Is there an answer to the question “What’s for dinner?” that is more disheartening than “Leftovers?” Except for the day after Thanksgiving, that is. For some people, that’s the whole point of Thanksgiving — getting to those tasty leftovers just beckoning to them from the fridge.
If you’re like most Americans you’ll just pile some turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, even some mashed potatoes, on a couple of slices of bread and call it a day. No muss, no fuss. Well, maybe a little bit of muss, because we all tend to overdo it with the leftovers.
The assumption here is that your Thanksgiving dinner runs on the traditional side: roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, that green bean casserole with the canned fried onions, sweet potatoes, carrots and peas, dinner rolls, and, of course, pumpkin pie.
Add some side dishes that your guests may have brought, roasted Brussels sprouts, gourmet mac and cheese, cornbread, roasted root vegetables, perhaps even a soup or salad, and you’ve got a meal to feed an army. And plenty for leftovers.
But let’s be real, does anyone ever really eat salad on Thanksgiving? You give it the old “My plate is full, so I’ll have some later” routine, but you know your tummy will be full by that time. (Tip: Don’t dress and toss your salad beforehand, but let each person pick their own salad dressing. That way you can use the greens the next day for sandwiches.)
So if you don’t want to just eat turkey sandwiches for the next three days, here are some tips to make your Thanksgiving leftovers out of the ordinary.
Preparation is key: The trick to great leftovers on the days after Thanksgiving is planning ahead. Yes, preparing and shopping for leftovers. Make a separate shopping list just for your leftovers. And put them in their own area of the fridge or put them in a clean plastic bag and stick them in a far corner of the fridge so you won’t accidentally use them.
You DO NOT want to be the person who says “I’m just going to run down to the store and grab a couple of things” on Black Friday. You’ll come back three hours later, frustrated and angry, perhaps with a shiner you got tangling with an over-aggressive shopper, and you’ll probably forget what you left the safety of your home for. And, there goes all the goodwill and gratitude you engendered on Thanksgiving, out the window the next day.
Now the trick with selecting the ingredients for leftovers is to do a little crystal ball prognosticating on your part as to what you and your crew might want to eat on the day after Thanksgiving. Remember, you already have the foundation for leftovers, you just need a few key ingredients to take the leftovers to the next level.
Think outside the box. Your leftovers ingredient list should include the basics: eggs, cheeses, onions, mushrooms, milk or cream, butter, chicken stock, a rustic or sturdy sliced bread (more on that later), sandwich bread of your choice, lettuce and tomato, condiments such as mayo, mustard, and pickles. But you might also consider a few things out of the ordinary, such as figs, goat cheese, bacon, arugula, pizza dough, puff pastry, won ton “skins,” ginger, garlic, you get the picture. It’s all about adding and mixing tastes and textures that aren’t already in the leftovers.
The idea is to repurpose the leftovers, not just reheat whatever you have on hand. That takes a little imagination and not as much work as you would think, since most of the ingredients are already cooked and luckily there’s a whole cottage industry out there on what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers — websites, cookbooks, magazines, and how-to videos.
There are literally millions of great ideas out there on helpful websites like foodnetwork.com, delish.com, allrecipes.com, epicurious.com, finecooking.com, cooking.nytimes.com, allrecipes.com, cooking.com, and an exciting new site 177milkstreet.com, founded by former America’s Test Kitchen host Christopher Kimball (“The Guy With the Bow Tie”).
How about some stuffing waffles? (Yes, that’s a real thing.) Turkey, caramelized onion and mushroom pizza? Potato pancakes? Shepherd’s pie? Turkey pot pie? All there for the making. (Tip: print out recipes you like beforehand so you’ll ready the next day.)
And that rustic bread? Make a Panini with turkey, cheese, bacon, figs and Sriracha mayo. Don’t have a Panini press? Use two different size cast iron pans.
Know your audience. Have you ever run out of stuffing or mashed potatoes or, god forbid, gravy? So, if you run out of certain dishes on Thanksgiving Day, what are you going to have for leftovers? Is your Uncle Fred a stuffing hog who piles it on like he’s eating his last meal? Do your guests like your mashed potatoes so much you’re left with an empty bowl?
Knowing what your family, friends and guests like to eat is a key in having enough leftovers to even be considered leftovers. If you know Uncle Fred is coming over, make an extra casserole dish of stuffing (and keep him away from it). The same can be said for mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and yes, even green bean casserole. Double up on certain dishes and you’ll have enough for the next day.
Don’t over-think it. Hey, they’re leftovers, not a candidate for Gourmet magazine’s Recipe of the Month. Keep it simple; don’t try to reinvent the wheel and use ingredients and techniques you’re familiar with. It’s not the time to try your first soufflé.
Who knows, you may get so good at repurposing leftovers that your Thanksgiving guests may be coming back the next day for more. Just don’t let Uncle Fred know.
All books and/or merchandise is available at amazon.com. Click on title to learn more.
Awesome Thanksgiving Leftovers Revive Guide
by Diana Lora
American Traditions: 30 Great Recipes for Your Thanksgiving Leftovers
by Stephanie D. Berg
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