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All about the Leftovers!

November 21, 2017

The holiday season is once again upon us. And, while I know there are mixed reviews on the Thanksgiving celebration, I still find it to be my favorite holiday. There is a lot of joy in preparing and eating food, sharing a meal with people you care about (hopefully!), and being thankful for what we have. And, then there’s stuffing, definitely one of the top favorite comfort foods for which I’m incredibly thankful!

Of course being responsible and not generating huge amounts of food waste is an important component of any meal, most especially during the holiday season. Fortunately I love good leftovers and I’m here to once again spread the joy of cooking with leftovers!

Last year I put up several quarts of stock made from the turkey carcass. And, I divided up the turkey meat with friends and put up my portioned packages in the freezer. I even froze some of the precious stuffing!

During the long Vermont winter I cooked up some of my favorite leftover recipes and enjoyed a few new ones (see below). As part of my annual Thanksgiving blog, I’m making it a tradition to share tips for leftover storage and cooking. Hopefully the message inspires others to waste less and appreciate the joy of cooking with leftovers!

Practice Safety in the Kitchen

If you are not familiar with storing, freezing, and reheating foods, check out the USDA website on food safety. To properly store a cooked turkey, it should be refrigerated within two hours. Preparing your holiday meal to be used for future leftovers will be fast and easy if advanced planning is made.

Plan ahead for leftovers by saving containers—margarine, yogurt, butter, etc. If you intend on sending leftovers home with company, ask them to bring containers. Have on hand lots of plastic wrap, freezer bags, and foil. Also have labels or masking tape and a good marking pen.

To store leftovers, they should be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or a freezer bag, or stored in a sealable container.  Once contained, label the item with the contents and date, place the item immediately in the refrigerator or freezer for long-term storage.

Appropriately cooked and stored leftovers will be fine stored in a refrigerator for at least four days. Plan ahead—if you don’t think the leftovers will be eaten within four days, it’s best to put them in the freezer within two hours of cooking them. This will better preserve the taste.

Storage Details

Cooked turkey can be frozen for up to three months. Remove the turkey meat from the bone, wrap well, and toss it in the freezer. The carcass and bones can be put in the refrigerator for making stock (use them to make stock within three days) or frozen for use in stock at a later time. Store bones and meat separately; it is also helpful to store white meat and dark meat separately in order to better prepare for leftover cooking.

Stuffing can also be frozen. Cool it completely and store it in a container for up to one month. Mashed potatoes also freeze well. Flour-based turkey gravy can be frozen for up to four months. Some vegetable dishes—pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, even the dreaded cranberry sauce, can be frozen; others, such as string bean casserole, won’t freeze well. Those leftover dinner rolls can definitely be frozen.

Divide leftovers into appropriate “meal” size portions for easy leftover cooking.

Settle in with a Glass of Wine

Pour a glass of your favorite wine, invite your holiday guests into the kitchen (offer them some wine of course), and get to work putting up the leftovers. It will ultimately make life easier and you won’t have to try to cram everything into the refrigerator.

While you’re at it, consider cooking the turkey carcass for stock. It’s easy and makes the best, free stock which can be frozen for future use. While the kitchen is being cleaned and leftovers being packed away, throw the carcass in a big pot, add any leftover carrots from dinner, a little celery and herbs, and simmer away (1-3 hours)! This can also be done in a slow cooker overnight. (Helpful hint: when you are prepping your Thanksgiving meal veggies, cut up extra carrots and celery to be used in making the stock.)

Beyond Turkey Sandwiches

Some good websites for recipes using leftovers:

Some of my favorite after the holiday leftover recipes:

Meal Planning Assistance

Just in time for the holiday season, the "Guest-imator" is a new tool developed by the Ad Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council's Save The Food national public service campaign. The “Guest-imator” can be used to plan a menu according to the number of people who will be eating and what will be served.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

By Athena Lee Bradley

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