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Creative Uses for Thanksgiving Leftovers

wolfgang"I can't wait for the leftovers!"

That's one of the things I hear most from my many food-loving friends as their Thanksgiving feasts approach. With a big, whole roast turkey, leftovers are almost unavoidable. And the large quantities in which most of us also make the traditional side dishes means that there will also be plenty of stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and gravy sitting in covered dishes in the refrigerator the day after the holiday meal.

Most people are contented to limit their enjoyment of such bonuses to turkey sandwiches (and maybe a spoonful or two of cold stuffing sneaked from the refrigerator when no one is looking). But you know me: I can't resist getting creative. And I hope to inspire you to be the same way not just after this particular meal but also throughout the holidays.

I love to combine whatever I find in the fridge into delicious gratins: dishes thinly layered in a shallow baking dish and cooked in a hot oven just until heated through and crusty and browned on top. (The word gratin is French for "crust.")

One of the most popular such dishes is shepherd's pie, a traditional English-style preparation that involves leftover meat of any kind (including lamb, the source of the recipe's name), chopped up and mixed with gravy then layered with mashed potatoes before baking.

So why not do the same thing for leftover turkey?

My recipe for Leftover-Turkey Shepherd's Pie isn't really a recipe you have to follow too carefully to get delicious results. Like many dishes involving leftovers, it's open to interpretation, depending on what you find in your own refrigerator.

The main feature is the turkey filling, prepared by combining and heating up bite-sized pieces of the poultry with some gravy. As you'll see in the recipe, I like to start the filling, however, with a base of sauteed aromatic vegetables, to give it more flavor, texture, and color. Get even more creative, if you want, but including some leftover vegetables such as peas or chopped Brussels sprouts. If there's some applesauce in the fridge, stir in a few spoonfuls of that, too -- whatever seems delicious to you.

The same goes for the mashed potatoes that form the pie's top crust (with leftover stuffing going on the bottom). Reheat them first with a little broth (or cream) to give them a spreadable consistency. If you like, spice them up a bit, too, by stirring in a spoonful or two of prepared horseradish.

As you can tell, once you've got the basics down, there's no end to how you can vary the recipe and get incredibly delicious results. You may even find yourself roasting a turkey soon just for the leftovers.

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image_previewTURKEY SHEPHERD'S PIE
Serves 4

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes

1-1/2 cups leftover stuffing

1 cup organic chicken broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium organic carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 medium organic celery stalk, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 small yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

1-1/2 pounds leftover turkey meat, all bones, skin, and fat discarded, meat cut into bite-sized chunks

1-1/2 cups leftover turkey gravy

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the mashed potatoes and the stuffing into 2 separate baking dishes, stirring in just enough of the broth to moisten and loosen them a bit if they have stiffened in the refrigerator. Put them in the oven to heat up while you continue preparing the other ingredients. (Alternatively, put them each in a separate microwave-safe bowl, adding the broth as directed. Then, cover with plastic wrap and microwave each bowl separately until the contents are heated through.)

Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrot, celery, and onion, along with half each of the parsley and thyme. Saute the vegetables, stirring frequently, until they just begin to soften and color, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped turkey, gravy, and a little more of the broth, if necessary to loosen the mixture. Cook until the turkey is heated through and the sauce is bubbling and thick, about 5 minutes more.

Spread a layer of the warmed stuffing in the bottoms of 4 individual-serving gratin dishes or the centers of 4 ovenproof serving plates. Spoon the turkey-vegetable mixture on top of the stuffing. Finally, spoon the mashed potatoes evenly on top.

Put the gratin dishes or plates on a baking sheet and bake in the oven just until the top of the potatoes starts to turn golden brown, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer each gratin dish or plate to a larger serving plate, garnish with the remaining parsley and thyme, and serve immediately.

(c) 2009 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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