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One Day at a Time: Reusing Leftovers

You will see the phrase 'new year new you' everywhere you look at the moment. The tendency at the new year is to try to become a better person, and start the year with a huge list of intentions to become fitter, healthier, more eco-friendly, etc. Often, the companies encouraging you to become the ‘new you’ will encourage you to buy their products, to help with that process.

However, I propose that there are many things you can do for free. Rather than trying to do everything at once, why not try one small action per day? This blog series will suggest some ideas for this – choose the ones which you feel are manageable for you – don’t try to do everything! Today's one is: reuse leftovers.

Note: do as much or as little as you want - this blog just offers some ideas and tips.

Day 1: Reduce food waste – using up and freezing leftovers

You may have had extra food in for Christmas and New Year, whether you are alone or with family, and this often means extra leftovers too. There are many ways to use up leftovers – either eating them as they are, using them as ingredients in casseroles and other dishes, or freezing them in portions to use in the future.

Freezing leftovers to use later

If you have too many leftovers, or no time to reuse them at the moment, one of the easiest options is to freeze leftover food in pots/bags that you can then use in future meals. You can use any kind of container for this, as long as it has a lid, or is sealable in another way, and is fully clean. It's best not to reuse containers that have had raw meat/fish or cheese in, as it’s difficult to wash them sufficiently to remove all harmful bacteria.

I like to reuse pretty much any plastic container that food comes in – e.g. yoghurt tubs, margarine tubs, glass jars – especially if they have a lid on. You don't have to buy Tupperware – it's much more economic and eco-friendly to reuse containers.

I also like to reuse the resealable bags that a lot of frozen fruit/veg come in (or use an elastic band or peg on other reusable plastic bags that food has come in). They're really handy for storing food in the freezer, as they're also more flexible than hard plastic containers or glass, so fit in more easily. Don't forget to label your containers with the contents.

Tip: Put leftover gravy, or sauces, or wine, in small bags, containers, or ice cube trays, in the freezer – they can easily be used in future recipes that way.


Here are some ideas for using up leftovers in simple ways:

Using up cheese, slightly stale crisps or savoury crackers:

Crispy chicken:

Put some raw chicken pieces in a casserole dish. Crush your crisps or crackers and sprinkle over the chicken to cover them. Grate some cheese (any variety) and sprinkle this over the top. Put in the oven at 180˚C for 30-45 minutes to bake (until chicken is fully cooked).

You could also add this crisps/crackers and cheese topping to a casserole.

Cheese (or chocolate) in pastry:

You can pretty much put anything in pastry – use up cheese (and meat or veg) leftovers and add pesto or herbs to give it a different flavour. You can even experiment with filling your ‘straws’ with grated marzipan and chocolate (I tried this and it was yummy) – you can twist into cheese straws, or use cookie cutters to shape them (see my marzipan and chocolate birds in the photo on the right). You can make your own pastry, or use ready-made puff pastry. Here’s a great recipe (the cheese & pesto pastry Christmas tree in the photo is also from one of Becky Excel's recipes): https://glutenfreecuppatea.co.uk/2016/12/15/recipe-gluten-free-cheese-pesto-straws-dairy-free-using-jus-rol-gluten-free-puff-pastry/


Using up a variety of savoury items:

Omelettes:

If you have eggs (or a vegan egg alternative), omelettes are the easiest way to reuse leftovers. Chop up your leftovers (veg, meat/fish, potatoes/bread) into small chunks, fry for a few minutes with oil/butter until they start to brown, whisk up some egg (and add milk/cream if desired, plus salt and pepper), and pour the egg over the leftovers. Cook on low till the egg firms up (or keep stirring if you prefer a scramble), and serve. If you like, you can finish off with some grated cheese on top and put under the grill for a few minutes.

Casseroles:

Chop up your leftovers (vegetables, potatoes or rice, and meat or fish or other protein - these can be cooked or raw), put them into a casserole dish. Cover with stock, or tinned tomatoes, or pasta sauce, or coconut milk (quantities depend on how liquid you like your casseroles). Add flavourings of your choice – e.g. stock powder, or pesto, or curry paste, or herbs or spices. Put in the oven at 180˚C for 30 mins to an hour (until everything is fully cooked through). You can also use a slow cooker for this, just add a bit more liquid so it doesn't dry out.

Pasta Bake:

Cook some pasta lightly. Chop up leftover meat or fish, and vegetables. Add all of these together into a casserole dish, with tinned tomatoes or passata, and dollops of pesto if you like. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Put in the oven at 180˚C for 30-45 minutes (until everything is fully cooked through).

Gnocchi Bake (use a packet of fresh gnocchi – gluten-free is available if needed):

Chop up leftover vegetables, some garlic and an onion. Fry the onion and garlic in oil with the gnocchi, add the other vegetables, some mixed herbs or pesto, and a tin or two of tomatoes. Dollop cream cheese on the top, and cover with grated cheese. Put in the oven at 180˚C for 30-45 minutes (until everything is fully cooked through). This is based on Becky Excel’s wonderful recipe: https://glutenfreecuppatea.co.uk/2016/10/14/recipe-gluten-free-gnocchi-bake/

Potato Cakes:

Mash up leftover potatoes and veg, mix in some grated cheese (any kind) and herbs or spices, salt and pepper. Roll into balls, and roll in flour, then flatten slightly to make potato cakes. Fry or grill on both sides until brown and cooked through.


Using up a variety of sweet items:

Smoothies:

Take any leftover pudding, or fruit, put some crumbs, a chunk, or a few spoonfuls in a liquidiser or smoothie-maker, add fruit juice or milk, yoghurt and/or cream or icecream (whatever you want to use up, and whatever flavour combinations you like), then liquidise. Hey presto, you have a yummy smoothie!

Bread and butter pudding variations:

Slice Christmas cake or Christmas pudding, or leftover bread or other cake. Grease a dish with butter or oil. Layer the slices of bread/cake in the dish - you can add some brandy butter or sweet sauces between the layers if you like.. Pour some milk and/or cream until it's covered. Sprinkle sugar on the top. Put in the oven at 180˚C for 30 mins to an hour (until browning on top and the liquid has soaked in).

Note: these are just fairly basic recipes, based on things I've been cooking for years. They are not particularly original but I've chosen to share them here as they're good for using up leftovers. Hopefully they'll at least give you some ideas to start with.


One of the reasons people don't use leftovers is because they're not sure how long it’s safe to eat them. Most things will keep for a few days after cooking, but you must be extra careful with poultry, fish, and rice:

Reducing food waste is important to me, but if something looks, smells or tastes off, please don't eat it!


Here's my blog post for day 2:

https://www.ecomakes.co.uk/post/one-day-at-a-time-crafting-with-non-recyclables

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