How to Use Leftovers

Leftovers have a bad reputation, but with a little imagination, you can turn most of your old leftovers into new, flavorful dishes that anyone would enjoy eating. Using your leftovers wisely can also help you save money on your grocery bill. However, to avoid food poisoning, make sure that any leftovers you choose to consume are handled safely.

Part 1 Part One: Handle Leftovers Safely

1. Quickly store any leftover food. The sooner you refrigerate or freeze leftovers, the longer they will keep and the safer they will be.

As a general rule, you should plan to refrigerate leftovers within two hours of their completion of cooking. In particularly hot weather, reduce this time to one hour.

If you intend to refrigerate your leftovers, allow them to cool in the refrigerator rather than allowing them to cool at room temperature. If you intend to freeze your leftovers, allow them to cool at room temperature before transferring them to the freezer.

2. Food should be stored in airtight containers. Food should ideally be stored in shallow plastic containers or freezer-safe plastic bags. Any container you use should have an airtight lid as well.

Food cools faster in shallow containers than in deep containers, making it safer to eat later.

Air causes leftovers to spoil faster, but using an airtight lid or seal will keep food fresher for longer.

Separating the food into smaller containers also makes reheating safer, as most foods should only be reheated once.

3. Make sure there is enough space in the refrigerator. Packing too many food containers into a small space can prevent cool air from properly circulating and cause the food to spoil faster.

Your leftovers should be kept at a temperature of 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 to 4.4 degrees Celsius). It’s a good idea to check the inside temperature of your refrigerator on a regular basis to ensure that it stays within this range.

4. Throw away any potentially dangerous leftovers. Most properly refrigerated leftovers will keep for two to five days, but any leftovers that look suspicious should be discarded rather than reused.

Perform a “sniff test” on all leftover food that you intend to use. Open the container and take a whiff of the food inside. If the odour is unusual, discard it.

You should also look for mould or other visible signs of decay in the food.

Part 2: Leftover Meat, Poultry, and Seafood

1. Keep in a safe place. Most meats can be kept in the fridge for two to three days.

Before refrigerating the meat, place it in an airtight, food-safe container or bag. Whole cooked poultry, pork, and beef can be kept for two days, but ground meats are usually good for three.

The majority of cooked meat can also be frozen. Place the meat in freezer-safe plastic bags, label with the current date, and store in the freezer until ready to use. Poultry and ground meats can be stored for up to three months, but red meat should be consumed within one month. Fish that has been cooked should not be frozen.

2. Thoroughly reheat. Meat can usually be reheated in the microwave, oven, or stovetop. However, you should only reheat meat once, and it should be reheated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius).

Red meat, poultry, pork, and ground meats usually reheat well regardless of the method used.

However, because seafood tends to dry out when reheated at high temperatures, it’s best to avoid the microwave and instead use the oven. Reheat the fish for about 15 minutes at a low temperature.

3. Make one-dish meals with diced meat. Meat, poultry, and fish that has been cooked can usually be cut into bite-sized pieces and added to stir-fries, casseroles, and other one-dish meals. These dishes are also great for reusing leftover grains and vegetables.

Stir-fries, risottos, curries, casseroles, pot pies, and soups are all hot one-dish meals to consider.

You can also cut up cold meat and toss it into a salad.

4. Prepare meat for sandwiches by cutting or shredding it. Large amounts of leftover meat can be sliced or shredded. You can then stack it between two slices of bread and eat it as a sandwich.

This method works best with leftover roasts, whole turkeys, whole chickens, and meatloaf, but it may also work with smaller portions of meat and poultry.

If regular sandwich bread isn’t sturdy enough, use buns or toasted bread instead.

5. Sauces can be made more filling by adding more ingredients. Sauces for pasta and other dishes can include ground meats and flaked fish.

To make it heartier, mix the meat into any standard pasta sauce.

Another inventive option would be to incorporate the meat into other gravies and sauces that are commonly used for vegetables, chilli bases, and soup bases.

Part 3: Leftover Grains, Starches, and Baked Goods

1. Store for a few days. Cooked grains, starches, and baked goods should be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days in airtight containers.

Even though all leftovers should be stored in airtight containers, it is especially important to keep cake, bread, and other baked goods well-sealed. Before putting the bakery in an airtight bag or container, wrap it in cling wrap.

Bakery can also be stored in the freezer for up to three months.

2. Reheat grains with care. When reheated, many leftover grains and starches tend to dry out, especially when done at a high heat.

If you’re going to microwave rice, quinoa, or other grains, sprinkle them with water first. Before going after the moisture in the grains, the microwave will dry out the extra water you just added.

When reheating leftover grains, pasta, or potatoes with a sauce or other liquid, consider mixing the sauce and grain first. In most cases, reheating the saucy grain/starch on the stove or in the microwave should be safe.

3. Mix in the grains to the dough. Cooked cereals can improve bread and muffin doughs.

Multigrain breads can be made by grinding the grains and kneading them evenly into the dough.

