Leftovers are a minimalist cook’s bff. Next time you have randoms in yo fridge, stop! Don’t toss. Read the why, how, when and what of leftover meals first.
I intended to post this last week, since I’m trying to stick to a regular bi-weekly blogging schedule, but I couldn’t bring myself to write about something as trivial as food when THAT happened. Of course, I’m not American but as a citizen of the, umm, world, let’s just say that I (along with many, many others) had a vested interest in the outcome of the US election. And so I watched, at first in anticipation, and then progressively in disbelief as the map on the live Google feed became more and more red.
No matter what side you were on, or who you would have voted for (had you had the privilege), I think we can all agree that it was a shock, the never-in-a-million-years kinda event that actually DOES comes true. And seeing as THAT happened, I can only imagine that it opens the door to other never-in-a-million-years type events. Whether it’s big things—like a women as POTUS (Michelle in 2020 perhaps?)—or small things—like Tim Hortons coming to Australia, or cauliflower dropping to less than $5 a head—a girl can dream.
But in the meantime, a girl’s gotta eat cuz that’s the funny thing about life—sure, you can take a timeout, but it’ll be right there waiting for you when you decide to come back. And so here we are, back in the saddle, talking about my second favourite topic (after meal planning, duh): wasting food. Or more importantly, NOT wasting food.
The minimalist approach to leftovers
For me, minimizing our food waste on a weekly basis is almost as important as putting a healthy dinner on the table every night. That’s one of the (many) reasons why I meal plan on the regular. When done correctly (as in, actually cooking what you plan to eat), meal planning means food waste is kept to a minimum…without really trying too hard. Still, no one is perfect and inevitably, you’ll get to the place where the fridge has a few odds and ends that need a home.
In this situation, it’s tempting to just toss everything out and start anew. But trust me—those leftover ingredients are an effortless meal waiting to happen (minus the gross stuff that really does need to hit the garbage). Sure, you may not be able to save everything, but you’ll make progress. And progress is what counts.
When should you attempt leftover meals?
Cooking with leftovers is a bit like Chopped, aka the Food Network tv show where contestants get a random basket of ingredients and need to turn it into something edible in 30 minutes. If you’ve been following along, this s the second time the tv show has come up on tha blog, the first being when I said that facing a “Chopped situation” is not super fun on a Tuesday after work and a commute.
That sentiment still holds true. As in, on the daily, you really don’t want to be in a situation where you have zero plan for your ingredients. That’s exhausting and most of the time, means you bail on dinner and get takeout or eat cereal instead. That’s why I (typically) only tackle leftover meals on weekends or right before I’m due to go grocery shopping again. In these situations, I’m either deliberately trying to clean out the fridge and/or didn’t have a game plan in the first place, so taking random things from the fridge and turning them into something delicious is actually fun. It’s all about context, k?
How to turn random ingredients into leftover meals
Not that there is much of a process here, but for those of us who love steps, here are 4 to creating easy leftover meals.
Step 1: Collect your ingredients.
When targeting leftovers, you’re looking for ingredients in your fridge that don’t have a home (yet), and that might go to waste otherwise. These are the usual suspects:
- Halves or partials (think half cut fruit/veg)
- Food that will go bad very soon (but haven’t gone bad…yet)
- Cooked leftovers from the week (think mashed potatoes or meat)
- Ingredients from meal prep (think cooked grains or pre-chopped veg)
Step 2: Scope out your fridge and pantry.
If you’re not intimately familiar with the contents of your fridge and pantry (as I am), then do a quick scan to see what else you’ve got to turn your randoms into a leftover meal.
Important! We’re only interested in items that you already have in yo kitchen. No last minute grocery trips here to make this work—leftover meals should be deliciously easy and quick. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Step 3: Stop. Look. Think. (for, like 10 seconds)
Once you know what you’re working with, let your brain go to work. You’ll start to see what goes together and ultimately figure out what meal you’re going to make. Again, the goal is not to use every. single. ingredient. in the one dish. The goal is progress.
For me, 9 times out of 10 my brain will choose my faves—ie. pizza (if it’s dinner), or a frittata (if it’s brunch). Boring? Maybe. But leftover meals are not a time to stress about expanding your recipe repertoire, mmm k? Your go-tos are nature’s way of keeping you efficient so don’t fight it if you find yourself cooking the same leftover meals.
