Takeout is one of America's favorite conveniences. The typical American spends a whopping $70,000 on it and delivery in their lifetime.
I, too, am guilty of ordering in. After all, I live in New York City, where residents use "Seamless" as a verb in everyday conversation.
Apps like Seamless let you place a delivery order with the touch of your finger, making it far too easy to overspend and over-order. If you're like me, over-ordering tends to lead to leftovers, which more often than not end up in the trash.
For this week's Cash Diet challenge, not one takeout scrap would be left behind.
After ordering way too much food with my roommates on a Sunday night, I had to turn our hodgepodge of leftovers into a week's worth of lunches and dinners.
Since we ordered from a variety of cuisines, I was working with a random set of ingredients: tortillas, a steak salad, shrimp, bok choy, balsamic vinaigrette and a tub of ground pork, to name a few. It was overwhelming, so I called up an expert: Joel Gamoran, National Chef for Sur La Table and host of the cooking show "SCRAPS."
For starters, Joel taught me that when you have leftovers, you're not limited to just reheating them in the microwave. With a little bit of creativity, you can transform leftover scraps into meals that look nothing like last night's dinner. Here are his tips:
1. Make a plan. Lay out everything that you're working with and then figure out the best way to mix and match your ingredients.
Since I needed 10 meals for the week, Joel suggested I plan out five different combinations of my ingredients and then make enough of each recipe for two meals.
2. Use ingredients that go bad first. Proteins last three to five days, so frontload your week with meals involving meat. Other foods that spoil quickly include fruit, tomatoes, avocado, kale and hummus.
3. Think creatively to use scraps you'd normally throw out. Stale bread can easily be turned into breadcrumbs; salad dressing can become a glaze for meat; and chicken bones can be used to make a delicious broth.
Before tossing anything, challenge yourself to re-purpose seemingly useless scraps.
4. Don't be afraid to mix cuisines. In fact, Joel encouraged mixing and matching so that each meal would taste distinct from the original dish. As I learned, leftover taco meat from our Mexican spot pairs rather nicely with marinara from our Italian joint to make a tasty ragu.
Read on to see how I turned a ragbag of ingredients into 10 delicious lunches and dinners for the week. It didn't take much time in the kitchen (or any actual cooking) — just a stove top and a bit of creativity.
Leftovers: Steak and kale salad, brown rice, soy sauce
Prepping meal No. 1 couldn't have been simpler. I heated a splash of olive oil in a large pan, added a generous portion of leftover brown rice and let it get nice and crispy. I also used surplus soy sauce packets to add flavor.
Next, I threw in what was left of our steak and kale salad.
The resulting fried rice was much more satisfying than a cold salad that's been chilling in the fridge for a couple days.
Leftovers: shredded chicken, salad dressing, bok choy, kale
This recipe took more effort because it involved shredding up the half chicken we ordered, but that was as complex as it got. I jazzed up the meat by tossing it in a frying pan with the balsamic vinaigrette that came on the side with our salad.
Next, I added the bok choy from our Chinese order and a leftover side of kale to create a delicious and filling medley.
The fun didn't stop there. Instead of chucking the chicken carcass, I used the bones to make a chicken stock, which is surprisingly simple to do. You can follow a more detailed homemade stock recipe, but here are the basic instructions: Put your chicken carcass in a pot with water and any additional veggies you have on hand, bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for a couple hours.
Leftovers: Spanish rice, shrimp and veggies, marinara sauce
I'm a sucker for paella, but wouldn't dare try to make it from scratch. Nothing beats the traditional stuff from Spain, but my leftovers version was pretty darn tasty and incredibly easy to whip up.
All I did was throw the leftover Spanish rice into a frying pan until it got crispy, add the contents of our leftover shrimp and veggie dinner dish and tie it all together with a splash of marinara sauce. Delicioso!
Leftovers: pork, pesto pasta, marinara sauce, stale bread, broccoli, chicken broth
Day four was particularly exciting because I got to use my homemade chicken stock. But besides the fresh stock, all of my remaining ingredients were looking pretty questionable at this point, especially the ground pork that had congealed into one large block.
Things started to take shape, though, as I combined ingredients. I heated the pork in my homemade stock, which made the meat look less dubious. Next, I cut up my rock hard bread into crouton shapes, drizzled olive oil over them and sent them into the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Finally, I added the pesto pasta, side of broccoli and remaining marinara to the meat mixture, and topped my ragu off with crispy bread crumbs.
It was by far the most eclectic meal I'd strung together, but also the tastiest.
Ingredients: puréed beans, chicken stock, parmesan cheese, tortillas
It was slim pickings by day five. All I had left were black beans, tortillas, a side of parmesan cheese and my homemade stock. But with a blender and frying pan, I turned my remains into tasty vegetarian quesadillas.
I simply blended the beans and stock together, which became the base for my quesadillas, and used the parmesan cheese as glue. Eight leftover tortillas meant four quesadillas.
Don't underestimate the power of leftovers. The next time you over-order or have excess food from a dinner party or potluck, don't toss it. That's money down the drain. Instead, spend 10 to 20 minutes transforming it into a variety of lunches and dinners for the week.
Plus, you may find, as I did, that stretching leftovers makes you appreciate your next meal out that much more.
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See more Cash Diet challenges:
- Americans spend thousands of dollars dining out—here's how I made boozy brunch for $5 a person
- I'm living on $60 a week in NYC for 2 months—here's how
- I had to cook 5 different, healthy dinners for $20—here's how I pulled it off
Video by Mary Stevens