Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Getting Dinner on the Table: Rescued by Leftovers

The greens were leftovers. I only made the sweet potato pancakes.
I am not one of those people who thinks leftovers are a bad thing. I have met people who don't want to eat them, which perplexes me. There are many things that actually improve as leftovers - soups, stews, braises. Leftovers help you put a complete meal on the table faster. So, let's celebrate leftovers for what they are, a great way to save yourself some time in the kitchen.
If you look under the lamb, it's the return of the sweet potato pancakes. The lamb cooked all
day in the slow cooker, so I only made the artichokes at dinner time.
It would be awfully nice if we all had enough time and energy to make everything fresh every night, but this is a fantasy. We don't have that much time and energy after working a full day, dealing with life, commuting, getting kids where they need to go. That's OK, because with a little planning, you can use leftovers to fill in the gaps in a meal.

Rather than hoping that there will be something leftover, cook extra so that you have those leftovers to pull out when you need them. Cook extra rice, beans, or potatoes. Cook extra veggies, though you need to take some care with some of them. If you have these things stashed in the fridge (or the freezer for longer-term storage), all you need to do is make the main dish. If you have a main dish from a couple of nights ago, you can get dinner on the table real fast by steaming some veggies and cooking rice or potatoes. It also gives you the option to create a quick main dish with the minimum of work. Omelets, soups, and hashes are great dishes for repurposing leftovers. Do not try to make everything for that particular meal, unless you do have time and you don't have hungry people (yourself included) barking for food.

What holds up well as leftovers and what doesn't? Here's a list. Hardly complete, but I hope you find it useful. If you have other suggestions, leave a comment!

Can be reheated reliably:
  • Baked casseroles
  • Stews & soups
  • Braised meats like pot roasts
  • Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, turnips
  • Cauliflower
  • Sturdy greens such as collards, kale, mustard greens, chard, cabbage
  • Cooked grains such as rice, barley, couscous (really a pasta but it acts more like a grain), wild rice
  • Cooked beans
  • Tomato based sauces
Can be heated if you are careful:
  • Most green vegetables, if you cook them to crisp tender, chill them quickly and don't reheat them too long. Asparagus, green beans, peas, broccoli, peppers all reheat nicely.
  • Pasta if you cook it to al dente and then cool quickly with lots of cold water, and chill. Don't store pasta with sauce because the sauce will make the pasta soggy.
  • Roasted, baked or sautéed poultry(especially white meat), pork, or shrimp if you reheat it covered or in a moist environment like a soup so it doesn't dry out.
Don't bother:
  • Cooked spinach, turns to gray-green mush no matter what.
  • Brussels sprouts get very strong tasting on reheating.
  • Fried anything. It will never be as crispy as when you made it.
  • Most fish. If it isn't in a stew to keep it moist while it's reheating, it's going to overcook.
  • Egg dishes like omelets or scrambled eggs turn rubbery. Hard boiled eggs overcook.
  • Rare to medium rare steaks. By the time you reheat them, they aren't going to be rare anymore. But, you can use them in a hash or put them in a sandwich.
  • Though not cooked, dressed green salads will turn to an ugly mess. Eat it when you dress the lettuce then toss out any leftovers.

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