Few events in the kitchen are sadder than having to throw away left over food – especially in these difficult economic times. There are lots of things you can make from parts of your leftover meals, but what if you’d like to clear your fridge of ALL it’s leftovers in one shot without throwing anything away? One thing you can do is make a casserole, they are very easy and it’s not hard to incorporate all your scraps of previous meals into one last dinner. If you have pasta and/or rice, combine it with all your left over vegetables and some cream of chicken, celery, or mushroom soup (or gravy if you have some leftover from another meal) with some cheese, put it in a baking dish and top it with leftover mashed potatoes, stuffing and or crackers/chips then pop it in the oven until the cheese melts and the top crust is browned.
Casserole is usually the last stop for recycled meals in my house, they are incarnations of meat sauce (casserole from that is baked ziti or lasagna) and/or soup first. Of course leftover soup can be used in a casserole!
I am well known for my soup, I’ve got in-laws who will drop everything just to come over and get a container of it to bring home. When I make my “famous” soup all the leftovers in my fridge get used up in one shot. It’s so nice to have a huge pot of yummy soup AND empty space in my refrigerator, along with the knowledge that I have wasted nothing! My soup is usually made within a few days after having cooked a roast chicken or turkey dinner (with Chicken/Turkey Ala King following the original meal – of course THOSE leftovers go in the soup too).
Here is how I make my soup:
Start by picking the meat off the bones of your turkey or chicken carcass, save the meat for later to add to the soup AFTER you make the broth. Try to break up the bones as well as you can to make them fit better in the pot. You’ll need a BIG pot, by the way. It’s OK and actually good if there is still some scraps of meat left on the bones. Add whatever spices you like, such as onion, garlic, parsley and oregano if you like it. If you have onions, bell peppers and or celery stalk tops on hand, throw those in the pot too.
Add at least enough water to cover everything in the pot and set it to boil. Once it starts boiling, you can lower the heat to keep the pot boiling but not boiling over for the next couple of hours. Put the lid on the pot, only lift it to occasionally smell the soupy goodness and stir it a bit every once in a while.
After a couple of hours, taste the liquid, if it is yummy, you may now strain off the contents of the really big pot into a smaller big pot. If the broth tastes a bit weak & watery, you have two options – either boil the bones some more, or cheat a little and add some bouillon cubes or powder.
When you strain the contents of your pot, the easiest way to do this is to put a big strainer inside a big pot so the handles rest on the sides of the pot, but you do whatever works. Pour the hot pot of bones and junk into the strainer, the liquid in the new pot is your broth, or “stock”. If there’s a lot of it, you can freeze some in a container to have a handy shortcut to homemade soup next time you want to make it.
If you like, you can go through the mess in the strainer and pick out bits of meat that fell off the bones to add to your soup, but I personally find that boiled meat to be really stringy and just give it to my dogs.
Here is where it gets fun. You can now utilize pretty much all the leftovers in your fridge! If you have left over veggies from the meal that the roast bird was originally part of, it goes in the soup! Leftover gravy? It goes in the soup! Mashed potatoes go in the soup too, they melt into the broth and make it thicker and delicious!
Now if you like, you can add some frozen or canned corn. I also like to chop up carrots and celery. Whatever veggies you like, or have on hand from previous dinners that think you’d enjoy in your soup goes into the soup!
The meat that you set aside at the beginning now gets cut up and put in the soup.
I add a little milk to my soup, it helps to make it creamier and adds a smooth taste to it. Not a lot, just a splash or two.
If you have rice (cooked, uncooked, instant or slow cooking), throw it in the soup!
My finishing touch, which makes my soup so very special, is my homemade dumplings. If you already know how to make dumplings or noodles or whatever you like in your soup, or you have some leftover from a previous meal, you can use those to do it your way, or you can try mine…
Flour or Bisquick mixed with a bit of milk is the standard recipe my mom taught me, but I really like how it comes out when I use instant buttermilk pancake mix (the “just add water” kind) – Hungry Jack is the brand I like best for this, but any will do. Put the powder in a bowl, add maybe a spoonful of sugar (I like Raw sugar) and some onion powder & mix with a fork. Then add a bit of milk, not too much, or your dough will be gooey and not make firm dumplings. If you screw it up and the soft dumplings which melt away into your soup, don’t fret! It just makes the soup thick, velvety and creamy – you’ll love it. Add more flour/pancake mix as needed to make your dough firm enough to roll into little balls with your hands – you know it’s the right consistency when it no longer “sticks” to your hands too much. If it is stuck all over your hands, you need more flour (or pancake mix). Get your soup going at a low boil and start dropping your little dough balls in, they sink, and then puff up and float. Once they are all in, cover the pot and turn the heat down to low, simmer for 12 minutes and it’s done.
Of course, if you have end up with leftover soup, that doesn’t have to be the end of the line for your meal recycling either! Boil some noodles and combine them with some of your soup, then spoon the mix into a casserole dish between layers of cheese and you’ve got another complete dinner. You can also freeze your leftover soup and save it for another day – which really comes in handy those times when standing around in the kitchen and preparing a meal is the last thing you feel like doing. Leftover casserole can also be frozen for the same purpose.