If you are hosting Thanksgiving, no doubt your focus is on the groaning table and your family's traditional dishes and must-haves. Yet for some of us, all we are thinking about are the leftovers, which can yield so much more than that beloved next-day turkey sandwich.
With just a little forethought, strategic shopping, and extra prep, you can repurpose with panache.
Instead of waiting until the meal is done, try working as you cook. Set aside the tops and trimmings of the onions, carrots, and celery to add to the stockpot, and get the flavorful roasted bones of the turkey carcass simmering and turning into rich stock before the family has gotten to the pie course.
While you've got a few pairs of extra hands in the kitchen, have your prep team chop extra vegetables to use for the next day's turkey soup or turkey potpie.
Roasted-turkey stock is rich and nourishing on its own and lends itself to many a soup or sauce base. Add small pieces of leftover or freshly roasted root vegetables to simmer briefly, and finish with thin noodles. This is one of several hearty soups you can put together in minutes with prepped ingredients at the ready. Leftover sweet or white mashed potatoes can be whisked into some stock with curry spices and coconut milk, or fresh herbs and roasted garlic, for a thick, rich potage. With a big carcass, you'll have lots of stock, so depending on what's on hand, try out several.
It also pays to plan for leftover turkey. After one "day-after" perfect hot turkey sandwich - soft bread, sliced turkey, gravy, and a side of stuffing and cranberry sauce - I am ready to pack turkey away gently under crust or rolled neatly into tortillas to freeze and eat later in the fall. These preparations are easily assembled during the holiday weekend with ingredients on hand. Extra pie dough quickly turns chopped vegetables and turkey into potpie. A bag of tortillas, a jar of green salsa, and some cheese becomes turkey enchiladas, one, two, three.
As the host, do not be shy about asking for help. And consider tasks for all levels of helpers. Some tasks can be taken on outside the kitchen itself if things are getting crowded. Peeling apples can happen around any table. Shelling beans, tedious done alone standing at the counter, is engaging and social for a group of young cousins. Little hands also need tasks, such as coloring and lettering place cards, or rolling extra dough and decorating it with dried fruit or cinnamon sugar.
Everyone can be pressed into service and appreciated for what they can offer, and with many tasks to take on, sharing the work brings groups together even before they sit around the table.
Use prep time to have family experts apprentice the young cooks. A seasoned baker can share pie dough skills with the next generation, and in addition to turning out apple and pumpkin pies, can practice by making an extra batch of dough for that late weekend potpie. Even the youngest can roll or slice or arrange, which builds not only skills and confidence, but makes it clear the meal is a true communal effort.
Perhaps you are a guest and in charge of only a side dish or two? My family gathers at one of my sister's for our annual feast - but I make a small turkey anyway to have the smell of Thanksgiving at my house, as well as leftovers and soup stock. I offer to bring a vegetable medley to give me an excuse to buy every vegetable in the farmers' market. Some I roast, some I sauté, some are blanched and sauced, and all end up on a large platter over a bed of wilted greens. I will leave many more chopped, sliced, par-cooked, and grated in my fridge awaiting an easy weekend of stir-fry, soups, and stews.
Cauliflower and/or broccoli is always earmarked for cheesy gratin. Boiled, unmashed potatoes might become a pan-fried mixed-veggie mash-up with rutabaga, sautéed kale, leeks, and roasted garlic. Green beans, just barely blanched, rewarm for Thanksgiving's "almondine" without getting soggy, and the extras are great the next day with sautéed mushrooms and crispy onions.
Assigned desserts? Extra roasted pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato for pies can be used later for ravioli filling, or mashed and baked into a nutty, sweet custard. Any extra fruit can be quickly turned into tea breads - applesauce, cranberries, and pumpkin are all well-suited for these recipes. These make great gifts and freeze easily for forthcoming winter potlucks. Little juicy clementines are easily turned into soft candied slices to garnish a cake or stack in a jar to take as a last-minute hostess gift. Extras are great used days later for desserts, rice pilafs, or cocktails.
After a long day or two of cooking and a bottomless plate of food, we may be convinced we won't cook or eat again for a week. If you plan ahead, you will be grateful come Friday night, when everyone is hungry again.