My name is Lori Fulk, and it should be said up-front: I used to have very big plans. I was in my 30's and happily ensconced in a Neuroscience Research career when I met a funny, smart guy, and married him. We could have stopped there, and stuck with our "very big plans", but God has some plans of his own. We now have 2 gifted daughters, 1 who is "twice-gifted", which is a fancy way of saying some gifted kids are born with Special Needs. It makes for one crazy game of Poker, I assure you. And because humor is my first-line drug of choice, I started writing (and laughing) about our family's journey 8 years ago. Parenting has taught me many things, but the most important being we all have ideas about being parents, until the actual birth of our children. Wisdom in parenting doesn't come quickly, and it certainly doesn't come easily. Wisdom Comes Suddenly.
January 06, 2014 | 08:21 PM
Until a few years ago, the word "leftovers" was not a part of my lexicon. It conjured childhood memories of cold, grey, meat-like substances stored in orange Tupperware containers. But then I married a 6'2" Air Force Officer who ate with the discriminating palate of your average barnyard sow. Leftovers were a bonus in his world, with the reheating step entirely optional. Our first Thanksgiving together I watched him devour cold Chicken and Noodles, straight out of the fridge, which caused me to gag and walk quickly out of the kitchen. Over time, as my love of cooking grew, I came to appreciate his willingness to eat a highly varied menu, and it didn't take long to realize some meals taste even better the next day. Still, I kept leftovers at a distance: they were merely items I warmed up and usually tossed out after a few days in our fridge.
After years of quizzically watching my Mother-In-Law save bits and pieces of vegetables, and watching my husband smile whenever I said, "there's dinner leftover if want to take it to work tomorrow", the light finally went on. I started eating leftovers, which evolved into getting creative with leftovers. You know what? Leftovers rock. And here are some reasons why:
(A) After a huge celebration, they give the cook a day or two (or more!) off.
(B) Warming up is just the first step. Ingredients can be re-spun into delightfully new and easy meals.
(C) Pieces and parts can be thrown into standard every-day items, giving new life to a boring weekday menu.
Here are some examples of ways I've learned to "re-invent" my leftovers:
(1) Even though my new mandolin (V-slicer) is trying to chew off my fingers, I can't help but be drawn to its effortless beauty. While making Ratatouille on Christmas Eve, it's possible I cut the world's largest serving bowl of eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, sweet peppers, and onions. I sliced approximately 75% more than I needed, but I did it in no time flat, so I'm calling it a win. I threw the extra veggies in a huge pot with 3 large cans of tomato puree. I added garlic, fresh oregano, and salt and pepper. After stewing for about 30 minutes (adjust time based on thickness of veggies), I pureed it with my Cuisinart Smart Stick. No longer pouring boiling soup into a processor (which is 100% certain to squirt flaming hot liquid on me) is a game-changer. We used this sauce on homemade pizzas, and the rest I froze into portions for future pizza and pasta dishes.
(2) Smaller portions of leftover veggies,like sweet peppers and mushrooms, I add to omelets or Scrambled Eggs. I love tiny tomatoes, because they can be quickly diced and thrown into many dishes. Breakfast dishes are also a great use for leftover cheeses. My kids no longer protest "Fancy Eggs", as I usually top them with cheese and serve them with a side of Frozen Waffles. I call Frozen Waffles "crunchy syrup", and I've found many of Mommy's new breakfast concoctions go down easier with a side of crunchy syrup.
(3) Other sundry leftover veggies can be sauteed in olive oil with onion and salt and pepper. I then layer them on soft sub sandwich bread with leftover slices of flank steak (or whatever I have in the deli drawer). These sandwiches win my "Favorite Leftovers of 2013" Award, just nudging out Ratatouille Pizza. I was sad to see Chicken and Noodles lose their top spot after so many years at the helm, but after 10 years of marriage, I still can't convince Greg to heat up his leftovers.
(4) Ham is a meat with many lives. I love to layer it with peach or apple butter onto leftover biscuits as a brunch sandwich. My children enjoy ham added to Mac and Cheese. This week it will be added to Red Beans and Rice. At the holidays I usually have leftover whipping cream which makes for a nice topping to Mashed Potato with Ham And Cheese Casserole. Cheese can have just as many lives, when you think about the innumerable variations of Grilled Cheese. I add mayo and spicy mustard to the inside slices of my bread, but my children haven't yet learned to appreciate this French twist on "Toast-a-Cheese".
(5) Any of the above can be tossed with pasta and Parmesan cheese for a quick and easy lunch. My daughters especially love leftover veggies mixed with rice noodles, which my husband calls Rich Man's Ramen. He prefers Poor Man's Ramen, and I can't blame him. It's hard to beat a soupy dish of noodles containing 5 million grams of sodium and MSG.
(6) Do you have leftover crackers and breads from your holiday appetizer table? I have one sleeve of crackers in 3 different boxes. Don't let them go stale: put them in your blender or processor and turn them into breading. Soft breads can be toasted in the oven first, and then processed into breading. I throw in leftover nuts and pretzels as well. Chop up some chicken breasts (or tenderloins if you want to do it on the cheap), and dip first in flour, second in egg white, and lastly in the breading. Bake. My daughters call this "Pretzel Chicken", and they never seem to notice the flavor changes based on what's in the pantry.
(7) I always chop too many apples for my pies, and then I'm left with extra cups of diced apples, mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts. What doesn't fit into the pie shell is delicious warmed in just a little butter and added to oatmeal, or as a topping on French Toast.
(8) Don't let creams and whole milks purchased for special recipes turn sour. Add them to mashed potatoes (I even add french onion dip if I have it), and enjoy the creamy richness. It should be noted that using leftovers actually subtracts calories from your food. I can prove it: by eating what is in my pantry, I make fewer trips to the grocery. By making fewer trips to the grocery, I'm less likely to buy junk food like corn chips. Don't judge me. We're Hoosiers and we must love anything made with corn. We get bonus points if the corn is fried in some way. It's the law. My advanced math works like this: add a little heavy cream to your oatmeal and lose weight by not eating frosted donuts on display in the Dairy section of the grocery store. You don't buy the Entenmann's from time to time? You're fibbing. No one is that strong.
(9) I have one frozen pie shell left. The first shell held a Pecan Pie, but I might like the second one better: Taco Pie. Who doesn't love Taco Pie? Tupperware salesmen, that's who. Why? Because there are no leftovers when I make Taco Pie.
(10) Finally, I always seem to have a half of bag of nuts somewhere in my pantry. I think they might be procreating on the shelf, along with the Rainbow Loom bands that seem to be growing out of my rugs. I toast them in a skillet (the nuts, not the Loom bands) with a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and when the sugar dissolves and coats the nuts, I drop them out on wax paper to dry. I toss them in salads (along with mandarin oranges or chopped pears) as a tricky way to get my family to eat salad. Fresh spinach laced with sugar-nuts and fruit is a regular on our dinner table.
I hope this article finds you with heat, and able to take a break from your kitchen. I love cooking, but this winter has turned my menu-planning into a marathon! When the Mayor tells us it's illegal to go to the grocery, it's time to get creative with food. Who would like to join us for a mozzarella and corn dog casserole? I'm kidding! However, I am exhausted from washing dishes, so I may serve popcorn for dinner (I'm no longer kidding). Please share the creative ways you use leftovers, and you get bonus points for anything that incorporates corn. Again, it's not me folks, it's THE INDIANA LAW.