Monday, May 31, 2010

Cooking with Leftovers

Everyone ends up with leftovers at one time or another; whether they’re something you cooked yourself or something you bring home from a dinner out. The simple answer to leftovers of course is to just warm them up again the next day. The problem is that then you’re eating the same thing, likely somewhat the worse for wear. Not exactly culinary excellence, no matter how good the food was the first time around. Plus it’s a quick path to boredom. Instead, I thought I would give some examples of ways you can use the leftovers as building blocks for something new.

Last Tuesday I decided I wanted something simple, and didn’t want either of us to have to cook. So I decided to use a jar of homemade canned turkey breast (canning will be discussed in a future article, don’t worry), and make up some tacos. At the end of the night we had leftovers, including shredded Mexican cheese, chopped lettuce, seasoned taco meat, and a roma tomato. A couple of days later, I was looking for something to do with these leftovers, and a story about a restaurant in Cleveland inspired me to make up grilled cheese. I gave it a try, and just LOVED the results. So here’s how I went about it.

Butter two pieces of bread, and put them on a skillet on medium-low heat. While this is browning, thinly slice tomato, enough slices to cover the sandwich. Warm up the leftover taco meat in microwave or in pan, depending on how much is left. After one side of bread is done, butter other side and flip. Spread shredded cheese on each piece of bread, and cover the pan (this allows the cheese to melt fast enough that the bread doesn’t burn). Once the cheese is melted and other side of bread is cooked, remove from heat. Put one piece of bread on plate as a foundation. Put a single layer of tomatoes, then a layer of the reheated taco meat. Follow these with a layer of chopped lettuce, and then put the last piece of bread, with cheese, on top. Enjoy this immediately. The alternating hot and cool layers, and the combination of flavors, are great, and still very indicative of a taco.

Another night last week, dinner was a beautiful medium-rare London broil, rice cooked in homemade lamb stock, and sweet corn. Clearly, a lot fancier dinner (also, clearly not something I’m responsible for, though was I thrilled to eat it). The next night I was cooking for myself and saw these leftovers, so I stuck with something simple, and decided to make burritos. First I opened a jar of seasoned burrito beans. Then I warmed up the beans, steak, corn and rice in microwave. I thinly sliced the steak, and then put all of these in a large flour tortilla. To this, I added some of the chopped lettuce and cheese leftover from the previous meal. Burrito was folded up (though they did come out somewhat square), and put in non-stick pan, just long enough on each side to brown them up a bit and add a little crispiness. Maybe ten minutes all told, and I had a great, filling dinner.

I suspect this is a subject that I will revisit more than once. I hope that even if you don’t ever try these particular recipes, that the ideas here helped kick you out of a rut, and remind you that leftovers don’t have to just be used as-is, but instead can be building blocks for something completely new.


  1. Mmmm!! Those all sound delish!! :) I'll have to try them! Thanks for sharing all your food thoughts! I'm so following your blog now!!

  2. Thanks Shara. Yeah, these were both recipes I came up with just because I wanted to use up some leftovers, but I suspect they'll both be made at other times now too. The sandwich in particular was REALLY good