I am always somewhat “got” when people tell me they do not like leftovers. It just does not make sense in my “little, pointed head”, as my mother used to say. Whether I understand it or not, though, many people feel that an encore performance of last night’s supper is beyond their level of endurance.
For me, leftovers are free food. With $300/month to feed my family of five, I have less than $10/day to fill everybody’s bellies. Actually, I have less than that when I consider that detergents, paper products and cleaners also come out of that amount. So, if I put $10 toward grilled chicken on Monday, I rejoice to use any remaining chicken in quesadillas on Tuesday. I consider it free food. I only had to pay for it once out of our budget, and yet I have the privilege of using it for more than one meal.
Don’t get me wrong: I can definitely get tired of eating the same thing time and time again. However, when my ability to be a stay-at-home momma is threatened by something as mundane as wasting food, I can become very creative in re-purposing the food God has given our family.
One of the ways I deal with leftovers is by sticking them in the freezer for another time. This is especially helpful when it comes to soups like chili, ham & beans, vegetable and gumbo, which tend to grow to the size of the pot I use. I can only handle about three meals of the same soup before I start getting grouchy, and we all know that when Momma ain’t happy…nobody’s happy. In my household, tucking half of a pot of soup in the freezer for another day is in everyone’s best interest.
I also use the freezer to my advantage when it comes to large quantities of meat, like ham and turkey. My family will not balk at eating these meats in a dozen different ways over the course of a week and a half, but meat is expensive, so I freeze part of it in order to reduce the usage of a high-cost ingredient. I honestly think my dear husband could eat half of a 10-lb. ham in a three day period. I’m not sure that would be in his best interest, so I wrap the meat up well in freezer bags and essentially hide it from him, putting it away for another time.
Another way I avoid “leftovers fatigue” is to make sure I prepare things in a variety of ways. When we have a large amount of turkey leftover, I can easily serve it in 3 or 4 ways, with only one method reminiscent of our Thanksgiving feast. Soups, quesadillas, quiches, hot & cheesy sandwiches and turkey salad are just a few of the ways I can take the humdrum out of even the largest drumsticks.
And, speaking of Thanksgiving feasts, my children greatly anticipate Turkey Day leftovers for our yearly tradition of manhattans with store-bought white bread. My husband and I firmly believe that a turkey manhattan is only a turkey manhattan when eaten with the kind of spongey white bread we associate with our earliest remembrances of turkey manhattans. So, once a year, we buy a loaf of the flavorless, nutrient-poor stuff to take us back to our childhoods. I’ve thought about changing this one ingredient and going with a whole grain version, but I’m not sure it would fly with my husband. Maybe I should put my foot down, but I am hiding ham from the man. In our almost 20 years of marriage, we have learned to pick our battles.
The following recipe is perfect for using a variety of Thanksgiving leftovers. With it, you can use turkey, dressing, corn and even green beans. This is also a wonderful dish to freeze for another day.
Cha-Cha Chicken Casserole
3-4 c. cooked, shredded turkey OR chicken
3 c. leftover gravy OR 2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 c. green beans, corn or a combination
1 1/4 c. milk
3-4 c. leftover stuffing OR 1 pkg. stuffing mix
Combine all ingredients and pour into 9×13” baking dish.
Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, until mixture is bubbly and stuffing is browned.
This article was originally printed in The Courier-Times on November 29, 2105.