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Category: Kitchen: Meal Planning

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Creative Makeovers for Leftovers

By Brandie Valenzuela

As a young child, there was never leftovers in our home. We were lucky if there was enough to fill all of the tummies at our table. So, when I married, I vowed to always cook enough to fill the bellies of my family and guests. I am sure those bellies have been full over the years, but my fridge has also been full -- full of leftovers because I tend to always cook too much.

When you frequently have leftovers in your refrigerator, you have three options. One choice is to learn to not cook too much food so you won't have the leftovers. The second choice is to continue to have leftovers, but regularly throw them out because no one wants to eat them. A third option is to find ways to creatively use up those leftovers in other meals. For the past 14 years of my marriage I have went with option three. I cook extra food fairly regularly and have learned how to use up all of the excess.

Here are some ideas:

COOKED RICE: If you have enough leftover rice, you can make a wonderful rice pudding or fried rice. If you have a small amount, mix it into ground beef for your next meatloaf or into your meatballs. You can also add it to canned soup, such as cream of tomato, or mix it into a salad.

PASTA: Heat leftover pasta in a pan with some butter or margarine and parmesan cheese...delicious side dish!

MEATLOAF: Crumbled meatloaf can be used in any meal calling for cooked ground beef, such as tacos.

BAKED BEANS: This summer I made a large batch of homemade baked beans for a family get-together, and I had quite a bit of leftovers. To makeover the baked beans, I put them in the crockpot with 1 lb. of cooked ground beef, a large can of crushed tomatoes, and chili seasoning to make chili.

BREAD: If your bread is getting a little stale, consider letting it dry out to make your own breadcrumbs. Another option is to make french toast with day-old bread. Just follow your usual recipe, and then place the french toast on a cookie sheet and "flash freeze" in your freezer. When frozen, remove and place in a freezer-suitable container for easy breakfast any morning.

HAMBURGER/HOTDOG BUNS: Do you have just one or two buns left in the package? Freeze them each time you do, and when you have several saved up, make cheesy toast with them. Just remove them from the freezer, let them thaw slightly (no need to be fully thawed), separate the top from the bottom, spread with soft margarine or butter and top with parmesan cheese. Broil until lightly brown in your broiler.

ROAST: Leftover roast can be used in a variety of ways, but my favorite way is to cook it in a crockpot with seasonings until you are able to shred it. I then use it to make shredded beef tacos.

STEAK: Much like the roast above, I enjoy using leftover steak by slicing it very thin, cooking it in a pan with sliced green bell pepper and onion, adding some fajita seasoning and making fajitas.

BAKED POTATOES: Never waste your extra baked potatoes! If you only have one or two, they are excellent cut up and fried in a pan. If you have several extras, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the pulp. Place the potato pulp in a bowl and add any of the following until light and fluffy: milk, margarine/butter, shredded cheese, cheddar cheese soup, chives, bacon, sour cream. Place the mixture back into the potatoes shells and top with additional shredded cheese, if desired. Place in oven until hot for yummy twice baked potatoes. If you prefer, freeze your twice baked potatoes in the freezer for a meal another day.

Still want another option? Leftover baked potatoes are perfect for making Baked Potato Soup:

1 stick butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/3 cup flour
2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/3 cups potatoe flakes
2/3 cups milk
2/3 cups heavy cream
3 medium potatoes (baked)
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional toppings: shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, Saute' onions in butter and add flour, stirring constantly. Add water and chicken stock and keep at medium heat. Set aside. To onions mixture add potato flakes, milk, and heavy cream; let simmer. Cut baked potatoes into bite sized chunks, add to soup and heat until all ingredients are heated. Add salt and pepper as desired. Serve topped with cheese and bacon, if desired.

MASHED POTATOES: Mashed potatoes can easily be madeover. Here is a page full of dessert recipes that use leftover mashed potatoes:

TURKEY OR CHICKEN: Leftover turkey and chicken is one of the most versatile leftovers. By using just meat (removing bone and skin), you can make sandwiches with the meat sliced, chicken or turkey salad sandwiches, or even make enchiladas or tacos. I have also made a delicious turkey/chicken noodle soup by boiling the bones that still have some meat left on them. I carefully remove all of the bones, and then add carrots, onion, peas, and potato and cook until tender. Add egg noodles and cook until done.

STALE CEREAL: Just about any cereal, even Capt. Crunch, can be used to coat chicken. Just crush the cereal well, dip your chicken pieces in an egg wash, and roll in the crushed cereal. Bake according to your favorite oven baked chicken recipe.

HAM: About once or twice a year, our family enjoys a nice ham for dinner. We always have leftovers, most of which get used on sandwiches, but I always save some of the ham for a casserole and/or my

Split Pea Soup:

1 lb. dry split green peas
2 quarts of water (8 cups)
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely copped
1 tsp. salt
2 cups ham, chopped

Rinse and drain peas. Combine with ingredients in pot. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer on low heat for 1 hour or until nearly  smooth, stirring occasionally. Makes 8 servings.

Brandie Valenzuela is a wife and homeschooling mom of three, who loves scrapbooking, cooking, and spending time with her family.   In her spare time, she publishes "HomeMade Living", a popular weblog for mothers, at


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Category: Kitchen: Meal Planning

Related Links:  | Recipes | Frugal Tips | Barbecue | Dessert | Fruit | Homemade |
 | Meal Planning | Meat | Organization | Sauces | Veggies |

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