How to Come Up with Tasty, Creative Leftovers Recipes

A pizza omelette represents just one of the many creative ways in which it is possible to use up a wide variety of meat and vegetable leftovers
A pizza omelette represents just one of the many creative ways in which it is possible to use up a wide variety of meat and vegetable leftovers

What to do with leftovers is a problem faced by most people at one time or another. It may be that you have misjudged the quantity of food required for the occasion, it could be that you and your guests were not as hungry as you anticipated, or it could even be - most frustratingly of all - that you were forced to buy food in greater quantities than you knew you required due to the packaging policies of your local shop, store or supermarket.

Whatever the circumstances leading to the creation of the leftovers, this page is devoted to first of all looking at the different types of leftovers, how they come about, how much money you can save by appropriating them properly and finally - but above all - how you can actually find tasty, interesting and effective ways to cut down on the food you discard by using up your leftovers.

The Three Types of Leftovers

Leftover beef chilli
Leftover beef chilli

It is possible to split the concept of leftovers in to three broad categories. The first is where a quantity of a completed dish is left over after service. This could be some chilli as seen above, it could be a casserole, it could be a stew. In most instances, leftovers of this type will simply be cooled, refrigerated and reheated perhaps for lunch the following day. Even with leftovers of this type, however, it is possible to get creative. The leftover chilli in the picture was firstly reheated before being spread on toast and having grated cheddar cheese melted over the top under the grill/broiler.

Leftover roast turkey
Leftover roast turkey | Source

The second form of leftovers is an individual, cooked/prepared ingredient. Turkey is a very common leftover of this type, particularly around Christmas or Thanksgiving. While turkey sandwiches may automatically spring to mind in this situation, turkey salad may be an option, turkey omelette or even a simply prepared turkey chilli where the turkey is only reheated in the simmering sauce. Imagination is as always the key, along with consideration of the other potential ingredients available.

Leftover assorted cooking ingredients
Leftover assorted cooking ingredients

The third type of leftovers is perhaps for many the one least likely to spring to mind but the type perhaps most likely to lead to wastage. It is this type of leftovers with which this page is chiefly concerned. They are ingredients which have proven surplus to requirements in the preparation of a dish or meal and have been stored in the fridge for anticipated later use. These ingredients are the leftovers most likely to be forgotten and to ultimately go to waste.

The Potential Cost of Wasted Leftovers

Throwing away leftovers is not just a waste of food, it is a waste of money
Throwing away leftovers is not just a waste of food, it is a waste of money

There can be no disputing the fact that the throwing away of leftovers also constitutes the throwing away in real terms of money. To help illustrate this fact, the table below considers the leftovers included in the photograph slightly above, all of which were genuinely taken from the fridge and were in need of urgent using if they were not to be fit only for disposal. Before scrolling down, take another look at the photo and a guess at how much they actually cost to buy in their shown quantities.

Food Item
Approximate Cost (Pounds Sterling)
Approximate Equivalent Cost (US Dollars)
4 baking potatoes
£1.25
$1.87
Pack of cut, fresh parsley
£0.79
$1.19
3/4 white onion
£0.10
$0.15
1/2 pack sliced bell peppers
£0.30
$0.45
1/2 lettuce
£0.35
$0.52
1 Bramley apple
£0.45
$0.67
1/2 fennel bulb
£0.50
$0.75
4 ounces cheddar cheese
£1.00
$1.50
1 egg
£0.35
$0.52
4 ounces sliced, skinless chicken breast
£1.30
$1.95
3 or 4 celery sticks
£0.30
$0.45
Totals
£6.69
$10.00

Surprised? The truth is that without a concerted effort being made, most of these items would have expired and gone to waste. Would you take a $10 bill and through it in the trash can once or twice a week? Would you take a £5 note and a couple of pound coins and throw them in the bin? Unlikely - so why do it with the equivalent value in food...?

Getting Creative with Leftovers: Food Theme Days

Bacon makes an excellent choice for a food theme day
Bacon makes an excellent choice for a food theme day

The photo is of some standard American bacon, known as smoked streaky bacon in the UK. So what does that have to do with the leftovers detailed above and their creative usage rather than their going to waste? In simple terms, the bacon is going to be used as a common denominator in what will be branded a bacon food theme day. It doesn't have to be bacon, of course; it could be chicken, sausages, or even eggs. The principal remains the same in each instance.

