Instead of a “Dinner with My Family” this week, I thought I’d discuss how to deal with the mountain of Thanksgiving leftovers that many families find themselves with today.
Each year, my mother takes charge of preparing a huge family Thanksgiving meal. Each year, there’s a small mountain of leftovers to deal with.
I know that many other families find themselves in the same boat. What do we do with all of these leftovers? This year, I spent some time perusing a pile of old Thanksgiving food magazines, cookbooks, internet sites, and other places looking for good things to do with leftovers from Thanksgiving. Here are some of the ideas I found.
Leftover turkey can easily be cut into small pieces and used as part of a pasta dish three days later or so. Preparing a turkey marinara or a turkey alfredo is easy – just prepare the sauce, add some cubed turkey, and put the sauce over your preferred pasta. The sauce alters the flavor of the turkey so much that it becomes a new meal.
Another approach is to use leftover dark meat and bones to prepare some turkey stock. Take everything that’s left from the turkey and put it all in a crock pot along with any extra leftover vegetables (such as green beans), some pepper, and a small dash of salt. Let it cook on low all day, then filter out all of the leftovers, leaving behind some delicious turkey stock. Freeze the stock, then use it as the base for soups and other things throughout the winter.
My favorite use, though, is to just cube it and save it in small bags. This way, you can quickly pull a bag of the turkey out of the freezer and use it as a salad topping. I did this for multiple Thanksgivings and found that I was always happy to toss some cubed turkey on top of my salads at home.
Leftover mashed potatoes can be used in a lot of ways. My personal favorite is to save them for a few days, then form them into discs and fry them with a bit of vegetable oil, making potato pancakes. If your potatoes are particularly soft, you may want to add just a bit of corn starch to thicken and harden the pancakes so that they don’t fall apart in the pan.
Another use for leftover mashed potatoes is in shepherd’s pie, which can be made a day or two after Thanksgiving and easily frozen for later use. Just fill a 9″ by 13″ pan about half full with leftover vegetables, add some cooked meat that you prefer, pour some appropriate broth on top (about a cup), and then spread the mashed potatoes on top. You can even sprinkle a little cheese on top if you’d like.
One final trick – and this is a great thing to do if you have mashed potatoes that you’re going to freeze – is to incorporate them into a simple biscuit recipe. Just add them in to give your biscuits a special texture and flavor. Biscuits are easy. All you need is 3 cups of flour, 2 tablespoons of baking powder, a teaspoon of salt, a quarter cup of sugar, half a stick of cold butter, a beaten egg, and somewhere between half a cup and a full cup of buttermilk. Combine all of the ingredients until the dough you make is just barely sticky (start with half a cup of buttermilk and add more if it’s just too dry). If you’re using potatoes, just mix in the potatoes with the dough for a bigger batch.
Leftover dressing (or stuffing) can be a bit of a challenge. One technique that seemed interesting was to press as much of it as you can into a square container, squeezing it in there very tightly. Leave it there for a while, then remove the stuffing. You can then slice the stuffing, using it for sandwiches (yes, that would be pretty carb-heavy, but you could also add plenty of other condiments and toppings).
One important thing to note, though, is that stuffing/dressing freezes really well. Usually, we freeze our leftover dressing and then use it in a month or so with another meal when we’re in a pinch. It can make a great side to an otherwise dull meal.
Leftover cranberry sauce simply begs to be used in muffins or scones, particularly if you have the whole-berry kind and not the gelatinized sauce (though that can be used, too). Simply find your favorite muffin or scone recipe and use the cranberries as an ingredient in them. Delicious!
My favorite use, though, is to turn it into barbecue sauce. That’s right – barbecue sauce. Just take a cup and a half of the sauce and put it in the blender with 3/4 cup ketchup; 1/4 cup honey; a tablespoon of cider vinegar; a teaspoon each of Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and garlic powder; and a pinch of cayenne pepper and ground black pepper. Mix this into a puree, then save it for next summer for a tremendous barbecue sauce.
Leftover turkey gravy can be used much like a stock if you freeze it. You simply water it down and use it as the base for a soup at a later time. It works surprisingly well, as the boiling and the stirring causes the gravy to thin out into a flavorful soup starter.
You can also save the gravy to use as part of a pot pie, or use it as the liquid ingredient in the shepherd’s pie above (though that may be too much Thanksgiving taste right after the meal, so if you do this, I’d freeze the shepherd’s pie to use at a later date).
Hopefully, these tactics will keep you from throwing out perfectly good holiday leftovers this year!