Step 4: Cook and repeat.
With your ingredients and your idea, you’re ready to roll. As for the randoms that didn’t make the cut? No fear. I deliberately use these leftover ingredients as inspiration for next week’s meal plan and try to use them up that way (assuming, of course, they haven’t hit their expiry date).
The end result is a magical loop where you’re constantly and EFFORTLESSLY using up random ingredients, which not only leads to easy leftover meals, but minimizes food waste as well. #winwin
Ten easy ideas for leftover meals
If you’re not used to cooking with leftovers, here are TEN ideas to turn random ingredients into delicious leftover meals.
You’ll notice that these aren’t recipes per se and that’s deliberate—when you clean out the fridge, you’re winging it a bit and that’s part of the adventure. Take a basic recipe that you already know and use the ingredients that you have to fill in the gaps. Two magical things will happen: 1) you’ll waste less food and 2) you’ll add some variety to yo’ dinner. How easy is that?
Ok, so here we go, in no particular order…
- Pizza: I totally lied when I said “no particular order” because pizza is always #1 in my books. Beautiful dough (whether store bought or homemade) is the perfect canvas for whatever random veggies, herbs, meats, CHEESES and other fridge or pantry items (think olives, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, etc.) you have laying around. If you’re still afraid of making your own pizza, know this: it will change your opinion of what pizza can be fore-evah (and wait until you make your own dough—ohmygawd).
- Soup: One of my second loves, and a staple in my lunchtime rotation, is the not-so-humble soup. Again, choose your base (maybe brothy, tomato-y or creamy) and throw in whatever veggies you can find. Pantry staples like rice, beans or even pasta can help to add bulk and cheese never hurts as a topping, non?
- Sandwich: Soup’s bff is totally sandwich, and it’s equally flexible when it comes to random fridge ingredients. Is it just me or are men, in particular, totally skilled when it comes to turning ANYTHING into a sandwich? When in doubt, ask a man to fix you up a sammy and he’ll totally sort you out.
- Salad: The “s” theme continues with salad. Obviously veggies and herbs are the primary targets here, buts lots of good toppings can be lurking in the fridge and pantry as well (see pizza list above).
- Mexican: Ok, ok, so this is an entire cuisine but I really just couldn’t choose. From tacos, to burritos, enchiladas, and even nachos, the Mexican portfolio is packed with options to help you handle your fridge situ.
- Stir fry: Are stir fries still cool? I dunno but I still like ’em. Take any veggies you got hanging around, add leftover protein, make a quick sauce (or just soy sauce if you’re in a rush) and serve over somefin. What’s not to love about that?
- Bowl food: What list would be complete without mentioning food in bowls. Not only are they super trendy, BUT also a great excuse to turn random ingredients into something delicious. Tie it with a sauce and dinner really couldn’t be any simpler.
- Stuffed potatoes: As a proud potato lover, stuffed potatoes, regular or sweet, are a perfect dinner to 1) indulge in my love of spuds and 2) clean out the fridge with random goodness. You can also create a more DYI situ with a “build your own potato” bar if you prefer—remember that the potato is a friend to all, whether veggies, beans, cheese, etc., so you’re in for a good time. Just remember to cut them in half lengthwise, otherwise you’re looking at 1+ hours to bake. After work, ain’t nobody got time for that.
- Appetizer/snack platter: As you already know, I’ll take any excuse to eat appetizer for dinner. It’s not just fun but it can be healthy if you do it right—ie. balance the veggies, meats, cheeses, carbs, dips (!), other random fridge items (again, see pizza list) and pantry items (think nuts, dried fruit). Do that and dinner is served.
- Frittata: If there’s one thing I’m likely most known for in my family, at least when it comes to “clean out the fridge” recipes, it’s actually the humble frittata. Without fail, every family holiday I will make a frittata to deal with the leftover situ that has inevitably taken over the fridge. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.
Well folks, sorry for the long post but you now know:
- why leftover meals rock (less waste! easy dinners!)
- how to turn random ingredients into leftover meals
- when to tackle leftover meals
- what types of dinners make good leftovers meals
So…are you a fan of leftovers? If yes, what are you favourite leftover meals to clean out the fridge? Lemme know!