And so the holiday season begins, with all of the food, the very busy schedule and the refrigerator packed with leftovers. The only way to survive is balance.
So, follow a night of splurging and entertaining with a light, healthy meal that doesn’t take much time to prepare. There are a number of ways to create easy meals with what’s already in your refrigerator without a) going to the grocery store again, and b) spending any more money when you already have food at home.
The first go-to meal is soup with, what else, turkey stock. I know you’ve made stock out of the bones of that carcass. Right? If you did, good for you. If you didn’t, get those bones out and get going, because another day or two and you’ll be throwing money into the garbage along with the turkey bones. If you don’t have time soon to simmer a stock, freeze the bones until you do.
Of course, this isn’t the traditional way to make stock, where you would begin with bones that had not already been cooked, but many grandmothers have been making stock like this for years, so it depends on whose traditional of which we speak.
However, there is still marrow, meat and flavor to be had from gently simmering bones already cooked. Place the bones in a large stock pot, cover with cold water and add 1 quartered onion, 2 peeled and halved carrots and 2 halved celery stalks. If you haven’t already used the giblets and neck for gravy stock, add those too.
Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer for 45 minutes or so – not as long as you might simmer a raw-boned stock. Use the stock for soup and freeze the rest for later in the winter.
Now that you have the stock prepared (or have a can of stock waiting in the wings), the next step is to ponder what gems lie in repose in the refrigerator eager to become your next meal.
If I were standing right next to you, we would pull out a bunch of things and start creating meals. But since that’s not possible, just think less is more. We aren’t trying to create an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soup, rather one that is a bit more intentional. If you aren’t sure if two items will combine to make a great soup, leave one out.
A general rule of thumb to follow is that combining items in the same flavor categories will usually be fine. Italian flavoring with Italian flavorings, Indian with Indian, etc. So for example, a beef roast flavored with Herbs de Provence will pare well with gnocchi and broccoli raab. Curried lentils with cumin-rubbed squash and potatoes. Roast turkey with creamed onions and roasted carrots.
I’m just making it up here, but the idea is to pair like with like. No need to strive for “Top Chef,” just go low-key and get a good dinner on the table.
Once you’ve decided on the combination of leftovers, you can do one of two things. If every leftover has plenty of flavor already, cut it all into smaller pieces, add to the soup pot, cover with stock and heat. It’s literally a dump and heat scenario. This is actually how we make hot school lunches for the girls as well. Even though we don’t have soup as a leftover, our leftovers combined with stock make soup.
The second way to go about this is to simmer some onions and garlic in either butter or olive oil before adding the rest of the ingredients you’ve chosen. Use this method when you feel your meal needs a little more flavor or you have a bit more time.
If you only have a small amount of an ingredient, it might be better as an accent in an omelet, over a salad, in a pasta sauce or on a pizza. These too, are meals that our family often has on quick dinner-on-the-table-in-15-minute nights.
What is your favorite way of using up holiday meals after the throng has left? Send your favorites to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea.” She can be reached at: