For someone who messes with food for a living, I have a shameful confession to make: I hate leftovers.
I don’t know what it is about leftovers I dislike. It’s not that I don’t eat them, but for some reason I just don’t find them appealing. This doesn’t just apply to my own cooking, but also to takeout. I get unreasonably excited at the prospect of food I haven’t cooked myself, yet the next day, I look at it and think, “What else do we have to eat?”
This is a genuine shame, because when I cook, I often do so in quantities that produce extra servings—especially considering we’re a household of just two (three, if you consider Nugget the cat, who is a Big Handsome Boy and would eat as much as a human if given the chance). It’s not my fault that the last chicken I found at the store was almost seven pounds. After we ate the dark meat, we were left with a ton of breast meat, and I was afraid I’d deliberately hide it in the back of the fridge until the end of history. The next night at dinnertime, it sounded terrible. But I grudgingly pulled it out, and then I had an idea.
I picked the white meat off the bone in fork-size bits, threw it into a Pyrex baking dish, mixed it with some frozen vegetables and canned cream of mushroom soup, and draped it with some thawed store-bought puff pastry. That was it. Prep took about 10 minutes, and when it came out of the oven 20 minutes later, I had a brand-new chicken pot pie to look forward to.
I realize this just sounds like a lazy casserole, but the puff pastry part made my leftover chicken feel fancy and new. Plus, we ended up eating the whole thing. I know this is not an original idea, but it tricked me into thinking I wasn’t eating leftovers.
In general, I think a 1:1:1 ratio of protein to veggies to a thick liquid like gravy or cream soup will work well, but to be honest, anything thicker than broth will work just fine. I recommend a refrigerated puff pastry, no specific brand, versus the frozen kind just because no thawing is involved. Simply follow the baking instructions on the package.
I also recommend an egg wash, which will likely also be suggested in the instructions (beat a whole egg and lightly brush the egg mixture over the raw pastry, that’s it) to make it look shiny and beautiful when it comes out, but that is not 100% necessary. It’s just another visual trick to make your leftovers look even nicer.
For smaller portions (don’t worry, I see you, single folks), you can use a smaller pan. Cut the pastry to the size of the pan and refrigerate or freeze the rest of the dough. If the remainder of the dough looks too small or irregularly shaped for another batch in the future, you can stretch it out later by using a rolling pin, or you can just play Tetris with it and cut and fit bits to cover the pan next time. (It won’t be as pretty, but the pastry always gets a little mangled when you cut after it’s baked anyway.)
I’ve got a few scenarios for your leftovers, but you know your home kitchen and its contents better than I do. If you’ve got any suggestions, please chime in down below in the comments, because I could use some creativity to help me at dinner.
- Pulled pork or brisket, a large can of baked beans, with a bit of extra barbecue sauce
- Leftover Japanese curry (a typical Japanese curry bar, if prepared according to the box suggestions, yields you well over five pounds of food, which will end up being a mix of potatoes, onions, carrot, and protein)
- Leftover taco meat, canned tomatoes, and canned pinto beans
- Drained canned beans, frozen vegetables, vegetable-stock-based gravy
- Your hopes and dreams for the future, mushrooms, and French onion soup and cheese—lots and lots of cheese