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Weeknight Cooking
Put Leftover Ingredients to Work with These Recipes
Leftover ingredients belong on your plate, not in your trash.
Cook's Country

WHETHER YOU'RE COOKING FOR yourself or a family of five, it's likely that you'll end up with some leftover ingredients. Half a butternut squash, part of a can of beans, or those last few slices of bread—these odds and ends tend to languish in the kitchen until they have to be thrown away. Our solution? Quick, simple recipes that make it easy to put these ingredients to work. Here’s how to apply that philosophy to leftover bread, canned beans, coconut milk, and fresh basil.

1. How to Use Leftover Bread

A family of two would have to eat sandwiches for days to use up an entire loaf of bread or a whole baguette. Bread can be frozen for up to one month, or you can try our recipes for decadent mochaccino bread pudding, breakfast casserole, or easy garlicky croutons.

Bread Recipes

Individual Mochaccino Bread Puddings

Most bread pudding recipes require lengthy steps. With our recipe, there’s no need to cut off the crusts or wait for the bread to stale. Use our winning white sandwich bread, Arnold Country Classics, or any other type of firm, savory bread for this recipe.

Breakfast Casserole for Two

Our breakfast casserole is a delicious, supremely satisfying contrast of custardy, savory interior and crisp, toasty top. Unlike most breakfast casseroles, you don’t have to worry about letting our recipe sit overnight to get maximum flavor.

Garlicky Croutons

Our Garlicky Croutons recipe lends itself to other flavor variations—including Texas Chili, BBQ, Herbed, and Cheese Parmesan—so you get five recipes for the price of one. Don’t forget to store these croutons in an airtight container for about a week if you don’t plan on using them right away.

2. How to Use Leftover Canned Beans

Canned beans are particularly convenient when cooking for two (or more!) because they’re quick-cooking and don’t require lengthy soaking times. There’s no need to toss the leftovers when you use just part of a can; here are our favorite recipes for using the rest.

Canned Bean Recipes

Garlic and Rosemary White Bean Dip

Seventy-one percent of our readers say that they regularly buy canned cannellini beans. That’s because they’re convenient for quick recipes like this one. To give the mild cannellini beans some flavor, use a heavy hand with raw garlic, rosemary, and lemon juice.

Southwestern Black Bean Salad

When making salads such as our Black Bean Salad, we prefer to use canned black beans processed with salt. Why? They taste better. If you have “natural” or “organic” brands on hand that contain little or no salt, check out our “Recipe Testing” section in this recipe to figure out how to boost the bean flavor.

Quick Beef and Bean Chili

Our recipe proves that chili doesn’t need to be simmered for hours in order to be delicious. Top your dish with a little bit (or a lot) of pickled jalapeños, shredded cheese, sour cream, and diced avocado

As a Latina, I'm always looking for tasty Mexican recipes. Even my picky mom would enjoy this delicious salad and that's not easy to do! — Claudia, a Cook’s Country web member’s review of Southwestern Black Bean Salad.

3. How to Use Leftover Coconut Milk

Rich coconut milk is worth putting to use when you’re left with part of a can. To make it easy, we came up with recipes for decadent rice pudding, toasted oatmeal, and grilled skirt steak.

Coconut Milk Recipes

Coconut Rice Pudding

Our rice pudding is consistent of the perfect flavor and texture. If you go to eat this after it’s been freshly made, we found that more milk is the answer to loosening the rice pudding.

Toasted Coconut Oatmeal

For this recipe, we use the same technique that we use for rice pilaf. We coat the oats with butter and toast them before hitting the water. This jumpstarts the cooking process and lends the oats a toasty, buttery flavor.

Grilled Thai Curry Marinated Skirt Steak

It’s grilling season—so it’s only fair we include a recipe that you can make on a gas grill or charcoal grill. This recipe uses three-easy steps and our go-to cooking method for weeknight meals. Make sure not to refrigerate the marinade after making it, or the steaks will be cold when served.

4. How to Use Leftover Basil

There are few things more annoying than buying a bunch of herbs, only to be left with most of the bunch after preparing the intended recipe. Besides using our method on how to prep herbs for the freezer, here are some of our favorite recipes that’ll help use up your leftover basil.

Basil Recipes

Fresh Basil Vinaigrette

If you’ve made a dish earlier in the week like our Tomato-Basil Sauce or Italian-Style Chicken Soup that only calls for a couple tablespoons of basil, this is the perfect recipe to help you use up your leftovers. Yes, we’re using more fresh herbs but that’s not what makes this vinaigrette rich—heating them with olive oil actually helps to create a good foundation for our dressing.

Italian Grilled Cheese Sandwich

This recipe is the perfect excuse to use up two to three of the ingredients in this article and most likely in your home. If you have any savory bread and basil you can make this classic comfort food sandwich for a quick weeknight meal.

Fresh Tomato Soup With Basil

Craving tomato soup? This recipe includes a cup of fresh basil combined with diced tomatoes. The fresh basil not only adds color to this dish but a freshness that doesn’t come with most tomato soups. 


The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook

Cutting ingredients in half is rarely enough—so we didn’t do that. Instead, our bestselling cookbook provides you with 650 foolproof recipes, specifically scaled down for two. In addition to that, the test kitchen shares tips on how to shop smarter, store smarter, cook smarter, and more.

What are some of your favorite ways to make leftover ingredients last longer? Let us know in the comments. And if you’re looking for tips relating to preserve other leftover ingredients, view our article on 10 Leftover Ingredients You Didn’t Know You Could Freeze.