Thanksgiving leftovers: Try these classic recipes

Try these creative ways to prolong the chef's grateful rest.

Matthew Mead/AP
Try these recipes with the leftover food from your Thanksgiving dinner.

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving meant an antipasto platter laden with all varieties of meat, cheese, olives, and fennel. It meant fruit cocktail in fancy glasses. (I chose my seat based on the one that had the most fluor­escent-red maraschino cherries.) It meant a plate of baked ziti before the turkey dinner with all its accompaniments. It meant an impressive spread of cheesecakes, sugar cookies, pies, and the trifle my Grammy made just for me.

It wasn’t until I had a family of my own that I came to appreciate the meaning of that enormous feast – how fortunate we were to share it; to have each other and even that fennel with its odd licorice-like flavor.

But after the busyness of preparing the meals and enjoying the guests comes a quieter gratitude. The fridge has been filled with leftovers, the dishes have been washed and put away, and the cook of the house has crossed the finish line. Time to put your feet up for a few days and live off the ready-made meals of leftovers.

It’d be easy to throw a plate of turkey, stuffing, gravy, and mashed potatoes in the microwave each night until you’ve eaten all of that delicious Thanksgiving dinner.

Instead, think of those leftovers as a blank canvas. It’s much more fun to take those components and transform them into something new.

Here are three sandwiches – from simple to more elaborate – to make delicious use of your leftovers and prolong the cook’s grateful rest a few days longer.

Open-faced sandwich
This one’s easy: Reheat leftover turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Spread some cranberry sauce on a lightly toasted slice of thick, doughy bread. Top the cranberry sauce with the hot turkey, stuffing, and potatoes. Drizzle hot gravy over the entire thing and enjoy. (Note: This is a knife-and-fork kind of sandwich.)

Turkey salad
This is a slightly more complex but delicious way to breathe new life into turkey leftovers. I love it on a lightly toasted bagel with a slice of Swiss cheese. Chop or tear leftover turkey into small pieces. Add finely diced onion and celery. Combine with just enough mayonnaise and mustard to bind the salad. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in some dried cranberries if you like.

Turkey, Brie, and Apple-Butter Melt
This is more complex, but it’s a perfect blend of flavors. You can buy apple butter in most grocery stores, but it’s a cinch to make (recipe follows). For the sandwiches, thinly slice brie and spread it onto a sturdy piece of crusty bread. Spread apple butter (or cranberry sauce, if you prefer) onto another piece of bread. Place a few slices of turkey between the bread slices. Loosely wrap the sandwich in foil and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes in a 350 degree F. oven until the cheese has melted, the bread feels slightly toasted, and the turkey is warm.

Apple Butter
5 to 6 apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cups apple cider
Cinnamon stick (optional)
Simmer the apple pieces in the cider for about 20 minutes. If desired, add a cinnamon stick to simmer in the mixture. Remove cinnamon, then purée the apples until smooth. Pour the purée into an oven-safe pan, cover, and place in a 250 degree F. oven for about five hours. The apple butter will darken to a rich brown.

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