Fresh-Tasting Leftovers

by Jane Wangersky | March 6th, 2014 | Cooking Basics

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few days ago I was overwhelmed with leftovers. It happens to all of us from time to time. Somebody doesn’t make it home to dinner, or somebody’s appetite suddenly falls off, or whatever. Anyway, you’ve got a fridge full of cold food, and nobody, including yourself, is going to want to eat it if all you do is reheat it in the microwave.

So what do you do?

The first thing to do is see what you have that’ll go together. I had lots of leftover chicken thighs, some of them cooked with tomato sauce and some cooked without it. I brushed tomato sauce on the ones that didn’t have any, and I had enough chicken-with-tomato for a meal.

Next I knew I was going to have to add something freshly cooked — and there’s nothing like baking to add that touch. I went back to a recipe I clipped from Redbook magazine in 1989, for Chicken on a Cloud. This uses a ratio of one egg to half a cup of milk and a third of a cup of flour, plus about a third of a teaspoon each of baking powder and salt, to make a batter. Two portions of this are enough for a pound or so of chicken. (This batter is so basic, you can throw in any seasoning that’ll go with the chicken.) I arranged the chicken pieces in a greased shallow glass dish, poured the batter around them, and put the whole thing in the oven at 450 for about 25 minutes.

If what you’ve got on hand is boneless meat instead, you could make a sauce or gravy for it, then top it with fresh biscuit dough and bake. Or you could roll the biscuit dough — or bread dough, or pizza dough — into a rectangle, cover it with the meat, roll up like a jelly roll, and cut into slices about an inch thick. Then bake the slices on a greased cookie sheet for at 450 for 10 to 15 minutes.

Freshly cooked rice can also bring new life to leftover meat and vegetables. If there hadn’t been enough chicken, I would’ve thought of using a combination of chicken and ham or sausage, heated up in a risotto or jambalaya as it cooked. Look up these dishes, and you’ll get the feeling that in spite of their exotic reputations, they were invented as ways to use up what the cook had on hand.

If you don’t have time to cook up anything fresh to liven up your leftovers, don’t worry — something spicy can do the job too. But that’s another article.

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