Fork and knife on colorful background

Dotdash Meredith / Sabrina Tan

EAT: How to Get Re-Inspired in the Kitchen and Enjoy Your Food (Leftovers Too!)

A personal chef teaches us how to reheat leftovers and find joy in ordering in.

You have done it! You reached the money week! You were READY with your kitchen inventory and meal planning. You were SET with flavor combinations, cooking techniques, grocery shopping, storage tips, and on your way to becoming an intuitive cook. You found out you can COOK when you know the importance of timing using active and inactive cooking, prepping, and cleaning as you cook. And now…it’s time to EAT!

I am certainly not going to tell you how to eat in this essay. Rather, I will give you some reassurance on all you have done to get the food to the plate, some insurance for repurposing leftovers and in-a-pinch pantry meals, and some assurance that your journey to being a more intuitive cook is a delicious discovery ahead.

Chicken-Fried Steak With White Gravy

The Spruce / Nyssa Tanner

How to Reheat Leftovers 

Depending on your household’s tolerance for leftovers, which you have determined in READY, reheating might be a scandalous word in your home. However, using the right appliance and/or technique can make all the difference in turning back the clock on dishes as if they were freshly prepared.

We have an arsenal of tips for reheating steak, tortillas, fries, mashed potatoes, pizza, and more. However, my biggest recommendation that applies to all of our tips requires nothing more than the air in your kitchen: bring anything that will be reheated to room temperature first

The simple act of pulling out portions of what you want to eat to a plate and letting it sit on your counter for 10-15 minutes while you unwind from the day with a glass of wine or take a phone call, can shorten the reheating time and save, say, an expensive cut of perfectly cooked leftover steak from being overcooked.

Now, not all reheating devices are made equal. In fact, after decades of offering dish-specific reheating instructions to my clients, it is still their choice to do what is best for them and their time. This most often is the microwave oven—2 to 3 minutes and it’s time to eat. Some elements on the plate might reheat better in a toaster oven, but, again, to each their own. 

My only recommendation when using the microwave is a habit shift to use the COOK TIME and POWER LEVEL functions. Depending on what is being reheated, use 60 or 70 percent power level for a longer time (3-5 minutes) and the result is a consistently warmed-through plate of food. 

Personally, I like reheating foods with texture (crispy roasted or fried chicken, crusty top mac and cheese, casseroles) in my toaster oven as the dry heat helps to bring it back to life. 15 minutes at 325 degrees is a perfect hot plate and enough time for me to set the table and make a cocktail.

And let’s not forget the trusty stovetop. This is my choice for frozen and refrigerated soups, stews, braised meats, and chilis. Add a portion of leftovers to a covered pot with a little water, over low heat, and it will plate as if it was just made.

How to Repurpose Your Leftovers 

Another way of becoming more of an intuitive cook is knowing how to maximize food, created again, from what is leftover. While visiting one of my colleagues in Raleigh, for example, I made an amuse bouche from the smallest doggie bag of four dishes from dining out the night before. It was delicious!

There are myriad ways to repurpose leftovers. Think about the flavor combinations mentioned in SET. Let your imagination go. There will be some misses, but that is just part of the process. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Turn side dishes into a main course like a vegetable plate on a meatless Monday. 
  • Add new ingredients to leftovers. A stir fry is always wonderful with day-old rice.
  • There is nothing that isn’t made better when you Put An Egg On It like burgers, rice, or salad.
  • Make it a wrap or sandwich. Any leftover protein between two slices of bread with condiments can be satisfying if made with care.
  • Turn it into a soup or stew. Stock or broth, protein, vegetables, canned beans. The ideas have no limit.
  • Combine two dishes together and call it "fusion"! 
Spanish Pasta With Chorizo and Tomatoes

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

How to Make a Meal When Your Fridge Is Empty (Hello, Pantry!)

Let me paint a picture with which you might be all too familiar. You are super busy, have no time to go grocery shopping, and there are no leftovers in the fridge. What do you do? Enter your pantry you stocked in READY with all of the essential pantry items of your favorite cuisines. Rice and beans, pastas and canned tomato products, tinned fish and crackers, broths and canned soups, plus more.

Pantry meals can be satisfying comfort food at any time. Salmon cakes and grits for breakfast or brunch, smoked oysters or tuna salad and crackers for lunch, and pasta al pomodoro for dinner. If stocked correctly, the pantry can be a welcomed extension to your weekly meal plan and a happy accident in a pinch.

Get Inspired By Eating Out and Ordering In 

Congratulations! You’ve done it! And you will do it again and again. When possible, reward yourself and continue to get reinspired by dining out and ordering in. Discover different types of foods and cuisines that pique your interest and can inform your menu planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. 

The Spruce Eats is always here with recipes and inspiration.