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Get creative with leftovers

November 14, 2017 - 12:05am

Tomorrow is National Clean-Out-Your-Refrigerator Day. Considering how much space you may soon need in that refrigerator for all the holiday foods, this is quite timely. Just like that commercial that asks, “What’s in YOUR wallet?”, you are now being asked, “What’s in YOUR refrigerator?”

Of course, creating space for holiday foods is not the only benefit. Using leftovers creatively will also stretch your food budget by reducing waste, a worthy effort at any time of the year.

Maximizing leftovers is a skill akin to triage experience: First you say goodbye to those beyond saving, then prioritize by immediate needs, followed by what can wait a bit longer. You also enlist the help of pantry staples like tortillas, jarred sauces and relishes, chicken stock, canned tomatoes and beans, dried pastas and rice, eggs, herbs and cheeses.

So, what’s on YOUR leftover list? Small amounts of meat and veggies can be added to rice or pasta, inserted in an omelet, or rolled into warm tortillas. They can also top a baked potato or a salad, be added to a soup stock, or mixed with mayo for a sandwich. Garnishes might include shredded cheese, minced green onion, diced tomato, fresh herbs, a dollop of sour cream or chutney. Here are three basic examples:

• Slice or dice leftover meats and vegetables; stir-fry with a little oil, soy/ginger, minced garlic; mix with cooked rice and garnish with chopped nuts or minced green onions.

• Cut leftover meats and vegetables; sauté with olive oil, diced tomatoes, onions, olives; serve on cooked pasta and garnish with grated cheese and fresh herbs.

• Dice leftover cooked meat and vegetables; toss with olives, nuts, and salad dressing; serve on salad greens and garnish with croutons.

Mushroom Stroganoff

This is a good way to use up quickly aging mushrooms. Try on baked potatoes or noodles. Recipe from “The Healing Foods Cookbook” by Prevention Magazine; makes 4 servings.

1 1/2 cups nonfat yogurt

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

About 1-1 1/2 pounds small mushrooms, quartered

1/2 teaspoon dill weed

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Line a strainer with cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Add the yogurt; set aside to drain for about 15 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl; whisk in mustard and set aside. In a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté onions and garlic in the oil until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, dill, thyme and nutmeg. Sauté until mushrooms are brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in yogurt mixture and serve.

Turkey and Sweet Potato Croquettes

Here’s a creative recipe for leftover turkey and sweet potatoes. Recipe from Gourmet Magazine; makes about 24 croquettes. If you don’t feel like even looking at turkey for a few days, you can freeze these until the taste buds beckon.

1/3 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup for dredging

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup chicken broth

2 cups finely chopped cooked turkey leftovers

1/2 cup mashed sweet potatoes

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2 large eggs plus 1 tablespoon water, beaten together

1 1/2 cups fine bread crumbs

Vegetable oil for deep frying

In a small saucepan cook the onion in the butter over medium low heat, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup of the flour; cook over low heat, stirring, for 3 minutes. Stir in milk and broth. Cook, stirring, until a paste forms. Cook the paste, stirring for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the turkey, sweet potatoes, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Combine mixture well, then chill, covered, for two hours in refrigerator. When firm, roll level tablespoons of mixture into balls. Dredge the balls in 1/2 cup of the flour, shaking off excess. Coat balls thoroughly with the egg wash, letting excess drip off, then dredge in the bread crumbs, transferring to wax paper as they are coated. (Croquettes can be wrapped well and frozen up to a month at this point; thaw for an hour before cooking.) Dry croquettes at room temperature for 1 hour. In a large saucepan heat 2 inches of oil until 365 degrees. Fry croquettes in batches for 1-1 1/2 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Serve warm.

Shredded Chicken and Mint Noodle Salad

Leftover chicken can always be wrapped in tortillas or baked in a casserole, but when you want a zesty, refreshing alternative, this chilled salad makes a perfect lunch or light supper. Recipe from “Off the Shelf” by Donna Hay; makes 4 servings.

7 ounces bean thread or dried thin rice noodles

3 cooked chicken, shredded

3 1/2 ounces bean sprouts or snow peas

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

3 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 mild chili, seeded and chopped

If using bean thread noodles, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water; let stand 5 minutes, then drain. If using rice noodles, cook in boiling water until al dente, then drain. Toss chicken with noodles, mint, bean sprouts or snow peas, and sesame seeds; set aside. In a small bowl, combine fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and chili; whisk well. Pour dressing over salad and chill until ready to serve.

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Salmon Cakes

Leftover mashed potatoes tend to get dry in the refrigerator, but you can maximize their use in these easy patties. Number of patties depends on size; I usually make palm-sized rounds, enough for 2-4 people.

14 3/4 ounce can salmon, drained, or leftover cooked salmon

2 1/2 cups prepared mashed potatoes

2 eggs

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1/2 cup sliced green onions

Oil for frying

Dry bread crumbs

Lemon slices

Break salmon into small chunks in a bowl; set aside. In separate bowl, combine mashed potatoes, eggs and parsley; mix until smooth and well combined. Gently fold in salmon and green onions. Heat about a quarter inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Form mixture into 1/4-cup round patties. Coat patties with bread crumbs and fry 2-3 minutes on each side, turning gently, until golden brown.

Serve warm with lemon slices for squeezing over.

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