Don’t scoff at the idea of leftovers, they are a great way to save money and enjoy a meal from the previous night all over again, whether for lunch the next day or the following evening’s dinner. Pastas soups and chili are great left-over dishes, and some food like casseroles, chicken salad or those with many spices are actually better the next day because it gives the flavors a chance to meld together.
The biggest concerns with leftovers are maintaining their delicious, fresh taste and keeping them free from bacteria. As long as you handle and store your food properly you can ensure the taste keeps its integrity and that it stays bacteria-free. You can do this by using proper storage containers, refrigeration and heating methods.
Before you can put something in the fridge you have to have a way of storing it so it stays fresh and doesn’t spill. Honestly, there is no right or wrong way. You can use plastic, glass or metal air-tight containers, plastic bags, plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Just make sure you get all or as much of the air out as you can and seal it tight.
Your refrigerator should be about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) or lower. You might want to use an appliance thermometer to get an accurate reading of the temperature. Food can go into the fridge once it’s reached a temperature of 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be warm to the touch, but it shouldn’t burn you when you touch the dish. If you don’t want to wait for it to cool down that much you can always place the dish in an ice bath or cold water until it is cool enough for you to touch.
Food should be stored in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking. If it is very warm inside your home you should probably put it in within one hour. Cooked meat can be stored for three to four days. Casseroles, veggies and other dishes like cakes or pies will usually keep for three to five days.
If you think you won’t eat your leftovers in a few days time you might consider freezing them. Your freezer temperature should be set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius). This completely halts bacterial activity. The food can stay safe and usable for months in the freezer. Frozen, cooked meats and other dishes will start to lose their flavor after three months, so don’t leave them in there too long!
When you are ready to reheat and eat those leftovers once more, make sure you warm them up until their core is at a safe temperature — 165 degrees Fahrenheit . All sauces, soups and gravies should be brought to a boil. Don’t reheat your leftovers in crock pots, chafing dishes or slow cookers.
You can use a stove top, oven or microwave to reheat your food, depending on what it is you are warming up. If you do use the microwave make sure you use a lower power setting to avoid overcooking. If you have food you’d rather not heat up, and instead you’d like to eat it cold (like pizza perhaps), that is fine, provided you put it in the fridge after you finished with it the night before and didn’t leave it to sit out on the counter all night! Oh boy would that be teeming with bacteria.
Leftovers are a great way to relive a culinary moment, save a little money and provide yourself or family members with a quick solution for lunch or dinner the following day. Even more than that, if you freeze the leftovers they are really great for those nights when you just don’t feel like cooking, for whatever reason (sick, tired, sick and tired). And like my mother always says, “Don’t waste your food, there are people in this world that would give anything to have what’s on your plate.” Or what’s left over …
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