Transform Your Holiday Leftovers
By Curt Guillory, Acadiana LifeStyle Food Blogger
Three Leftover Ground Rules – Number One
There are certainly a few things to consider when it comes to recycling your holiday leftovers. First, and probably most importantly, was the food properly cooled and stored? This factor is a huge food safety issue.
Remember that foods kept at temperatures from 40°-140° are considered to be in the danger zone. This means that the temperature range is best to support bacteria growth. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if foods are kept in this temperature range for more than 4 hours, throw them away.
I hear you out there. “Aw, Curt, we leave food out all day sitting on the table, and it’s never been a problem.” Yes, well either you have been very lucky, or you don’t know how to recognize food born illness. You think that quality time you spent in the bathroom last holiday season was from too much drinking? It could be, but it could also just as easily been from that roasted turkey, mac and cheese sandwich that you ate 5 hours after dinner.
Play it safe, if the food hasn’t been properly cooled and stored within an hour or two, just pass on the whole leftover thing.
Ground Rule Two
The second thing to consider is whether or not you will want to reuse a particular dish. Depending on how much the original dish was cooked, you may want to forget cooking it again unless a pile of mush is your thing. If so, then by all means, have at it!
Vegetables are always tricky because some vegetables can tolerate much more cooking than others. Green beans and corn hold up well to longer cooking times whereas broccoli, cauliflower, and some squashes tend to fall apart very quickly.
A broccoli and cheese casserole that has been baked until the broccoli is brown and soft won’t get better from additional cooking. Turkey that has been cooked until dry and stringy cannot be magically brought into the world of deliciousness no matter who’s waving the magic wand.
So it is best to look at your leftovers and determine if they could stand some additional, quick cooking. If so, then you are in for a treat.
Ground Rule Three
The third thing to consider is do you and your family want to eat that dish again? If you didn’t like it the first time, there is no amount of kitchen wizardry I can give you to make it better the second time around.
Dishes that use leftovers build on the original dish while adding some different flavors and textures, but they don’t change the original dish completely. If you didn’t like it the first time, just give it to your son and his friends. They’ll eat it. They eat anything.
Building A Better Leftover
One of the things about leftovers that turns off so many people is that it’s like eating the same meal over again. Introducing new flavors that play off of the original dish and some different textures will make your leftovers seem like new dishes because . . . well, they are.
Basically we will use the leftover as an ingredient in another dish. We will also use quick cooking techniques so that we don’t overcook them making them inedible.
Here are three recipes that will transform you into a holiday leftover hero, namely: Pesto Turkey Pizza, Sweet Potato Pancakes, and Green Bean Casserole Bites.
Pesto Turkey Pizza
A well-roasted turkey provides the perfect meat for a pizza. Meats used in pizza are either pre-cooked, or cured because of the pizza’s very fast, high temperature cooking.
So if we take our properly cooled, well-seasoned turkey, dice the meat, and get it playing around with some pesto and a great crust we will have an incredible pizza that no pizza lover can walk away from.
I understand that pesto, tomatoes, and bell peppers are summer vegetables, but thanks to modern growing techniques we have access to these ingredients year around.
Note: Instead of trying to make fresh pesto, pick up a jar or two of Classico® prepared pesto. It’s delicious!
Note: Using Fleishmann’s Pizza Crust Yeast® mean no rising time. That’s right, no rising time.
Yield: 3 Large Pizzas
Ingredients for crust:
6¾ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 packages Fleishmann’s Pizza Crust Yeast®
2½ teaspoons sugar
1½ tablespoons Kosher salt
2¾ cups warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Ingredients for pizza:
1-1½ pounds roasted turkey (diced)
2 jars Classico® pesto
1 large white onion (thinly sliced)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 orange bell pepper, seeded and sliced
6 tomatoes (thick sliced)
½ pound baby bella mushrooms
5-6 cups Colby jack cheese (finely shredded)
1 pound Provolone cheese
Pizza Crust Method:
• Note: If all of the pizza dough is not needed, simply freeze the unused portion.
• Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine.
• Add the olive oil to the water and slowly add to running mixer.
• Mix until the dough forms a ball, then knead for an additional two minutes.
• Preheat oven to 500°
• Form 1 pound of dough into a 14-15” circle using hands or rolling pin, or a combination of the two.
• Place the dough into a pizza pan.
