Saving Thanksgiving

How to turn the remains of the feast into months of flavor

After the feast is done, the work of maximizing the leftovers begins in earnest.

If you are hosting Thanksgiving at your house today, complete with “Alice’s Restaurant” playing in the background, you probably won’t read this until well after the feast. Hosts spend weeks getting ready for that peak moment when everybody is finally seated and filling their plates. They will grab some turkey, yams and stuffing, but hosts also thinking about filling wine glasses and getting dessert. The nature and joy of hospitality is that your focus is on guests until the final, full person departs.

Thanksgiving hosts, like me, love the day after the dinner… as long as someone else has already cleaned up and washed the dishes. I love warming up a plate of veggie side dishes, two stuffings, turkey and gravy, and pie, or grabbing a turkey sandwich on white toast with mayo, lettuce, tomato and bacon.

Black Friday is also the day I set about preserving the precious leftovers, and saving the flavors and the investment in ingredients and time. It is also a personal statement against food waste. I find the effort well worth it on a February evening when I can pull a dinner that can’t be beat out of the freezer.

Here are a few leftover tips from a veteran Thanksgiving host:

Here are your future turkey sandwiches, turkey pot pies and turkey tacos.
Here are your future turkey sandwiches, turkey pot pies and turkey tacos. Kim Long

Turkey stock: When you put the turkey in the oven put the neck and heart in a pan and simmer for an hour. You can use the broth to make gravy. Whatever you do, don’t dispose of that precious turkey carcass after you remove all the meat. Simmer it in a deep sauce pan covered with water (or water saved from boiling potatoes). Add some chopped onions, carrots and celery and simmer covered for at least an hour. Strain the broth. Chill and skim the solid fat off the top. Eat the vegetables. Remove any remaining meat (usually dark) from all over the carcass and save for tacos, etc. Freeze the broth in ice cube trays and save in freezer bags to be used as needed for soups, chili and tomato sauces.   

Those caramelized bits and stuff on the bottom of the roasting pan? Those are pure concentrated flavor essential for a great gravy. Add a little hot broth to help dissolve it. Chill and skim the fat off the top. For a good time, use the turkey fat in your next batch of mashed potatoes instead of butter.

Turkey meat: You may end up with turkey breast meat and dark meat along with simmered bits to save for different dishes. Use some in a French-toasted Monte Cristo sandwich or a turkey and stuffing burrito with roasted green chilies. Freeze the rest of the turkey loosely in bags for future meals.

Pie: Seriously, leftover pie? If life gives you too much pie, divide into portions and freeze well-wrapped. Pastry-crusted fruit pies tend to get mushy when thawed so reheat them in an oven, not a microwave. There are few foods that do not taste better baked between flaky sheets of buttery crust. Trust me, I’ve tried them all.

Leftovers including mashed potatoes, candied yams, stuffing, green bean casserole, turkey and gravy can make exceptional pie fillings. Here’s how you do it: Make or buy two 9-inch pie crusts. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Place a deep-dish pie pan (preferably glass) on a sheet pan. Line the bottom with pie crust and fill with leftovers. Top with crust, crimp the edges and cut vents. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is light golden brown. Serve warm as an entrée or as a memorable side dish.

Rolls and bread: If you don’t want to bake bread pudding or panzanella salad, breads usually freeze well in sealed bags. You can also crumble dinner buns and dry them in a low oven for bread crumbs.

Side dishes: Sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and other side dishes typically freeze well along with cranberry sauce (out of the can) and sticks of butter. Mark the containers so you remember what’s in there.

Gravy: Use leftover gravy in your next batch of green chile or freeze in cubes for later use.

Salad: Just eat it. You need the fiber.

Your friend’s awful bulgur casserole thing that everybody secretly hated: Mark clearly and freeze in individual portions that can be easily thrown out in the spring.

Local Food News

Cabra Blanca from Basalt’s Avalanche Cheese was named a finalist in the 2016 Good Food Awards, the Oscars of artisan food.
Cabra Blanca from Basalt’s Avalanche Cheese was named a finalist in the 2016 Good Food Awards, the Oscars of artisan food. Avalanche Cheese

Congratulations to the Colorado food companies that are finalists for the 2016 Good Food Awards, the Oscars of the craft food movement. If you are looking for a holiday gift for a foodie, start with these notable local companies (and the food they submitted to the competition): Il Porcellino Salumi (Smoked Head Cheese and Coppa), Avalanche Cheese (Coppa and Cabra Blanca cheese), Cultura Craft Chocolate (70% Haiti), Big B’s (Bourbon Barrel Pommeau), Bee Ranch (Honey Salted Caramel), RedCamper (Cherry Fig Mostarda) and Syntax Spirits (Perky Pepper Green Chili Flavored Vodka). … Congratulations to Boulder, which holds the No. 2 position on Travelocity’s new Beer Tourism Index created in partnership with the Boulder-based Brewers Association. The index rates factors critical to a good ale-oriented vacation, such as the availability of ride share services, accessibility via air travel and the average cost of lodging. … For an alternative local Thanksgiving dessert, try Boulder Canyon Pumpkin Pie flavor potato chips a la mode.

How Do You Make Gravy?

My Thanksgiving Day tradition is to help solve cooking crises. I will be live in KGNU’s Boulder studios from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Nov. 24 talking about side dishes and answering calls for cooking assistance. Tune in at 88.5 FM and 1390 AM and streaming at

Words to Chew On

“Apple pie. Apple fritters. Apple puffs, Southern style. Peach cobbler, Southern style. Peach pie. American mince pie. Pumpkin pie. Squash pie. All sorts of American pastry.” — Mark Twain’s list of what he missed most during his travels in A Tramp Abroad.

John Lehndorff is the former food dining critic of the Rocky Mountain News. Send your comments to: [email protected].


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