Cheesy. Gooey. Warm. Smooth. Stick to your gut. Comfort food. Just about every cold winter’s day that is what I want. I want to wake up to some sort of carb-loaded warmness and a cup of coffee. I want hot soup for lunch. At the end of the day, I want something cheesy and gooey and warm. *sigh* If only I didn’t know better…and have family members that need a little more health in their lives.
However, since I am the menu planner around here, I tend to make quite a bit of comfort food. In fact, some of my favorite main dishes in the wintertime consist of soup or a casserole containing the leftovers of the week. That’s right. Leftovers. Over the last 2 years, I’ve learned that I no longer need to plan a meal for every night of the week. I always leave one night blank as I map it out because I know I can “make stuff up” with what I have.
I HATE throwing food away and I HATE food just sitting in my fridge. I have a fear of food poisoning and would rather use food up quickly and go to the store more often than risk a member of my family getting ill over old deli meat, milk, or leftovers. I’ve learned to buy fresh in small quantities unless I can freeze it (I freeze a lot!) and get creative to use one ingredient in multiple ways if I know it spoils quickly.
I grew up eating leftovers, and although I don’t mind simply reheating a meal and eating as is, I’d much rather create something new to the point that it doesn’t even taste like leftovers. You know what I’m talking about. Leftovers just have a taste.
So, in a typical week, I open my fridge door and explore. I see what bits and pieces I can use for either a soup or a casserole (also known as “hot dish” in my neck of the woods).
A church friend in Michigan introduced me to “Dutch Soup” which I thought was going to be some fantastic cultural experience but it ended up being a soup made of leftovers. It was fantastic and SO tasty and the ultimate comfort food on a winter’s day. I was inspired!
Here is an example of what I found in my fridge one day: leftover meatballs, baby carrots, some celery sticks, half an onion, and leftover cheesy potatoes. I added a handful of frozen corn from the freezer and made hamburger/potato soup! Yummmmm.
Soup and casseroles can be easy to make with just your pantry staples and leftovers if you know how to make a simple sauce and follow a few simple steps. Before tossing together ingredients, you must make a hot base to stir them into.
Simple cream sauce/gravy/soup base:
- 1 Tablespoon of Butter
- 1 Tablespoon of Flour
- 1 cup of chicken or beef broth, or milk*
- Salt & Pepper to taste
(Increase ingredients for larger quantities but keep ratios the same.)
- In a small saucepan melt butter on medium heat.
- Whisk in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes to allow the flour taste to cook out.
- Carefully whisk in 1 cup of liquid. Continue whisking until sauce has thickened.
- Season with salt & pepper.
- Remove from heat until ready to use.
*The higher the fat content in your milk, the creamier your meal will be and the longer you will need to run on the treadmill…
Here are variations of “leftover” meals to inspire you:
*Note: All of these recipes provide a base on which to build. You will need to increase the amount of ingredients based on the amount of brave faces at your home that will be partaking in such creations. 🙂
Chicken-based soup: Use above simple soup base recipe with double the chicken broth. Add in sauteed onions, celery, carrots, and cooked chicken and bring to rolling boil. Add diced raw potatoes or uncooked pasta at this point. Continue to add chicken broth as needed. Or skip the raw/uncooked starch and add in leftover cooked noodles, potatoes, or rice. Add in frozen or leftover steamed veggies right before serving.
Beef-based soup: Use above simple soup base recipe with double the beef broth. Add in sauteed onions, celery, carrots, cooked beef and bring to rolling boil. Add diced raw potatoes or uncooked pasta at this point. Continue to add beef broth as needed. Or skip the raw/uncooked starch and add in leftover cooked noodles, potatoes, or rice. Add in frozen or leftover steamed veggies right before serving.
Italian/Tomato-based soup: Use above simple soup base recipe with double the chicken or beef broth. Add any liquid tomato products that you have lying around: V8 juice, canned paste, sauce, diced/crushed, pureed fresh tomato, jarred pasta or marinara sauce, pizza sauce etc. Continue to add broth to desired consistency. Think of your favorite Italian soups (pasta e fagioli or minestrone) and add similar items such as ground beef, onion, small pasta, and kidney beans. Season with Italian seasonings. (I have thrown half a pizza casserole into a sauce pan with beef broth and more seasonings and it worked!)