Take a look again at the assembled leftovers. While chicken is there, cheese, an egg and potatoes - all excellent food staples - there is no obvious way of combining all the ingredients in to one or two simple meals to ensure nothing goes to waste. If, however, you select a very popular and basic food ingredient (bacon, in this instance) and think how you can use bacon with one, two or even three of these ingredients at a time to make a few tasty meals, a wealth of opportunities will soon open up before you. The bonus is that you may even come up with meal ideas that you want to prepare again, quite deliberately, rather than assembling them simply with leftovers.

The recipes below afford a few ideas for using up these leftover ingredients with bacon. They are ordered in the form of one day's meals for one person but could just as easily be made to serve more than one person one or two meals.

Note that simple staples such as bread, condiments, herbs and spices are included as acceptable and available additions.

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Sandwich

Bacon, sliced hard boiled egg and parsley form an excellent if basic sandwich
Bacon, sliced hard boiled egg and parsley form an excellent if basic sandwich

Cook Time

  • Prep time: 15 min
  • Cook time: 5 min
  • Ready in: 20 min
  • Yields: One sandwich

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 2 slices of bread
  • Butter for bread (optional)
  • Chopped parsley, as required

Instructions

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Boiling the eggEgg is cooled under running cold waterFrying the baconBacon is laid on one slice of breadSliced, hard boiled egg is laid on baconBacon and egg breakfast sandwich is ready to eat
Boiling the egg
Boiling the egg
Egg is cooled under running cold water
Egg is cooled under running cold water
Frying the bacon
Frying the bacon
Bacon is laid on one slice of bread
Bacon is laid on one slice of bread
Sliced, hard boiled egg is laid on bacon
Sliced, hard boiled egg is laid on bacon
Bacon and egg breakfast sandwich is ready to eat
Bacon and egg breakfast sandwich is ready to eat
  1. Put the egg in to a pot of cold water and bring the water up to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for eight minutes.
  2. Lift the pot to the sink and start cold water running in to it to cool the egg quickly while you get the bacon on to fry in a little vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan.
  3. Crack the shell of the egg on a hard surface and carefully peel. Cut it in to slices with a very sharp knife.
  4. Butter two slices of bread (if desired). Lay the cooked bacon on one slice, followed by the egg slices and the chopped parsley. Lay the second slice of bread on top and slice to serve.

Cheesy Bell Pepper and Bacon Roll for Lunch

Cheddar cheese is melted over bacon and bell peppers on a toasted bread roll
Cheddar cheese is melted over bacon and bell peppers on a toasted bread roll

Cook Time

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 10 min

Ready in: 15 min

Yields: One bread roll sandwich

Ingredients

  • 3 slices of bacon
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 bread roll, halved
  • Small handful mixed bell pepper slices
  • 3 slices cheddar cheese
  • Black pepper

Instructions

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Bacon is fried in a little oilBacon is drained on kitchen paperBread roll is sliced in halfBread roll base is lightly toastedBacon slices are laid on bread roll baseBell pepper slices are laid on baconCheese is thinly slicedCheese slices are laid on bell pepperCheese is melted over bell peppers and baconTop is placed on cheesy bacon and bell pepper roll to serve
Bacon is fried in a little oil
Bacon is fried in a little oil
Bacon is drained on kitchen paper
Bacon is drained on kitchen paper
Bread roll is sliced in half
Bread roll is sliced in half
Bread roll base is lightly toasted
Bread roll base is lightly toasted
Bacon slices are laid on bread roll base
Bacon slices are laid on bread roll base
Bell pepper slices are laid on bacon
Bell pepper slices are laid on bacon
Cheese is thinly sliced
Cheese is thinly sliced
Cheese slices are laid on bell pepper
Cheese slices are laid on bell pepper
Cheese is melted over bell peppers and bacon
Cheese is melted over bell peppers and bacon
Top is placed on cheesy bacon and bell pepper roll to serve
Top is placed on cheesy bacon and bell pepper roll to serve
  1. Fry the bacon gently in a little oil until done as you like it. Lift to a plate covered with kitchen paper to drain.
  2. Toast the bottom half of the roll on its cut side under your grill/broiler until golden.
  3. Lay the bacon on the toasted roll half, followed by the bell peppers and the cheese. Melt the cheese under the grill/broiler, at the same time toasting the top half of the roll on its cut side.
  4. Add some pepper to the melted cheese and place the top on the roll to serve.

Celery and Fennel Soup Recipe

Celery and fennel soup is garnished with a little bit of crispy bacon
Celery and fennel soup is garnished with a little bit of crispy bacon

It is more than worth mentioning that this particular creation - devised on the spur of the moment and as a direct result of the available leftovers - immediately went on to the "Must make again" list. It was absolutely delicious and served as an evening meal appetizer/starter.

