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HOW TO MAKE MAGIC WITH LEFTOVERS

Bet you thought I was going to offer a list of recipes. Nope! Been there done that! Don’t believe it? Check the site archives for relevant posts from Dec.-Jan. 2012-2016 or simply click on those for sides and poultry on our home page panorama. This posting isn’t about USING UP leftovers, but about saving them to enjoy in various ways later, or, in short, freezing them. This is the first of at least two holiday dinners, perhaps more, for most of us and a great time to figure out ways to handle the surplus.

Personally, I like one re-run of the dinner a night or so after, not everything, just a balanced sampling to judge how well I did, but that’s it. Any other leftovers have to be presented differently or in other combinations at later dates. I’m sure you guys have your own reasons to avoid the leftover treadmill; guests and insufficient quantities for them, other plans, dietary overload and honestly, boredom with repetition. In all cases the solution is to use magic. Make leftovers disappear and reappear in the future as something else. The only way to have this trick work is by freezing.

Pan sauces are what make the ‘Presto!’ possible, especially for meat. Any of the many recipes that call for browning thin pieces of meat in a pan, removing them and deglazing the pan with liquid to make a sauce, then returning the meat to the pan to finish it or rewarm, qualifies for a leftover-make-over job(See posts for 12/4&12/14). The only change is that rather than browning the meat, the sauce is started by browning a little butter, optionally with a bit of oil and adding a few grains of bouillon powder. Proceed as the recipe dictates and simply add the leftover meat when directed it be returned to the pan. To make a frozen dinner for a later date, put the meat in a plastic container, pour over the sauce and cover with plastic wrap before adding the lid.

The same process can be used with frozen meat to make a quick meal. Simply make the desired sauce and add the thawed meat to it, heat through and serve. This holds true for more traditional sauces as well, such as a Béchamel, or white sauce for a la King, or curry. Voilà! Dinner is served!

Vegetables can be frozen in their serving sauce but not sauced before freezing as meat. For example, if you want to combine different ones into a gratin for later, cut them into a uniform size and freeze them together but don’t make the sauce or topping until thawed and ready to cook for serving. It’s also surprising how well many vegetable dishes’ flavors blend, when they’ve had a chance to meld during freezing. Often further enhancement isn’t needed. Saves work! Raw vegetables don’t freeze without blanching.

So let’s brush up on freezing facts. There are relevant posts in the site Table of Contents for 1/19&25/12, 2/2/12. which may help. First, a full freezer is most efficient, since it uses less energy. Second, a freezer works best when the temperature is set at -10 deg. F which assures that it will consistently operate at 0 deg. F despite the door opening and the addition of more foods. This is the optimal temperature for preserving food. Another recommendation is that there be 1 inch of space between packages to maintain air flow, but I confess this is beyond me. I’m always short of room!

A well maintained freezer should keep food safe for 36-48 hrs. during a power failure. If you anticipate one or are going away and want to make sure your frozen things are still safe, a neat trick is to freeze an inch of water in a plastic cup and put a quarter on top. You can gage by its position in the cup if the power was off, for how long, if things have refrozen and what to check. If the coin has sunk into the water, there will be ice crystals in the food packages and a check should be made before re-freezing, seafood should be discarded, and some quality will be lost in the foods that can be saved. If the quarter is on the bottom of the cup, and the water is frozen over it, everything is suspect.

Proportioning is as important in freezing leftovers as it is with fresh items, and should be done in your normal amounts. I’ve found two-serving size packages best. I can open as many as I need, but the smaller sizes freeze faster, are easier to arrange in the freezer, even when grouped in a bag they’re flexible. This is especially true of dealing with leftover roasts. Of course it depends on the amount that remains, but I strip the meat from the bones and package it tightly in plastic wrap, according to size for possible use, large pieces to small soup ones. (One note, poultry white meat tends to dry. Plan to use it first.) Loins, I debone and slice. Bones can be frozen separately, but their shape is an awkward fit in the freezer. I find it easier to simply boil them and store the broth in small containers.

Other foods can be dealt with in the same way. One doesn’t freeze a large casserole if one normally cooks for few. Soft items or things with a liquid content, a sauce or gravy, should be frozen in freezer box containers with tight lids. These are sold in various sizes in packages of 3 in supermarkets, even in Dollar Stores. Their advantage is that they can go straight to the microwave, which is the preferred method of re-heating these foods. They also allow for combining leftovers into complete frozen dinners to have ready for busy nights in the future. To ensure freshness when using boxes, cover the surface of the food with plastic wrap, smoothing out any air pockets, before closing the lid.

