Thanksgiving leftovers: Remains of the day

By Robin Watson
Special to The Detroit News

For some, Thanksgiving leftovers are a treasured tradition. For others, leftovers are the dietary equivalent of the movie “Groundhog Day.” Still others relish repurposing the feast as a way to flex their creativity and exercise economy.

“Working as close to zero waste as possible is absolutely essential,” says Allie Lyttle, executive chef at Lala’s in Ann Arbor. “It’s what's best for the environment and what’s best for your wallet.”

Previous generations practiced this. And, in these changeable and uncertain times, it’s absolutely vital. Start by taking stock of what’s leftover and how to get the maximum use out of it.

This Leftover Turkey Bolognese highlights flavors that aren't generally associated with leftover turkey. It doesn't feel like you're dressing up something that has been ‘left over,’ but, rather, that you’re creating something entirely of its own making.

“Always be mindful of how to cross-utilize things from what you've already made,” Lyttle says. “It’s empowering to look at a recipe and think, ‘Do I have something I could swap out and it'll still be delicious?’”

Your efforts will be rewarded.

“By slow-cooking the turkey carcass, the meat plucked from it, the leftover vegetables and their trimmings, you gradually develop deep, rich flavor,” says Ann Arbor-based Jeremiah Kouhia, baker and owner of The Mother Loaf Breads. “Spending three to four hours making a nice sauce on the stovetop can be a way to decompress, to re-center yourself. Take your time and use your senses.”

 Deep dishing about leftovers

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there are no second acts in American lives. But for leftovers, there are plenty of encores.

So many ways to fill your piehole. Step up the savory side of the pie plate.

“My absolute favorite way to use leftovers is to make Thanksgiving pie,” Lyttle says. “It’s super simple, but so dang good. Take a store-bought pie crust and layer in turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, then dot gravy over the top. Bake at 350 degrees until golden-brown for an entirely different Thanksgiving meal than you had the day before.”

Other options:

·         Turkey pie with a leftover-stuffing crust

·         Turkey pot pie with a puff-pastry top crust

·         Turkey shepherd’s pie with leftover mashed-potato topping

·         Turkey hand pies

Beyond pies, try these ideas.

Savory pancakes. “Make pancakes out of your mashed potatoes,” Lyttle advises. “Once they're cold and firm, they're super-easy to patty and pan-fry.” Add herbs and cheese. Top with eggs and/or leftover gravy.

Composed salads. Toss bite-sized chunks of roasted root vegetables with a citrussy vinaigrette or your favorite salad dressing and serve warm or cold.

Soup. Use the carcass and meaty parts, vegetables and their trimmings to make stock for immediate use or to freeze. “Turkey stock is the building block of good cuisine and can be used in many ways,” Kouhia says.

Sandwiches. Hand-shred leftover cooked turkey and toss with your favorite barbecue sauce for pulled-turkey sandwiches served atop crispy waffles made from leftover stuffing or use those waffles instead of bread for hot or cold turkey sandwiches.

Stir-frys. “Turkey fried rice is awesome — a little rice, a little sesame oil and some eggs for a stellar leftover meal,” Lyttle says.

Snacky things. Fashion leftover stuffing into breaded, battered and deep-fried croquettes. Grind up and blend leftover roasted Brussels sprouts into dips and spreads.

Desserts. Use up a mix of leftover cubed breads (white, wheat, caraway-rye), parkerhouse or pretzel rolls, pretzels, biscuits, scones, etc., for bread pudding rich in flavor and texture.

Smoothies. Blend leftover cranberries and/or cranberry sauce into your smoothies.

Seasonal breakfast strata. Layer leftovers with savory custard and soak overnight. Add in roasted butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, sauteed kale and intense blue cheese, Kouhia suggests, as powerful flavor boosters.

The bottom line?

“This year will be strange for everyone,” Kouhia says. “So you may as well try something new.”

This Leftover Turkey Bolognese highlights flavors that aren't generally associated with leftover turkey. It doesn't feel like you're dressing up something that has been ‘left over,’ but, rather, that you’re creating something entirely of its own making.

Leftover Turkey Ragu Bolognese

For the Bolognese

¼ cup   olive oil

2 cups  onion, finely diced (reserve peel/trim)

1 cup carrots, finely diced (reserve peel/trim)

1 cup celery, finely diced (reserve peel/trim)

¾ teaspoon+more, to taste   salt, divided

3  garlic cloves, minced (reserve peel/trim)

¼ pound  pancetta, diced

2 tablespoons   tomato paste

½ pound   leftover cooked turkey*, finely ground

3 tablespoons   unsalted butter, divided

2 28-ounce cans   whole, peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand

4 cups   turkey stock, divided (see recipe)

1 small piece   parmesan-cheese rind

1 tablespoon+more, to taste fresh parsley, minced (reserve stems/trim)

1 teaspoon+more, to taste    fresh oregano, minced (reserve stems/trim)

¼ teaspoon+more, to taste   fresh rosemary, minced (reserve stems/trim)

Sourdough Breadcrumbs (see recipe)

To taste,  parmesan cheese, grated

To taste,   pepper

 Pasta (for serving)

*Picked from bones after carving. A 50-50 ratio between light and dark meat is best, but whatever is leftover will work. Pass the turkey through a grinder with a fine die plate, or finely mince it by hand on a cutting board.

Place the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepot. Add the onions, carrots, celery and a 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until nicely golden — about 1 hour.

Add the garlic to the saucepot. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until it’s incorporated and begins to soften. Add the pancetta and render it (cooking it down so the fat melts away into the mixture), about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the herbs and the turkey meat. Stir to incorporate.

