I love leftovers, sometimes even more than freshly cooked food. Sure Thanksgiving is nice, but our annual Friday-after-Thanksgiving-leftover-feast and the sandwiches all weekend long were at least as good as the holiday dinner.
Then came that inevitable moment of reckoning. Last night I inventoried the remaining pieces of meat, the turkey carcass (even the word sounds like you should immediately get rid of it), and multiple containers of stuffing and cranberry sauce, not to mention the bits of pie. I bet similar moments of truth have been happening in households all over the U.S. as refrigerators are whipped back into shape for another workweek.
Like a good drill sargent, I pitched, transformed, or froze much of what was left. Both the refrigerator and I heaved a sigh of relief as we moved out of Thanksgiving mode. We do have the memories though, along with a few leftover treats.
The best guide for saving, using, and freezing leftover Thanksgiving fare is your common sense. If you have a moment’s hesitation when deciding whether to keep leftovers, listen to the little voice in the back of your head saying “throw it out.” Although none of us likes to waste food, the solution is not to serve food that isn’t safe. And for those moments when the little voice doesn’t guide you, here are a few tips:
Cooked turkey meat. Leftover meat should be eaten within 4 days of being cooked. So if you haven’t already frozen the leftover turkey, eat it today or throw it out. If you are tired of sandwiches, try a pot pie.
Making soup or broth from the turkey carcass. Cover the carcass with cold water. If the turkey was large, cut the carcass with poultry shears to submerge all of the bones during cooking. If you have pieces of cooked meat or leftover legs, add them too. Even turkey wings without much meat are great for flavoring the soup. Add vegetables and spices (I use an onion, a carrot, a parsnip, celery, parsley, bay leaves, salt and pepper), bring the water to a boil and simmer for approximately 2 hours. Afterward, strain it through a colander or strainer to separate out the bones, meat, and veggies. If not using the soup immediately, cool it down as quickly as possible. The danger zone for bacteria growth is between 40 and 140 degrees Farenheit. Putting the soup in a cold pot in an ice bath and/or dividing it into smaller containers will help cool it down more quickly. If you aren’t going to use it in the next day, freeze the broth – the “technical” term for strained soup. When reheating, be sure to bring it up to a boil. In order to have the freshest “add ins” such as veggies, noodles or rice, and small chunks of meat, I add them when the broth is being reheated and cook them in it. I’m going to freeze most of my broth, saving just enough to make this intriguing Japanese-style soup tonight with my friend Stella’s recipe.
If stuffing contains poultry stock (either chicken or turkey) or any type of meat (including turkey or sausage) treat it as you would turkey leftovers. In any event, don’t keep it refrigerated longer than 3-4 days. You can freeze stuffing in a plastic freezer-safe bag or a container.
Cranberry Sauce and Chutney
Unused Fresh Cranberries
This cranberry nut bread is a great way to use a leftover fresh cranberries. I’ll post the recipe on Wednesday – it’s based on the banana bread recipe that my kids consider a family classic.
I’ve kept cranberries frozen for months in the plastic bag I bought them in. A few soften when I take them out of the freeer and wash them, but that hardly matters because they soften anyway in sauce or baked goods. if you love cranberries, buy a few bags soon and freeze them for later use – they disappear from most store shelves by January.
Fruit-filled pies can be left on the counter, but custard-based pies (such as pumpkin) should be refrigerated. I checked this with my favorite quick reference on food safety, the AskKaren livechat. When I asked why a cake containing eggs and dairy doesn’t have have to be refrigerated but a pumpkin does, the – perhaps obvious to everyone but me- answer was that the cake ingredients dry out, while the pumpkin pie ingredients stay moist and it is the moisture that promotes the growth of bacteria, potentially leading to food-borne illness. So if you have leftover pumpkin pie sitting on your counter, throw it out. I should have known and should have refrigerated our leftover pumpkin pie, but I’ll admit that I fed the room temperature leftovers to my family and friends. Luckily for me, no one got sick, but I won’t be repeating that mistake again.