January 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Maureen Tisdale

Let's Talk Food: Fridge mash-ups, and how are you freshening up leftovers?

Here's the mash-up sans the salad greens, Dawns adds those at eating time so they don't get soggy and nasty. (Dawn Needham / The Detroit News)

When my friend Dawn shared some of her creative “fridge mash-ups” — ways she freshens and repurposes leftovers — I was impressed. I’m not exactly gifted in this area.

“This is like the bottom of a garbage disposal,” my husband complimented me one day, looking at some pizza rice lined up next to some chili next to a small piece of chicken and a few Brussels sprouts I’d left for him — remnants of meals I’d made, completely unchanged from their original state and tossed side by side in one container.

Welcome to Maureen’s Use-Up of Leftovers (and don’t think my husband didn’t eat ’em, despite the colorful commentary. I continue to be grateful his standards were set by rice and sardines before we married).

Good thing my friend Dawn has such fun playing in the kitchen and is willing to share her adventures with me. I love to live through others’ creativity in the kitchen, and I get to ride Dawn’s coattails as I’m creeping my way out of the holiday haze toward 2014 cooking.

As I’ve said before, one of my favorite things about talking food is not just swapping recipes, but swapping ideas; I’m thinking in addition to picking up some inspiration from my friend, you might be proud enough of some of your own ideas for repurposing leftovers to share ’em in the comments below.

First, though, here’s how Dawn freshened up some leftovers — or as she put it, how she created, as she frequently does, “refrigerator mash-ups” — in her own words:

At the end of a busy weekend with no time to cook and little time to grocery shop, I peeked into the fridge to see what I could make out of the contents. Let’s see, leftover brown rice, leftover roasted butternut squash, some chickpeas … I threw that all into a bowl with chopped carrots, a minced garlic clove and some cilantro, then tossed it all together with a red wine-Dijon vinaigrette and some lonely salad greens, and presto, dinner and two lunches! And it was yummy.

It occurred to me that I do this quite often — pull together nibs and nobs of things (a small hunk of leftover cheese or meat, veggies of some sort, a grain or legume, a homemade dressing). I’ve tossed lentils with veggies and a bit of leftover feta or goat cheese, or whipped up a “taco salad” with veggies, black beans and a salsa-vinaigrette dressing. Lentils and salmon are a natural toss-up, and leftover smoked salmon gets dressed up in a bowl with leftover roasted potatoes, cucumbers and herbs. If I have bits of veggies that need to be used up, I’ll throw them all in a roasting pan and then toss it with couscous and lemon juice (slivered almonds are a nice touch). If I’m not tossing them all together, I’ll make a plate of bites: a bit of cheese, a handful of olives, that leftover two slices of salami or roasted turkey breast, with some good bread and maybe olive oil for dipping.

I love the way Dawn thinks — what can I do with this, rather than who can I pawn it off on — and in terms of tying flavors together into something new. Even if it wouldn’t work for my weighed and measured ways, perhaps my husband would find his leftover dishes more appealing if I experimented with such techniques — or at least presented leftovers with more panache.

Then again, if I ever became a very clever cook, I think I’d miss running across little stickie notes where I’ve scribbled down hilarious comments of my husband’s about the messes I leave him now.

How have you repurposed leftovers? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re easy to sign up for, and free. Over the next few days, Detroit News Food Editor Maureen Tisdale will respond to comments or questions. You also can follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!