We've all been there. What seemed like a good idea at dinner last night, i.e. taking home a big pile of leftover mashed potatoes, steak and a couple asparagus spears, is rather less appealing the following day. Some foods just seem to make good leftovers, such as a slice of cheesecake which tastes perfectly decent the following day, while others really have no business even taking up room in the refrigerator when they are already destined for the trash can.
As I become more familiar with the local portion sizes, I tend to plan accordingly. Small things like getting the salad dressing on the side and dressing half the salad mean I can have the rest the following day. Dressing the entire thing only means a wilted, slimy salad sitting miserably in a to-go box. Of course this needn't apply if you're planning to eat the whole thing, but I've been defeated once or twice here by some of the supersize salads often misleadingly labeled as 'appetizers' or described by servers as 'not that big.'
How to Reheat Leftover Meat
Feel free to disagree with me on this one (that's what the comments box down below is for) but I find the best way to warm that steak back up is to cook it in a skillet until it's hot on the outside but only just warm in the middle. You don't want it to cook any more (if you enjoyed it medium-rare last night at Perry's Steakhouse & Grille, you're unlikely to want it medium-well today) so you just want to warm it up. Now something like a steak could also be served cold, so just slice it up and add it to some bread with mustard, horseradish or your condiments of choice, and that's today's lunch sorted out.
What to Do with Leftover Mashed Potatoes
This is slightly trickier since you probably don't want to eat cold mashed potatoes. Warming them up is pretty easy though. I like to add a little cream and warm them up on the stove until evenly hot. I also like to make bubble and squeak cakes, though—a British delicacy invented to use up leftover mashed potatoes and other cooked veggies. Here's a great bubble and squeak recipe I have made many times. Swap the butter for lard or another kind of fat if you want, and use any kind of leftover veggies (Brussels sprouts, carrots, asparagus, cabbage—anything that's going to mash in well with the potatoes).
1 tablespoon butter
4 chopped strips of bacon
1 finely sliced yellow onion
1 minced garlic clove
1 cup leftover cooked vegetables
3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
Melt the butter in a nonstick skillet, then add the bacon. Cook it for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and onion and cook for another 2 minutes or until soft. Now you can add the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes or until they are lightly golden. Add the mashed potatoes and mix everything together in the pan, using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to mix. Press everything down so the mixture covers the bottom of the skillet, and let it catch on the bottom of the pan a bit before flipping it over and cooking again. The little bits of potato catching in the pan and browning are how this dish gets its name. Yes, you will see it bubble and hear it squeak! Either serve this in wedges or just make individual 'cakes' instead of one big one. These are great as a side dish or as part of a hot breakfast platter.
More Ideas to Stretch those Leftovers
Leftover vegetables can be cooked with broth and puréed into a soup or sauce. Leftover meat can be chopped, tossed with sauce and pasta or rice, covered with shredded cheese and baked at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the casserole is piping hot in the center. As for leftover dessert, add a scoop of ice cream, some whipped cream or even chopped fresh fruit to make it go further. Leftover fried rice can be warmed through in a wok or skillet. You might need to add some broth or water so it doesn't stick, then just cook it down. If it was boiled rice, crack in an egg and add oil and a splash of soy sauce to make it into fried rice.
Be careful with fully cooked seafood like crab or lobster—it's too easy to dry out. Just enjoy it cold or toss it with cooked pasta and sauce and warm it through very briefly in the pan. Also remember not everything reheats well—eggs tend not to unless they're in a quiche, and fries don't really crisp up again. There are plenty of things that can be wrapped in a tortilla, however, and taken to work for an easy lunch. The sky's the limit, so just get creative. If you can make something yummy with what you have left, that's better than leaving it in the restaurant or tossing it in the trash!