Option 1: Cook something for ourselves, knowing that we’ll spend 30 minutes preparing the food, 15 minutes eating it and another 15 minutes doing the dishes (including the ones left in the sink from three days ago, which now have to be cleaned to make room for the new ones).
Option 2: Drag some leftovers out of the fridge and reheat them in the microwave.
Option 3: Order some greasy takeout, or get in the car and hit the drive-thru for even greasier takeout.
Thankfully I am past this stage, but I remember it well. None of your choices are all that great, and you have to deal with them every night. Having a roommate doesn’t really help, unless you find one that likes to cook. Other than finding a beautiful Italian woman named Francesca to move in and make you tortellini every night, what’s a man to do?
Here are three suggestions for reinvigorating common leftovers:
Macaroni and Cheese
At some point in life, usually somewhere in college, most people subsist for a time on a diet of mac and cheese. It’s cheap, easy to make, and very flexible in terms of things you can add to it. It also turns into a gummy yellowish substance only vaguely resembling food when you leave it in the fridge overnight (and that’s if you cover it- it’s worse if you leave it out). You can reheat it in the microwave, but I still find the result mostly inedible.
The key to salvaging leftover mac and cheese lies in one key concept: sauce. Take a jar of your favorite tomato sauce and slather it over the leftover macaroni. Then cook it for 1:30-2:00 in the microwave. There’s no need to heat the sauce beforehand; the microwave will take care of that.
The moisture from the sauce will seep down into the noodles and soften them back up. The tomato sauce will add some flavor, since second-day macaroni lacks that warm gooiness of the first eating. If you want to spend a little extra time, you can sprinkle some cheese or cut up a few tomatoes to go on top.
A similar principle works with chili. Add some chili, either from a can or your own recipe, to the leftover noodles. Mix it up and pop it in the microwave. It will soften, add flavor and usually give you heartburn.
I’ve never tried this with other sauces, but I see no reason why it wouldn’t work. An alfredo sauce might add an interesting flavor. You could try a nacho cheese covering, or even a tzatziki sauce (a Greek yogurt sauce used on kebabs).
Whatever you try, you can probably have it ready in one commercial break, and definitely during halftime.
I love cold pizza as much as the next man, and it makes a great breakfast. Still, there are times when I want something hot for dinner, to at least provide some illusion of having a real meal.
Sauce doesn’t work as well for pizza. You can go that route, but you have to eat it with a fork, and cutting through a reheated crust can be difficult. We need something that lets you still eat it like a proper slice but still provides some moisture and flavor.
I like to take a big block of cheddar cheese and grate a big pile of it over the cold pizza. Smooth it out and put it in the microwave until the cheese melts. The grease from the cheese will sink down into the slice and make everything almost as hot and gooey as when you took it out of the box.
There are many things sadder than seeing a pair of cold dry chicken breasts languishing in the refrigerator, but that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant. This is another situation where the microwave just dries things out, leaving you with tasteless dry chicken.
Here I like to combine the idea of the cheese and the sauce. Take a slice of mozzarella, or grate some cheddar over the cold breast. Then, smother the whole thing with alfredo sauce. When you put that combination in the microwave, you’ll be surprised at how tender and juicy it makes the leftover chicken. The grease from the cheese sinks down into the meat, and the layer of sauce keeps the juices from escaping and keeps everything moist.
I often have chicken with fettuccine alfredo. You can serve it with the chicken separate of cut and mixed in with the noodles, but be sure to store it with the chicken and the noodles separate. If you store them together, the chicken will suck up the moisture, and you will be left with an indeterminate gray sludge that will be hard to reclaim.
These are just a few ideas I use to liven up leftovers. I’m sure there are many more. The key for me has always been to add something like sauce or grated cheese that will keep the food moist when you reheat it. If nothing else, it should help you resuscitate a few of those leftovers, and stave off a few trips through the drive-thru.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for Francesca.
Image Credit: Mary, Mary Quite Contrary