TAHOE/TRUCKEE — When nothing goes right, there's no harm in going left. And when nothing in the kitchen goes right, go leftovers.
Unfortunately, the money-saving art of the leftover has been watered down to microwave-nuked, room-temperature mediocrity. The bottom line is food waste means money waste and with leftovers' bad wrap, it's no wonder why families are prone to turn to the trash can instead of the Tupperware.
But there's much more to meals than one might think with a little bit of storage, reheating and recreating savvy.
Follow these eight easy tips for leftovers done right:
Within two hours of serving, take your leftovers to the fridge. In hot weather, be sure to do so within one hour. Cooling leftovers quickly is key to food safety, particularly preventing bacterial growth. Large cuts of meat should be sized down before storing to quicken the cooling process.
...or freeze it
If you don't plan on resorting to these leftovers within the next three days, open the other door and stash your supply in the freezer. Generally, frozen veggies keep well, but don't be afraid to abandon bacteria-prone meats.
Put a lid on it
The container used to store is just as important as how you prepare the leftovers. Use shallow containers for rapid, even cooling, and be sure to seal it. That way, the good stuff inside stays inside and the bad stuff stays outside.
If storing food in a resealable bag, squeeze out excess air before closing and storing. This allows the goods to retain optimal flavor (and just as good, take up less space in the fridge and freezer).
Write the date of original preparation on the container or bag before storing. As a general rule of thumb, steer clear of leftovers in the fridge after three days. Depending on the dish and temperature, you might want to consider bringing that number down.
"Heat" is the key word here — not "warm." To make sure bacteria don't interfere with your fare, reheat leftovers until piping hot to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. In liquid-based foods, like soups, stews and sauces, cover and bring to a rolling boil before reserving. Make sure you stir the dish throughout the reheating process to guarantee even heat distribution.
Leftovers can take on entirely new personas with just a bit of imagination. Go online for a bottomless pool of nifty leftover ideas, or try some experimentation in the kitchen. Whether converting stir-fry leftovers to a pizza toppings or overripe bananas to bread, get creative and cross food borders.
Periodically check your fridge and freezer for forgotten leftovers, and throw them out. Don't let your fridge be a breeding ground for bacteria, and stay on top of which leftovers went in on what days. It's simple — just read the label and ditch what's passed the two to three-day limit.
Leftovers don't have to be boring, lukewarm reminders of a meal once enjoyed. Instead, show your homemade food some love and give reheat a chance.
— Sheri Alzeerah is a freelance and freelance writer for meal planning service www.foodonthetable.com.