All too often the thought of making lunch is accompanied by a silent groan. The prospect of eating a cold version of last night’s meal sends you into the leftover lunch doldrums, and eating lunch out everyday can quickly bust your budget. But with a little forethought and creativity, anyone can transform their leftovers into an entirely new meal. Here are a few quick and low-cost strategies that you can apply to almost any dinner.
Few things are more savory and satisfying than a well-made pork roast. The next day however, the hard, dry slices of what were moist and flavorful just hours before can be enough to make you weep.
Don’t panic! Roast pork can be easily resurrected into a simple show-stopping pulled pork sandwich in less than 15 minutes. In a saucepan, gently heat the sliced pork roast with a few ounces of chicken stock or water until the pork is soft and wet enough to shred with two sturdy forks. Once the meat is shredded, make a fast pulled pork barbeque sauce by combining store-bought barbeque sauce with a little apple cider vinegar, a squeeze of good brown mustard and a few splashes of hot sauce. Toss your short-order barbeque sauce with the pork shreds and serve on a bun or bread. Add a few slices of dill pickle for a down home treat.
The key to making the most of leftovers is to plan both meals at once. Instead of cooking only enough skinless breasts for dinner, think ahead and roast another for the next day. Chop up the cold chicken and toss it with a light vinaigrette and a dash of capers or sprigs of fresh cilantro for a fresh and bright salad.
If whole roast chicken is more your speed, you can easily transform that leftover bird into a delicious soup base by simmering it overnight with water in a covered oven-safe pot. Combine the carcass with your onion tops and celery ends and place in a 225 degree oven. In the morning, remove the pot to cool and strip the poached meat away while straining the liquid. Add the chicken and some pasta to the broth for homemade chicken noodle soup.
Slow cooked beef stew in thick, savory gravy is one of the most elemental and inexpensive meals around. But eating it on consecutive days can bore all but the most enthusiastic comfort-foodies. Thankfully, stew can be recycled into other exciting options in less than a few minutes.
Turn almost any dinner item into a fun and fast lunch by keeping some pre-made frozen piecrust sheets in the freezer. Six inch by six inch squares of crust can be filled with nearly anything and then folded to form a triangle shaped hand-pie. Add a bit of curry powder to that beef stew for an exotic flair. After you’ve sealed the edges with a little water and cut a decorative steam vent in the dough, cook at 350 degrees until golden brown. Just make sure to let them cool before taking that first bite, no matter how good they smell.
Think ahead to get your money’s worth from vegetable side dishes. If you serve steamed red potatoes with green beans for dinner, the next day you’re just a can of tuna and a few dressed greens away from a salad Niçoise. Similarly, broccoli and roasted Yukon Gold potatoes can be mixed with sautéed onions and egg for a satisfying frittata in less than 10 minutes.
Another great way to retread tired sides is to purée them with stock in a food processor, blender or immersion stick-style blender. Transform a butternut squash into tasty restaurant quality soup by adding a bit of fresh ginger before blending and serving with a small dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream. Or whip up some baked potato soup which, as the name suggests, is made from cast away baked potatoes, stock, chives and buttermilk (added at the end) to give it a sour cream tang. It’s just like a fully loaded baker when topped with a small sprinkle of bacon bits.
Feel free to combine these ideas to make your next day meals even easier. That chicken stock from your roast can be used to fill out your squash soup, and chicken stew makes a great filling for a hand pie. Chicken salad ideas work just as well for making a leftover steak salad, too. Keep in mind that the starch element of your meal also makes a good thickener and extender. The most important thing is to keep and open mind and try to plan ahead.