• Spread 3 tablespoons of pesto on the dough, and I don’t mean the tablespoons that you measure with. I mean the tablespoons you eat gumbo with.
• Place 5-6 rounds of provolone on the pesto.
• Top with a combination of vegetables.
• Finish with 2 cups of shredded cheese.
• Bake for 10-12 minutes or until light charring is seen on the crust.
• Slice and serve immediately.
Sweet Potato Pancakes
This dish uses the sweetness of the sweet potatoes, or candied yams, to its advantage. Introducing the sweet potatoes into a pancake batter actually makes them lighter while making the pancakes more dense and very filling.
Only one pancake for all but the biggest eaters is needed. Combining some of the sweet potato syrup with traditional, bottled maple or cane syrup gives flavor cues that remind us of the original dish.
Because of the overall density and sugar content of this dish, the pancakes must be cooked over a medium to low fire or they will burn before the middle is cooked. On my electric stove the setting is 4, but then I have to reduce it to 2 after the first pancake is done due to the residual heat in the pan.
Yield: 4-5 large (5”) pancakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
Pinch Kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar added)
3 tablespoons butter (melted)
16 ounces leftover sweet potatoes or candied yams
½ cup pecans (chopped)
3-4 teaspoons cooking oil or butter
• Toast pecans in a dry, non-stick skillet, over medium-high heat until fragrant, then remove and set aside.
• Add all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, and stir to combine.
• Beat the egg and add to the buttermilk along with the melted butter.
• Add liquid to dry ingredients and stir until combined.
• Note: Do not over beat the batter. Stir just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
• Mash the sweet potatoes and add to the batter.
• Place a heavy, non-stick skillet over medium-low heat and add 1 teaspoon cooking oil or butter.
• Once hot, pour ¾ cup of batter into the middle of the skillet and cook for 2½ minutes or until the edges start to dry and brown a little.
• Flip and cooked for 1½ minutes then remove.
• Re-oil the pan and repeat for the rest of the batter.
• Heat 1 cup maple syrup with 1 cup sweet potato syrup until warm and serve with pancakes.
• Finish with toasted pecans.
Green Bean Casserole Bites
This one is a little different. Green bean casserole is very creamy and soft once you get past the initial, thin layer of toasted onions. I thought that it would be great to somehow increase the crunchiness while keeping the creaminess. This would also be a great opportunity to introduce some other flavors like dried herbs for instance.
The result is a two-bite sized, crunchy little ball that reminds you of green bean casserole, but tastes better.
Note: Breadcrumbs are used to thicken the green bean casserole. It is important that once they are mixed in the mixture is allowed to sit for about 5 minutes. This will allow the breadcrumbs to fully absorb their capacity of moisture.
Yield: 12-14 Bites
2 cups leftover green bean casserole
1/3 cup plain, dried bread crumbs
½ cup Colby Jack cheese (finely shredded)
2 teaspoons dried, Italian seasoning blend
1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
Salt, pepper, all-purpose seasoning to taste
1-1½ gallons cooking oil for frying
• Add the breadcrumbs to the green bean casserole and stir to combine, making sure that they are fully incorporated.
• Add the cheese and stir to combine.
• Roll 1½ ounce portions into balls and place on a plate or sheet pan.
• Place in the freezer for 30-45 minutes, but no longer.
• Heat oil to 375° in pan or fryer.
• Beat the egg into the milk and season with dry seasonings to taste.
• Season the flour with dry seasonings to taste.
• Roll the bites into the flour, then the egg wash, and then the flour again. In Cajun speak this is called “the old double batter.”
• Fry 6 at a time for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.
• Remove to a paper towel lined sheet pan.
Variations On Recipes
Feel free to explore. For example, adding ¼ cup of crispy bacon bits to the Green Bean Casserole Bites would add some smokiness. Since when isn’t green beans and a bacon a good idea? Since when isn’t anything and bacon a good idea?
How about adding some blueberries, or raspberries to the Sweet Potato Pancake batter?
Instead of pesto try making a spiced oil using ½ cup olive oil, ½ cup of chopped cilantro, and a mixture of Latin spices like, Rojo® fajita seasoning, cumin, and Menudo® seasoning. Mix that with your turkey and see what happens.
The point is that there are really no limitations.
Don’t Hate Leftovers
Leftovers can certainly be the “same ole same ole,” but with a little imagination leftovers can easily be transformed into some delicious, new creations that your family will not only like, but may even ask for. Wouldn’t that be something?