Cooking for one... or learning to like leftovers

Mama Liberty's picture

I have always disliked "leftovers." With a few exceptions, most foods are just more appealing to me when fresh made. When I had a family, that was seldom a problem, but in the nearly 25 years I've lived alone, it has often caused me to struggle to balance between the frugal use of my resources and my food preferences.

As a charter member of the "old too soon, wise too late club," I think I finally got a handle on at least some of it. Better late than never.

Over the last few weeks it has been hot during the day and my appetite is always seriously disturbed in hot weather. Not that I don't get hungry, naturally, but I lose whatever desire I otherwise have to cook. So, when I do cook, I tend to make far more than I normally would so I won't have to cook again quite as soon. Then I have to make myself eat it, and sometimes wind up wasting a lot of it.

Last week I was cooking a batch of pork ribs for a party to be given the next day. I put the roasting pan out on the deck on a folding table so it wouldn't heat up the house. Then I fussed and worried because I wasn't able to check on it constantly and finally just turned it off when the meat was about 3/4 as done as I would have considered ready to eat. The meat was packed into freezer containers once it cooled. I planned to finish cooking it the next day to be ready for the party just in time.

For various reasons, half of the guests were unable to come at the last minute, so the meat that would not be needed was promptly frozen in small amounts. The rest was thoroughly heated and the BBQ sauce put on just a short time before company arrived. It was exceptionally good, for some reason.

Three days later I decided to take a few of the ribs out and heat them for supper. I didn't put on any of the BBQ sauce, just added a little water and sliced some more onions and celery into it. It tasted perfectly fresh!

So now I'm experimenting with different things and I think one of the big problems all along has been that the leftover food was overcooked by the time it went to the refrigerator or freezer. Sometimes that simply can't be prevented, of course, but I'm thinking about that more as I cook and tend to take out and store what I know will be excess quite a while before the rest of it is ready to eat. I also don't include things like potatoes (for example) because they will simply never taste good after being frozen and thawed. I add that sort of thing fresh each time.

I have several containers of food thus prepared in the freezer now, and have used two already. Both of them were thawed and then allowed to cook gently until ready to eat, adding fresh vegetables and so forth. So far they have been far superior to any other leftover I ever had.

What have you done about the leftover problem?

Teenagers.

I’m glad you’ve found a way to make leftovers palatable; I imagine you dislike food waste as much as we do.

My method to deal with them has been to have teenagers in the house—especially males. There’s rarely anything left after a meal! The youngest of Lobo’s first brood exited teenagerhood this year; but Snolf Mk I will enter it upon his birthday next month. He’s already eating enough to qualify; and if he’s going to grow into his feet, his appetite will only increase.

More seriously, I’ve never had the issue with leftovers that you have. Many times growing up, we ate leftovers or went hungry, so I guess my palate learned to like them. Some things—certain soups, chili, lasagna, and pasta sauce among them—actually taste better to me if they’ve sat a while and then been reheated. I think the flavors meld more.

Teens rule!

Yes, some things like chili are actually better the next day, but I just don't like most things that way, especially after being frozen. ... just one of my many quirks.

When I was growing up, we seldom HAD any leftovers. Our finances were limited enough that mother was very careful to make ONLY what we would need at any one time. We had minimal refrigeration and NO freezer at all until I was a teen myself, so it was not easy to preserve leftovers and they had to be used quickly.

I've HAD to eat an awful lot of leftovers since my sons grew up and moved away, but I've never been able to really enjoy them. One of the clues - that finally penetrated my thick skull after all these years - was the realization that I do not like overcooked food in any case! And if leftovers are re-heated, especially more than once, that's exactly what happens.

So, the remedy is obviously to find a way to store things for reheating before they are totally done cooking and put them into single meal containers. It's not going to work all the time, or for everything, but it is already paying off and I'm actually enjoying some leftovers for a change.