Those who know me, know I’m all about cooking ahead. I have at least two meals (often three!) in mind when I cook one. This is a great creative outlet for me, but it also saves money. Times are as tight as they’ve been in years and years, so read on even if you don’t like to cook.
Leftovers don’t have to be last night’s dinner warmed in the microwave oven, or what I call cuisine deja vu. ;) My favorite leftover recipes are burritos. I don’t limit us to Mexican burritos, either. (The difference between a burrito and a wrap–as I see it–is hot and cold. A wrap is like a sandwich rolled in a tortilla; a burrito is like a hot casserole rolled in a tortilla.) One of my favorite recipes is the Hoppin’ John Burrito. It’s Cajun, and here’s the sequence.
Meal One: I make a Cajun dinner. I cook lots of brown rice and black-eyed peas, about twice the number of servings I need for this meal, along with some greens, cornbread, and blackened catfish. If you don’t mind a little spice, season the catfish with lots of Cajun spices.
Meal Two: I make dinner the next day with green beans, steamed kernel corn, grilled chicken breasts, and Hoppin’ John. After dinner, stir the leftover corn into the Hoppin’ John and refrigerate.
Meal Three: Two or three days later–you don’t want to wear out the Cajun cuisine’s welcome by having this meal on the heels of the first two–mix the Hoppin’ John and corn with a cup of salsa (or a can of green chilies and diced tomatoes) in a two-quart saucepan. Add a cup of diced onion. Bring all ingredients to a simmer over medium-low heat until heated through. Meanwhile, warm eight whole wheat tortillas in the microwave oven. Remove Hoppin’ John mixture from heat. Divide the mixture into eight equal portions. Spoon one portion into each of eight whole wheat tortillas, add 1 ounce of shredded Monterrey Jack (or any cheese you like) to each, fold tortilla over, and serve.
I have many variations of the burrito theme, but let’s move on to another cuisine: Italian-American.
Meal One: Make veal Parmesan with breaded veal cutlets covered with your favorite recipe pasta sauce (I usually make my own) and serve over whole wheat spaghetti cooked al dente. Make at least a cup more of the pasta sauce than you’ll need and refrigerate.
Meal Two: Place four whole wheat tortillas on cookie sheets. Brush on two ounces of the leftover pasta sauce. Add toppings of your choice, including shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in a 400° oven just until cheese melts, approximately ten minutes, depending on the type of pan used. Voilá! You have four individual pizzas.
You’ll notice I use whole grains, but that’s my choice. I like the taste of brown rice over white, and whole wheat pasta over semolina, but use whatever you like. Also, don’t forget the more obvious leftover dishes, like stir-fry, stew, and vegetable soup. My husband and I once brought back leftover steak from a restaurant dinner. The next night, I cubed the steak and made fajitas, another dish using the tortilla wraps.
Regardless of who does the “cooking ahead,” use your imagination and develop dishes for leftovers. Your family won’t know, or if they do, they won’t mind!
(originally appeared June 22, 2009, as a post for the Clever Divas)