When I was growing up, one pound of meat per person was the rule of thumb for planning the amount to buy for dinner. My mother took that ratio to heart; 15-25 pound turkeys were the norm at our Thanksgiving dinners for the same number of people. The suggested quantity worked in 1950, leaving our family with one thin turkey sandwich each the day after the feast.
The pound-per-person ratio gradually lowered over the decades to today’s 4-6 ounces, compliments of an emphasis on weight control. But my mother kept to the 1950 standard; there was simply something festive, even patriotic, about serving a huge turkey on a platter, surrounded by vegetable decorations, on our most quintessentially American holiday.
Mom specialized in plain cooking, so leftovers morphed from that one slim sandwich to thickly layered ones. And not just for one day. For the entire week of school lunches after Thanksgiving. By the end of the week I could barely choke lunch down. There was nobody to trade with, either, because all the other mothers were doing the same thing. Everybody seemed to want to get rid of the leftover turkey as quickly and efficiently as possible; wasting food simply wasn’t allowed. There really weren’t too many other choices as freezers were small and usually not frost-free. With no other way to use up the food, we all got those turkey sandwiches, usually slathered with mayonnaise.
Trying to keep food edible for future use is nothing new to deal with. Cheese and sausages were invented as long term keepers, as were smoked and salted products, then canned foods in the early 19th century. Cool cellars were winter homes to root vegetables and cabbages. Ice houses filled with ice harvested from winter- frozen rivers kept dairy products viable. Today saving leftovers is simple with ample freezer space and plastic containers.
But the problem of not serving repetitious meals from leftovers remains; most people aren’t willing to eat turkey sandwiches seven days running. Food can be portioned and frozen for weekly Thanksgiving meals for months, but that’s boring in today’s food crazed world. Happily there are hundreds of options well beyond the overused Turkey Tetrazzini. And the options are not just for the turkey. There are numerous solutions to using leftover cranberry sauce, pies and veggies, too. The simple trick is to think about how to incorporate the food into familiar preparations.
Let’s start with cranberry sauce. It’s basically a jelly, ready with a bit of thinning with water and an addition of sugar for pancakes and waffles instead of maple syrup. A smooth sauce goes into doughnuts, a chunky one becomes a cake filling when mixed with whipped cream.
Do you like soup? Most vegetables can be cut into chunks and tossed into turkey stock for soup, along with corn and potatoes. Stuffing can be used for thickening and flavor; the bread will largely fall apart in the liquid. If you have a sausage stuffing instead of bread, whirl potatoes or starchy beans such as lima, or even peas, in a food processor with some stock and use that for thickening. And do be adventuresome. Even well cut up leftover salad—minus the dressing, radishes and cucumbers—can be incorporated into soups.
If you prefer, take very dry lettuce leaves, line rice paper wrappers with them, stuff with asparagus, green beans, cucumbers and carrots, then roll up the paper. Serve with cranberry sauce thinned with water and lime juice, or hoisin sauce right from the jar. Pita bread can be substituted for the wrappers, but use tahini or tzatziki (cucumber and yogurt sauce) instead.
Has the crust gone soggy on the pumpkin or pecan pie? Scoop out the filling, thin slightly with cream, then roll it into crêpe wrappers, or lather it on pancakes and waffles; pecan filling can be also be used on cakes. Most muffin recipes can stand up to substituting one-half of the liquid for the pumpkin. Or use pumpkin in a risotto.
As for the turkey, making stock from the bones is a flavorful necessity. Freeze in small portions for sauces or larger ones for soup. It’s tempting to just substitute turkey for chicken in recipes, but the flavors are different. Chicken is a mild-flavored meat and, like veal, can be paired with almost any sauce or accompaniment. Turkey, on the other hand, has a deeper, more robust flavor, demanding a highly flavored preparation. A Mexican mole is a perfect, although time consuming; see recipe online at www.lebomag.com. Try a lasagna of turkey with leftover veggies, preferably roasted, layered with a creamy tarragon/pepper sauce and thick slices of gruyère cheese or almost any cheese from that big dinner.
The chart below has lots of ideas for preparations to make sure that turkey day leftovers are not feared anymore.
Preheat oven to 400°
2 c stuffing
1 c of diced turkey
1 c of shredded cheddar cheese, or hard cheese of choice, or combination of cheeses
8 large eggs
3/4 c milk
1/4 tsp each nutmeg, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper
(Adjust or omit these depending on the amount of seasoning in the stuffing.)
