Leftovers get such a bad rap. But we totally understand: it’s repetitive, first of all. And second of all, it’s repetitive. If all you’re doing is re-heating last night’s dinner, then of course tonight’s dinner is going to be boring. If variety is the spice of life, then then add some paprika and let’s get reheating.
Or maybe leftovers are the ugly stepchild because it’s easy to be suspicious of “old” food. No one wants to be bitten by the food bug or eat anything past it’s prime. And that’s very fair. Another total turn off is the legitimate concern about dangers when it comes to reheating food in the microwave – a regular habit for so many of us.
But boring or suspicious dinners are not the only problem with leftovers. How many of us buy food and eventually throw it out, especially since composting is still not a mainstream thing, although it totally should be? According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the US generates more than 34 million tons of food waste each year. Paper is the only materiel where we generate more waste but we also recycle much more of it. And when the food goes to the landfill and sits in the sun with the rest of the refuse, things get kind of gross. Aside from the stench and attraction to rodents, methane is released which is a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide.
And how much does this waste hit your wallet? Smart women and men with charts estimate that people end up throwing out 14% of the food they purchase – that means you’re practically taking your money and putting it atop a big pile of garbage.
There are significant economic, environment and ethical issues with these staggering numbers but there are things we can do.
Individuals, households, and other small scale generators of food waste often don’t realize just how much food they throw away every day—from uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce. According to Food Loss and the American Household, a 2006 study, American households throw away an average of 470 pounds of food into the trash annually. This costs a family of four nearly $600/ year – money that could be spent on other consumer goods.
How about you save some of that cash and karma and learn to have fun with your leftovers? You can transform delicious eats into whole new meals with some creativity and patience. When you think of your leftovers as a jumping off point, or another ingredient you have to play with, fun meals are sure to arise. We’ve collected some handy tricks to keep their eyes big and bellies full.
Tacos – A great vehicles to put whatever you’ve got into a flour or corn wrap. Finish with cheese, hot sauce, fresh greens and/or salsa.
Frittata – The morning after frittata is a fancy way of scrambling your leftovers with a bunch of eggs. Make sure you cut your cooked foods small so it heats through in time for the egg to be done. Pair with some fresh juice and multi-grain toast and you’ve got a great start to the day.
Sammiches – Some people say that the next day sandwich trumps the initial meal. Get some good crusty bread and pile on high the meats, the veg and whatever you have lying around. Heat it with cheese on top and call it a Melt.
Soups – Starting off with a nice base of broth, you can add almost anything to it: meat, vegetable, pasta, all of it’s good. Try adding adding a bit of fresh lemon juice and freshly grated parmesan cheese to the final bowl and you’ve got a whole new thing happening here.
Fried Rice – Fried rice is actually best made when you’re using day old rice. Cut all your leftovers into small pieces and on high heat and with a fast stir in an olive oiled-pan or wok, start mixing all the leftover veg and meat together. Add the rice soon after. If you’re looking for an Asian flair, finish with a small amount of sesame oil, Siracha and fresh cut scallions.
Salads – Salad can be defined as good stuff on top of greens or cold bits put together and mixed with a light sauce. And you can do any of this. Start with some fresh lettuce and put any of your reheated or cold foods straight on top. Otherwise, cut them small and mix with an olive oil vinaigrette or a healthy dollop of mayo or aioli – chicken salad anyone?
Bubble and Squeak – Bubble and Squeak wins by the mere fact it has the best name in the world. In England, after a roast dinner, you have leftover roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes. The veg is diced and mixed with the potato and then formed into patties. A light dusting of flour on top and into the frying pan with a bit of oil it goes. A veggie burger, if you will. Try it on your kids next and let us know how they get on.
Tips for Preserving
For some serious resources, check out Still Tasty, a very awesome site that helps determine the shelf life of everything but your mother, for specific temperatures for thawing and reheating food, try Madeinkitchen.tv, and of course, go here for the official Food Safety Guidelines.