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Ah, the sad little leftovers, remnants of a delicious meal that have a tendency to make their way into plastic containers and shoved to the back of the fridge, never to be thought of again. It’s a pitiful existence for a meal that once was the grand centerpiece of your nightly feast, but their lives don’t have to end this way! With a little creativity, you can turn these once shunned meal remnants into brand new meals. The best part? Half of the meal prep work is already completed for you. How does this magic meal transformation take place, you ask? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Leftover taco meat: The great thing about leftover taco meat is that it’s already cooked and pre-seasoned, which gives you fantastic options to create new meals. Roll the leftover meat in tortillas, spread with enchilada sauce and cheese, bake and voila! You have quick, easy enchiladas. Another option is to throw it in a stock pot, add diced tomatoes and chili beans, simmer and you have a steaming pot of chili ready to go. You can also layer it into Mexican lasagna. Just mix the meat with canned diced tomatoes and chiles, layer with tortillas and cottage cheese (a couple of layers of each works well), sprinkle with shredded cheese of your choice, bake and you have an easy Mexican lasagna.
Leftover meatloaf: Leftover meatloaf can be the base for quite a few great meals. Crumble it into spaghetti sauce, and you have a hearty meat sauce for pasta. It also works very well in casseroles that call for cooked ground hamburger—crumble the meatloaf and use in place of the burger. The flavor of the meatloaf will give a new twist to your hamburger casseroles. You can also make a super quick meal by using the crumbled meatloaf in conjunction with pre-packaged, boxed “helper” meals, and you’ve made the convenience foods even more convenient.
Leftover roast: “Day after” roast can sometimes end up dry, but you can revive it by making a hot beef sandwich. This is especially great if you have leftover mashed potatoes. Toast a piece of bread, place it on a plate and cover it with shredded roast. Add the mashed potatoes if you have them. Pour canned gravy (or homemade, if you have it) and heat it the microwave until hot. Delicious—you can’t go wrong with this one! Leftover roast is also perfect for use in burritos or barbecue.
Leftover chicken: Chicken in just about any form—baked, fried, roasted—gives you a head start on a number of meals. Again, you can use it in any casserole that calls for cooked chicken. You can also shred it and make chicken salad sandwich filling—simply add mayonnaise and add whatever additions you like (relish, garlic salt, seasoned salt, chopped celery, chopped onions—use your imagination to change it up). If you mix shredded chicken with barbecue sauce, you have the instant makings of delicious barbecue chicken sandwiches. Another option is to chop the chicken and add it to a salad to transform from an appetizer into a main course. You can make an awesome fiesta salad this way—add some rinsed canned black beans, a little salsa and ranch dressing and you have a salad that’s restaurant worthy.
Leftover ham: Ham can be transformed into so many meals! It’s always a fantastic go-to when sliced for sandwiches, but you can also chop it to mix with mayo, etc., for a yummy ham salad. You can also mix chopped or cubed ham with a cream soup (mushroom, potato, celery, chicken) and pop the mixture into a casserole dish with sliced potatoes. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese and bake, and you have a casserole that’s sure to be a hit. It’s also perfect for creating homemade ham and bean soup.
Leftover vegetables: Keep a re-usable container in your freezer, and as you find yourself with bits and pieces of various vegetables after meals, add them to the container. Once the container is full, add to a stockpot of beef, chicken or vegetable broth and simmer for a palette pleasing soup. If you like a heartier soup, you can prepare pasta such as rotini or macaroni according to package directions and add it to the soup, or you could always add bits of leftover meat, as well.
Leftover rolls, bread or buns: Don’t toss them! Instead, spread them out on a cookie sheet and let dry for a few days. Once dry, you can put them in a plastic zip top bag and smash them (a meat mallet works well for this) to make homemade bread crumbs. Keep in the freezer until you are ready to use them. It’s so much less expensive than buying pricy packaged bread crumbs at the store.
These are only a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. There are so many things you can do with leftovers—other than simply heat up and repeat the same old dinner. Do half the work, and serve up a new scrumptious meal by not banishing these morsels to the back of your fridge!