Push everything to the outer edges of the saucepot, creating a hole in the center of the ingredients. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and heat, without stirring, until it melts. Then, maintaining the hole in the middle of the saucepot, add the tomato paste and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. Once the tomato paste is cooked, stir all of the vegetables together until incorporated.

Add the canned tomatoes and stir for 2 minutes.

Add 3 cups of turkey stock and stir to incorporate. Add the parmesan rind and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Simmer over medium-low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

After simmering, the sauce should be a dark-red color, some fat may have separated on the top, and the sauce will have developed a nice richness. Add the remaining 1 cup of turkey stock, turn the heat up to medium, and reduce the sauce to the desired consistency (a thick, tomato gravy is ideal).

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and the herbs of your choice. Right before serving, swirl 2 tablespoons of butter into the sauce. Toss with the pasta of your choice. Top with sourdough-breadcrumbs and grated, fresh parmesan.

For the Turkey Stock

2   cooked turkey-wing tips

4-inch  section of cooked turkey back

Reserved vegetable and herb trimmings

1½ quarts cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roast the turkey pieces and bones on a sheet pan for 30 to 45 minutes, until golden-brown. This step is crucial to developing strong, rich flavor.

Put the turkey and reserved vegetable/herb trimmings in a large stockpot. Add the cold water. Bring up to a slow simmer, then increase heat to medium. Reduce stock slightly, about 1 hour, though more time will enhance the flavor.

After reducing, you will have around 5 cups of stock. Set aside 4 cups for the Bolognese. Refrigerate or freeze the rest for another use.

For the Sourdough-Breadcrumb Mixture

The texture and zip of flavor are well worth the effort for this step.

3 large slices   sourdough bread, torn into pieces

2 tablespoons  olive oil

1  garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon   parsley, or herbs of your choice

To taste    salt

¼ teaspoon  lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the bread pieces on a sheet pan and bake until crispy and toasted, about 30 minutes. Let the bread cool. Once cooled, crush with a rolling pin and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan. Add the garlic and herbs and saute until golden-brown. Add salt. Let the mixture cool a few minutes, then add it to the breadcrumbs, along with the lemon zest. Toss until well-mixed.

Recipe courtesy of Jeremiah Kouhia, baker and owner of The Mother Loaf Breads.

Creamy and comforting, this recipe comes together easily, no blender required.

Cream of Leftover Mashed-Potato Soup

4 tablespoons   butter

1   onion, chopped

1 teaspoon  dried garlic

2 teaspoons  poultry seasoning

½ teaspoon  smoked paprika

3 tablespoons   all-purpose flour

½ cup     white wine

4 cups   turkey stock

2 cups   leftover mashed potatoes

2 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons   fresh chives, finely chopped

To taste salt

To taste   ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a small saucepot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Stir in the dried garlic, poultry seasoning and smoked paprika. Mix in the flour to make a roux and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is lightly browned. Add the wine and stir until fully incorporated. Stir in the stock. Add the mashed potatoes and stir until fully incorporated. Add the milk and stir to blend. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture just to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the chives, salt and pepper and serve.

Recipe by Robin Watson

Thanksgiving foods and flavors come together in a pie built on stuffing instead of a traditional crust.

Leftover-Stuffing Pie

Pan spray

½ cup  leftover cranberry sauce

4 tablespoons leftover turkey gravy

2 ½ cups leftover stuffing

5 tablespoons turkey stock

½ cup grated cheddar cheese, divided

½ cup  leftover cooked Brussels sprouts, sliced thin

½ cup  leftover roasted carrots, diced

1 cup leftover roast turkey, diced

1 cup leftover mashed potatoes

4 tablespoons whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly spritz a 9-inch pie plate with pan spray. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the cranberry sauce and gravy. Set aside.

If the stuffing is cold, microwave it in a bowl until it’s just warm and slightly softened. Mash the stuffing and stock together until thoroughly mixed. Using your hands, press the stuffing into the pie plate, pushing it up the sides a bit. Use the back of a spoon to press down and even it out as much as possible. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with half the grated cheese. Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes and remove from the oven. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of the cranberry sauce/gravy mixture over the melted cheese. Top with half the sliced Brussels sprouts and diced carrots. Place the chopped turkey on the vegetables.

Drizzle with half the remaining cranberry sauce/gravy mixture, then top with the remaining Brussels sprouts and carrots. Using your hands or the back of a spoon, press down lightly on the filling to compress it. Drizzle with the remaining cranberry sauce/gravy mixture. If the mashed potatoes are cold, microwave them in a small bowl until just reheated and soft, then stir in the milk. Drop spoonfuls of the potatoes over the top of the pie. Using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the potatoes until the whole surface of the pie is covered. Top with the remaining grated cheese. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the cheese is melty and the pie is heated through.

Recipe by Robin Watson

Leftover Turkey Curry

4 tablespoons   butter

1  onion, sliced

1 ½ tablespoons  hot curry powder

¼ cup  cider vinegar

1 cup  turkey stock or water

10 ounces  fresh spinach, chopped

1 cup tomato sauce

2 cups   leftover roast turkey, chopped

1 cup   leftover turkey gravy

½ cup     frozen peas

  Rice or noodles for serving

Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a medium-size skillet. Add the onion and saute until softened and lightly browned. Add the curry powder, vinegar, and water or stock. Stir vigorously for 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until it’s wilted. Add the tomato sauce and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add the turkey, gravy and frozen peas. Stir to blend everything together and cook until the mixture is heated through. Serve over cooked rice or noodles.

Adapted from “How to Cook a Wolf,” by MFK Fisher.