Recipes: Holiday leftovers get a makeover

With a little creativity, holiday leftovers can get some jolly sendoffs before the new year begins. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
With a little creativity, holiday leftovers can get some jolly sendoffs before the new year begins. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Transform sweet and savory tidbits into tasty next-day noshes

After you get through this month’s (modified for the times) merrymaking, you’ll likely end up with a tin holding half a dozen cookies, a few broken ones and a lot of crumbs. A collection of unwrapped candy canes might still adorn your Christmas tree, but even the kids are now bored of peppermint sticks. Taking up precious counter space are the remains of panettone, fruitcake, gingerbread and a yule log, each going staler by the day.

The fridge is now a holding cell for stacks of Tupperware filled with sliced ham and turkey, maybe a pot roast, along with mashed potatoes, gravy and other sides. A carton of eggnog is down to the last cup, but everyone has had their fill, so it languishes, relegated farther toward the back of the shelf with every opening of the steel door.

When the calendar flips to 2021, you might turn your thoughts from the gluttony of the holidays to a new and improved you — be it as a participant in Dry January or Veganuary (a 31-day trial run on a plant-based diet), by ramping up your exercise regimen or creating another healthy habit. But you’ve still got a week before resolutions kick in. Meanwhile, the kitchen is filled with leftover holiday meals, savory nibbles and sweets. Don’t let them go to waste. Here are dozens of creative ideas for transforming these tidbits into delicious — mostly nutritious — dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner and anytime in between.

NIBBLES AND APPS

Candied and spiced roast nuts. If you can resist the temptation to scarf them down in one sitting, candied and spiced roast nuts can be great to have around for all sorts of healthier meals and snacks after the festivities. Chop them up to layer into a breakfast berry and yogurt parfait; blend them into a snack mix with popcorn, raisins and granola; sprinkle over roast vegetables; or embellish a spinach salad along with sliced apples or pears, blue cheese and dried cranberries.

Party cheese. Use leftover party tray cubed cheese to make a cheese spread known as fromage fort that can be scooped onto crackers, dipped into crudités or spread on crostini. The legendary chef Jacques Pépin purees whatever cheese tidbits he’s got with a crushed garlic clove, a splash of dry white wine (1/4 cup for each half-pound), and pepper. In his latest cookbook, “Jacques Pépin Quick and Simple” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35), he notes that this savory spread freezes well, and can also be used in gougères, soups, gratins and even on pizza. He also offers a sweet version called Cheese Mishmash. Find it among the recipes below.

Vegetable trays. Sturdy raw veggies such as baby carrots, cauliflower and broccoli are delicious simply tossed in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and roasted in a 400-degree oven for 15 or 20 minutes. Toss cucumbers and cherry tomatoes into a salad, and slice up celery for a soup or a stir-fry.

Chips and crackers. Crush them in a food processor or with a rolling pin, transfer them to a resealable bag, and use them in place of breadcrumbs to top a macaroni and cheese or broccoli casserole, or to coat chicken or fish before baking or frying.

Dips. Marinate chicken pieces in leftover onion dip or other creamy dip. Or thin extra dip with a little lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil to use as a salad dressing.

Charcuterie. Here are a few cures for cured meats: Steep leftover hard chorizo in clam juice or fish stock and use for seafood stews. Place slices of prosciutto, Iberian ham and speck on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake in a 350-degree oven until crisped and the fat has rendered. Once cooled, crumble and toss them in a salad. If you’ve got a lot of odds and ends, make a mix-and-match meat-lover’s pizza.

Sweet and creamy with a hint of holiday spice, eggnog — homemade or in a carton — has uses beyond the punch bowl. Contributed
Sweet and creamy with a hint of holiday spice, eggnog — homemade or in a carton — has uses beyond the punch bowl. Contributed

CHAMPAGNE AND EGGNOG

Eggnog. Sweet and creamy with a hint of holiday spice, eggnog — homemade or in a carton — has uses beyond the punch bowl. Add a splash to mashed sweet potatoes or make a bowl of oatmeal feel special. Use it in place of milk in your favorite biscuit recipe. Freeze it in ice cube trays for iced coffee or to blend into smoothies. Or make Eggnog French Toast!

Champagne. Has that half-bottle of Champagne begun to lose its bubbles? Turn it into vinegar, freeze it into ice cubes for cocktails, or use it instead of white wine or sherry to make fromage fort (see “party cheese,” above). Flat Champagne can also be used to make a creamy mushroom pan sauce for sauteed chicken or steamed mussels.

MEATY MAINS

A hefty hunk of roast meat can be the gift that keeps giving long after its initial duties as the holiday centerpiece. Refrigerate the prime lean pieces (up to 2 to 3 days for turkey, beef or lamb; 4 or 5 days for ham) to slice and dice for sandwiches and salads. Tougher, fattier tidbits can be frozen for a month or so in airtight baggies to use in soups, stews, chilis, stir-fries, enchilada and taco fillings, and fried rice (see today’s recipe for Fried Rice with Edamame and Ham). Bones and carcasses can be simmered into full-flavored stocks as a base for soups and stews to carry you through the winter months.

