Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes. Repeat, ad nauseum. By the third day after Christmas, you have probably reached your limit of holiday leftovers. At the same time, you spent a pretty penny cooking the meal, and you’re determined to finish it. Luckily for you and your gravy-saturated family, there are many ways to re-package turkey, ham, stuffing and even cranberry sauce into new and tasty dishes.
"You’ve worked hard to make that dinner, and you’ve spent a lot of money on it," said Alfredo Noriega, head chef at Edible Pursuits catering in Weslaco. "You will want to try to reuse it and not waste it."
Generally, the attitude surrounding holiday leftovers is a mixture of enthusiasm and dread, said Rachel Paxton, who runs the recipe Web site creativehomemaking.com. You can avoid the "Oh no" attitude, however, by getting creative with how you serve your leftovers.
"I think if moms are creative with their cooking, it’s not a big deal," she said. "If leftovers have been incorporated into other dinners, the family won’t even know, and that’s when it’s most well received. If you put the turkey in a casserole, it’s not like eating the same thing again, and I don’t think it bothers people very much."
To get the most out of your leftovers, you should be aware of every item’s refrigerator life. According to Noriega, turkey dries out within several days, and vegetables have a very short shelf life once they’ve made it to leftover status. Paxton also recommended refrigerating stuffing and gravy for one to two days total. If you can’t use leftovers in that time frame, you should consider freezing them, she said.
"Freeze leftovers in individual or meal-sized portions in freezer containers or freezer bags," she said. "If you freeze them in individual packages, you can use one package for one meal. Otherwise, you have to use it all at one time."
There are plenty of recipes out there for leftover meal ingredients, Paxton and Noriega said. Even if you feel reluctant to step back in the kitchen, there are simple solutions, from stuffing a chicken breast with leftover dressing to making turkey sandwiches.
Even cranberry sauce can be re-used in low-maintenance dishes, Paxton said. One of her most popular recipes on her Web site is a crock pot pork roast, which includes pouring leftover cranberry sauce over the roast and letting it marinate.
"You just throw all that into the crock pot, and that’s it," Paxton said.
As with the original holiday meal, it’s always best to plan for your potential leftovers, Paxton said. Having a few recipes on hand will save you the headache of scrambling for them later.
"If you have something in mind beforehand, over the next couple days you don’t have to worry about finding something to make," she said.