Higher Food Prices, So What: Elevating Leftovers to Gourmet Status!

Fifth in a series on food prices. The first is here. The second is here. The Third is here. The fourth is here:
By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau
Rising food prices may have put your food budget in a squeeze, but it’s still one of the best places to find flexibility compared to other areas of the family budget. With the right approach, it’s possible to put great meals on the family dinner table without busting the budget. And one place to stretch your food dollars is with leftovers.
Don’t stop reading just yet. Leftovers don’t deserve the reputation we’ve given them over the years. In fact, some of our expert cooks in Arizona Farm Bureau have some great strategies they employ with leftovers. We share them in this article.
In addition to all the other smart shopping strategies you’ve already employed (see our Fill Your Plate blog for more food saving strategies), some basic strategies for using leftovers means more stretch and flexibility in your food dollar and more innovation in your kitchen.
First Things First
  1. Resolve to spend a bit more time in the kitchen (make it a family affair by involving everyone).
  2. Create a week’s menu resolving to use your leftovers.
  3. Always work from a shopping list.
  4. Keep the week’s menu displayed in the kitchen to remember what’s in the refrigerator.
  5. Resolve to pass up expensive foods, snacks and too much processed food.
Don’t Throw it Out; Think it Out
Tossing out leftovers is like tossing out money. Our Arizona Farm Bureau families suggest turning last night's pasta into today's pasta salad; or combine leftover potatoes, chicken and vegetables for a simple and savory pot pie. Our farm and ranch families suggest there are plenty of creative ways you can reinvent leftovers and save money, while providing your family with a tasty meal that will bring everyone together at the dinner table.
  • First, adjust the portion size of your recipes when needed. If you’re not making a meal for 6 but instead 2, then make appropriate adjustments. Adjusting portions might help you avoid leftovers altogether.
  • Use leftovers within 2 to 3 days unless you plan to freeze your leftovers.
  • And regarding freezing, split your meals in half by eating half and freezing the other. This is a common practice and works wonderfully for pasta dishes like ziti or lasagna. Always keep freezer bags or freezer containers on hand.
  • Don’t forget to freeze leftover vegetables. Do this even if you have a few spoonfuls of peas leftover. Our producer growers suggest you do this with all your vegetables. Then, the next time you have soup, whether you make it yourself or open a can, throw those peas or other vegetables in your soup during the last few minutes of cooking. Add your leftover veggies to stews, mashed potatoes, even throw some leftover broccoli, peppers or onions into scrambled eggs.
  • Add flavor and protein with budget-saving ground meat. Ground sausage, chicken, turkey or beef are great to buy in bulk. You can divide your purchase up into one pound portions and freeze them so you can use them as you please. An endless array of leftovers can be made from leftover meat. Some of our beef producers suggest leftover steak can be sliced into a salad you make the next day. Stretch soups and stews by including scraps of meat you’ve “collected” in the freezer. Use leftover chicken or ground beef on pizza or in spaghetti sauce. Even if you are using a jar of spaghetti sauce, you can throw in your leftovers since all leftover meat tastes great in sauce.
  • Scour your cookbooks and online resources, like Fill Your Plate, for budget-friendly meals. Arizona Farm Bureau’s Fill Your Plate website has a searchable recipe section with recipes from Arizona farm and ranch families that know how to stretch their food dollars.
  • Make a conscious effort to eat leftovers. Pack them for your lunch. In fact, pack your lunch for the next day as you’re cleaning up from dinner.
  • Always put leftover in clear containers and place them in the front of the refrigerator so they don’t get forgotten.
Elevating Leftovers to Gourmet Status!
One of our Fill Your Plate farmers, Catherine “The Herb Lady” Cowley, reminds us that in the cookbooks from the 30s and 40s using leftovers was a large part of the recipes and they were referred to as “Made Over.”
So Catherine shares her two favorite recipes where “made over” ingredients really make the meal.
  1. soup
  2. stir-fry morning eggs (or any time of the day)
Soup:  When you have leftover grilled steak or any roasted meat, bring broth to a boil (a homemade chicken broth but any good quality will work) the meat is very thinly sliced (about a 1/4 cup each) and placed in the soup bowls along with about a 1/4 cup or so of shredded kale or arugula (or greens of choice).  Pour the boiling broth over the meat and greens.  Do it this way so the soup can be eaten immediately and you do not have to wait until it cools down. Added pasta is an option, as well as any leftover roasted vegetables.
Morning Eggs with Leftovers: Any spaghetti or pasta dish, cooked vegetables (even left over fries or onion rings), chopped up make a good base for an egg stir fry.
Heat a large enough frying pan with a table spoon or two of olive oil, place the leftovers in a shallow layer (don't fill the pan too much - if feeding a large group, make separate batches).  On medium to high heat, heat the leftovers through, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile beat up 1 large or jumbo egg (or 2 medium) per person.  Make a well in the center of the pan and add the eggs.  Immediately start to stir the eggs in the center, expanding your circle to begin including the pasta and veggies. Continue combining until the eggs are cooked through strands or crumble.  Serve with toast and fresh fruit.
Another Fill Your Plate farmer, Kacie Tomerlin of Arizona Legacy Beef, gives us tips on using leftovers. And, for her it’s all about the beef!
Tomerlin advices us to cook a four-pound roast in the slow cooker all day with some veggies and come home to a delicious meal.  After dinner, shred the left over roast and you have the makings for enchiladas or tacos the next night.  Season the shredded meat with cumin and chili powder for a spicy meal and create your Mexican dish. 
If you had left over veggies you could freeze them or use them in a quick egg stir fry in the morning for a great balanced meal.  Eggs are the ultimate fast food.
Finally, Peggy Jo Goodfellow, mother of 2 and Arizona Farm Bureau’s marketing manager, has some favorite leftover options with chili.
  • Warm the chili, then pour on top of a baked potato and sprinkle with grated cheese.
  • Thin the chili with one can of tomato sauce, heat and pour over rice or noodles.
  • Pour warm chili onto Fresh bread that is sliced lengthwise, add mushrooms, olives and grated cheese. Broil until bread is slightly browned and cheese is melted for a chili pizza.
You can take leftovers and elevate to gourmet status with just a little bit of creativity. The trick is to plan your entire week’s menu dedicating at least one or two of those days to leftovers. So, don’t let these current food prices intimidate you anymore. Your kitchen is the place for creativity!