Going, going, going ... bad. It doesn't matter what your budget is - nobody likes to throw out food. But what do you do with three tablespoons of cream, half a pint of strawberries, a stale chunk of bread or 12 corn tortillas?
Chances are you can turn yesterday's castoffs into tonight's dinner with ingredients you already have on hand.
Leftovers need not produce inferior dishes. In fact, homemade stock made from meat or poultry bones and vegetables is vastly superior to what you can buy.
Chef Tim Penn uses day-old bread as a thickener in chilled yellow tomato soup. He replaces some of the cheese in his summer shrimp-filled raviolis with bread crumbs made from day-old bread. And panzanella, the classic Italian tomato-bread salad, requires day-old rustic bread. Nor will fresh bread work in bread pudding.
Pasta and rice salads are so versatile that you can use up cooked or raw vegetables, leftover meat, chicken or fish, cheese, nuts, fresh herbs - even dressing.
For such salads, think in theme: An Asian-themed rice or pasta salad might contain scallions, meat, shrimp, tofu, peas, carrots, celery, mushrooms or bean sprouts. Its dressing might include rice wine vinegar, light oil, fresh ginger, citrus juice, a splash of soy sauce or toasted sesame oil. A Greek-themed pasta salad is a great place to use leftover diced cucumber, fresh parsley or dill, red onions, black olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, maybe even a sprinkling of nuts. Toss it all in a lemon-oregano vinaigrette.
Sometimes, deliberately planning to have leftovers makes good use use of this 'n' that later. For instance, when cooking rice, make extra and have fried rice that uses up those three scallions, that handful of mushrooms, the lonely celery stalk and the two chicken drumsticks in your refrigerator. If the potatoes in your pantry are starting to sprout, bake them, then stash in the refrigerator for weekend breakfast hash.
With a little imagination, you can use up bits of this and pieces of that in ways that merit first-night status.
* Make smoothies or daiquiris.
* Make banana bread, cake or muffins.
Freeze it: Peel and mash overripe bananas; add a teaspoon of lemon juice for each banana and freeze in single-portion airtight containers, such as plastic freezer bags, for up to six months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
* Use in smoothies or on hot or cold cereal.
* Add to gelatin.
* Make fruit salad.
Easy idea: Crush, strain and sweeten for toppings on pancakes, waffles or ice cream.
* Sprinkle on salads.
* Make nachos.
* Mash for bean dip.
Add-on: Add to soup.
Beef or pork (roast)
* Shred and add to enchilada or soft taco filling.
Add-on: Shred and add to salads.
* Make bread pudding or French toast.
Add-on: Top casseroles or vegetables with crumbs, add to meatballs or meatloaf.
Freeze it: Start a bread bag in the freezer; when you get enough, make stuffing or bread pudding. This is a good way to use the crusts if your family doesn't like them.
Easy idea: To make croutons, combine your choice of seasonings, such as dried herbs, salt, pepper, paprika or Cajun seasoning with olive oil. Brush the flavored oil over both sides of the sliced bread; cut into cubes or leave as slices. Spread in a single layer on a large baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees until bread is dry and crisp. To reduce fat, use low-fat salad dressing instead of the spicy olive oil mixture.
* Make pancakes, waffles, corn bread or biscuits.
Easy idea: For Blue Cheese Dressing, combine 1/4 cup blue cheese and 1 cup buttermilk in blender.
Chicken or turkey (cooked)
* Add to casseroles or salads.
* Add to scrambled eggs or frittatas.
Easy idea: Season and use as a filling for enchiladas or tacos, with salsa, avocado slices and cheese.
* Stir into slightly softened ice cream or sprinkle on pudding.
Easy idea: Combine crumbs with a little butter to make pie crust or cheesecake crust. To make 1 cup finely crushed crumbs, you'll need: 14 graham cracker squares, 14 Oreos (including middle), 15 gingersnaps or 22 vanilla wafers.
* Add a few tablespoons to tomato-based meatless pasta sauce for a richer sauce.
* Pour it over fresh fruit or cereal.
* Replace some of the milk in custard, bread pudding or other dishes.
Easy idea: Whip it with sugar and vanilla or liqueur as garnish for fresh fruit, pie, gelatin or other dessert.
* Make cream sauce for pasta.
Add-on: Enrich soup, either homemade or canned, such as tomato.
* Blend with yogurt, mayonnaise or sour cream to make dip.
Easy idea: To make a bagel spread, mix with spices, chilies, fresh herbs, chopped veggies, raisins, nuts or berries.
Easy idea: To make roll-ups, spread on flour tortillas with herbs or jam; roll up and cut in pinwheels; secure with a toothpick.
Easy idea: To make frosting, cream together 3 ounces softened cream cheese and 1/4 cup butter. Add 1 tablespoon milk or cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 cups confectioners' sugar.