Hack Thanksgiving Leftovers Like a ProNovember 17, 2016
When you think about it, Thanksgiving is pretty incredible. No matter how many people sit down to your table next Thursday, no matter how many buckles are loosened and “thirds” regretted, there will inevitably be tremendous amounts of leftovers when the final fork clinks onto empty plate and the last mouth is wiped clean. And that may not even be the only Thanksgiving feast you attend.
Is it any surprise then that, despite how delicious the food, we soon dread yet another meal of Thanksgiving leftovers?
Freeze your leftovers for (much) later
Sometimes all you need is a little time away from the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. And refrigerating your leftovers only buys you a week before their quality (and safety) drops precipitately.
The good news? Thanksgiving leftovers are very freezable (yes, even mashed potatoes), and if frozen can lasts anywhere from 3-4 months up to a full year. Here are a few simple tips to follow for the best results:
- Prepare in advance for the after-dinner rush to put leftovers away. Stock up on freezer bags (both large and small) and organize your freezer-safe containers. This is a great task to assign to those who ask, “How can I help?” but who you want as far from any actual cooking or prep as possible. Let them pair lids with containers and order by size. Why is this important? Because leftovers need to be cooled down as quickly as possible for optimal preservation (and no, you shouldn’t wait until they reach room temp).
- After dinner, have everyone pitch in so it takes no time at all and you can get back to enjoying the festivities. Everything should find its way into a freezer-safe container or bag. The smaller and more airtight the container the better, as this will allow the food to cool down faster, prevent freezer burn and make it easier to reheat meal-sized portions (instead of hacking out spoonfuls of mashed potatoes). Cut the turkey up, store gravy in ice cube trays, whatever it takes.
- Keep in mind, you only want to put the leftovers through the freeze and reheat process one time. Once it’s been reheated, it either needs to be eaten or placed in the refrigerator.
What can’t be frozen?
- Milk or cream-based gravies
- Broth-based mashed potatoes (in fact, the more buttery and rich the mashed potatoes, the better they’ll freeze)
- Green bean casserole
- Custard or cream pies
For your sanity, label and date your leftovers. And for more info, visit this excellent resource by the kitchen. Just remember: freeze quickly in small servings; and once frozen, never refrozen.
Transform your leftovers into potpies and your pies into shakes
Just because everything is already cooked and ready to eat, doesn’t mean you have to eat it the way you first made it. There are plenty of fun ways to repurpose your leftovers so they stay delicious, but are just different enough to taste fresh and exciting.
We combed through some recipes, some more adventurous than others, and collected our favorites:
- Start your morning off right with Thanksgiving breakfast burritos. (Our mouth is already watering.)
- If you’re looking for a snack or side, you can’t do wrong with these pan-fried turkey croquettes served with cranberry-dipping sauce. (Excuse us while we wipe up this drool.)
- Or try these cheesy mashed potato puffs.
- For a full meal, the tried-and-true turkey and mashed potato potpie is always a winner.
- Or, for something more exotic, try these superb turkey and mashed potato samosas.
- And because bread and rolls don’t freeze incredibly well, you may want to use up that leftover bread by making a panade. The great thing about this recipe is that you can make it with whatever leftovers are lying around and it will still taste delicious.
- And yeah, we meant it when we said turn your pies into shakes.
There are plenty of recipes out there if none of the above catches your eye. Or you could make up your own—Thanksgiving flavors go so well together, you really can’t screw it up. So have fun and enjoy the results.
Spread the love and help those in need
This one’s a little trickier, since food banks and pantries can’t accept donations of perishable food except from businesses like restaurants and caterers (for health and safety reasons).
But by all means, if you bought a package too many of instant mashed potatoes, or a can too many of green beans, your extras would make for a much-appreciated donation. Two organizations to consider for your donation are:
(Or, when out shopping, you could simply buy extras for the express purpose of donating to help those in need. Small acts of kindness like this are what the season is about. Not to mention, the joy Thanksgiving brings you will feel stronger and last longer thanks to your charity.)
If you want to do more with your cooked leftovers though, there is no law against being an incredibly selfless and good person. Prepare some turkey sandwiches, wrap them in sandwich bags, and place them in a cooler. As you drive around Omaha, if you see someone who could use a meal, kindly offer them one of the sandwiches. The people you help may be too busy thinking you’re a great person who has done an amazingly selfless act to comment on just how amazing a cook you are, but it’s well worth it.
If neither of the above work for you, and we are aware that this is off the topic of leftovers, cash donations are appreciated by both of the above organizations as well. For instance, just $1 can cover 3 meals at Food Bank for the Heartland (so you can imagine how much good $50 does).
Tl;dr: bottom-line, you have options. You can freeze your leftovers for later; turn your leftovers into potpies and your pies into shakes; or donate them to help those in need. Any of which will keep Thanksgiving fresh in your heart and the gratitude flowing.