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A while back, I wrote about something near and dear to my heart: Leftovers. Leftovers are great because it takes the necessity of cooking out of the equation. Our generation takes it on the chin for eating out a lot and not knowing how to cook while forgetting that home economics was one of the first things that get axed when budget cuts roll around. That’s not to say our avocado generation can’t cook, but it’s hard to know something you don’t know. As a fairly accomplished cook, I get it. “Go with what you know” is pervasive. Some of the worst foods I’ve ever had were “family recipes handed down”. If you don’t know good food, it’s hard to cook good food.
Since we are now getting down to the time of the year in my neck of the woods known as “cold and shitty”: the time from about Thanksgiving to Saint Patrick’s Day where there are no leaves on the trees and every day is cold. It always makes me a bit emotional thinking about all of the delicious foods that come with cold and shitty season, and I noticed a gap in the PGP literature. As the self-ordained foremost authority on leftovers, I felt it my duty to give to you my personal take.
A few methodology points before jumping in include: the taste both cold and reheated (because sometimes it’s a pain in the ass to reheat), how well they stack up against the fresh version, likeliness of encountering the food as leftovers foods generally come from mass amount meals not finished, and deliciousness when hungover.
100. Chinese food
This is the hill I will die on. I know many of you may become upset over this, but Chinese food fresh and warm isn’t really that good. I’m sure I haven’t had wherever your local place is that is the greatest in the world and for that, I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. It’s mostly bastardized Americanized Chinese food anyway but that’s fine, be mad. But…what could make it worse? Having it be old and in the fridge. The old saying, “I’m hungry 30 minutes after eating it” isn’t going to cut it when I am eating leftovers. I would rather eat kale chips and I’ve never had kale chips before. Note: Thai food makes for excellent leftovers and in no way follows the same problems Chinese food does.
Have you ever eaten a cold fry? While not necessarily terrible, leftover fries leave a soggy sad limp feeling in my stomach. Sure, I’ve taken the sandwich and fries I didn’t finish because I ate too much appetizer home and sure, it is passable to eat and not be sad after being reheated in the oven. That being said, microwaved fries are the same as cold fries except they are warm, soggy, sad and limp. Fries can jump ranking if accompanied by something good that heats well, so heating up the oven for a handful of fries wasn’t a waste.
Preferably with meatballs, sausage or both, pasta isn’t terrible reheated but you have to put in a bit of effort to reheat. That being said, reheated pasta is filling and delicious. It’s what Chinese food wishes it could be. Throw some shaker cheese or do it live with whatever you have. Bonus points for leftover garlic bread to sop up the tomato sauce and hangover.
4. Mac and Cheese
Maybe it’s the carbs or the cheese talking. Likely both. But mac and cheese leftovers are awesome. Similar to pasta, mac and cheese can be eaten cold and be great. However, where mac and cheese makes its money is the fact you can throw it in whatever container you have, microwave it and it will be excellent. It’s versatile, it’s delicious and it’s great both reheated and cold.
3. Cold steak/fried chicken
I can’t get enough of it. Similar to fries, you can throw the chicken in the oven and it’s great but unlike fries, it’s actually delicious cold. I’ll throw on some Texas Pete and what you have yourself some happiness in your hand. Mrs. Madoff doesn’t eat steak so whenever I make mine in the only way you should (reverse sear), I make two: one for now and one for later. When later comes, either later that night or in the morning, you can throw it in eggs, make tacos or what I do 95% of the time: eat it with my bare hands.
Pizza is really the only food that can challenge for #1. This will likely get some upset folks over this but pizza is solidly number two for a few reasons. Warm, fresh pizza is generally good, unless it is that cheesecake trash you Chicagoans eat. I bet it’d be decent leftovers but that’s not the point. The point is, pizza is great cold. You can microwave it although it won’t be as good as warm or cold, it’s still delicious. If I’m feeling extra zesty, I’ll put a cast iron on the stove, heat it up, throw a slice of ‘za in there and some water, cook with a lid and you got perfect.
1. Thanksgiving food leftovers
Like Hank Hill being the Mack Daddy of Heimlich County, Thanksgiving foods are undeniably the Mack Daddy of Leftover Food County. I went back and forth on this because a normal person would know that Thanksgiving food leftovers are easily the best but in the event you hate puppies, kittens and the only holiday out there that’s entire point is to eat as much as humanly possible and then more, this one is for you. While it is not a singular group, I would be remiss to not consider Thanksgiving foods the greatest leftover food group.
So there you have it. Feel free to let me know how wrong I am or the name of your favorite Chinese food place that is way better than any of the ones I’ve had in the comments..