Saved with the best of intentions, leftovers are often left for dead. The evidence: A lovely weekend morning spent sniffing the wrapped remains only to end up dumping half the contents of your fridge. Don’t waste time and resources packing it up just to throw it out.
Next time you’re planning a meal, consider which elements of the dish have leftover potential. Will it keep well? How is it best reheated? What could you add in order to make it a complete meal? Rice is the blank slate of leftovers, but many foods lend themselves to repurposing, as long as there is sufficient excess to work with. Instead of saving a scrap of chicken here and a spoonful of stew there, plan to sear off a few extra chicken breasts or double your stew recipe. This “while you’re at it” cooking is a huge time-saver.
And remember, just because it can go in the microwave doesn’t mean it should. Crispy or fried items turn soggy and lean proteins, like chicken and fish (especially shellfish) become tough and dry. Nuking works best for soups and stews (just remember to stir).
One of my favorite two-for-one meals is chili. And no, I don’t just reheat it over and over again. If you’re crafty, a good pot of chili can fill up a family of four with enough left over to adapt for lunches and snacks for everyone.
The Dinner: A bit of strategic saving guarantees that the leftovers from these refined cult classics will plug in perfectly to tomorrow’s lunch preparations. And, what’s more, you can do it all for under $40.
Chili Cheese Fries Over Slaw
3 dried chipotle chilies $1
1 large yellow onion, chopped $.20
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided $.05
3 cloves garlic, minced $.10
11/2 pounds ground beef $4.50
1/2 cup ketchup $.50
1/4 cup molasses $.60
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons white vinegar $.05
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes $2.30
1 3/4 cups chicken broth, divided $1.50
salt and pepper $.05
1 32-ounce bag frozen French Fries, thawed $4.50
4 cups prepared coleslaw mix $2
½ cup cilantro leaves $.25
1 teaspoon sugar $.05
2 tablespoons unsalted butter $.75
1 ½ tablespoons All-Purpose flour $.05
3/4 cup half and half $1.50
5 ounces sharp cheddar, finely grated $2
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Soak chilies in a bowl of boiling water. Meanwhile, in a large saucepot, sauté onions in 2 tablespoons canola oil, until limp. When chilies are soft, remove stems and seeds and finely chop to a paste. Add to pot with garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add ground beef and cook, breaking up, until no longer pink. In a small bowl, whisk together ketchup, molasses and vinegar and reserve ½ for dipping sauce. Add ketchup mixture to pot and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and 1 cup broth, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Season with salt, to taste. Reserve 3 cups chili for Chili Bowl, Lettuce Wraps and Samosas.
2. Pat fries dry between paper towels and bake on a wrack-lined sheet tray according to package directions. Reserve 1 ½ cups fries for Samosas and Potato Bites In a large bowl, toss slaw mix with cilantro, 2 teaspoons vinegar, sugar, 1 tablespoon canola oil, salt and pepper. Refrigerate until serving. Reserve 3/4 cup coleslaw for Chili Bowl and Lettuce Wraps.
3. Melt butter in a small saucepot, over medium heat. Add flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute. Whisk ½ cup broth, reserving the remaining ¼ cup broth for Chili Bowl and Potato Bites, and half and half, reserving ¼ cup for Chocolate Croissants, and cook, stirring often, until mixture just reaches a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in 4 ounces cheese, reserving 1 ounce for Chili Bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve 1/3 cup cheese sauce for Potato Bites.
4. To serve, put a mound of slaw on each plate and top with a handful of fries. Ladle chili over fries and finish with cheese sauce.
3 1/3 cups half and half $2.50
2/3 cup light brown sugar $.30
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder $3.50
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons corn starch $.30
1/2 teaspoon salt $.05
1 tablespoon vanilla extract $1.50
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips $3
4 tablespoons unsalted butter $1.50
1. In a medium saucepot, bring half and half, brown sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, salt and vanilla to a simmer. Cook 1-2 minutes, whisking to thicken. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until melted, then whisk in the butter. Cover with plastic directly against pudding to prevent skin from forming and refrigerate. Reserve 1 cup for Chocolate Croissants and Frozen Pudding Cups.
Next page: The lunches
Leftover Lunches: Last night’s leftovers are transformed into four individual repasts, tailored for common lunch locales. Whether sitting in a backpack at school, chilling in the office fridge, staying home, or traveling with you, there’s a leftover nosh with your name on it!
You’ll need to have a few extra ingredients on hand:
frozen corn $.60
canned pinto beans $.30
frozen peas and carrots $.80
curry powder $.10
refrigerated biscuit dough $2.30 (for a can of 8)
butter lettuce leaves $2.00
Lunch at the Office:
All you need to make this meal work is a microwave and your appetite.
Southwestern Style Chili-bowl: Stir thawed frozen corn, canned pinto beans and a splash of stock into cold leftover chili. Reheat in microwave for 3-5 minutes on medium power to take the chill off. Stir and finish heating for 1-2 minutes on med-high. Sprinkle with leftover slaw and shredded cheddar.
Lunch at Home:
If you work from home, you’ll want to take a longish lunch break to prepare and crisp up these savory pockets.
Meat Samosas: Stir thawed, frozen peas and carrots, leftover chopped French fries and a dash of curry powder into leftover chili. Roll refrigerated biscuit dough into 6-inch rounds. Place a spoonful of cold chili mixture on one side of each round and fold the other side over top. Seal pocket by pinching seam together between fingers and bake at 375 until heated through and golden, 15-20 minutes.
Brown Bag Lunch:
With no refrigeration or cooking paraphernalia, it can be tricky to keep bagged lunches fresh (literally and figuratively.) This paper sack is fully stocked, cooling unit included.
Frozen Chocolate Pudding Cup: Fill a small container with leftover pudding and freeze. Pudding cup will thaw into a frosty treat by lunchtime and meanwhile, it doubles as freezer pack, keeping perishables cool with no extra cost or space.
Beefy Lettuce Wraps: Roll leftover chili and slaw in butter lettuce leaves and secure with toothpicks.
Cheesy Potato Bites with Ketchup Dipping Sauce: Mash leftover French fries with leftover cheese sauce and enough broth to make a mixture the consistency of mashed potatoes. Form into thin, 1-inch patties and fry in butter until golden. Pack with prepared ketchup dipping sauce.
Baked before bed and tossed into a ziplock, these portable, utensil-free treats evoke a leisurely afternoon repast, even if they’re scarfed down on the way to soccer practice!
Tea Time Chocolate Croissants: Roll 4 pieces of refrigerated biscuit dough into 6-inch rounds and place a spoonful of leftover pudding in the center of the round. Fold each side of the dough over the chocolate to overlap. Brush pastries with leftover half and half and bake at 375 degrees until puffed and golden, 15-20 minutes.
6 of the Best Leftovers Recipes
Turning Scraps Into Supper
Homemade Brunch for $8 a Plate