A little creativity turns lame leftovers into mouth-watering meals

By JOHANNA HICKS | Hopkins County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences

July 10, 2005 -- Do you want to know the secret to spending less time in the kitchen and saving money? The answer is in your refrigerator. Turn your leftovers into great tasting meals by using a little creativity. It is OK to eat the same meal for dinner 2 days in a row. Cooking is simple on the second or third day. Just heat and serve! You can also cook up some unique and great tasting meals by combining ingredients. Here are a few examples:

1) Better Beans -- Combine with cooked hamburger meat, sprinkle with grated cheese, and serve over rice or spread on tortillas.

2) Tomorrow's Tacos -- Slice leftover chicken, steak or roast into strips. Stir fry with onion and green pepper strips. Serve on tortillas with chopped lettuce, tomatoes and salsa.

3) Easy Hamburger and Noodles -- Brown hamburger and diced onions in a skillet. Add a can of tomatoes and leftover macaroni and cheese. Heat and eat!

4) Chicken and Biscuits -- Combine 1 to 2 cups of chopped leftover chicken with a can of cream of chicken soup, 1/2 can of water and 1/4 cup shredded carrots. Spread into a casserole dish. Top with biscuits and bake at 350 degrees until biscuits are lightly browned.

5) Vegetable soup -- Save all your leftover vegetables (corn, green beans, carrots, etc.), even if it's only a spoonful. Put them together with some chicken broth and seasonings for a great soup. (Freeze leftover vegetables until you've accumulated enough.)

Create your own combinations. Leftover meats are a great bonus! Chicken, beef, hamburger and turkey can be used to make casseroles, enchiladas, tacos, stir frys, soups, sandwiches and chili. Here's a recipe to get you started:

TOMATO VEGETABLE SOUP

1 (46 ounce) can tomato juice

2 to 3 cups bite size vegetables and meat

2 cups cooked rice or noodles

1/2 teaspoon basil

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered for 20 minutes. This recipe is a great source of vitamins, fiber and lycopene.

 

Keep in mind safety when using leftovers. Refrigerate them as soon as possible, keeping in mind the 2-hour rule -- discard anything left at room temperature for more than two hours. Bacteria can double between the temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees. This is known as the danger zone.

Bring food home from the restaurant as soon as possible, and store leftover foods in airtight containers with lids. Use leftover foods within three to four days, or freeze them. In the freezer, cooked soups and stews will keep two to three months; cooked hamburger, meat casseroles, and meatloaf will keep two to three months; cooked chicken will keep four months; cooked ham will keep one to two months; and cooked pizza will keep one to two months. Your freezer should be set at 0 degrees or below, while the refrigerator should be no warmer than 40 degrees.

Leftovers -- cook dinner quickly. Enjoy dinner slowly.

CLOSING THOUGHT

"It takes as much time and energy to wish as it does to plan."

-- Eleanor Roosevelt

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