Reinvent Thanksgiving leftovers for memorable meal

November 11, 2009|By CHINA MILLMAN / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Just after the Thanksgiving meal, most people feel as if they never want to eat again. But the truth is that it won't be long before food sounds appealing again, even if cooking doesn't.

Leftovers get a bad rap, and in general, a plate of table scraps reheated in a microwave can be fairly unappealing. But when stored and reheated well, or better yet reinvented, leftovers can provide a fantastic meal for negligible effort.

Just as careful shopping is essential for a stress-free Thanksgiving, a little foresight makes turning leftovers into meals a lot easier. Think in advance about what you're likely to have left over and what you'd like to do with it.

You also can strategize to minimize leftovers, especially items that can't really be saved or you don't like. If you're planning on preparing more than one turkey, take a quick poll of guests to find out whether they prefer dark or white meat. If a lot of people enjoy dark meat, you could save money and reduce waste by simply buying extra legs and thighs to roast separately.


If you're making a salad, dress only part of it at first, since dressed greens can't really be refrigerated. When preparing green vegetables, take extra care that they don't overcook. Slightly crisp vegetables reheat much better.

Most people will have a turkey carcass, so at the very least you'll want to make some turkey stock. As you carve the turkey, move the meat to a platter. Then, take five minutes to pick usable meat from the bones, hack up the carcass (a great way to relieve any lingering Thanksgiving stress) and stick in a pot with the giblets (except the liver), enough water to cover and at least some chopped onion and carrot, a couple of bay leaves and a few sprigs of thyme.

Set it to medium-low so that you'll have plenty of time before it boils. It's going to cook for so long that slow heating won't hurt. Simmer for at least three hours and no more than six, topping off with more water as necessary.

On Friday or Saturday, use the stock, leftover turkey meat and some egg noodles to make a fabulous turkey noodle soup -- just the thing to recover from any Black Friday shopping attempts. Or you could use the turkey stock, leftover turkey and even stuffing to make Turkey and Curried Rice Casserole, from Beatrice Ojakangas' book, "The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever."

This recipe uses a lot of leftovers, but the addition of curry powder provides a nice contrast. This recipe echoed advice I got from Jeanne Benedict, lifestyle party expert. With leftover turkey, "I like to add a huge accent flavor to it," she said. She might mix chopped turkey with black beans, lime and cilantro to give the meal a different feel.

Benedict also suggested re-purposing leftovers into great snacks for entertaining. Thanksgiving weekend is often a time when family and friends gather to watch football or simply to catch up. Make stuffed mushrooms by chopping up the stems, sauteing them and mixing them with leftover stuffing and a hard, sharp cheese. Leftover pumpkin pie? Combine some of the filling with hummus for a great pumpkin dip you can serve with pita chips.

There are times, however, when you just want to get rid of leftovers -- but that doesn't mean putting them in the trash. Many people look forward to the classic Thanksgiving leftover dish -- a roast turkey sandwich with all the trimmings. If you've invited local guests, encourage them to bring Tupperware and send them home with leftovers.

Finally, food safety is extremely important. Benedict advises using leftovers stored in the fridge within three days and those in the freezer within two weeks.


3 tablespoons butter, divided, plus extra for the dish
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 cups diced cooked turkey
1/2 cup diced cooked ham
1 cup crumbled leftover stuffing or toasted and seasoned bread cubes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Pinch of dried thyme
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 cup rice
2 cups hot turkey or chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 2- to 3-quart casserole.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and add the onions and mushrooms. Saute over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened.

Transfer the onions and mushrooms into the casserole and add the turkey, ham, stuffing, parsley and thyme, and season with salt and pepper.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the skillet and add the curry powder and rice, stirring. Add the broth, stir well, and pour over the ingredients in the casserole.

Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid.

-- Beatrice Ojakangas, "The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever"

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