Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Leftover Magic: Seasoned Taco Meat

Do you eat leftovers?  We do - we love them!  I even count on them for lunches throughout the week.  I am always amazed when I hear that people hate leftovers and just throw them away.  I supposed I was just raised that you do not waste food.  With the advent of microwaves and quick easy reheating, leftovers are wonderful.  I seldom make enough of one dish to get two complete dinner meals out of it, but we can usually squeeze out lunch for me and the kids or pack my hubby's lunch.  Just packing a lunch for my husband daily saves a fortune when you consider that he spends $6-7 a day on average if he has to go out and grab something.  We can save $35 per week, over $150 per month and over $1800 per year just by packing up leftovers in a container for my husband to take to work with him.

Sometimes, though, I do go overboard and make way too much of something.  Although the family may love it the first time around, by the third meal of it, they are crying, "Enough!"  Since I have a no-throwing-away-perfectly-good-food-policy, I have to do something.  One option is to package leftovers in the freezer to pull out in a few weeks when it will seem new again.  Be sure to LABEL things well.  I cannot tell you how many times I have hurriedly thrown something in the freezer thinking, "Oh, I'll remember what this is." only to unearth it months later from the back of the freezer with NO IDEA.  Sometimes you just have to thaw it to figure out what it is.  I suppose if you like adventure, you could just do this and call it a "mystery meal" and no one (including you) knows what's for dinner before it hits the the plates.

Another option for surplus leftovers is to morph them into something else.  That is what I am going to talk about specifically here.  My son had a birthday a couple of weeks ago and requested tacos for his family birthday party meal.  When I do tacos, I usually have enough fixings for hard or soft shell tacos as well as taco salad. The kids love tacos, hubby and I prefer to create a yummy taco salad with lots of lettuce and veggies over corn chips topped with salsa and Italian dressing.  I never am quite sure how much seasoned taco meat to prepare, especially when we are having guests.  So, I decided to err on the side of too much.  I cooked a LOT!  It was pretty economical because I used the ground turkey from Sam's Club that I mentioned before along with some ground beef I had in the freezer from Angel Food.

As a side note, I never use those little packets of taco seasoning from the grocery store any more.  They are too expensive. You can by taco seasoning in a big container at Sam's Club or Gordon Food service.  The container at Sam's club costs on $3.88 and seasons 14 pounds of meat. Compare this to the packet at the grocery that sells for over a $1 and seasons only 1 pound.   I find that this is even cheaper that making your own homemade taco seasoning.

Anyway, I ended up have TONS of leftover taco fixings.  We ate tacos again the next day and still had lots left.  I didn't think that I should push the envelope and eat it a third day, so I decided to get creative.  I had bread dough in the fridge which is not uncommon, so I decided to create a stuffed braid.   I rolled out a rectangle of bread dough and placed my leftover taco meat, onions, tomatoes and cheese down the center of it.  Then I cut 1 in strips along the edges and wrapped these over the top of the filling to create a braid.  I realize that is kind of vague.  I am a visual person and I need to see images.  Unfortunately, I was in a hurry and didn't snap photos of the process.  However, this page has a good explanation with pictures.  I did take a photo of my finished braid before baking it which you can see here.

I know it looks more like a mummy than a braid.  The kids were kind of amused by that fact.  Like I said, I was in a hurry because we had someplace to be right after dinner.  I didn't snap a shot of this baked, but you can use your imagination.  It looked like the before picture only more brown and puffier.  Make sense?   The verdict was that it was really yummy and it didn't feel like we were eating tacos again.

Believe it or not, we still had taco leftovers the next day.  So, we made mexican pizzas.  I had some flat tostada shells and topped them with tomato sauce straight out of the can, taco meat, refried beans, onions, and cheese.  I microwaved the taco meat first so it would spread better and not clump, so these only needed to bake long enough for the cheese to get toasty.  I popped them into a 425 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  We topped them off with leftover shredded lettuce and diced tomato.  Even though these tasted rather taco-like, it was a fast and fun variation.  We had a few of these leftover and ate them cold out of the fridge the next day for a snack and it was even yummy that way.  This, by the way, used up all of our taco leftovers.

Other ideas for leftover taco meat:
There are so many things you can do with this, you may decide to make extra on purpose and do some mega cooking and prepare a bunch of these dishes ahead to freeze.  I love having already prepared meals in my freezer on a day when I am overloaded.

Leftovers are a treasure trove in the frugal kitchen.  Don't relegate then to the garbage disposal; get creative and use them up.

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