Transforming Thanksgiving leftovers

Thanksgiving table spread
Photo by Philippe MURRAY-PIETSCH on Unsplash

My favorite holiday is approaching – Thanksgiving – a day that revolves around family, football and food, all in excess. You can’t do anything about excess family, and there is no such thing as too much football. There is always the perennial conundrum of what to do with the surplus turkey and assorted trimmings that emanate from your refrigerator on the 4th Friday of November.

While some people mark this day as the beginning of the consumerism on steroids season (also known as Christmas shopping), I personally think turkey tastes better the second day, especially in a sandwich with Hellmann’s mayonnaise. But there has to be more to life the day after thanksgiving than cold turkey sandwiches and reheated trimmings served au naturel.

The first step in enjoying your Thanksgiving leftovers is proper handling. It is essential to make sure the food sits at room temperature no more than two hours. Make sure the food is cooled before storing in airtight containers. You should begin your leftover prep by removing all meat from the turkey carcass. It is now time to make my favorite part of Thanksgiving leftovers – turkey soup – or, more accurately, turkey stock that you can turn into soup at a later time.

Take the carcass and place in a large stockpot and cover with cold water then add diced mirepoix. I know you are thinking, “Hey persnickety, we ain’t chefs here. I barely survive the Thanksgiving meal, and now I have to do more work at the end.” Not exactly. When you are cutting celery, carrots, and onions for the stuffing cut extra for the stock. Back to the stock, after adding the mirepoix and cold water, add two bay leaves. Bring to a simmer. Skim. Turn on low and let go overnight. The next day strain, add more vegetables, some chopped turkey and cooked pasta or barley and instant soup.

Now on to the serious culinary conundrum: What to do with the lesser leftovers? Creamed onions do not need to be condemned to leftover purgatory to be thrown out in the first week of December. They can be pureed using a food processor or immersion blender and used as a sauce base for Turkey Tetrazzini or as a sauce for poached eggs with turkey hash for a Sunday after T-day brunch.

Leftover green beans can go in a frittata or in the soup. Leftover sweet potatoes (even the marshmallows can be used) can be pureed and combined with leftover rolls to make sweet potato bread pudding, add some pecans for some crunch. Stuffing and mashed potatoes never seem to exist in large quantities. And while I have heard of people partaking in stuffing sandwiches I prefer to mix the two dishes and fry them up and serve them with some gravy and turkey for a pre-college football nosh. That should cover most of the table except for the ubiquitous cranberry sauce or relish. If you have the canned cranberry sauce variety, pour two cups of port wine in a saucepan. Reduce by half. Add the cranberry sauce and reduce by half again. This will make a great sauce for ice cream or even bread pudding. The relish can be treated in much the same way, but you may want to add a little sugar to help offset the acidity of the oranges.

That leaves one item to discuss – the turkey. You had to go and buy Birdzilla, and after forcing foil packets of turkey into everyone’s hands to take home, you still have enough to feed a third world country. Turkey Tetrazzini is a personal favorite of mine with a twist. Where I grew up, there was a restaurant that had a unique take on the classic spaghetti and cream sauced variety. They tossed the spaghetti in red sauce (gravy in South Jersey/Philly speak) and add the turkey to a rich cheesy cream sauce with a splash of sherry. The resulting balance of rich and acid gave new life to a shopworn classic. Thanks for the food memories to Joe, Perry, Bobby and the old crew at the Airport Inn. Sadly, now just a fond childhood remembrance. That should be enough food for thought for a tryptophan-addled brain the day after Thanksgiving. Enjoy the following recipes and until next month – Bon Appétit.

Sweet Potato Pecan Bread Pudding

Jon Davies
Course Dessert


Bread Pudding

  • 2 Cups leftover mashed sweet potatoes
  • 6 Cups cubed stale bread
  • 2 Cups heavy cream
  • 2 Cups milk
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 Eggs
  • 1 Cup chopped toasted pecans tossed in sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter

Cranberry Port Sauce

  • 2 cups cranberry sauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups port


Bread Pudding

  • In bowl, mix cream, milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla.
  • Whisk in sweet potatoes.
  • Pour over cubed bread. Let sit ½ hour.
  • Pour in buttered baking dish. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes.
  • Serve with cranberry port sauce.

Cranberry Port Sauce

  • In saucepan, reduce port and sugar by half. Add cranberry sauce. Reduce until thick. If too sweet, add a little fresh squeezed O.J.
Keyword holidays

Airport Inn Turkey Tetrazzini Persnickety Style

Jon Davies
Course Main Course
Cuisine American


  • 1 Pound spaghetti cooked and cooled
  • 2 Cups diced turkey
  • 2 Cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 Cup sherry
  • 3 Cups milk
  • 3 Cups cream
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 Cups shredded parmesan
  • 1 Cup fresh bread crumbs
  • Chopped parsley
  • 2 Ounces melted butter
  • 3 Cups red sauce


Make the white sauce

  • Melt butter.
  • Sauté mushrooms.
  • Add flour. Cook until flour is absorbed.
  • Deglaze with sherry.
  • Add cream and milk. Whisk until smooth.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes.
  • Add ½ the parmesan.
  • Cook until very thick. Loose mash to potato consistency.

Assemble the tetrazzini

  • Butter casserole dish. Ladle red sauce to coat dish.
  • Toss pasta in sauce. Sprinkle in ½ the turkey. Top with white sauce*, parmesan and bread crumbs.
  • Drizzle with melted butter, dust with chopped parsley.
  • Bake at 350° 35 minutes.
  • Brown under broiler for five minutes until crust is brown and bubbly.
Keyword holidays