Leftover Makeovers

When I cook, sometimes I really cook big. When that happens, I've been known to have, well, kind of a lot of leftovers. But rather than being a source of monotony or boredom, I take it as an opportunity to get creative and take part in leftover makeovers. Here's a recent example:

Before becoming a sweet and spicy BBQ pizza, the lion's share of the topping for this pizza was part of a giant batch of pulled pork. The original meal was spooned onto soft kaiser rolls and served alongside potato salad and pickles. Another evening saw some of the leftovers tossed with chipotle hot sauce and stuffed into soft flour tortillas along with shredded beauty heart radishes, creamy diced avocado, and some crumbled Cotija (a sharp, solid Mexican cheese). And for the meal above? A quick dinner comprised of a premade pizza shell covered in a base of BBQ sauce mixed with a bit of sweet & spicy hot sauce got a sprinkling of chopped onion and a generous coating of leftover pulled pork. Then the entire thing got covered with shredded cheese and it went into a hot oven for about 10 minutes. The whole thing took less than 15 minutes to make and it was delicious. And that's why I don't mind lots of leftovers.

How do you help transform leftovers into something a bit different? Well, it helps to think of what you have in your fridge as parts of something bigger. If the original dish focused on, say, a chunk of turkey or beef (as in roasted bird or slow-cooked roast), try making another dish in which the leftovers are more in a supporting role. Great examples include dicing larger pieces of meat into small bites for casseroles, sandwiches, or even stir-fries. Sometimes these kinds of items are really perfect for soups, too. I'm also a fan of pizzas (obviously) and quesadillas. Fried rice is a snap with leftover vegetables and diced meat on hand, as well.

Leftover soups or chili might be a bit more of a challenge, but the same kind of thinking applies. Try thickening very thin soups and giving them a new life as a sauce. Chili is great as a condiment for baked potatoes or over hot dogs. Depending on the soup, you can even stir it into hot cooked pasta or rice and make it a fork meal the second time around! I've even been known to wrap leftover chili or stew into pastry and bake it to make my own pocket sandwiches. There really are a lot of options out there, once you stop thinking about leftovers as a one-trick pony!

Of course, one of my favorite ways to use leftovers that doesn't involve making them over is spooning them into small containers and freezing them for lunches or other quick meals. If you find yourself spending a lot of time and money going out for lunch during the week, consider how nice it might be to warm a container of that delicious dinner you made last week for lunch on a cold day instead of battling cold weather, frustrating traffic, and big lunch crowds at the local dinner for a ho-hum sandwich. Sometimes the best way for leftovers to shine can really be just making an encore appearance around lunch time!