Sunday, September 15, 2013

Vintage Values: Cooking with Leftovers

I really hate wasting food. But let's be honest, leftovers can often be...unappetizing at best, gross and moldy at worst. Being a thrifty homemaker is almost impossible without finding something to do with these though. So let's talk about how to use leftovers in a more yummy way.
Fruit getting mushy? Blend it and freeze into popsicles. Even if you have enough to only make one, itll be worth it ;)

Good leftovers really start with good shopping and menu planning. I never make a casserole, stew, or gumbo as a recipe from raw ingredients. These things were developed to use up small bits of leftover and help them go further, and that's exactly what I do. So my menu would look something like:
          Monday: Pork Roast with potatoes and grilled veggies
          Tuesday: Pork roast casserole with veggies and egg noodles in a cheese sauce
         Wednesday: Pork Stew with leftover veggies, egg noodles, potatoes in beef broth.
Not all meals will last for three days. Depending on our hunger level, whether we eat things for lunch or dinner, and how much meat I buy. Generally though, most meat will last at least two days.

When you're shopping, it's important to not just think WHAT you're buying, but what quantities. For instance, we love to have cooked greens, but they rarely, if ever, get eaten as leftovers. So when I buy then, I'm sure to buy JUST ENOUGH for one meal. The same thing for salads. I cannot get my family to re-eat a salad for more than 2 meals, so I never buy more than 1/2lb of loose leaf lettuce at one time. Not only does this help my grocery bill up front, it also helps prevent throwing out food just cause no one eats it.

Small leftover amounts of stock, sauces, cooking juice, or gravy can always be easily frozen in ice trays or leftover jars. I never throw out cooking juice from pans, its perfect to give leftovers a boost.

This goes the other way for some other foods though. Corn, tomatoes, beets, carrots, and others are so easy to pop into something else that I make sure to cook more of them up front. Honey roasted beets and carrots can be easily chopped up and added to a bit of tomato sauce, garlic, onion, and balsamic vinegar to make pasta.
Speaking of buying larger amounts, be sure to keep things like pasta, rice, couscous, potatoes, and any other kind of grain/starch on hand. It's amazing how good some meals like pot roast can taste cold on a sandwich.

Pot roast done gone to heaven

When it comes to meat, the biggest piece you can but teach yourself and your family to eat less. People in the U.S. tend to over-eat quite a bit with meat. Really, an adult male only need 3oz. a day. That means a piece about the size of your palm once a day. If you want meat for lunch and dinner, halve that size. Children need even less than this. And if you plan on making a stew or gumbo, be sure to keep the bone! It adds flavor. MetaGiven's has this to say about meat: "Have a butcher saw a small whole ham in two and cut two half-inch steaks from the center to be broiled for the first night's dinner. For the next day, roast the butt end. Another day, prepare a broiled dinner with the shank end, or cut off thin slices to pan broil for breakfast or for sandwiches, and finally, use the bone for bean or pea soup."

So your weekly meal should be built like this to utilize and make it last:
Day 1: Small piece of meat, mostly veggies, small side of grain/starch
Day 2: Leftover meat diced and added to veggies, large amount of grain/starch
Day 3: All leftover meats, veggies, and grain/starch cooked in broth for gumbo or stew (Here's how to make a wonderful gumbo).

You know how to utilize thanksgiving leftovers, now apply that to your daily cooking.

As I said before, your meal may not make it this far. But that's not a bad thing. Your first emphasis should be not wasting food, and your second should be stretching meals. Ending with a stew that's mostly veggies and grains is perfect for our family, since this is the only way my children and husband will accept a protein-less meal. If all the meat is gone, I just add in beans or mushrooms instead.

Here are some more tips from MetaGivens:
"A small rubber scrapper should be used to remove every trace of batter, dough, or sauce, etc., from bowls and pans before they are placed in the sink for washing. Dry bread, rolls, and cake should be made into crumbs instead of being discarded or allowed to mold. The good outer envelope leaves of cabbage, lettuce should be saved and added to spinach or other cooked greens. Fruits or vegetables should be pared as thinly as possible, if at all. Chicken feet and necks, as well as other parts of the animal  carcass, even though they may contain little visible meat, may be used for preparing delicious soups."

Really, ou can put about anything in broth and it will taste amazing.

And the most important thing to remember with leftovers is to check your fridge and pantry often. It is incredibly easy to forget what you have, what quantities, and how old it is. There's nothing so frustrating as reaching for leftovers and seeing that they're moldy and should've been used many days ago. Cooking well and being thrifty doesn't take much time, but it does take some thought.

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