For Filipinos, if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth overdoing. It’s this very mode of thinking that gives us a Christmas season that starts after Halloween, and it contributes to our almost garish, overblown cultural aesthetics. And when it comes to our holiday handaan leftovers, many of us have refrigerators full of food that we don’t quite know what to do with.
When you have that much food, and you want to maximize your enjoyment, it’s useful to have a few rules of thumb that will help you with your leftovers.
Plan your storage ahead of time
When it comes to holiday leftovers, it’s a good idea to actually have a strategy, divided into different areas of knowledge, so to speak:
1) If you’re the one cooking, know how much of it you want to keep as leftovers
You already know how your own cooking is like, and chances are, you’ll be able to whip it up again when you want to. Don’t keep much of your own leftovers, and encourage others to bring as much of your food preparations home as possible. This will make more space for leftovers that you would like to keep.
2) Be aware that you have limited refrigerator space
Not everybody has the classic refrigerators you can stuff people in nowadays. Many families who live in condo or apartment units have smaller refrigerators, so it is important that one take into account how much refrigerator and freezer space one has.
3) Plan your groceries accordingly
If you see that your refrigerator is beginning to fill up with leftovers, then you should make sure to adjust your groceries accordingly. This will prevent two things: first, you will avoid overstocking your refrigerator, and second, you can cut down on food options, so that you will finish the leftovers, rather than eventually throwing them out.
4) Finally, know who to get leftovers from
This may sound cavalier or mercenary, but you should have an idea of whose handaan has food you would want to take home – not just because there will definitely be leftovers, or because the person will definitely make you take some home, but also because their food is good. Even when it comes to leftovers, one should have standards.
Decide what should really go into storage
Okay, let’s say you’ve come home from a party, and you’ve got leftovers because the host wanted to make sure that storage would be minimal no his or her end, or because you just really liked the food. The first decision would be how long you are planning to store the food in the refrigerator.
As a rule, anything that has dairy products in it, even if you freeze it, will probably have to be eaten in the next two days or so – or, you should it at the nearest possible meal.
Meat preparations need a bit more discernment, as how far they will keep will depend on what sauces or preparations were done. It’s a good rule of thumb, however, to make sure that they are properly frozen, and to check on them every three days or so. Anything beyond a week is asking for it, however.
Vegetables, on the other hand, do not react well to freezing. Treat it the same way as you would dairy products, and eat them as soon as possible.
Every day is like Sunday
After the holidays, every day should be like Sunday – if you have the tradition of finishing off the week’s leftovers on Sunday nights. Rather than plan meals, what you should be doing is maximizing variety of the meals based on your leftovers, and the time they were left in the refrigerator.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with having a notebook or list that tells you what leftovers are in the refrigerator, and when they were stored. This will give you a good idea of what to finish off, and when. You can also do this for your standard groceries, as well.
Extend the get-togethers
You can actually extend the holiday cheer by having leftovers parties, where everyone brings leftovers from parties that they’ve attended. Yes, it sounds weird (and probably squicky, for some), but it’s one effective way of maximizing the use of leftovers, while at the same time extending everyone’s good vibes, so to speak. A good rule of thumb, though, is to make sure the leftovers are in good condition, not at-the-edge of spoilage.
Combine with other ingredients for a new preparation
You can also use leftovers as the basis for new food preparations. Filipinos are very good at this, with the immortal paksiw as the primary example of leftovers reimagined as dishes in themselves. Generally, all the different kinds of meat are fair game for re-preparing, though it usually is better if they are grilled or cooked thoroughly. It’s rather hard, for example, to prepare kinilaw in a new way. But given that most holiday food preparations are grilled, roasted or deep-fried, this should be no problem.
One easy way to re-purpose leftovers would be to mix them with fried rice, or as rice toppings, simply by chopping them to bits, and then serving with vegetables. Another way would be to serve them in tomato sauce, with potatoes.
Generosity is valid
It’s possible that you may reach your refrigerator limit even before the holidays are over. In such a case, do consider that some other people might like some of the leftovers in your refrigerator. Yes, again that may sound squicky for some, but the fact is, if you’ve properly packed the food, then there should be no problem.
For example, one of your siblings may have missed out on a favorite Tita’s paella, some of which you may have in storage. If you’ve already enjoyed the dish, and it’s taking up space, you can offer it, or bring it to a leftovers party hosted by a member of the family.
You can also offer some of the leftovers to the condo administration or security staff of your building, or some of the handymen or barangay guards in your area that you have a friendly relationship with. However, in such cases, you should be sensitive to how the offer will be taken.
As you can see, there are many ways to manage leftovers with practicality. Do remember that while it’s virtually a Filipino tradition to have leftovers after the holidays, one should still prepare properly for them, to finish them all off without any spoilage, and to minimize grocery costs – a proper combination of maximized food fun, combined with penny-pinching practicality.