(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
Thanksgiving dinner puts a lot of pressure on a cook.
But it's nothing compared with Thanksgiving leftovers.
Of course, you can just reheat and re-serve the whole meal over and over until the stuffing starts drying out and cracking. But a good cook is supposed to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving doing something wizardly with all those leftovers, right? Take the remains of the holiday and turn them into something supremely special, perhaps a turkey pot pie with a flaky homemade crust, with lovingly hand-crimped edges. Or a turkey mole. And it's a given that A Real Cook makes a rich turkey soup with a stock that was hours in the making.
But what if you'd rather be shopping?
My favorite thing to do with Thanksgiving leftovers is make a stuffing-and-turkey sandwich on a crunchy baguette that doesn't involve anything more complicated than the toaster oven and a scoop of cold cranberry relish.
Beyond that, I just want the leftovers gone. Gone. As in, out of the house. Preferably, in one fell swoop.
Dress them up
Probably the fastest way I know to accomplish this is with a salad.
The key here is the dressing. You don't want a creamy dressing; that would be just too heavy. The classic vinaigrette, with a 3-to-1 ratio of oil to vinegar, also seems too rich. My go-to recipe in a case like this is something that's light on the oil, a bit sweeter than an average salad dressing, yet tart too. Start with toasted cumin seed, crushed in a bowl with the bottom of a metal measuring cup. (Note to Santa: I need a mortar and pestle to clutter my kitchen counters.)
From there, I tried a few different oils. Olive oil was just meh. Sesame oil made it feel like it was trying too hard -- and failing -- to be an Asian dressing. Regular old vegetable oil did the trick. For acidity, I've tried lemon, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar -- nothing scientific, basically whatever I had on hand. But my favorite is fresh-squeezed lime.
This is a dressing that complements a number of flavors -- leftover Brussels sprouts, string beans, kale, corn, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, you name it -- instead of clashing with them.
You can also add a few refrigerator and kitchen staples such as crumbled blue cheese, a diced apple or pear, some croutons, a handful of nuts and some bacon bits kept for just this reason.
A crustless pie
But a salad gets rid of only some of the leftovers. What about the stuffing that didn't fit onto my sandwich? And those mashed potatoes? Oh, and I almost forgot -- the turkey?
A pot pie nags at me as the most sensible thing. But there is the issue of the crust. I could just go with store-bought -- if I remembered to put it on the shopping list. But that still doesn't make all of the leftovers vanish.
Shepherd's pie comes to mind because it uses up those pesky potatoes. But there's still the stuffing.
So what if I took the best of both?
Sauté diced onion and celery in butter, add flour and poultry seasoning and allow it to toast and become golden brown. Add some milk, low-sodium chicken broth, whisk away lumps and bring to a bubble to banish the raw taste of the flour.
I had about four cups of leftovers: a handful of peas, carrots, string beans, diced turkey, and Brussels sprouts. I folded them into the sauce, and then into a baking dish the whole thing went. Then I used an ice cream scoop to alternate scoops of mashed potatoes and scoops of stuffing on top.
Now, be warned that this dish can look like a lotta beige on a plate. So, if you're all about presentation, a garnish of Italian parsley might be nice. I settled for a spoonful of cranberry sauce on the side.
The result? Not quite shepherd's pie, not quite a pot pie . . . let's call it pilgrim's pie.
That just about does it for the leftovers except for just one thing: The bowlful of cranberry relish.
Frankly, I could eat cranberry relish 365 days of the year, especially when it involves some citrus and spice. But because we have to be somewhat aspirational with our leftovers, how about a dessert that would be a decided break after all that pie?
There are as many routes as there are holiday takes on cranberry relish. You could take that relish and make a sherbet. Ice cream. A tart. A dessert bread. Gelato. But a frozen yogurt just might be the easiest, and it will be light and tangy after all the heaviness of the holiday.
My colleague Jenn Garbee has a great one that couldn't be simpler to make. Just whisk, freeze and fold, as in whisk everything together into yogurt, freeze a bit, and then fold in your leftover cranberry sauce.
The best part is that this is a dessert you can start right before making dinner, and let it set up while you eat.
Actually, scratch that. The best part is that I get to spend the day shopping -- and by the end of the weekend, my refrigerator will be empty.