Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Five Leftovers Better Than Restaurant Food

So it's January and maybe you're poor. All that festivising can be a little hard on the wallet. But chances are you probably also have a refrigerator/freezer full of weird odds and ends--a little ham in the freezer from Christmas, some ugly old yams sitting in the pantry, probably with a half-used box of crackers. Then there are the nubs of cheese, a few random veggies, and 1/2 C of dip from New Year's Eve, And there's always that random tub of mashed potatoes that just seems to be there in your fridge (at least if you are us--somehow I never ever make our mashed potatoes match our meal; always too much or too little). So your fridge is kind of stuffed, but you tell yourself you have to go shopping anyway because you're sick to death of those foods already, or maybe you just have no idea what to make with them. And you might maybe need to go shopping, but if you do, it might help to do it with all those pesky leftovers in mind. What, after all, could you make from those things that wouldn't taste like the same old ham dinner or chips with dip. Below are some of my favorite leftover ideas that not only revisit leftover foods, but revise them so it feels like you're eating something entirely new. 

Stone Soup. This is great for using up leftover bits of veggies (cooked or not) and meats (cooked or not). Stone is optional.
What you need: butter (or oil in a pinch) and flour for a roux, then milk or broth or a combination of both for a sauce. Then some random veggies, random meats
What you do: Melt butter. Cook any veggies that need cooking. Add flour (equal to the amount of butter used or a little bit less). Add broth/milk/combo of both and whisk in until simmering and broth thickens just a bit. Then add any cooked veggies or cooked meats. (Any uncooked meats you'll want to cook separately).

Potato Soup. This is my favorite way to use up leftover mashed potatoes.
What you need: a bit of cream cheese, chicken broth, salt and pepper, and a bit of grated cheese (use up those random cheese nubs) for the topping.
What you do: Heat the broth (I'm going to guess a cup for every cup of mashed potatoes, but you can adjust this if you want your soup thinner), add in the mashed potatoes and mix. It'll be a little weird-looking and you'll be like, "This is gonna be gross" but have faith. Now you're going to add a bit of that cream cheese. Add a little if you've just got a little soup and a lot if you've got more. Taste, adjust seasonings, and be prepared to be amazed. Then add those cheese bits to the top. Yum

Stuffed Mushrooms. This is great if you've got random leftover veggies or cheese or even a meat like ham or bacon.
What you'll need: Whole mushrooms with the stems removed, cheese (and I like it even more if you have at least a bit of cream cheese to use as a base to hold it all together, but you don't have to have cream cheese), veggies (optional)--chopped tiny
What to do: Remove stems from mushrooms and put them on a baking sheet. In a bowl, combine cheeses and tiny tiny chopped veggies (again some cream cheese is nice for holding everything together, but not absolutely necessary). Add dollops of the cheesy part to the insides of the mushrooms. Bake at 375 until the mushrooms release some liquid onto the pan (you'll see a little kind of puddle around the mushroom) and are tender.

Fried Rice. Great for veggies, meat, and that cursed leftover rice that can dry out and be weird, but it doesn't matter for this recipe, which can totally resurrect dried out rice. This is also good for those little nubs of ginger or maybe that half of a lemon or lime you've got hanging around. Or some leftover scrambled eggs.
What you'll need: Cooked rice or some type of rice-like grain (barley, quinoa, or farro could totally work here), veggies, meat (optional), oil, and soy sauce.
What to do: Heat oil in a skillet. Cook veggies and meat (if not already cooked)--add some soy sauce to them if cooking. Remove from skillet. Add more oil--several Tbsp. If you've got it, add a little ginger or some onion (powders work too) to the oil. Then add the rice. Put some soy sauce in (enough to color the rice, but taste as you go because if you get it too salty you can't go back). And stir fry that rice in your oil. Plum sauce and oyster sauce are nice additions, but you can make a perfectly respectable fried rice with just oil and soy sauce. Then add in the vegetables and meats. If you've got an egg and want to add it, go for it. Add a bit of lemon or lime juice (or zest) if you wish.

Wraps. This is nice if you've got beans or random bits of grains (couscous, rice, quinoa, farro) lying around, but not a whole lot (cause seriously, what do you do with 1/2 C of leftover farro--chances are you throw it out, but if you've got a few more things it can really kick butt in a wrap). It's also a great place for cheese nubs and random sauces or leftover dips that you've got. A wrap can also be a good home for a few pieces of shrimp of a half a fish fillet or that random leftover chicken leg.
What you need: Some type of tortilla or wrap, cheese or veggies or beans or grain or sour cream or shrimp or fish or meat or sauce or some combination of those things.
What you do. Warm the stuff you're adding to the wrap. I'd encourage you to be sure you have something creamy in the mix--cream cheese or sour cream or a bit of leftover dip or even a bit of ranch or BBQ sauce, but creamy is nice to keep it from being too dry. Anyway, mix up the stuff you plan to shove into this wrap, be sure there's a creamy element to it. Then warm your wrap and add those fillings to it.

An idea for dessert:
-Try a "dump" cookie--make your favorite chocolate chip cookie dough and then dump in whatever random leftover nuts, coconut, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, mints or marshmallows or whatevers you would like. (Be a tiny bit mindful of what might be gross together--like coconut and mint, but otherwise, go nuts.) Bake as you would a chocolate chip cookie.

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