Monday, January 13, 2014

Being Smart About Leftovers (and a semi-homemade meat-sauce recipe)

Since I'm hitting the road for a special trip in a few days, I'm trying to be smart with our recent leftovers. Though my hubby is a great cook, he isn't into the routine of preparing dinner every night.  A few nights of leftovers might come in handy while I'm gone.

Some of our dinners are delicious as leftovers.  Others, not so much.  Some are easy re-dos at home, but would never "fly" in a lunch-box.  To get the biggest bang for my buck, I try not to just "auto-pilot" our leftovers straight into the refrigerator.  Instead, I like to think about how they are likely to be used.

  • Will the leftovers be used for packed lunches?  If so, take the time after dinner to divide them up into plastic containers that will fit in lunch-bags/boxes.
  • Will the leftovers need to be reheated in a double-boiler?  I like chicken casseroles reheated this way, as I think the microwave tends to make reheated chicken taste like rubber.  If you will reheat this way, you might think about a larger plastic container that will hold all of the leftovers until it's time for the double-boiler.
  • Will the leftovers be reheated in the microwave?  If so, you might want to transfer leftovers immediately to a microwaveable container to save having to do it later.
  • Is it likely that the leftovers will be used within the next few days?  If not, consider freezing.  A great example of this for our family is spaghetti sauce*.  I have a standard sauce I make, and it's always way more than we need for one dinner, but... I've learned that nobody is likely to want it again the next day.  Rather than let it go to waste waiting in the fridge, I've learned to freeze the remaining sauce immediately after dinner.  It's always enough for a second round for our family, and I try to take advantage of it on a day when I don't have time to cook.
  • Regardless of how the leftovers will be used, don't refrigerate in cooking pans.  There are two reasons for this.  The cooking pans take up more room in the fridge than stackable plastic containers -and- you will likely need those pans in a day or two.  You might as well clean them out and wash them up sooner rather than later.
  • Remember the rules about freezing meat.  Never freeze raw or cooked meat twice.  I've heard that this is really more of a quality issue than a safety issue as I'd originally thought.  Either way, I'm not willing to take the chance.
What are your best leftover tips?

Since I mentioned it above, I thought I'd share the easy-peasy recipe for our family's favorite meat-sauce.  I guess it would fall into the "semi-homemade" category.  It's just the right combination of flavors and spice for us.  If you're curious about the addition of tomato paste, we like how it thickens up the sauce.

* Our Favorite Meat-Sauce for Spaghetti

1 lb. ground round
1 can  Hunts "traditional" spaghetti sauce (26.5 oz.)
1  can tomato paste (6 oz.)
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

Brown ground round, and drain off the grease.  Add spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, and garlic.  Mix well, cook over medium-high heat until bubbly, and then simmer a while longer.  The longer you let it simmer, the more delicious it becomes!


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