have cookie crumbs to sprinkle over a bowl of ice cream or to stir into some yogurt for a treat.