Leftovers, they get such a bad rap. I personally think this is due to a couple issues but before we get to the issues let me just say leftovers are a state of mind. Rather than leftovers we could think of them as homemade preprepared meals, or maybe tv dinners from scratch if that’s more your thing, or here’s a radical idea…what if they were intentional and planned.
The picture above was my lunch today. Yup, I am still eating Thanksgiving “leftovers” but here’s the thing I planned to and it does take planning. This was just as delicious as the first day I had it and it might have even been better. You learn a lot when you cook if you just pay a little more attention and apply what you learn.
So let’s talk about the problems. First and foremost there’s the texture. It doesn’t matter how good or bad it looks, if it tastes bad, no one will want it. Then lets face it how it looks is important. Oh, and finally ending up with odds and ends leaves you with things that no longer make a meal. Now let’s fix these issues.
Texture – Learning how to warm food is just as critical as how to cook food. I don’t know anything that actually tastes good when you pop it in the microwave on full wack. It dries out, it gets rubbery, heck it might even change color or melt into nothing. If you do find the microwave does reheat well, here are some tips.
Tip #1 – lower the power and microwave longer. This almost always saves a dish from turning rubbery. (Also invest the $5 for one of those microwave plate covers.
Tip #2 – If it’s crunchy don’t microwave it. Use a toaster oven or if it’s fried have that be the one thing you do while your food is reheating. (My onion topping I fried every time I served this.)
Tip #3 – Most sauces do better with gentle reheating rather than fast and hot. Over heating can cause a sauce to split. This one gets a little tricky but I have found that reheating in a controlled water bath like in a sous vide set up is ideal. If you don’t have this and want to do it in the microwave just remember to always reheat sauces on their own. If it’s a cream sauce and it does split. Add a little fresh cream or milk just to get it to come together again. This works like a charm every time.
Bonus tip – If you do happen to have a sous vide this is a phenomenal way to reheat cooked meat. Either using the water displacement trick or a vaccum sealer, place the meat in the bag, seal, and place in the sous vide. Since the meat is already cooked you’re not looking to cook it just rewarm it. I like 150º f for about 30 – 45 minutes. This is how I rewarmed my turkey so it didn’t dry out.
As for how it looks. Take an extra minute and place your food on the plate, bowl, or whatever, and serve it the way you did when you originally made it. This is also a good time to play around with how it’s plated if you didn’t like how you did it the first night. Remember we eat with our eyes first. It needs to look appealing.
Finally let’s talk planning. When I cook a meal it’s just for my husband and I. The grater majority of recipes is for four or more people. Rather than trying to rework every recipe to make just two servings I make the meal, weigh each component (making a note of the total weight), after weighing all the components I then divide them all by the number of servings I plan on doing. This ensures every serving gets the same amount of everything and nothing is left without something. I also make notes of if something is too much or not enough so when I go to make the recipe again I know what needs tweaking. Knowing that I need 1 ounce of cream sauce for my green beans per serving tells me how to increase or decrease the amount of sauce to make next year based on the number of people I have for the meal. All this ensures, week after week I am never left with leftovers because all of the servings are a planned meal at some point during the week. (At this point I have yet to shop or plan for a meal, let alone cook one, since Thanksgiving! For that I really am Thankful!
To put lunch together today all I had to do was turn on my sous vide to 150º f 30 minutes before lunch. I added the vacuum sealed bag of turkey, the squeeze bottle of gravy and the one of the cream sauce. At the time I also preheated the deep fryer. I went about what I was doing. Then at lunch I microwaved the potatoes at 60% power for 3 minutes and lightly toasted the dinner rolls so they were nice and warm. While the potatoes were warming I tossed my pre-sliced onions in some flour real quick and popped them in the fryer. At that time I preheated my wok. I pulled the onions out of the fryer as they only need maybe a minute to cook. I let them drain and tossed my pre-bagged servings of green beans and mushrooms in the wok. I gave them a quick stir-fry added some stock to create steam and covered the wok. I removed the squeeze bottles from the sous vide. I took the lid off the wok, turned it off and served up the green beans. I then gave them a hit of cream sauce and topped with the onions. I then served up the potatoes and gravy and at the very last second I pulled the bag of turkey out cut it open and put one disc on each plate. This sounds like a lot of work but it took maybe 5-7 minutes of actual work and for this meal that’s well worth it.
Final thought – One advantage to eating a meal over and over is that flavors really have time to come together and harmonize. So where this dish was amazing on Thanksgiving the flavors have really married and bloomed with the time they have had since then.