Happy three year anniversary, readers!

I have a kitchen secret I’ve been wanting to share with you for three years! Yes. It’s been three years! This month (what’s left of it) marks the third anniversary of Big Bites Tiny Kitchen. Yay! So before I get to the big reveal, thank you! I’m so honored that you’re a reader. Some of you have been following along since day one and some of you are brand new. I’m grateful for all of you! Happy anniversary to you good reader!

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write about this, but “before and after” meals are big in our kitchen. They do all of my favorite things: reduce waste, lower our grocery bill and spark creativity. This is my kitchen trifecta. The before meal, as you might guess is the original meal. The after meal is what you make from the leftovers. We always cook too much. After all these years, I still don’t know how to cook for two people. Instead of eating the same old thing until it’s gone, “after” meals give new life to leftovers.

It’s a silly idea but it presents the ingredients in a whole new way

As it is, we tend to make many of the same things over and over again. They’re our favorites. They’re easy. We have them on auto-pilot. They end up on the table often. I rarely feel like we’re eating too much of the same thing from month to month, but if I had to eat these dishes on repeat throughout the same week? Well that would be a bit much. Working with leftovers to create a meal that tastes brand new means you have to get creative.

Chicken and potatoes almost always end up in soup. Leftover vegetables often find their way to risotto or pasta. Taco night presents one of our favorite before and after meals. The leftover toppings (because we always prepare too much) end up in pasta the next day. Beef tacos turn into what I affectionately call Bolognese Americano, but that’s another story for another blog post. It’s a silly idea but it presents the ingredients in a whole new way.

You can make a meal that’s even better than the original

The only downfall to before and after meals is that it’s hard to recreate exactly the same dish twice. This is just more reason to sit down and savor your dinner. And anyway, we’re not a restaurant so there is no obligation to replicate a meal exactly the same way every time. That’s part of the beauty of home cooking. It’s another reason why I try to deter you from set recipes. They take all the fun out of preparing a meal, and sometimes they keep you from enjoying something totally new and even better than what you were expecting.

When you’re trying to re-purpose leftovers, think soup, pasta, pizza or even rice. They are such blank canvases. You can make a meal that’s even better than the original using last night’s dinner. If you’re trying to keep it light, salads are a willing vehicle for leftovers, especially meat. If you need a breakfast option, try making a smaller version of this frittata. You can put anything in it!

A common string of leftover meals includes pork, risotto and breadcrumbs! The before meal is pork. We make it all the time in one form or another. It’s more ubiquitous than chicken on our dinner table. My favorite options are a roast or a pork loin. Either one is very easy to make, doesn’t require a lot of mess and comes out juicy and flavorful every single time. It’s also about one portion too much for us to eat in one sitting. Perfect. The next day, I slice up the leftovers and add the small pieces to risotto. Luckily, I also make at least one serving too much of risotto per sitting. This is where it gets fun. On the weekend, I can use my leftover risotto to make arancini. I just stretched one humble pork loin, a cup of rice and some supplemental ingredients into three meals.

This strategy bends to your preferences

This is not an exact science. You can use any variation of the above ingredients. For us it could be pork. For you it might be turkey or beef. This strategy bends to your preferences. It’s just a guideline meant to act as inspiration. You could easily swap meat for eggplant and make this totally vegetarian. If you got really creative, you could probably go vegan, but that is not my forte.

For us the type of rice we use depends on which one of us is making it. I cook risotto, made primarily with arborio rice, almost exclusively. It’s one of the few dishes Mike leaves entirely to me, and I’m glad for it. I have trouble sharing the cooking spotlight. I rely on risotto when I want to reclaim the kitchen and maybe a little bit of glory. Anyway, Mike opts for regular white rice (shown in the main image). So if we want the third meal to include arancini, which requires risotto, I step in. He leaves that one to me as well, and I usually get a bunch of accolades when I make it.

Bust out your best skillet and assess the leftovers

You can go with any rice you prefer and still use up leftovers to make a brand new meal. To pull this off, simply cook the rice according to the packaging instructions. In the meantime, bust out your best skillet and assess your leftovers. I typically use a combination of a leftover vegetable and something from the crisper drawer like onions or peppers. Then I slice up the leftover meat so that it is ready to go into the pan. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your skillet, and place it on low to medium heat. Add your leftover vegetables and meat and saute until warmed through. Once the rice is cooked, combine the two pans into one, and dinner is served. If you’re using fresh vegetables, saute until they are a soft consistency. I used celery, onions and carrots along with leftover pork for the rice dish in this photo. Actually, Mike probably made this one, but don’t tell anybody.

Wait! Don’t go yet…

Before you go, I have an anniversary favor to ask. I’m looking for your feedback in the comments or via email (you can sign up for email here). What new recipes would you like me to share AND would you like to see them in a cookbook? The book is still in dream stage right now, but I’m getting impatient to start writing it. Are you interested in a book and if so what would you like to see in it? As always, thanks for reading and being part of Big Bites Tiny Kitchen!