Leftovers. I have always disliked them. Growing up I would spend time at my Grandma B’s house, and when it was time for dinner (at 4:30pm!) she would almost always pull some type of leftover from the fridge and make a “new” meal appear in front of me. For the most part I remember always liking it, but I also remember throwing tantrums with her about eating leftovers….again. Yes, even into my teenage years I protested—only to be proven wrong.
My hatred of leftovers continued well into adulthood. You’d think after years of being proven wrong I would have gotten my act together, but I felt rebellious in my “because I can” stage, and just didn’t eat leftovers (unless we’re talking next-day cold pizza; that I will always get behind!) because I didn’t have to. This didn’t bother me one bit, but my best friend and roommate couldn’t care less for my spoiled behavior. I’m certain it was this, and likely this alone—minus some pen chewing habits—that made her blood boil when we lived together. Oh, and dishes. We’ve always differed on that too. I digress.
I’m happy to say, and so is everyone involved, that my outlook on leftovers has changed. Despite being a decent cook, I’ve never felt creative in the kitchen. I would (and still do) follow a recipe and that was that. If there were leftovers, they were heated in the microwave and eaten the exact same way as the day prior. This is exactly why I hated leftovers. Not many things taste as good the next day, and the flavoring just seems to change so much when heated again, especially in the microwave.
However, when I moved into a new stage/territory of life (i.e motherhood) leftovers quickly became my saving grace. Crockpot meals lasted anywhere from 2-3 days and I was grateful!There’s nothing quite like trying to cook dinner, regardless of how “easy” it is, when you’ve got a crying + hungry baby on your hip. Oy! It wasn’t until our 3rdbaby that we were able to step away from crockpot everything, but only because we now had toddlers who despisedshredded meat. If you’re familiar with crockpot cooking, you know that unless you cube it ahead of time, all meat shreds.
I can’t tell you how many months, or even years (close to 2 i’m sure) that I’ve spent racking my brains with meal planning to find and settle on dinners that would feed—and interest—us as adults and our ever-growing, picky toddlers. I hated food at this point. I used to love to cook, or at least like it, and trying new recipes here and there. But at some point we got stuck on the “satisfy the toddlers” train, until I decided I wanted to eat like a grow up again and just started making 2 dinners every night. That topic and how it works is a post for another time, but the big takeaway here is this: stepping away from pleasing my kids all the time in the kitchen, and focusing solely on meals for myself and my husband, reignited my passion for cooking.
Taking on our new cooking schedule meant that I wasn’t cooking with a screaming baby on my hip, or toddlers running and screaming through the kitchen demanding snacks because they’re hungry, while I try and prepare a meal. It became slow and enjoyable, and allowed me to create. But after a while of this, I was getting burnt out again…but in a different way. Not only did I have to come up with at least 4 separate meals a day (B & D) bit I had to prep and cook every.single.night, and it was exhausting me. Not to mention the piles of dishes it created. So I finally started making enough for, that’s right: leftovers.
It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually my life revolving around food/being in the kitchen came full circle and I finally understood what Grandma B was doing all those years ago. She was repurposing her leftovers. She would pull out a spread of pre-made food and would almost always make something completely different from what the original meal was. I guess I never really understood this despite watching her stand at the stove and actually cook, and not just dump food on a plate, heat and serve. She was making things easier on herself while still feeding us a homemade meal. To be fair, though, this is also the same Grandma who would make me microwaved eggs, with Country Crock butter and milk, in a coffee mug for much of my childhood. She was full of surprises in the kitchen.
Although all has not been lost on me in the circle of life and cooking, I firmly believe that if you don’t grow up in the kitchen actually doing some of the cooking when you’re young (I was very fond of the eating part, not so much the cooking) that things like this—that might seem obvious to others—are lost in translation. It is not something that just exists and is natural to come by. I also fully believe that repurposing leftovers is in fact an art and grows as your level of confidence and comfortability around/in a kitchen grows, too. So if you feel like I once did, don’t give up! I have found that being able to repurpose a meal is far more empowering as a home cook than being able to follow a recipe.
So, to help get you started and feeling confident, here are 3 of my favorite ways to repurpose a roast, specifically a Mississippi Pot Roast (an already easy and delicious crockpot meal you’ll want to try if you haven’t already):
- Preheat oven to 400º and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil
- Lightly spray the foil with cooking spray of your choice
- Cover the bottom of the baking sheet with a thin/even layer of restaurant-style tortilla chips
- Sprinkle 1 cup shredded cheese atop tortilla chips
- Evenly distribute desired amount of leftover meat on top of shredded cheese
- Sprinkle with additional toppings of choice (our favorites are: caramelized onions, pickled or fresh jalapenos, a can of green chiles, and black beans **note: if making BBQ style nachos (we do this after we smoke ribs/brisket/pork roast) you’ll want to drizzle your tortilla chips with BBQ sauce before you add your first layer of cheese
- Once your desired toppings are added, top with another cup of shredded cheese and bake for 12-15 minutes—or until cheese is completely melted and bubbly
- Use a pizza cutter to cut into portions and serve
Shredded beef tacos w/ fixin’s
Think making tacos, but with premade meat:
- Add shredded beef into a cold skillet, breaking up the meat (I use my hands for this part)
- Heat the pan over medium heat, and cook until meat is just warmed through
- OPTIONAL: for added heat, add in fresh jalapeno and sauté with beef
- Add approx. 1 TBSP of tomato paste + 1 TBSP of homemade adobo seasoning **noting that this can vary based on the amount of your leftover meat. Start with less if you have only a little meat, add more if you need it**
- Once the tomato paste and seasoning is incorporated, add ¼ cup of water and let simmer for 5-7 minutes. Add more water if necessary (you can also use chicken or beef broth if you have any on hand, but water works just fine)
- Once everything is heated, put into tortilla of choice and add your favorite toppings! Our faves: avocado, diced onion, shredded cabbage, and salsa
Beef dip sandwiches
- In a stockpot, add leftover roast meat with 1 can French onion soup **note: if you saved the leftover juices/fat from your roast with your meat, you can add a can of au jus instead
- Cook on medium-low, stirring occasionally, until headed through
- Serve on lightly toasted hoagie rolls, with a side of juice for dipping
- OPTIONAL: top sandwich with provolone and place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to melt the cheese