5 delicious ways to eat Thanksgiving leftovers

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Cooked Thanksgiving Turkey

When Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the turkey gorge is over, you’ll probably open up your refrigerator and find all sorts of tinfoil-wrapped casseroles and a lingering eau de sage.

What’s a severely yammed out but unwasteful eater to do? That’s where Melissa d’Arabian comes in.

D’Arabian is the winner of season 5 of “The Next Food Network Star” and host of the Food Network show “Ten Dollar Dinners.”

She gives us her five tips for Thanksgiving leftovers.

1. Freeze while fresh

Why wait until your turkey has aged two extra days until you realize that you are in over your Thanksgiving head? On Thanksgiving Day, as you are cleaning up after dinner, immediately cube up half the remaining turkey and package it up into quart-sized freezer bags, about a cup or two each portion, depending on the size of your family. Label and freeze, and now you’ll have the freshest leftover possible that becomes an easy ingredient in the freezer just waiting to have a second life a month or two down the road in another recipe: pasta, soup, savory pies, omelets, etc.

2. Tired of turkey? Trick your tastebuds

My Saturday strategy for the turkey I still have around? Go ethnic or regional with these creative ideas. Think Thai (turkey pad Thai, for instance), Mexican (turkey taquitos) or Southern BBQ (pulled-turkey sandwiches). A whole different flavor profile will break the mold on Thanksgiving flavors, and you’ll fool your palate into thinking your dish is a fresh new idea, not a recycled leftover.

3. Turkey’s gone, but what about all the rest? Repurpose your sides

We all have side dishes that we make out of tradition, but that aren’t eaten quite as much as we would hope. The result is leftover overload! Cranberry sauce is a major culprit in my house. The solution? Think of cranberry sauce simply as a tart fruit, and use as you would use any other. Make a yogurt parfait, or toss with apple slices and make a cobbler or crumble, or heat up and pour on vanilla ice cream and top with toasted pecans for a sundae.

You can even make a fantastic sweet-heat salsa (perfect with my turkey taquitos, above). The other major leftover is the (in)famous yams.

One idea: think breakfast! Make a delicious maple-yam compound butter and serve with scones or waffles. Turn sweetened yams into a filling for empanadas, or make cinnamon bran muffins with them. On the savory side, try swirling some yams into your leftover mashed potatoes for a delicious marbled potato side dish. (I know; I didn’t give you any ideas for stuffing. But if you have stuffing leftovers, you need a new recipe. I’m just saying.)

4. Ingredients are leftovers too, so scan the fridge

Remember one of my cardinal rules of saving grocery dollars: Wasted food is the most expensive food you buy, no matter how cheap it was at the store. So, be sure to check your refrigerator for lurking ingredients on their last legs so that you can leverage all your leftovers instead of tossing them. Use that leftover heavy cream you bought for mashed potatoes to make a quick homemade spicy butterscotch pudding. Use half a sour cream container to make your mom’s crazy Jell-o salad. Find a way to use up the other half (those taquitos bail us out yet again!).

A good general strategy is to check your refrigerator weekly (ideally just before menu planning or grocery shopping), and pull any ‘must-use’ ingredients front and center of the fridge so you don’t forget about them.

5. Feel good about less

Sometime between Halloween and the New Year, do a major purge of stuff you don’t need and donate it. And if you are feeling the squeeze of the economy as we head into the holidays, volunteer at a homeless shelter, food bank or soup kitchen. There is nothing like helping those who are less fortunate than you to make you feel grateful for what you do have, which will curb overbuying (and overcooking) and keep the holidays focused on what matters: the people in your life.

And while it’s too late to change how much food you bought for this year, maybe next year this strategy will have you just buying slightly less. But this year, it will make us grateful for having leftovers at all, even if we don’t turn them all into a taquito.

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