Alternatively, to make a healthy and crunchy topping, sprinkle the grains over the bread dough right before baking.

4. Combine leftover grains and starches to make one-dish meals. Cooked grains, pastas, and potatoes combine easily with meats and vegetables to make “one pot” or “one dish” meals.

Almost any leftover starch or grain can be used to make casseroles and soups.

Tortillas can be filled with leftover rice and quinoa. Rice can also be fried with various vegetables and served as “fried rice,” and rice and pasta can both be used in stir-fries.

5. Toast the bread. Leftover bread that is getting stale can be toasted and used dry. Before using it, just make sure that no mould has begun to grow.

Bake leftover bread at a low temperature for a few minutes, just long enough for the bread to become crispy but not burnt.

Makeshift garlic bread can be made by sprinkling the bread with butter and garlic, or butter and cinnamon-sugar for a quick snack.

Croutons can be made from plain toasted bread cut into cubes.

6. Dry baked goods should be crumbled. Baked goods that have become dry and unsalvageable can be crushed into crumbs or crumbled and reassembled as needed.

Dry bread can be made into breadcrumbs, which can then be used as breading or filler in fresh meat dishes.

Cake pops can be made by combining crumbled cake with buttercream. Crumbled bread can also be used in bread pudding or French toast casseroles.

Part 4: Leftover Produce

1. Store for a few days. The majority of cooked vegetables and fruits can be refrigerated for four to five days.

Even if a vegetable or fruit was stored at room temperature before cooking, leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator after they’ve been cooked.

Most cooked produce becomes soggy when frozen and thawed, so storing your produce leftovers in the refrigerator is a better option.

2. Reheat or use at room temperature. Most leftover produce can be refrigerated or warmed before reusing. The best option will be determined by how you intend to reuse it.

Because most fruits are delicate, they will fall apart when reheated.

Reheating vegetables is much easier. The microwave is the most convenient method, but they can also be reheated in the oven or on the stove.

3. Most fruits and vegetables should be mashed or blended. Use a vegetable masher or blender to liquify leftover vegetables, then use the resulting liquid to season other liquid-based dishes.

Vegetables that have been blended can be added to soup stock, chip dip, hummus, or chilli.

Fruits that have been blended can be added to fruit-based sauces and smoothies.

4. Vegetables can be used in one-dish meals. Consider incorporating leftover vegetables into both warm and cold one-dish meals.

Casseroles, stir-fries, soups, pizza, and omelettes are examples of warm dishes. Because the vegetables have already been cooked, add them to the dish during the last few minutes of cooking so they don’t become soggy when reheated.

Salads can also benefit from the addition of a variety of cold vegetables.

5. Fruit can be added to desserts. Fruit-based leftovers can be used to jazz up otherwise plain desserts.

For example, gently reheat the fruit and spread it on pound cake or ice cream.

Some fruits can also be added directly to the batter of baked goods such as cakes, muffins, cookies, breads, and other baked goods before baking.

Part 5: Leftover Sauces

1. Use stored sauces as soon as possible. All leftover sauces should be kept in the refrigerator in shallow, airtight containers. Sauces made from scratch should be consumed within two or three days.

If the sauce contains or has been in contact with meat, it is especially important to use it within two to three days.

Commercially prepared sauces should be stored according to the directions on the label. In most cases, you should use the sauce within one to two weeks of opening it. Any commercial sauce used as part of another dish should be treated as homemade and consumed within three to four days.

2. Reheat thoroughly and carefully. The majority of sauces can be reheated on the stove or in the microwave. In either case, make sure the sauce is thoroughly reheated.

Stir the sauce to evenly distribute the heat. If you do not do this, some areas may remain cold while others may become overheated.

It’s also worth noting that some sauces reheat better than others. Sauces and gravies thickened with cornstarch or flour may become lumpy when reheated in the microwave; therefore, reheat these sauces on the stove whenever possible.

3. Use leftover sauce to season other dishes. Sauces and gravies are made up of a variety of ingredients, so combining them with another dish can add a lot of flavour.

Consider incorporating the sauce into other liquid-based dishes, such as soups and chilli.

You can also use the sauce to add flavour to otherwise dry ingredients. For example, leftover gravy can be used as a sandwich condiment. For a quick side dish, toss leftover sauces with plain rice or pasta.

4. Sauces should be blended. If you’re feeling brave, combine two different sauces to make something entirely new. The new sauce can then be added to foods in the same way that the old sauces were.

Experiment with various combinations that appeal to you. You could combine a cheese-based sauce with a tomato-based sauce, or you could combine a cream sauce with a hot sauce.

If you do experiment, you should taste-test the newly created sauce before adding it to other foods, just in case you’re not happy with the results.

5. Reimagine the sauce. Another way to make an old sauce into something new is to add new seasonings or ingredients to it.

Stick to ingredients that complement the original sauce’s flavour profile. For example, you could try adding red pepper or chopped chilli peppers to a bland meat sauce, but you might not want to add a poultry seasoning blend to a sauce containing ground beef or chilli powder.

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