Leftovers are getting a bad rap. People wrinkle their noses and act as though they are about to be faced with shoe gruel for their next meal. It shouldn’t be that way. Leftovers are the hurried cook’s best friend!
Planning ahead for those leftovers, and even deliberately cooking excess food to create those leftovers is an excellent time and money saving tactic. National magazines have touted the concept for years, and wise homemakers have used it ever since the invention of the refrigerator. Maybe even before, because in a sense, canned and preserved food IS a form of leftover!
Maybe leftovers got a bad image from childhood memories of something that didn’t get eaten because it didn’t taste that good, and was served repeatedly until it finally was all gone. Maybe it was cardboard textured, bland, or just the same thing, meal after meal that killed the concept for you.
It’s time to rethink leftovers. After all, we’re about to hit the biggest leftover day of the year-Thanksgiving!
The secret to using leftovers wisely is to recreate with those ingredients. Leftover turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes does not have to be simply served one more time in its original incarnation. The true test of a good home cook is being creative, ingenious, and inventive, and not fearing failure. Fear of failure is your foe!
Look at the ingredients you have left. Think about dishes that use one or more of them. Dishes that used cooked chicken can use cooked turkey just as easily. How about a real homemade turkey pot pie? A commercial pie crust, probably on sale the week after Thanksgiving anyhow, can become a fast foundation. Dice turkey, saute some celery and onions, add some frozen peas and carrots, dump some of that leftover gravy into the crust along with the other ingredients, and cover it with a crust, bake it until it is bubbly and golden brown and you will have thrilled your family!
Another way for the traditional leftovers to be used, whether it is Thanksgiving, Sunday dinner, or just plain leftover meat and potatoes is the Shepherd’s Pie. Some variations top the gravy, meat, and vegetable mixture in the casserole dish with mashed potatoes. In our family, drop biscuits was the preferred topping, as mashed potatoes rarely were left over. If there were leftover potatoes, they were likely plain boiled ones, which went well into the shepherds pie. A noodle dish can also use that meat and potatoes, often with the addition of mushrooms, peas, and onions, along with some cream sauce, whether cream soup or medium white sauce.
Another traditional post-Thanksgiving leftover is turkey carcass soup. The boned carcass is tossed in a pot of water, along with bits and pieces, celery, onions, carrots, and maybe some bell pepper. Leftover gravy might get poured in too. There is likely the addition of some bouillon to jazz up the flavor of the bones, as well as rice to give the thin broth some body. Add a dash of Tony Chachere’s, black pepper, salt, and poultry seasoning…and bingo…you have soup!
Turkeys were the first domestic animal in North America, kept by pre-columbian people as a food and feather source. Today’s domestic turkeys are far meatier than their ancestors were, but the meat remains a versatile staple. All of that leftover turkey does not mean a long progression of turkey sandwiches and re-runs of the Big Feast. (I have to confess-I love turkey on white bread with mayo, and refuse to eat deli “turkey” at all. Just give me bits & pieces of turkey meat to scatter over the bread spread with Blue Plate mayo, a sprinkle of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning or sea salt…and that’s delicious!)
Remember those recipes calling for cooked chicken, everything from enchiladas to creamed chicken on toast? Here’s your time! Cooked turkey can be sliced, diced, or shredded and substituted for any recipe calling for cooked chicken. Toss it in a jar of alfredo sauce, add some cooked chopped broccoli, and serve it over fettuccine and you’ll have some thrilled diners. How about a stir fry? Just toss the cut up cooked turkey in about 30-60 seconds before removing your stir fry from the heat, allow an additional minute or two for it to heat through while you are carrying the stir fry to the table, and once again…you have dinner.
The possibilities are endless. Your choices have the entire world to draw from. So, get creative and make some plans that involve some leftovers, it’s really your chance to shine!