Cook Time

Prep time: 15 min

Cook time: 30 min

Ready in: 45 min

Yields: Two modest servings

Ingredients

  • Two medium sized baking potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 sticks of celery, washed, topped, tailed and chopped
  • ½ bulb of fennel, sliced
  • Salt and white pepper
  • Leaves from inside celery bulb, roughly chopped
  • 2 slices of bacon, fried until crisp and roughly crumbled

Instructions

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Potatoes, half fennel bulb and celery sticks for soupChopped potato, celery and fennelWater is added to cover chopped vegetablesBlending celery, fennel and potatoesBlended celery and fennel soupCelery leavesChopped celery leaves are added to soupDraining bacon slices for soup garnishCelery and fennel soup is plated
Potatoes, half fennel bulb and celery sticks for soup
Potatoes, half fennel bulb and celery sticks for soup
Chopped potato, celery and fennel
Chopped potato, celery and fennel
Water is added to cover chopped vegetables
Water is added to cover chopped vegetables
Blending celery, fennel and potatoes
Blending celery, fennel and potatoes
Blended celery and fennel soup
Blended celery and fennel soup
Celery leaves
Celery leaves
Chopped celery leaves are added to soup
Chopped celery leaves are added to soup
Draining bacon slices for soup garnish
Draining bacon slices for soup garnish
Celery and fennel soup is plated
Celery and fennel soup is plated
  1. Add the potato, celery and fennel to a large pot. Season with salt and white pepper and pour in enough cold water just to cover the vegetables and no more. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer just until the potatoes are soft - around twenty minutes.
  2. Great care has to be taken when blending hot liquids, as a vacuum can be formed, or the lid can fly off the food processor. If you wish, let the soup cool partly before blending until smooth.
  3. Pour the blended soup back in to the pot and add the chopped celery leaves. Stir well and heat until it again reaches a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning if required.
  4. Ladle the soup in to serving plates or bowls and garnish with the crumbled bacon.

Bacon Wrapped Chicken Breast Sandwiches

Chicken breast strips cooked in bacon are served on sandwiches
Chicken breast strips cooked in bacon are served on sandwiches

The bacon wrapped chicken was served on sandwiches in this instance as a second course following the soup but could just have easily been served with homemade chips/fries, made from the remaining potatoes.

Cook Time

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 10 min (approx)

Ready in: 15 min (approx)

Yields: Two sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 2 one inch thick chicken breast strips
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • Little vegetable oil
  • Black pepper
  • 2 slices of bread
  • Butter (optional)
  • HP Sauce (optional)

Instructions

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Wrapping chicken breast strips in baconChicken breast and bacon ready to be grilled/broiledChicken and bacon parcels are cookedChicken and bacon parcels laid on breadHP Sauce is optional on chicken and bacon sandwichesTucking in to chicken breast and bacon sandwiches
Wrapping chicken breast strips in bacon
Wrapping chicken breast strips in bacon
Chicken breast and bacon ready to be grilled/broiled
Chicken breast and bacon ready to be grilled/broiled
Chicken and bacon parcels are cooked
Chicken and bacon parcels are cooked
Chicken and bacon parcels laid on bread
Chicken and bacon parcels laid on bread
HP Sauce is optional on chicken and bacon sandwiches
HP Sauce is optional on chicken and bacon sandwiches
Tucking in to chicken breast and bacon sandwiches
Tucking in to chicken breast and bacon sandwiches
  1. Start your grill/broiler pre-heating at a medium to high setting.
  2. Season the chicken strips lightly with black pepper and wrap them each carefully with two slices of bacon. Use cocktail sticks or toothpicks to hold the parcels together.
  3. The foil laid on the grilling tray here is simply to make washing up easier but is not necessary. Lightly oil the foil/tray and lay the chicken and bacon parcels on top.
  4. Grill/broil for around ten minutes until done, turning frequently.
  5. Butter and half two slices of bread. Lay a bacon and chicken parcel on one half of each slice. Twist the cocktail sticks and pull gently to remove.
  6. The HP Sauce is optional before the top is placed on each sandwich.

