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Cook Once, Eat Twice

Take your family's leftovers to the next level

Between shuttling kids to afterschool sports, piano lessons, playdates – oh, and don't forget homework time – dinner can become an afterthought. That is, until your kids start asking, "What's for dinner?" If your response is, "Leftovers," chances are you'll hear a few grumbles. But leftovers don't have to be boring or just reheated versions of last night's meal.

Instead, think of your leftovers as planned overs. Using ingredients from one meal to the next will not only save you time, it'll save you money, too. And they're tasty! Here are a few ideas to shake up your dinnertime and reuse your leftovers in new and delicious meals.

Chicken

Did you make chicken breasts for dinner last night? Maybe you picked up a rotisserie bird from Costco? You're halfway done with dinner tonight.

Simple chicken Parmesan

Ingredients: 1 26.5-oz. can spaghetti sauce, pasta (like penne, rigatoni), Parmesan cheese, shredded mozzarella (optional), leftover chicken

Directions: Pour the spaghetti sauce into a medium-sized pan. Bring to a low simmer. Cut the chicken into strips or chunks. Add the chicken and a 1/4 cup Parmesan (or more, if you like) to the sauce and simmer while you cook the pasta. Serve the spaghetti sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with more Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Fast chicken fajitas

Ingredients: 2 green peppers, 1 medium-sized onion, flour tortillas, leftover chicken, vegetable oil, cumin and cheese (optional)

Directions: Cut the peppers, onions, and chicken into long strips. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to a large, non-stick skillet. Once the oil reaches a medium-high heat, add the vegetables and cook until just barely tender. Add in the chicken and spice with salt and pepper, cumin and hot sauce (if desired). Serve in flour tortillas; add Monterey Jack cheese. (Also works well with beef or pork.)

Pasta

Make a large batch one night so you'll have "planned overs" for the next. It's easy to refashion pasta into a tasty meal using creamy sauces.

Easy pasta carbonara

Ingredients: Ham or bacon, peas, leftover pasta (around 3 cups), 1 (1-lb.) jar alfredo sauce - or make your own using the a white sauce (bechamel) recipe with added parmesan cheese.

Directions: Reheat the pasta with a little bit of water in a microwave-safe dish to keep it soft. Drain the water. Dice the bacon or ham and prepare the peas, if frozen. Heat the white sauce. In a large bowl mix together the pasta, ham, peas and sauce. Add extra Parmesan on each serving.

Yummy baked ziti

Ingredients: 1 26.5-oz. jar spaghetti sauce, 4-5 cups leftover pasta (best with tube shape like penne or rigatoni), 2 cups mozzarella cheese, Parmesan (optional)

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9"-by-13" casserole pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix together the pasta, red sauce and 1 1/4 cups mozzarella cheese. Pour into the casserole dish. Cook, covered for around 20 minutes or until the sauce starts to bubble. Carefully remove the pan and add the remaining mozzarella cheese. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. The cheese should be melted and slightly browned. Cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. You can also mix Parmesan into this recipe.

Beef

It seems like cuts of London broil or round steak are always on sale. Stock up and use them in your traditional recipes, then for these quick dishes.

Spicy quesadillas

Ingredients: Flour tortillas, Monterey Jack cheese or mozzarella, leftover beef, 1 can refried beans (optional), select spices such as cumin, chili powder (optional)

Directions: Place a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cut the beef into small, thin strips or shred it. Add a selection of spices to the beef, like 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cumin and chili powder. Top with salt and pepper to taste. Place one flour tortilla in the pan; sprinkle the tortilla with beef, cheese and drops of beans (if using). Place another flour tortilla over the ingredients. Let the cheese melt and the bottom tortilla become crisp. Flip after about 3 minutes. Cook on the other side until crisp. Let the tortilla sit on a cutting board for at least 3 minutes before cutting with a pizza cutter into 6 pieces (if you cut it too soon the cheese will run out). Serve with sour cream and your favorite salsa.

Soothing rice bowls

Ingredients: Rice, frozen vegetables such as broccoli, carrots (alternatively, you can use fresh vegetables or even leftovers), leftover beef, basic stir-fry sauce

Directions: Cook rice according to package directions (or use leftovers!). While the rice is cooking, thinly slice the beef into strips. Prepare the basic stir-fry sauce and add the beef into the sauce. Heat the vegetables. Place a scoop of rice into the bottom of each serving bowl. Add the vegetables and then the beef in the stir-fry sauce. At our house, we also top the dish with French's French Fried Onions. Sesame seeds also add a nice crunch and fun flavor.

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. The sauce will thicken (about 3 minutes or so). Whisk constantly. Add vinegar if you want to give the sauce a tart flavor. You can also substitute dark soy sauce for a richer flavor.

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