Friday, March 1, 2013

Create Your Next Masterpiece By Using Leftovers

And now... it's time for another chapter of Masterpiece Theatre.

Ok.  No, it's not.  Actually, I wanted to talk about stretching the food menu in your house for a few days longer.

I know, I know... not nearly as much of a classic and beloved subject.

That, however, is the point.  The food that sits in our homes, growing older and older, is something that we don't like to think about.  It gets ignored.  Nobody wants to admit to wasting food, of course, and so it becomes a dirty little secret that nobody acknowledges as a problem that can be fixed with just a little bit of creativity.

Indeed, the most anybody ever says about it is a sentence or two before leaping to a brand new subject in a great and obvious manner:

"I really need to clean out the fridge.  The food is becoming sentient... Hey, what are you going to watch on TV tonight?"

And the response is equally shallow:

"Yeah, I need to clean mine, too... I'm watching Downtown Abbey."

People in the United States have a habit of throwing out large amounts of food, because we leave it to sit in the back of the fridge, where it's forgotten.  People become ashamed of their wasteful habit, and as with any other event a person is ashamed of, we sweep it under the carpet and ignore it.

We don't really have to do that, though.

The answer is actually pretty simple.

Use your leftovers.

No, really.  That's it.

Ok, I know what you're thinking...

Most people don't see this as a particularly attractive option, which I can totally understand.  Who wants to eat spaghetti 3 nights in a row?

It doesn't have to be that way, though.  Just ask my "baked" beans that I made the other night.

Baked beans on a spoon - one is saying, "She's right... We're pretty awesome."

Those baked beans were made by adding beans to some leftover barbecue sauce that I had used the night before to make pork ribs.  I simply added some garlic powder and onion powder and threw it into a small pot on the stove top.

Voila!  A masterpiece:  The kind of baked beans that other people cook for hours if they want something this good.  Mine only took 10 minutes.

Since the sauce was already filled with pork fat from the ribs, I had no need to cut up any bacon or other form of pork.  I had a mouth-watering treasure without having to do any real work.

That wasn't the first time I used that barbecue sauce, either.  Prior to the ribs, half of that bottle of sauce had been used on chicken, then used another time by being added to green beans, to make them more appealing to my anti-vegetable family.

One bottle of sauce created 4 different meal items, two of which were main courses.

And that's just sauce.

I've begun doing this with just about everything in my fridge, because I've learned that my family doesn't seem to eat leftovers.  I really envy those people that can have a "leftover night".  It would make my life so much easier!

What I've learned, however, is that since I can't do leftover nights and actually expect everything to get eaten, I have to find ways to stretch what I have, and transform it into something entirely different.

The trick is to make only what you think is needed on a given night.  Eyeball the ingredients, then use only the amount that you believe is needed for any given meal.

A few ways to do this are as follows:

  • Avoid pre-packaged foods.  I know... they're easier.  The fact of the matter, though, is that prepackaged foods tend to either give you too little, so you need to make two packages of food, instead of one, or they give you too much, giving you those horrid leftovers that sit in the back of your fridge, evolving into a sentient lifeform.
  • Once your food has been bought, portion it according to what you plan on using per meal.  Freeze it, taking it out only to thaw.  Ask yourself if you truly need, say, one pound of ground beef, or if 3/4 of a pound will work just as well.
  • Plan ahead.  I'm not very good at creating a menu for the week before heading to the grocery store, but some people really excel at this.  If you're one of them, by all means, do it!!!  It's perhaps the best way to assure yourself that everything you buy will get used.  In my case, I stare at what's available at the grocery store, then visualize how much of any given item I typically use.  Three pounds of ground beef will last me roughly 5 meals, so I'll buy those 3 pounds, separate them, then freeze 4 different sections, leaving 1 portion in the fridge to be used some time in the next day or two.
  • Create dry mixes for "quick" meals.  We all need those quick meals for days that we just don't have the time to hunt for spices and then stand around, staring at the stove as the meal cooks.  This is the moment that we reach for the hamburger helper, or some equivalent.  But why do that, when to be honest, it's not particularly filling? 
Create your own blend of spices and cornstarch beforehand, then use it whenever you run into this problem.  As a bonus, it's more filling, as well.  Chickens in the Road did this very thing, and when I tested the recipe, I was very impressed.  The recipe seems long and complicated, but trust me - it's simple.  

Create a ton of this (if you agree with me that it's phenomenal... and you will) and then store it in a labelled glass jar. You'll have enough mix to keep you happy for months!  Lake Area United Way even has a pdf that you can save which lists 60 different mason jar dry mix recipes, if you want to start making this a habit. 

That means that you can reuse all of those jars you've been picking up at the grocery store, instead of just throwing them into the recycle bin!


We all want to make new and exciting friends, but there are some limits.  Last month's pork chop should not be one of them.

Stick figure sketch of a zombified pork chop saying, "Brains......."

You see my point?

Now go head over to your fridge and see what you can make tonight.  Leftover spaghetti casserole with cheese?  Chicken soup, thickened with mashed potato?

The only limits are the ones you impose on yourself.

Don't look at them as leftovers.  Look at them as ingredients for your next masterpiece!

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