Your belly is full, the table is clear, the dishes are done, the company gone and all that's left is a refrigerator overflowing with leftovers. What are you possibly going to do with all of that food without feeling like you're eating the exact same meal for the next five days straight?
To start with, I'll recommend a Thanksgiving leftovers staple, Ben's Famous Thanksgiving Sandwich. I'm pretty certain that this dish is actually my wife's favorite part of Thanksgiving. If we eat at my parents' house, she practically begs them to send us home with as many leftovers as she can pile in her arms. They may think it's because she loves their cooking—and perhaps that's part of it—but truly, it's because she wants to make sure we have enough ingredients for me to make multiple Thanksgiving Sandwiches for her in the coming days.
To make the sandwich, begin by toasting the bread. You can use whatever bread you'd like. Though rye bread or artisan bread is usually quite good, I often just end up making it on wheat bread I have laying around. This year, I'm thinking of making mini sandwiches with rolls. Butter the toasted bread and lay both pieces on a baking sheet. Sprinkle a little cheddar cheese on both slices of bread. On one side, add a layer of stuffing, a thin layer of cheese, a layer of turkey and then a generous coating of cheese. On the other side, add whatever else you have—mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, what have you. Let both sides warm in the oven. When they're done, top the turkey side with cranberry sauce; put it all together and enjoy! The cheese helps transform it into something a little different, and the toasting of the bread prevents it from getting soggy.
It's best to not have to make special trips to the grocery store, since you already have enough food to get rid of, but once in a while a new ingredient or two can really shake up those leftovers. Since everyone's grouping of leftovers is slightly different, be creative and utilize what you have.
Thanksgiving Shepherd's Pie: You can make one large pie or individual ones. It's especially beautiful in one of those pie plates you might still have out from the big day. Start with a nice coating of stuffing on the bottom for the crust and then add layers of whatever you have left, ending with the mashed potatoes. Let bake in a 350-degree oven until all is warmed through and the mashed potatoes on top are a bit browned.
Thanksgiving Quesadillas: Oh yes, you heard me right. Put some turkey, cheese, green beans and mashed potatoes between two flour tortillas and throw that baby in a nonstick skillet. Use whatever ingredients you want and be generous with the cheese. Instead of salsa, serve with bowls of cranberry sauce and gravy. Delish!
Turkey Devonshire: A Pittsburgh treat, this open-faced sandwich starts with a piece of toast topped with layers of turkey and crisp bacon, smothered with a creamy cheese sauce. It's baked in the oven and served bubbling. Everything is better with bacon.
Turkey & Gravy Pasta: Get some egg noodles going, add pieces of turkey and smother with gravy. Add anything else you can think of, and top with a little bit of cranberry sauce if you'd like, a variation of Swedish meatballs on pasta with lingonberries.
Thanksgiving Salad: Lighten it up with mixed greens topped with turkey slices, candied yams, green beans and cranberry sauce, served chilled.
Stuffing Pancakes Topped with Turkey & Leftovers: Form balls of stuffing into patties and cook in oil in a hot cast-iron pan, cultivating a nice crusty exterior. Top with slices of turkey, a small mound of mashed potatoes and finish off with gravy.
Thanksgiving Leftover parties are also becoming popular. Once all the relatives depart, it's an opportunity to hang out with friends and neighbors with no need to cook. In potluck form, everyone brings their leftovers and samples from a myriad of other people's meals. And when there are leftover leftovers, you can swap them around with your friends and leave with something different!
Regardless, try not to view Thanksgiving leftovers as a burden. They can be fun to play around with, and you won't have to do much heavy cooking again for bit. Best of all, you'll be sleeping like a baby for the next week with all that tryptophan in your system.
Ben Salmon is a former literary agent and the owner of Kitchen a la Mode: Accessories for Cooking & Entertaining in the heart of downtown South Orange. His local food column at Patch explores the food and drink scene in the area.
Know any local foodies I should feature? Drop me a line.