Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Leftovers. It’s such an ugly word.

It makes it sound as if all of that food you so lovingly nurtured through the cooking process is completely without value or merit, just because it has previously appeared on your table.

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I know. There are plenty of you who have no problem just tossing whatever doesn’t get eaten on the first go round, but clearly you weren’t raised in the same house I was. Throwing out food isn’t an option when you are raised by a Holocaust survivor. Besides, my American-born mother was always busy trying to find creative ways to repurpose last night’s dinner into something new. Some of her upcycling attempts were great, while others, like the egg whites that accidentally had salt added to them instead of sugar were inedible no matter how hard my mom tried to reinvent them – in a too salty potato kugel, which then made its way into that Shabbos’s cholent.

I admit that over the years I have thrown out food that just couldn’t be resuscitated or somehow seemed to multiply uncontrollably in my refrigerator. But I would like to think that many of my experiments have been successful, although if you reach out to my husband or kids, they might tell you otherwise.

Take leftover challah, for example. While you have to be careful about your challah becoming fleishig over the course of Shabbos, there is plenty that can be done with the extras. Slice it up, slather it with garlic oil and bake and you have heavenly garlic bread. Cube it, season and bake and voila, you have croutons for your soup or salad. Tear it into pieces and throw it into a challah kugel or stuffing, or dry it out and pulverize it into bread crumbs in your food processor. And, of course, non-fleishig challah is great for grilled cheese and French toast, kid pleasing favorites that taste so much better on challah than they do on regular bread.

Too many cold cuts left over after Shabbos lunch or a party? Fear not. If you can’t use them up during the week, pop them in your freezer in a zip-lock bag. They do get watery when they defrost but are fabulous in deli roll, flat breads, egg rolls or any other recipe where they need to be reheated, in addition to being a great addition to your Shabbos cholent.

As a dyed in the wool mayonnaise-phobe, dips really make me nuts, we never seem to finish a whole container and every time I open the refrigerator, I find myself greeted by stacks and stacks of partially eaten dips in odd sized containers that take up more than their fair share of real estate. Making schnitzel one day, it occurred to me to try brushing the chicken with a random dip instead of dunking it into an egg wash. The results were fabulous and offered lots of flavor options, working equally well both chicken and fish.

If you have ever found yourself with a box of cereal lurking in your cabinet for months on end because no one is willing to eat it, you might want to contemplate these suggestions. Ground unsweetened cereal makes a great coating for fish or chicken (as long as it contains no dairy), while crushed sweetened cereals work well in pancake and muffin batter. Just don’t tell your kids what they are eating and no one will ever be the wiser.

While it doesn’t happen all that often, every now and then I find myself with more leftover Shabbos potato kugel than we can possibly eat in the next few days. Call me crazy, but it seems like a crime to throw out perfectly good potato kugel so instead of tossing it, wrap small packages of kugel in foil and stash them in your freezer, and then next Friday as you make your cholent, toss in some frozen potato kugel instead of putting in fresh potatoes.

Historians may argue whether or not it was Marie Antoinette who uttered the famous phrase “Let them eat cake,” but no matter where those words originated, we like to follow them around here, even when it comes to cake that seems to overstay its welcome in my freezer. Unwanted cake is great in a trifle; just cube it, brush it with liqueur or some kind of syrup and then layer it with whipped cream and either mousse or fruit. Or pull out your food processor, grind it up into crumbs, mix them with some frosting, roll into little spheres and optional toppings like sprinkles or nuts and then pop them in the freezer for super yummy cake balls. Want to be really fancy? Jam a lollipop stick into your cake ball before freezing and impress your friends and family with mega cute cake pops.

Cookies can be similarly repurposed. Break them into chunks and stir them into slightly softened ice cream, brownie or cake batter or even a new batch of cookie dough. While cookie bark always looks impressive, it is probably the easiest thing in the world to make – chop cookies into pieces, lay them on waxed paper, slather them with melted chocolate and then break into pieces when cooled. Throw a cookie or two into your blender next time you have leftovers to add texture to a smoothie or grind them up in the food processor and mix with melted margarine next time you need to make a piecrust. Worst-case scenario, you can wrap them up and bring them over to my house – I have never met a cookie I didn’t like and will happily them eat for you.

While they may not technically be leftovers, all of that extra fruit I buy and then forget to serve is another category of food that tends to languish in my refrigerator. You know how it goes – one day you pull out the fruit bin and you see what looks like a Jekyll and Hyde peach, with one side totally pristine and perfect while the other is eerily reminiscent of a prop from a horror movie. But while it may not win any beauty pageants, fruit with the occasional soft spot still has delicious possibilities once you eliminate any squishy or inedible parts. Try cooking the salvageable pieces with a little bit of wine or water for a healthy and light dessert, or freezing them and using them as the basis for your next smoothie. Slice or dice your fruit and add it to cake, pancake or muffin batter or bake up a cobbler, crisp, pie or a batch of fruit-studded scones.

If your kids (or you) love fruit leather, there are probably a gazillion recipes that you can Google for making your own at home, many of which can be made in your oven instead of a dehydrator. Looking for a healthy summer treat? Take chunks of cut up fruit and/or whole grapes that aren’t getting any younger, thread them onto skewers, pop them in your freezer and then watch them disappear as everyone indulges in frozen fruit kabobs. Or try this season’s hottest (I mean coolest) dessert – nice cream, made by pureeing frozen banana chunks with a splash of liquid and a spoonful or two of your favorite flavorings and mix ins.

So next time you find yourself putting away uneaten food after supper, don’t think of those extras as leftovers; they are wonderful ingredients full of promise that are just waiting to be transformed into something amazing. Don’t worry – no one in your family needs to know what they were in their previous incarnations – let’s just let that be our little secret.

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