Onion Fritters and Bacon Sandwich Late Night Snack

Onion fritters and bacon on a sandwich with hot chilli ketchup
Onion fritters and bacon on a sandwich with hot chilli ketchup

Cook Time

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 5 min

Ready in: 10 min

Yields: One sandwich

Ingredients

  • ½ small white onion, sliced and broken in to strands
  • 1 tablespoon self-raising/rising flour
  • Salt
  • 4 slices bacon
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 2 slices bread
  • Butter for bread (optional)
  • Hot chilli tomato ketchup (optional)

Instructions

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Onion is sliced for frittersOnion slices are dipped in batterDeep frying onion frittersFrying bacon slicesDraining onion fritters on kitchen paperBacon is laid on buttered slice of breadOnion fritters are laid on baconOnion fritter and bacon sandwich is ready to serve
Onion is sliced for fritters
Onion is sliced for fritters
Onion slices are dipped in batter
Onion slices are dipped in batter
Deep frying onion fritters
Deep frying onion fritters
Frying bacon slices
Frying bacon slices
Draining onion fritters on kitchen paper
Draining onion fritters on kitchen paper
Bacon is laid on buttered slice of bread
Bacon is laid on buttered slice of bread
Onion fritters are laid on bacon
Onion fritters are laid on bacon
Onion fritter and bacon sandwich is ready to serve
Onion fritter and bacon sandwich is ready to serve
  1. While onion rings are most common prepared in this way, this particular onion had already been cut to render this not applicable.
  2. Mix the flour and a little salt with enough cold water to form a batter the consistency of thick cream. Ideally, the batter should be rested for around twenty minutes in the fridge but this is not essential.
  3. Bring your deep fryer or a deep pan of vegetable oil up to a high heat. Dip the onions in the batter and fry in the oil for three or four minutes until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
  4. Start frying the bacon in a little oil in a non-stick frying pan as soon as the onions are in the hot oil.
  5. Lay the bacon on one slice of bread, followed by the drained onion fritters. Add the spicy ketchup and the second slice of bread before halving to serve.

Conclusion

The five recipes immediately above were all contrived largely from leftovers in a fridge that would otherwise - in most instances - have gone to waste. The dishes were simple in their development, fairly quick to prepare and absolutely delicious, each and every one. They didn't even require the use of all the leftovers, with potatoes, an apple and some cheese still remaining unused for further experimentation.

Hopefully and above all, this page has demonstrated the possibilities that exist for using apparently boring, almost worthless leftovers to make nourishing and tasty meals, reducing waste and saving what can amount to considerable amounts of money in the long term.

Thank you for reading. Hopefully this concept can help you reduce waste and save considerably on future food/grocery expenses.

LIke these Leftovers Principles and Ideas?

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© 2013 Gordon Hamilton

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14 comments

Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 21 months ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Thanks, Kristen. Hope you enjoy any of these ideas that you care to try to they help you cut down on wasted food.


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 21 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Great recipes in this article. I'm going to try one or some of them this spring, especially with my turkey bacon. Voted up!


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 2 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Thank you very much, CharronsChatter :) I hope something here was useful to you.


CharronsChatter profile image

CharronsChatter 2 years ago from California

beaut-EE-ful layout/ recipe/ ideas. This should be on food network or something. :) Seriously well done, chef/artiste.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Good point also about the farmers, oldiesmusic - the waste factor increases all the time. Glad you like the ideas and thanks for visiting.


oldiesmusic profile image

oldiesmusic 3 years ago from United States

I love your ideas... yes, wasting food is wasting money. And I also think of the farmers who work hard to grow their produce and market them.

Cooking your leftovers in many ways also spells your creativity. Thanks for sharing your ideas! :)


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

You're very welcome, Stephanie7889. I hope the ideas help you save some money. Thanks for stopping by.


Stephanie7889 profile image

Stephanie7889 3 years ago from Fountain, CO

wow! I loved this hub! I am always at a loss for what to do with leftover food, and I usually end up just throwing it out. Thanks so much for the tips!


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Glad to hear it's of use to you arijitm2000. Thanks for visiting and commenting.


arijitm2000 profile image

arijitm2000 3 years ago from Mid-west, Texas, Jersey, Florida, Mumbai, & Hyderabad (India)

Very interesting & very useful...


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Thank you very much, Daddy Paul. I hope you find this concept and these recipe ideas useful.


Daddy Paul profile image

Daddy Paul 3 years ago from Michigan

Love the way you cook. Love the way you think.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom Author

Thanks, randomcreative. Yes, it's frightening when we actually start to track the food that sometimes goes to waste.


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Great idea for an article! It can be so tough to use up those random leftover ingredients sometimes, and it's always a shame to let them go bad. Thanks for the great overview and wealth of recipes.

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