Let it be known that, like the good assistant food editor that I am, I love Thanksgiving.
Turkey. Dressing (not stuffing, thankyouverymuch). Cranberry sauce. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. Green bean casserole with the crunchy onions. Just like home. I can’t wait.
Then, the crowds leave. And the part I don’t like so much begins: the cleaning up and the stowing away of leftovers. Ye gods, the leftovers.
Last week, The Advocate reported that the cost of a traditional turkey dinner for 10 went up 13 percent over last year’s average, to $44.35. Much more than my average dinner cost.
So to see the pile of leftover turkey, the mounds of sweet potatoes, and the bowl of neglected-but-necessary regular mashed potatoes makes me want to cry a little bit. Then, I got creative.
The turkey carcass
That pale skeleton of Thanksgiving still has plenty of life in it. After you’ve mostly picked it clean and removed any stuffing from the cavity, submerge it in a large pot of salted, cool water. Bring to a low boil or even a simmer, cover, and let it go for two or three hours or until the bones are just soft.
You may occasionally need to skim off the foam and other debris that collects at the top of the pot. Strain the stock, then refrigerate. The next morning, the fat will have risen to the top in a mostly solid white disk. Pluck it out, and your stock is ready to go into soup, gumbo, gravy or anywhere you’d use chicken stock, say in White Turkey Chili.
The bird is by far the most leftover thing on the Thanksgiving table. Unless you’re feeding a band of Paleo diet enthusiasts, you’re going to have some meat left (alas, probably none of the tasty, crispy skin). I have four favorite recipes I haul out after Thanksgiving.
One is turkey gumbo, and Cynthia Nobles did an excellent job of covering gumbo last week. I can’t improve. The other three, White Turkey Chili, Turkey Spaghetti and Turkey Pot Pie, are beloved at my table for their ease of going together (especially welcome after the trial of the Thanksgiving meal) and for their different tastes. For the chili and the spaghetti, I prefer using the dark meat, as the turkey cooks in the dish a little more than does the pot pie, where the meat stands somewhat more alone.
Aside from the dark meat, the chili brings warm, south-of-the-border flavors that are a change from the traditional Thanksgiving flavor profile and are also comforting on a brisk evening. Feel free to adjust the spice to your family’s tastes; at my house, a dash more cayenne and a few more chilies are always welcome.
Turkey Spaghetti is an adaptation of a chicken spaghetti recipe that’s a family favorite. There’s a lot of flavor in that dish, and it feeds a crowd, making it an excellent choice for post-holiday gatherings. It also freezes well.
The pot pie is a great dish for a post-shopping supper. Because it uses cooked turkey, leftover vegetables, canned condensed soup and frozen biscuits, it goes together quickly and is a wonderful comfort for aching feet and empty wallets. I know it’s unusual, but I actually like frozen, store-bought biscuits better in this recipe than homemade. Don’t revoke my Southern card until you try it.
Speaking of Southern, it doesn’t get much more so than candied sweet potatoes. They’re a favorite, but there’s always a sliver of the dish leftover — almost too little to fool with. Biscuits to the rescue!
If you’re using candied sweet potatoes for this recipe, try to scrape as much of the sauce off as you can, and definitely exclude the marshmallows. Those always get picked off at my table, anyway. You can also used roasted or boiled sweet potato, or even cooked butternut or acorn squash. When I use the squashes, I like to make them a little more savory with a sprinkling of rosemary in the dough.
Unlike traditional Southern biscuits, which are rolled out and cut, I advise dropping these biscuits onto a baking sheet by heaping tablespoonsful or shaping them with floured hands. I find the dough a little too sticky to roll out. And it’s perfectly OK if there are chunks of sweet potatoes in them instead of a smooth mash.
The poor relations of the Colvin Thanksgiving table, regular mashed potatoes, are required yet rarely finished off at my house.
And nothing is less inspiring than a cold bowl of mashed potatoes. Until I found these pancakes. Traditionally served in Germany and other parts of Europe, fried potato pancakes can be either shredded potatoes, like hash browns, or made with leftover mash.
I Americanize these with cayenne pepper, garlic and cheese.
Because of that garlic and spice, I serve them with sour cream instead of the other traditional condiment, applesauce. Be especially careful when you dredge the patties in egg, they get really fragile at that point. The bread crumbs firm them right back up, though.
Have a happy Thanksgiving, Food fans, and enjoy that $44 meal for as long as you can.
Beth Colvin is The Advocate’s assistant Food editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.