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Forget the turkey sandwich — try these creative, cost-effective Thanksgiving leftovers instead

Here are some cost-effective ways to make delicious leftover creations.

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One of Brooke Frizzell's Thanksgiving leftover creations, Thanksgiving fritters.
Photo by Brooke Frizzell

Thanksgiving is looking different this year, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending limiting your holiday celebration to your own household.

If you live alone or in a small household, you may already be planning a scaled down meal. But if you have nearby friends or family you cannot see this holiday and want to prepare a larger feast, you can share joy with each other by doing a leftovers porch or stoop exchange. 

Because the risk of spreading coronavirus through food and food packaging is very low, you and your loved ones can portion out your signature dishes and do a no-contact swap. Just make sure you wash your hands before preparing or eating food, and limit your exchange to those you trust to exercise good kitchen sanitation.

If you don't have anyone local to exchange leftovers with or maybe you just want to relive Thanksgiving over the weeks to come, you can portion out your leftovers in some inexpensive divided storage containers for a homestyle microwave dinner on nights when the pandemic blues make cooking feel like an insurmountable challenge.

If you're like me, you've been coping with your stress by baking and watching shows about baking. If your foray into the sourdough bread craze has not yet waned, homemade sourdough would make a delicious turkey panini. I plan to draw inspiration from The Great British Baking Show's pastry week and turn my leftovers into a filling for a buttery, flaky pastry using Star Baker Laura's potato and leek pastry recipe.

If you'd rather repurpose your leftovers to keep them more interesting, don't toss that turkey carcass before making stock to serve as the base for any number of soups. A straightforward turkey noodle soup, turkey pho, or turkey tortilla soup will stick to your ribs and keep you warm in the coming winter months.

Here are some of my other favorite money-saving post-Thanksgiving recipes.  

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Thanksgiving fritters

I can't claim credit for coming up with this idea – I first had it as AJ's Compact Turkey Dinner at Comet Café in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – but it's one of my absolute favorite uses of Thanksgiving food. 

I combine mashed potatoes, stuffing, and diced turkey until well mixed, and form the mixture into large balls. Because I live in Milwaukee, we coat everything in beer batter, but you could just as easily coat the balls in an egg wash and breadcrumbs. I fry the balls in a deep skillet and dip them in leftover gravy or cranberry sauce.

Macaroni and cheese fritters

Macaroni and cheese rarely makes its way onto my Thanksgiving table, but it is a staple for millions of families. I also seldom repurpose it because I just eat it cold while standing in front of the open refrigerator. But it does make great fritters – the concept is similar to arancini (fried risotto balls). 

I find it helpful to briefly freeze the balls of macaroni before breading and frying them. This helps the pasta stay together in the hot oil. And because I am living my best Midwest life, I always serve them with a side of ranch.

Soup

With days getting shorter and temperatures dropping, few things are as satisfying as a good bowl of soup. I like to use leftover turkey in place of chicken in classic soups, and I am sure turkey would also work great in place of chicken in a white bean chili. But the most satisfying post-Thanksgiving soup I have made is Turkey Enchilada Verde Soup.

Pot pie

What could be more comforting on a cold fall night than a piping hot turkey pot pie? Not much, except maybe a turkey shepherd's pie with a broiled mashed potato topping. Pot pie and shepherd's pie are great vehicles for using up leftover vegetables like extra green beans or Brussels sprouts.

Tacos and enchiladas

I grew up in Texas, and post-Thanksgiving turkey tacos were an annual tradition in my family. I always have taco seasoning on hand from my favorite local spice shop, but any taco seasoning you like will transform bland turkey into delicious tacos in almost no time at all. 

When I have a little more time on my hands, enchiladas take the turkey to the next level. My first choice is a North Texas staple, sour cream chicken (swapping in turkey) enchiladas – I use a recipe from Lisa Fain's original "Homesick Texan" book – but any enchilada recipe you like will work.

Breakfast

Two years ago, I made stuffing waffles the morning after Thanksgiving by mixing a couple of eggs into leftover stuffing before cooking it on a buttered waffle iron. I'll admit that they weren't the best-looking food ever, but they made a tasty vehicle for an over easy egg. 

Speaking of eggs, mashed potatoes can make a great omelet filling or serve as the base of a bubble and squeak — a British morning staple often made with leftover boiled potatoes and roasted vegetables — to go with your brunch. 

If I am out of leftover pie, sweet potato waffles can satisfy my sweet tooth. Since I rarely take the time to cook sweet potatoes for the sole purpose of making waffles, leftover sweet potatoes are perfect for an easy treat.

Brooke Frizzell is a Milwaukee-based lawyer who writes about food and parenting. Follow her on Instagram for repurposed leftovers (and cat pictures) @brookeintheheights.

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