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The endless possibilities — and anticipation — of leftovers

Leftover turkey pieces provide fantastic flavor to a pot of slow-simmered greens.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; prop styling by Kate Parisian)

If there’s anything that years of holiday entertaining has taught me, it’s that the real fun eating starts the day after. There’s no longer any pressure for things to look good or be hot at the same time, and you don’t have any guests to wear your uncomfortable clothes for (not that that will be an issue even for the holiday this year). You have a ton of leftovers and endless possibilities on how to mix them up into things you really want to eat (you know, piled in a bowl and slathered with chile crisp).

So, in anticipation of all the cooked dishes ready for their remix that you’ll have stocked in your fridge Friday morning, here are some ideas for dishes that make a great starting point.

In our print section, out today, you’ll find some great leftovers content. Our restaurant critics both take the opportunity to turn their turkey into meals that rival the original. Patricia Escárcega shreds the turkey to stir into chilaquiles made with a simple ancho chile sauce, while Bill Addison uses up the bones and leftover meat from his bird for a project-style gumbo that makes great use of the lazy, post-holiday hours. Staff writer Jenn Harris tosses her turkey into fried rice — cranberry sauce makes an excellent condiment on the side — while recipe tester Julie Giuffrida mixes leftover stuffing into crisp waffles topped with a fried egg for brunch.

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From our online recipe site, how about taking your turkey bones and making collard greens? Leftover green beans, plucked from their gravy blanket, would be wonderful tossed with pasta. Leftover mashed potatoes, scooped cold and stiff, are amazing covered with cheese in a riff on this roast potato sandwich. Leftover cranberry sauce is a ready-made jam for thumbprint cookies, which get you in the mood early for the holidays. And that extra gravy? Make a meatloaf and use it to flavor the meat and as a glaze on top. Play around and mix and match everything until you come up with an unexpected combination that you’ll be looking forward to again for next year’s after-the-holiday feasting.

Leftover Turkey Collard Greens

Time 45 minutes
Yields Serves 8

Any parts of the turkey will work to flavor greens — legs, wings, necks, even a few stray bits of skin.

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Green beans are traditional, but virtually any leftover green vegetable is wonderful when tossed with pasta and pesto.

Cheesy Smashed Potato Sandwiches

Time 50 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Mashed potatoes warmed through with cheese and sandwich between soft bread is carb-on-carb heaven.

Cranberry thumbprints

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Makes about 6 dozen cookies
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The tartness of cranberry sauce cuts the sweetness of these cookies, a perfect teatime treat.

101 Meatloaf

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Serves 8 to 12

When you’ve had enough of endless iterations of poultry, meatloaf comes to the rescue.

Ask the cooks

In a normal Thanksgiving year, I’m the cook of a feast that serves at least 12. This year, that’s out; it will just be my husband and me. We’re going to meet our family over Zoom as we all chow down on whatever we happen to have. But I still want to make it a celebratory meal. How would you do a Thanksgiving for two to four people? It sure would be useful rather than ending up with too much food.
— Ms. Lee Bridges

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Even though my recipes don’t say so, they can all easily be halved, if you’d like. Maybe roast a chicken instead of a turkey, cut the bread salad in half, cut the green beans in half, and then cut either the mashed potatoes or yams in half? Buy cranberry sauce and rolls and then maybe buy a smaller dessert (or make just one). I know those are very vague instructions but that’s what I’d do in this situation. On the other hand, I’m planning to make my normal Thanksgiving meal, then pack up all the extras to deliver to my friends who either don’t like to cook or who I know will be alone for the holiday this year. That way I don’t have to do any guesswork while cooking and can share the wealth with those who’ll appreciate it.

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