Alas, that can also be a down side to the holidays when we all get together. When you look in the refrigerator the next day, there is *still* a whole lot of delicious food — left over.
Fret not! Whether you over-bought supplies for the cookout, the anticipated hungry teenage horde did not materialize at the picnic, or the weather literally rained on your parade, we have solutions for your leftover problems:
Ideas for using up summer party leftovers:
If you find yourself with leftover chicken after the cookout, that’s great! Get it ready for the next dish by taking the meat off the bone, or if the chicken is already boneless, just shred, slice or cube the meat. Chicken makes an excellent topper on a simple salad, filling for enchiladas or tacos, is delicious stir-fried with (leftover) vegetables and rice or quinoa, and adds protein to a pasta salad.
Got some steak? Slice it into thin, 4″ long strips, and throw it onto a lightly-oiled, pre-heated cast iron skillet and let it sizzle briefly before serving as fajitas. Steak strips are also a decadent topping for a salad, or put them on a toasted hoagie bun with provolone, grilled onion and bell peppers.
Surplus grilled burger patties are easily chopped or crumbled to use later, which saves you the “cooking-the-ground-beef” step when making a simple Bolognese sauce, chili, enchiladas, casseroles and the like.
Bonus pork roast or chops can, like chicken, easily be shredded for making BBQ, sliced for a Cuban sandwich, or cubed for use in fried rice or stir fry. (Double bonus is if you have some leftover cole slaw, you can use it to top your BBQ sandwich, Memphis-style.)
Leftover grilled vegetables from veggie kebabs may be one of the best kind of leftovers. Their firm-but-not-raw, tender-but-not-squishy doneness as leftovers are an excellent addition to all sorts of warm dishes and casseroles, tacos, soups, or stews, and taste great with all sorts of cool dishes, too, like salads and sandwiches, or (in the case of bell peppers) even puréed into dips and spreads. Grilled corn-on-the-cob is easy to slice off the cob, and add texture and smoky flavor to your fresh summer salsas and salads, too.
Leftover *raw* vegetables make great starter material for the rest of your cooking in the days after the picnic, whether it be for soups, salads, pizza, quick-mixed-pickles, or sautéed in your favorite spice blend and olive oil. Speaking of olive oil, toss leftover raw veggies in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, tuck into an aluminum foil “packet,” and roast for 30 – 40 minutes, for an excellent and easy dish.
Any other bite-sized finger foods left over from gathering (call them crudités, if you want to be fancy) like cheese cubes, olives, nuts, cured meats and pickles, are also wonderful ready-to-use ingredients. Pack them in weekday lunches, top a pizza, stuff a pita sandwich. Chop up the meats and cheeses finely and add them to your morning eggs, or scatter them on top of your salad.
Play it safe! With all these creative re-purposings, though, we have to utter the cautionary words about the safe, sanitary handling of foods. Make sure that meats are thoroughly cooked, in the first place, and then kept hot (around 140°F) until it’s time to eat. Keep the cool foods cool / cold, and be extra vigilant if those cool foods have egg, dairy, etc, ingredients in them. After the cookout, wrap the leftovers securely, refrigerate promptly, and re-heat safely. A good overview of smart food safety practices when it comes to leftovers is on the US Dept of Agriculture website.