Leftovers don’t have to be leftovers anymore. They can be ‘heldovers by popular demand’ instead!
Life is so busy. There’s never enough time to accomplish everything we’d like each day, even with all the laborsaving devices we enjoy in this modern era. The only meal I am home for during the week is suppertime so this limits my options somewhat. And honestly, after a long day at work, I don’t always have a great deal of creative energy left to redirect toward making a nourishing and interesting meal. I still try to make mealtimes special, whenever possible. Planning ahead helps, this includes determining when I can cook once and serve two or even three meals without a lot of extra work or redundancy.
In the summer, most meals are inspired by the garden; they are quick and simple by nature, so to speak. I grow vegetables that I can easily stir-fry, eat raw or make salads from, so those meals are not really a time-consuming issue. Come the cooler months though, it is dark even before I leave work. The drive home often involves inclement weather and challenging road surfaces; the ride can take an hour or more. The prospect of a hot meal without a lot of work is very appealing under those circumstances.
I have developed a few strategies toward this end, which I will share here.
The crock-pot is an invaluable tool. It’s easy to place a beef pot roast with some onion wedges and wine, sprinkled with a few herbs, into the pot the evening before. Turn it to high for an hour, then down to low overnight. Wash and cut up some potatoes and carrots and add those in the morning, turning the roast once before leaving for the day. Come home the next evening and dish it up!
I intentionally use a much larger roast than we need for one meal. The plan is to make Beef Stroganoff, Beef Stew and/or Onion Soup from the leftovers for meals later in the week or freeze the remainder for future meals.
Substitute a chicken or pork roast, and after enjoying the roast and veggies the first meal, create potpies, tacos, stews or soups with the leftovers.
French Onion Soup Au Gratin
French Onion Soup
Slice lots of onions into your crock-pot; add a bit of butter, a cup of wine, several cups of broth, some thyme and some cooked beef or chicken pieces. Cook it all day on low. By dinnertime it’s an awesome French Onion Soup.
Layering the ‘no-boil’ lasagna noodles, cheeses, spinach leaves, herbs and a juicy sauce into a crock pot before leaving for work and letting it cook all day, can make an easy lasagna. Just add a salad and Italian bread and voila! Dinner is ready.
Leftover lasagna, diced up, with a variety of cooked vegetables like sliced zucchini or summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, peppers, fava beans, carrots, spinach etc, and a couple of cans of stewed or whole tomatoes, makes a very hearty soup with some of that leftover Italian bread.
Leftover Baked ham is a great start on corn or ham and potato chowder, baked beans, breakfast bake or any number of other quick meals.
Meat Loaf can be made ahead in the crock-pot as well, or mixed up the evening before then cooked quickly in muffin pans when arriving home in the evening. Leftovers can be cut up and added to a basic marinara sauce to top hot pasta, or chopped up and layered with leftover mashed potatoes and corn to be reinvented as shepherd’s pie or used in the French Canadian traditional Christmas and New Year’s dish; tortierre.
On my days off when there is more time to cook, I often roast a turkey, or ham and freeze portions of meat and broth for future fast meals when I only need to take the container out of the freezer in the morning and create something fast in the evening.
Or I will make a huge pot of soup or pasta sauce, letting it simmer for hours, then split it up into meal-sized portions to freeze for future weeknight meals.
One trick I use a lot is to always bake extra potatoes whenever we have those with a meal. Extra baked potatoes make quick home fries (just add omelets or scrambled eggs and toast), salads, au gratin potato casseroles, or additions to soups, stews and pan frittatas.
Brown rice freezes very nicely. It takes about an hour to cook so I cook large batches of it when I have time, then I freeze it in small portions. Lentils and barley work well this way too. These make great stir fry starters, stuffing bases and soup additions.
Leftover chili makes an interesting alternative to traditional taco filling (just add lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and corn chips) and baked potato stuffing (just add salad for a meal).
If you haven’t checked out Seasonal Recipes yet, you may want to do it now.
If you have any great time-saving, without-sacrificing-meal-quality suggestions, please send them to me and I will include them here.