Too tired to cook and/or too hungover once the guests have left can leave you scrambling to be brilliant with any leftover food. Usually there is plenty of turkey filling up the refrigerator shelf, while vegetarians and vegans find themselves contemplating the dry carcass of a Tofurki. Then there is the requisite cranberry sauce in its many variations along with the sweet potato casserole topped with toasted marshmallows or a pound of chopped pecans. Other possibilities are gravy, cooked vegetables and some kind of tossed salad. Plenty of ingredients for a weekend of meals.

Unless you are so organized that you actually plan ahead for what to do with holiday leftovers, it comes down to spontaneity in the kitchen. Planning ahead requires matching the before and after recipes so all ingredients are purchased and ready to go. Not how most people operate what with busy schedules, so then a bit of creativity is called for when combining leftover ingredients.

Plan Ahead
Look around on the internet and you will find a plethora of ideas and recipes for working magic with leftovers. But after all the planning and cooking (slaving?) you just did, the last thing you want to do is chop more ingredients. This is where the planning ahead can work in your favor. When shopping for the holiday meal make sure to pick up a variety of organic frozen vegetables, some brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta and a good bottle of wine to see you through the weekend.

All of these ingredients can be used to make some really delicious quick meals, and then just add the leftover turkey meat (for vegetarians add lentils and beans), to finish off the recipes. The ideas are endless, but rather than overwhelm your already overwhelmed post-holiday senses choose a few recipes your family enjoys and keep it simple.

For vegetarians and vegans cook extra beans and rice, plus chop extra vegetables and store them in the fridge to use later. Save the cuttings from vegetables and place in a big soup pot, cover with water and simmer for a few hours to make a delicious stock. Use for soups and stews and in place of water when cooking whole grains. Top a vegetable tofu casserole with cheese or even the non-dairy cheese brands work well. The cranberry sauce makes a great addition to morning oatmeal or baked in muffins and cakes. The beans and rice can be mashed together with breadcrumbs or ground sunflower seeds for grilled bean burgers topped with guacamole.

The Turkey
Top Chef contestant and author, Andrea Beaman, suggests that you buy organic turkey for the big day and with the leftover carcass make a big batch of stock. Place all the turkey bones into a big pot of water, with onions, carrots, peppercorn and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 6-8 hours. For convenience heat the water and place with ingredients into a large crock-pot and cook overnight or during the day. This creates a rich nutritious food, what Andrea calls, liquid minerals in water. Now take the cooled liquid, strain and throw away the bones. Freeze some for future meals that you can use to make rice pilaf, turkey stew and turkey vegetable soup. You can even go meatless and add beans, sometimes called the poor mans meat.

Some other post-holiday ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner meals include:

Breakfast
1. A hash of scrambled eggs, optional turkey and cubed white or sweet potatoes.
2. Miso soup made with turkey, stock, lentils, grains and vegetables.
3. French Toast made with leftover bread and topped with pureed cranberry sauce.
4. Bread pudding made with bread, cranberry sauce, milk, sweetener, vanilla and egg.
5. Cranberry sauce added to your favorite muffin recipe.
6. Left over mashed sweet potatoes added to flour and oil to make morning biscuits.

Lunch
1. Sage Butternut soup with added turkey and a dollop of yogurt and cranberry sauce.
2. Whole grain sandwich wraps made with salad, turkey, mayo, mustard or gravy.
3. Tostadas packed with vegetables, optional turkey, cheese, rice, tomato and avocado.
4. Classic turkey sandwich, layered with stuffing, mayonnaise and cranberry sauce, may not be your healthiest choice, but some wait all year for that first bite.
5. Fresh vegetable salad with raw and cooked vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, goat’s cheese and a light vinaigrette dressing. Top with turkey slices or cooked lentils.
6. Turkey and rice soup with left over vegetables or use beans in place of turkey.

Dinner
1. Vegetable casserole with optional shredded turkey, cooked rice and cheddar cheese.
2. Shepherds pie topped with either the left over white or sweet mashed potatoes.
3. Indian curry sauté of cumin seeds and curry powder in oil, vegetables, turkey, cubed potatoes, diced tomatoes, water and coconut milk, served over cooked brown rice.
4. Cooked pasta tossed with sautéed garlic in olive oil, roasted vegetables, optional turkey, and grated Romano cheese.
5. A vegetarian non-meat loaf of cooked rice, minced vegetables, breadcrumbs, cheese, whisked egg and salt to taste. Shape in a loaf pan and bake.
6. Pizza a la Thanksgiving combines left over green vegetables, optional turkey or ham and topped with cheese of choice.

The most important ingredient when working with leftovers is your imagination. Know what type of recipes you and your family members like and create something similar with what is left from the holiday meal. Also keep in mind that the higher the quality of the ingredients you use the better your leftover meals will taste and the healthier they will be for you. Wishing you all a healthy and satisfying Christmas.