Leftovers get a bad rap. Especially with a bad wrap. (BudDumCHISH!)

If you or your family members are like me, there is something anticlimactic about reheating old food compared to preparing something fresh. And it’s really no fun to eat the same thing many days in a row.

But we live in the real world. Time and budgets matter. Therefore we need methods of improving the experience of eating leftovers that can get us excited about repeating a meal or two (or six). Here are some tricks I’ve developed over the years that revive leftovers to make them as good, if not better, than Day 1.

#1. Plan Ahead for Leftovers.
Many dishes taste even better on Day 2 than they do on Day 1. Therefore if we do meal planning at the beginning of the week, we can prepare large quantities of something that improves over time. In my house, I rely on chili, soups, stews, curry dishes, and meatballs to provide several days of YUM.

#2. The Toaster Oven is your friend.
I have never owned a regular toaster. I don’t see the point. Toaster Ovens achieve toast and serve a gazillion other purposes, my favorite of which is reviving leftovers. Reheating Pizza in the toaster oven works really well, and even adds a little extra crisp to the crust. To do this, place the pizza directly on the grate (no pan) and heat at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes. Remove when the cheese begins to melt. You can also reheat fried food in the toaster oven to help it regain its original crispiness. Fries can go onto a pan, perhaps lined with parchment paper to save some mess. Fried chicken works as well, but it will take a while for the interior to heat so either begin heating it in the microwave for a minute or two, and then transfer to the toaster oven. Alternatively, cover chicken in the toaster oven with foil to protect it from burning. You can apply this same process to egg rolls.

#2. The Microwave is sometimes your friend.
I think the microwave is the true culprit behind our antipathy toward leftovers. Microwaves often leave food cold in some places and scalding in others, and it messes with the moisture content and texture. Therefore, experiment with alternate methods for reheating different foods before force-feeding yourself nuked food. That said, I’ve recently started using my microwave more for heating up an unlikely item: bread. If your bread has been in the fridge, or perhaps is a bit stale, you can revive it with the microwave that makes it taste fluffy and moist once more. Simply heat for 10-20 seconds on different sides until the texture softens. You can also reheat frozen bread or pastries this way, turning ever 20-40 seconds until you have something (almost) fresh. This also works on molten brownie cakes.

#3. Bust out the skillet
Unlike us, our skillet has no problem with already-cooked food. Sometimes the best way to reheat a dish is to return it to its original heat source: the stove. Yes, you will have to clean the skillet or pot you use, but it’s worth it if it means not wasting perfectly good food because the microwave makes it gross. This is especially true of rice, noodles, and ESPECIALLY rice noodles. I detest the way the microwave makes noodles rubbery and rice gritty. The skillet fixes this problem. Heat the skillet with a teaspoon or two of water. Add your rice or noodles and coat them in the water. Stir until the water evaporates, and then enjoy the second life of your Pad Thai. Also, anything with seafood (especially shrimp) in it NEEDS to be reheated on the stove, unless of course you like the taste of rubber tire. You can also reheat noodles in a skillet by placing the pizza in the pan and covering it, heating on low until the cheese melts and the crust regains its crisp.

#4. The Glories of a Whole Roast Chicken
Repurposing cooked ingredients is another great way to give freshness to old food. My favorite is a whole, roasted chicken. After the first night enjoying the chicken straight, we pick off the leftover meat and boil the carcass with vegetables to make homemade chicken stock. The next night we can make soups, stews, chicken salad, or even chicken gyros. You can also freeze the chicken meat and the stock or carcass to use at a later date.

If you have more ways to revive leftovers, let me know! emily@tastequest.org

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