2 T chopped fresh parsley, or mixture of parsley, tarragon and Thai basil
1. Heavily oil a medium sized, straight edge skillet or casserole.
2. Mix the stuffing and turkey in a bowl, then place it in an even layer in the casserole.
3. Put the casserole in the oven and just warm the stuffing/turkey mixture.
4. Beat together the eggs, milk and seasonings.
5. Pour the egg mixture over stuffing/turkey, shaking slightly to make sure that the eggs distribute evenly.
6. Spread the cheese evenly over the top.
7. Bake about 15-20 minutes until the eggs are set and puffy, but not fully cooked and dry. The cheese should be just melted and slightly golden.
8. Let rest 5 minutes before cutting. The eggs will continue to cook, which is why it is important to take the dish out of the oven while they are still slightly undercooked.
Garnish with leaves from the green herbs.
This recipe is based on dry chilis, which are available at local grocery stores. All chilis should be wiped free of any visible dirt. Stem them, then shake the seeds out into a small bowl; reserve. Remove any membrane, break each chili in half, then toast them over a low flame (do not use oil) until they start to color and become fragrant. It helps to weight the chilis down with a heavy pan or skillet while toasting. Move the chilis to a bowl with water to cover and let them rehydrate; drain the chilis before use, reserving the liquid. Toast the seeds just until they take on color.
12 dried mulato chiles
12 guajillo chiles
6 pasilla chiles
6 ancho chiles
Spices and nuts
All of the and nuts should be toasted or roasted until they just take on color.
¼ C. white sesame seeds
½ t. whole coriander seeds
1 t. aniseed
½ t. cloves
½ C. whole almonds
½ C. pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
½ C. white sesame seeds
½ C. chopped peanuts or hazelnuts
Nuts can be skinned or unskinned, salted or unsalted. If they are unskinned, you can rub most of the skins off with a towel after toasting/roasting, but it isn’t necessary. If they are salted, taste the sauce carefully before adding more.
1 t. thyme
1 t. Mexican oregano
3 large bay leaves
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. black peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Bread based thickeners, broken into pieces
2 ounces bread
2 dry corn tortillas (preferred)
¼ C. raisins
½ C. prunes
Plump raisins and prunes in a little water; drain and reserve water.
4 T. piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar, preferred) or packed brown sugar
15 ounces canned chopped tomatoes, very well drained, or very flavorful fresh tomatoes, juice and seeds squeezed out
3 ounces Mexican chocolate broken into pieces
Mexican chocolate is essential. It is available in local grocery stores,
usually under the Iberra label. Do not use semi-sweet chocolate.
½ C. vegetable oil, more as needed
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 C. turkey stock
1 chipotle chile from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
These are hot!
1 ¼ t. kosher salt (or to taste)
Leftover turkey in thick slices
Tortilla wrappers (optional)
Sour cream or Mexican crema
Chopped onion (optional)
Chopped lettuce (optional)
1. Process the spices, nuts and thickeners in a blender or food processor until well pulverized. Set aside.
2. Heat the oil until hot. Add the onions and cook until wilted. Add the garlic and cook just until soft. Turn off the heat; scoop out the onions and garlic and put in a food processor.
3. Add the tomatoes, raisins, prunes and chilis to the garlic and onions. Process until smooth, adding a bit of the reserved soaking liquids (raisin/prune for sweet, chili for heat/flavor) as necessary. You want a smooth mass, not a very liquid one.
4. Reheat the oil. Add the ingredients from step #3, being careful as there will be splatter. Fry the mixture until it just starts to take on color.
5. Add the spices and thickeners, stirring well to incorporate the other ingredients. This is best done with the heat off.
6. Very gradually and carefully add two cups of the stock; there will be splatter.
7. Add the chocolate.
8. Continue to cook until the dish begins to thicken, stirring regularly (burnt chocolate will ruin the dish). Add another cup of stock if the sauce seems thick or is sticking to the pan. At this point the sauce should be thick, dark, very flavorful and have some oil on the surface.
9. Taste and add salt if necessary.
10. Now comes the artistry. You can add the chili in adobo and/or seeds to increase the heat and flavor, or not. If the sauce seems thick and you don’t want to use the reserved liquids, use the turkey stock. Whatever you do, the dish will become yours.
11. The finished product should be thick enough to coat the turkey slices but not watery so that it soaks tortilla wrappers, if used, or leaves a watery residue on a plate.
12. Take some of the sauce and add turkey to coat thickly. Serve with or without tortilla wrappers, sour cream/crema, onions and lettuce.
Cheese does not work well with this dish.
Leftover sauce can be frozen.