Today’s Recipe Sunday, since it’s been awhile since we’ve last had one, is all about leftovers. Since studies show that most Americans throw away too much food anyway, it is easy to see that they also cook too much food. And alas we have the invention of leftovers, when you can have the same great meal today that you had yesterday. The exact same meal. We’ve all had them. Some of us love them and some of us hate them. But leftovers do come in handy, especially for extremely busy days. The problem however, is that not all food taste good the second (or third) time around. For this reason, some have opted out of the LO and just decide to throw away all the extras. But, why waste all that food? Here’s the truth: Not everyone knows how to store and reheat leftovers. Here are some tips on how to ensure your meal stays delicious days after you’ve cooked it in a segment I like to call: Leftover Delights.
Stay Away from the Microwave
We all use the microwave, or at least I do. But when it comes to reheating last night’s dinner, stay away from it. The microwave is going to dry the food out and rob it of its nutrients and natural flavors. A microwaved bowl of chili will not taste the same as a stove top heated bowl. When you re-heat food over the stove or in the oven, it’s the same way you cooked it in the first place and has a tendency to maintain the same flavors. Take French fries for example: Fries is just about the only food that cannot be eaten the next day, or can it? A brother once told me of something I couldn’t believe. But it made so much sense that I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself: To re-heat French fries, re-fry them on the stove for no longer than a minute or two. They will taste almost the same as when you had them the night before. I say almost because fries are nearly impossible to re-do, but if you had to, use this method.
And for every other food you wish to have again, just use the stove. We didn’t have a microwave when I grew up so all our leftovers were through the stove. And as children, we barely knew the difference. I just reheated some Asian rice a few days ago as a matter of fact (it was super bomb) on top of the stove instead of the microwave and it was just as delicious as the first time.
Note: If you work in an office, chances are you’ll just have the microwave. To make it taste better, add a little water and stir throughout since microwaved foods tend to get hard on the sides but still be cold in the middle.
The way food is stored also play a role in how they will taste the next day. Many of us just throw them in a couple of bowls or stick entire pots and pans in the refrigerator and be done with it. But here’s a better way:
• Make sure all food is stored in some kind of a container before putting in the refrigerator. If you can help it, try not to store away the whole pot, this affects the taste of the food.
• Aluminum Foil is widely used to cover food. That’s because it’s good for wrapping and helps food to maintain moisture. But you shouldn’t use foil to cover all kinds of foods. Foods that are high in acid, such as fruits, cabbage or tomatoes, should not be covered with foil because the aluminum can affect the taste of the food.
FYI: How should fruits be wrapped before refrigeration?
• Mold requires oxygen to grow, so air-tight packaging prevents that.
• Fresh-cut fruits should either have the cut surface covered in an airtight manner (with plastic film) or be placed cut surface down in a plastic container or on a plate. This prevents dehydration (melons), discoloration (apples and peaches), mold growth (most fruits), and vitamin loss. (Source: Ethel Tiersky, Susan Brewer, Ph.D., University of Illinois, Dept. of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Virginia Cooperative Extension “Food Storage Guidelines for Consumers”)
Tip: Start paying attention to how fruits and vegetables are stored at the grocery stores for a better idea of how to store them at home.
OK, everybody hold their breaths. I am sorry to report to you super leftover fans the following fact:
You can only reheat food once.
Earlier, we spoke about reheating food on the stove to maintain a better taste. After all, the whole purpose of having the same meal is to get the same taste. You may have needed to, but wouldn’t you also want it to taste just as good tonight as it did last night? So yes, reheat over the stove, but you can technically only reheat food once. The more times food is cooled and reheated the greater the potential for food poisoning as bacteria may multiply because the food is cooled too slowly, and might survive because the food isn’t reheated properly. It is a good idea not to eat leftovers after 2 days.
When you do reheat, make sure that food is reheated thoroughly so it is steaming hot all the way through. If you must use a microwave, stop to stir occasionally.
Note: Since I just had leftover rice I should also say: Leftover cooked rice is fine to eat as long as it gets cooled and refrigerated quickly after cooking and eaten within 24 hours. This is because rice can contain a tough type of bacteria that can survive heating. Most other leftovers are safe to eat up to two days after cooking. Always reheat leftovers until steaming hot.
When serving leftovers, make sure you are getting ready to eat immediately after reheating because the temperature can drop and bacteria could grow. It also tastes wayyy better this way.
The basic key to good leftovers is to remember that reheating means to re-cook, not just to warm up. This alone is what makes the difference between good foods the second time around, or stale food. Don’t just warm up tonight’s dinner, but re-cook it.
Health Tip: When washing your hands, always make sure to dry them. Evidence has shown that bacteria spreads more in the presence of moisture, so always dry your hands after washing them thoroughly.