Desserts can be dealt with much like roasts. Cake, whole or sliced, wrapped tightly and stored in plastic bags is fine. Pies and other desserts should be covered in plastic wrap, arranged in boxes with tight lids. This category can be tricky though. Dishes with fresh fruit mixed in don’t do well, neither do egg based custards. One guide is that if the dish doesn’t exist commercially frozen, you shouldn’t try to do it at home. It’s often better to share any excess, or make it available to the family as a snack.

Cold, fresh salads are not open to freezing. Hot cooked ones, like hot chicken salad, follow the normal rules. I’m including lists of foods that freeze well and those that don’t at the end of this post.

Obviously, plastic wrap plays a big part in freezing leftovers. It’s easy to use, sticks to itself, allows visibility, but above all it’s airtight, and this is very important. There are 5 factors which can spoil frozen food:

  • Bacteria, yeast and mold which can be stopped by using quality products, sanitary cooking conditions and storage at proper temperatures, which is covered above.
  • Enzymes are in all foods and account for ripening but are not a concern here since the food has been cooked.
  • Formation of ice crystals can be avoided by making sure the freezer temperature is properly set to freeze the food as quickly as possible.
  • Oxidation occurs when air is trapped in the package. The oxygen causes a chemical reaction that destroys quality.
  • Freezer Burn is caused by improper wrapping too, but is caused by the dry air circulating in the freezer draining the moisture from exposed food.

Although the last two are not considered health risks, they very definitely ruin texture, quality and taste. So assuring that no air is trapped in the wrapping or reaches the food is very important. It’s vital to make sure the plastic wrap adheres to every surface of the food without any air bubbles or gaps. This means tightly wrapping packages and covering the surface of boxed foods before putting on the lids. Always remove the wrap before heating or using the food.

As a general rule for freezing, always make sure food is cool before packaging, preferably at least a little below room temperature. Steam vapors trapped in the wrapping speed up oxidation and can create gaps in the wrapping to allow for freezer burn.

Zip lock bags are a useful tool in freezing too. They are great for irregularly shaped things like roast bones, corn kernels and sauces. Gravies, where fat rises to the top and solidifies, store better in plastic containers. Heavier plastic bags are good for holding packets of meat. I use them for chicken parts and of course for leftover roast meat. However, always carefully press the air out of the bags, even though the packages inside are individually wrapped.

Re-heating most leftovers is a job for the microwave to be done in intervals, rotating occasionally according to amount being heated and the oven manufacturer’s directions. Thawing isn’t usually necessary but crispness is lost in freezing, so a quick run under the broiler can be a good finishing touch for those dishes that have breading or a crust. The packets of roasted meat should be thawed. Larger pieces can be added to stove top sauces, medium ones to unbaked casseroles and small shreds to soups. Broth should be thawed in a pot as a soup starter. Desserts can just be thawed and eaten, unless they are meant to be served warm, then they get the microwave treatment. All cooked frozen foods should be heated and/or eaten upon thawing. Do not put it in the fridge for the next day or let it sit on the counter.

Leftover foods with a combination of ingredients should be eaten within 3 months at most. Taste and texture both suffer if kept for longer periods. Things with many small pieces, ground meat, even cooked in meat loaf, or the shreds meant for soups, offer more surface areas and can spoil faster, so should be used up first. The salt in cured meats like, ham and bacon speeds rancidity, so if they must be frozen, in a casserole say, be sure it’s only for a short period.

That’s about it for the “How tos” so now let’s look at the “What tos” and “What not tos”. Here are the promised lists of cooked foods that freeze well and those that don’t.
Cooked foods that freeze well:

  • Pastries, rolls, bread, cakes, baked and unbaked. A little oatmeal or cookie crumbs help retain the moisture in raw fruit pies.
  • Meat loaf
  • Casseroles
  • Pasta, rice and couscous, sauced or not. May need 1 Tbs. or more of water before reheating for solo use, but not if adding to soup or other liquid.
  • Cooked beans. If making them for freezing, slightly undercook. If it’s a dish with ham or bacon use within 2 weeks.
  • Custards thickened with arrowroot or tapioca
  • Hollandaise Sauce will separate due to the egg yolks and will need whisking after thawed
  • Soups, but any milk or cream addition should be made when reheating to serve

Cooked foods that DON’T freeze well:

