Thanksgiving is the same and different every year. For consistency, I thank the turkey and the trimmings. After that, it’s a free-for-all. Rarely solemn, sometimes hilarious (relatives), combative (politics), aggravating (relatives), or poignant (the past), Thanksgiving gets to me year after year.
Has there ever been a more comforting meal? I think of it as a solace (We’re here in this moment. With this turkey. We’ll eat and talk and shore ourselves up a bit.) The clink and clatter, the munch and crunch, the chuckle and the sigh make us content.
Hope and optimism, like turkey and stuffing, are things to count on, and this year, they are particularly honored guests. Grimmer times are hard to ignore but we can take pleasure in our hopes for the future. Pass the gravy!
And let’s not forget that mischievous guest, Chaos, who always shows up, like it or not, wearing his usual disguises. Sometimes, he’s the burned pie, the thoughtless remark, or the broken heirloom. But, welcome Chaos.* Our world is not perfect and we can be thankful there too.
I don’t think a warehouse would be big enough for all the recipes, methods, and pointers involving the turkey itself. Tips on using Thanksgiving leftovers could fill a silo. Still, it makes for fun reading and adds a little freshness to the grand old meal. I never thought of making an Asian salad with leftover sweet potatoes and red cabbage. Or dumplings out of dressing.
Holiday leftovers present a great opportunity to make some tasty little meals that don’t cost a dime and make use of some great food. My favorite pointer is this:
Don’t eat leftovers right away. And definitely, don’t have warmed-up turkey four days running.
On the other hand, don’t rush your leftovers to the freezer either. You’ll have a mutiny on you hands when the first sandwich seeker can’t locate the turkey. But a careful division of the vegetables, meat, carcass, gravy and any other trimmings is a sound idea. Package, freeze, and store with labels so that when (in a week or so) you feel like making turkey soup for a Sunday night dinner, you will know where to look. And be reasonable. You’ll use up small portions whereas a football-sized lump of mashed potatoes or a pail of gravy could linger in the freezer until the 4th of July.
Cooks in mid-20th century America were advised to conceal leftovers by putting a new face (literally) on yesterday’s meal. Sliced meatloaf, for example, with olive eyes and a ketchup smile. Another visual ploy: the architectural main course. Sausage Stockade leaps to mind. In this dish, mashed potatoes are surrounded by breakfast sausages to form a large rectangle. Heated up with a parsley ‘flag’ stuck in the center and it’s, ‘Hello Fort Dodge!’ But, don’t get me wrong: as funny as some of these concoctions sound, the idea of making up something new from something old is terrific.
Maybe we’re just not as funny now: we don’t want to eat foods that contain words like Surprise, Heavenly, or Chuckwagon. But we also don’t cook as much so we don’t have the same need to doll up last night’s dinner. Nevertheless, from my reading of the news, folks are spending less time and money in restaurants which means that cooking leftovers may be an art in recovery. Seasonal, Warm, or Charred might describe our twice-cooked offerings.
So have a wonderful Thanksgiving and save those bones!
*A tip of the hat to Margaret Wheatley whose book Leadership and the New Science explores the idea of chaos as ‘order without predictablity’. A fascinating book.
Here are a few suggestions for Thanksgiving revisited.
Asian Sweet Potato Slaw
Mix the following ingredients in a large bowl:
- 2 cups (leftover) cooked sweet potatoes, cubed
- 1 small red cabbage, shredded
- 4 tablespoons peanuts, chopped
- 2 -4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 2-3 scallions, chopped (optional)
Prepare the dressing with the ingredients below and toss.
- 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
Turkey Soup with Dumplings
A turkey carcass will yield a good strong broth but don’t over cook it.
- 1 leftover turkey carcass
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves garlic (optional)
- 2 or 3 sprigs thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
Break up the turkey carcass into pieces. Put these into a large pot and just cover the bones with cold water. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, skim any froth from the top, lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about two hours. Taste. It should be well flavored but will need salt. If it’s too thin in taste, cook a bit longer. Strain and season with salt. Let the broth cool and skim off the fat.
For a richer soup, you may want to add some vegetables and herbs (peas, green beans, finely cubed fresh zucchini, chopped parsley or chives for example).
For the Dumplings
- 2 cups leftover stuffing
- 2 eggs
Beat the eggs lightly and mix into the stuffing. Add another egg if the mixture is too dry. Form into medium-sized balls and add to simmering broth. Gently heat and serve.
The Whole Shebang Flat Enchiladas
Here we’re trying to get the most out of leftovers using some concealment practices.
- gravy, about 1 cup or more
- 1 teaspoon each: cumin and oregano
- cooked sliced turkey, 2 cups approximately
- corn tortillas – 9 or 10
- 1 can tomatillos, chopped
- 1 can poblano chiles or other mild chile
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped (optional)
- peas, sweet potatoes and possibly Brussels sprouts, about 1- 2 cups altogether
- 1 1/2 cups jack cheese, shredded
- Salt and pepper
Grease a 9 x 12 inch baking dish. If you have the time, fry the tortillas briefly in a small amount of hot oil. Drain and salt lightly.
First, we’ll heat the leftover gravy and season it with some cumin and oregano. If your gravy has a lot of sage in it, you may want to omit the oregano. Adding a lot of different seasonings – or fresh garlic, say- will not make a better sauce. Keep it simple.
Spread about 2 tablespoon of this sauce in the baking dish. Cover the dish with 3 or 4 tortillas (plain or sauteed as described above). Add a layer of turkey. Mix the tomatillos, chiles and cilantro together and spread a few spoonfuls of this mixture to the turkey.
Cut the sweet potatoes and/or the sprouts into small slices or cubes. Mix together with the peas. Add a thin layer of these vegetables and top with another layer of tortillas. Repeat the layering ending with the vegetables. Sprinkle the top with shredded cheese and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until bubbling.
Serve with a green salad.