Taco soup: Use above simple soup base recipe with double the chicken broth. Add a variation of the following ingredients: leftover taco meat, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, green chiles, salsa, frozen corn, kidney or black beans, onion, taco seasoning. Top with shredded cheddar, sour cream, and corn chips.
Chicken Tortilla soup: Double the above simple soup base recipe using 1 cup of chicken broth and 1 cup milk. Once thickened, add in 1/4 cup of shredded cheddar cheese to melt. Add a variation of the following ingredients: leftover shredded or diced cooked chicken, diced tomatoes, green chiles, salsa, frozen corn, black beans, onion, taco seasoning. Top with crushed tortilla chips.
Cream of anything soup: Double the above simple soup base recipe using 1 cup of chicken broth and 1 cup milk. Add seasonings such as onion powder, garlic powder, and dried parsley in addition to salt and pepper. If it seems to thick, add either broth or milk to thin. Add ingredients based on desired outcome.
- Broccoli cheese: Cheddar and cooked broccoli
- Mushroom: Sauteed mushrooms & onions
- Potato: cooked potatoes & anything to compliment: onion, bacon, cheese, carrots, corn, celery, etc.
Feeling inspired? How about translating some of these inspirations into something that can be combined during naptime to bake in the oven later? I’m talking about a good ‘ol casserole.
Just try this:
- Make a sauce: Whisk together a creamy base depending on what ingredients you have.
- If you are used to using Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup in everything might I suggest my favorite go-to base? Here it is:
- 1 TBSP butter – 1 TBSP flour – 1/2 c. chicken broth – 1/2 cup whole milk – 2 TBSP heavy cream – onion & garlic powder – dried parsley – salt & pepper(Remember to increase everything for larger quantities. I typically quadruple this recipe for a 9 x 13 casserole dish or for 1 lb. of pasta.)
- For a cheese sauce, use above simple sauce recipe with straight milk. After thickened, add half the amount of cheese as you did milk. If you want it cheesier, then add more! Blend over low heat until melted. Season and set aside.
- Kudos to you if you make your own spaghetti or marinara sauce. The closest I get to making a tomato-based pasta sauce is mixing almost-empty canned or bottled sauces from my fridge and pantry. What I have learned from this experience is that I should not let my husband watch me do this as it will negatively affect his attitude toward my cooking and diminish his enjoyment of my concoction. Also, I don’t think I will ever put ketchup in a casserole again. 😉
- Gather ingredients:
- Starch: cooked potatoes (or boiled for 5 minutes and drained), pasta cooked to al dente, uncooked instant rice (you will need to add equal part liquid for rice – in addition to sauce above)
- Vegetables: Raw root vegetables need to be steamed in advance to ensure doneness, raw spinach, leftover steamed and frozen veggies work great
- Seasoning: season depending on ingredients (see above soup ideas for inspiration)
- Cooked protein: ground turkey, shredded chicken, ground beef, diced ham, ground pork sausage, pepperoni slices, etc.
- Cheese: if not making a cheese sauce, random bits of cheese left in your fridge from planned meals almost always work in a casserole
- Mix sauce and ingredients together and spoon into a greased casserole dish. Most likely if you cover it in cheese you will be mom of the year. If you really want to go old school, you can also smother it in crunchies (corn flakes, crushed crackers, potato chips, french fried onions, seasoned bread crumbs). Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees until hot and bubbly. (If covered in cheese, remove foil 10-15 minutes before serving to allow the cheese to brown and crisp up.)
Aaahh…I’m salivating. Maybe it is because I’m smelling my ham and beany, noodly, vegetably soup simmering on the stove right now…
May your fridge be full of tidbits just beckoning to be placed in a pot and brought to perfection. Now, with your extra time saved by utilizing leftovers, I encourage you to whip up warm banana bread or dinner rolls and then just wait. Just wait for your family to say “mmmm” and for your husband’s jaw to drop when you tell him that the main dish he’s loving was something that you just “made up.” It’s a great feeling to make something out of nothing and warm your table and your tummy at the same time.
I’d love to hear if you’ve tried any crazy concoctions and have been surprised by the tasty results. Comment below! 🙂