  • Eggs—whites become watery if raw, including icings and soft fillings made with them, and rubbery cooked. A few grains of salt prevent yolks from thickening.
  • Custard and cream pie fillings
  • Cured meats(see above)
  • Milk products with a butterfat content of less than 40% will separate
  • Fried foods
  • Cold salads
  • Mayonnaise (not incorporated in a dish) and other emulsified sauces must be beaten again
  • Pepper, cloves and synthetic vanilla become strong and often bitter
  • Fat separates in gravy and must be beaten or whisked
  • Salt loses flavor
  • Sauces thickened with flour or cornstarch separate and must be stirred well or whisked
  • Eggplants and potatoes other than mashed and candied sweet s
  • Raw vegetables must be blanched first

RECIPE EXAMPLES: These are for 2 servings but are easily doubled. They can be used for poultry, pork and veal. As stated above, if the sauces are added to the meat before freezing, they can be boxed as frozen dinner entrees to be eaten at a later date.

ORANGE SAUCE – Serves 2
2 portions of large pieces of frozen turkey or pork -thawed
1 Tbs. butter
1 medium-small onion diced fine
1 Tbs. oil
¼ tsp. bouillon granules
¼ cup frozen orange juice concentrate*
¾ cups white wine
1 Tbs. soy sauce or to taste
orange marmalade or brown sugar to taste
3 Tbs. match stick pieces of orange rind ½ inch long
Sauté the onion in the butter and oil until soft, about 3 min. Add the bouillon, juice, wine, soy sauce and orange rind. Stir to mix well and taste to adjust flavors adding marmalade or sugar as needed. This sauce should be tangy. Add the meat to the pan and simmer, covered, for about 10 min. to infuse the flavors. Serve hot.
* ½ cup if fresh orange juice is substituted, and dissolve ½ tsp. of cornstarch in the liquid first, and stir until slightly thickened before adjusting seasoning or adding the meat..

Variations:
1)This technique works well substituting ½ cup, or to taste, leftover whole cranberry sauce for the frozen orange juice concentrate, mixing it with the wine and omitting the soy sauce and marmalade. The orange rind is optional and lends flavor
2) After sautéing the onion in the oil, substitute 1 cup Madera or Marsala with 2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in it. Add with meat and gently stir until sauce thickens. Serve at once.
3) Substitute white wine for the others mentioned above. Add 1 tsp. dried Tarragon and 8-12 raw shrimp with the meat and stir until shrimp is pink and sauce thickens about 3 min.
4) Add ½ cup roughly chopped reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes and ½ tsp. dried oregano to the pan with the 1 cup white wine and optionally about 8 sliced stuffed olives. Stir to partially thicken sauce. Add meat and heat through. Serve hot.
5) Add 1 Tbs. oil, 1 ½ cups canned diced tomatoes and garlic powder to taste. Serve hot on a bed of fresh or canned spinach.

SAUCE NORMANDY: Serves 2
2 portions of large pieces of frozen turkey or pork -thawed
1 Tbs. butter
1 medium-small onion diced fine
1 Tbs. oil
1 cup apple juice—preferably cider
2 thick apple slices—core removed
Brown sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling
1 Tbs. brandy – optional
¼ cup sour cream- optional
Sauté the onion in the butter and oil until soft, about 3 min. Add the bouillon, brandy, if using, and juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add meat, topped with apple slices sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Simmer covered for about 10 min. basting occasionally, until apple is cooked and sauce has boiled down a bit. Remove meat without disturbing apples and add cream to pan, if using. Stir to incorporate and warm through. Spoon the sauce under or around meat, not over the apples. Serve hot.

Sour Cream Sauce: Serves 2
2 portions of large pieces of frozen turkey or pork -thawed
1 Tbs. butter
1 medium-small onion sliced fine
1 Tbs. oil
¼ tsp. bouillon granules
4 oz. sliced mushrooms or 4 oz. canned-drained
¾ cup sour cream OR equal amount half and half 1 with 2 tsp. lemon juice
6-8 stuffed green olives – sliced or 1 Tbs. capers
Parsley and Paprika as garnish.
Sauté the onion in the butter and oil until soft, about 3 min. add the bouillon, cream and mushrooms. Stir to incorporate. Add the meat and gently heat through for about 10 min. until sauce thickens. Add the olives or capers after the first 5 min. Serve hot garnished with paprika and 2 Tbs. parsley if using fresh, 1 Tbs. dried. Serve hot.

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