More ideas:

Chinese congee. Make this classic, comforting porridge by simmering white rice in meat, poultry or vegetable stock with ginger and salt until creamy, then topping with bits of bacon, Chinese sausage, sauteed onions, or other savory morsels.

Turkey gumbo. In New Orleans and all over the Gulf, a big pot of gumbo awaits the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas or any other time. The hearty soup begins with a broth made from the carcass. No waste, and leftovers freeze great!

Beef hash. Shredded roast beef, a diced potato and onion and — better yet — some extra drippings and a few stalks of celery transform easily into hearty beef hash.

Bean and ham bone soup. A smoky pork bone is the perfect flavoring agent for a pot of beans or peas. Whip up a simple version using Great Northerns, a few basic vegetables, and fresh thyme; or a slightly more involved one using black-eyed peas and greens in hopes of ushering in some much-needed good luck on New Year’s Day.

French dip sliders: This hot sandwich idea will be even better with homemade jus for dipping.

Yorkshire pudding. Take a cue from the Brits and turn leftover beef drippings into savory popovers. A quick bread batter of eggs, flour and milk that’s baked in hot meat drippings become satisfying puffy, hollow, golden brown muffins.

ACCOMPANIMENTS

Roasted vegetables. Use leftover roasted vegetables as a filling for empanadas, stir into muffin batter for a savory baked breakfast treat or add (at the last minute) to a pot of everything but the kitchen sink soup.

Potatoes. Use mashed potatoes as a soup thickener, or to make shepherd’s pie or croquettes. Mashed, roasted or boiled potatoes can be transformed into a British dish known as bubble and squeak. Mix the potatoes with chopped, cooked vegetables and leftover meat bits. In a medium saucepan, saute sliced onions in oil with salt and pepper. Add the onions to the potato mixture, then fry like pancakes on a hot griddle. Got some leftover roasted sweet potatoes? Puree and use as the base for some smooth hummus.

Bread. Has that baguette gone stale? Time to make croutons, panzanella, bread pudding or pain perdu. Of course, you could just blitz the remains of a day-old loaf in a food processor and you’ve got basic breadcrumbs. Or get fancy: toss those breadcrumbs with olive oil, garlic, anchovy, red pepper flakes and fresh parsley, then saute it. Sprinkle the crunchy seasoned crumbs, known as pangrattato, over pasta dishes or risotto, grilled fish, and sauteed or steamed vegetables.

CAKES, COOKIES AND CANDY

Panettone Truffles are made with crumbs of traditional Italian sweet bread, milk, cream cheese and sugar, then shaped and covered in chocolate. (Styling by Caterina Scarano / Chris Hunt for the AJC)
Panettone Truffles are made with crumbs of traditional Italian sweet bread, milk, cream cheese and sugar, then shaped and covered in chocolate. (Styling by Caterina Scarano / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Cakes and sweet breads. Soak slices of plain or sponge cake with wine, brandy or rum and top with layers of preserves, custard and cream for a tasty trifle. If the beloved Italian holiday classic panettone is part of your family tradition and you’ve still got half a loaf left, turn the sweet yeast bread into truffles. Use a food processor to pulse the loaf into coarse crumbs (you’ll need 5 cups). Add 1/3 cup milk, 1/4 cup mascarpone or cream cheese, 3 tablespoons powdered sugar and lightly pulse again to yield a mixture that holds together for forming into balls. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. When ready to form truffles, in a double boiler, melt 1 1/4 cups dark chocolate chips or chunks (great chance to use up all those chocolate candy kisses!) and keep warm. Remove the mixture from the fridge, scoop out by the tablespoonful and roll into balls. Using two forks, lower each ball into the melted chocolate to cover completely. Remove to a parchment-lined baking sheet. If desired, garnish with chopped hazelnuts, coconut flakes, slivered almonds or sprinkles; just be sure to garnish while the chocolate is still warm. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 29 truffles.

Cookies. Crush and use as the base of a pie, tart or cheesecake crust. Break them into small bits and layer with fresh fruit and yogurt for a breakfast or dessert parfait.

Candy canes. You could just break peppermint candy canes into bite-size pieces, tuck them into a tiny tin canister and use them as breath mints. But they can find purpose in plenty of foods and drinks. Keep them intact and use as flavored stirrers for mint-spiked hot cocoa, coffee or tea. Crush them with a rolling pin or in a food processor, then use to decorate frosted cakes, fold into vanilla ice cream or brownie batter, coat a log of cookie dough before slicing and baking, dip marshmallows or homemade truffles, or rim a coffee cup or a cocktail glass. Natasha of the Salt & Lavender blog suggests mixing up a Chocolate Peppermint-Stick Cocktail: equal parts crème de cacao, Baileys Irish Cream, and peppermint schnapps shaken in a cocktail shaker with ice and straining into a peppermint-rimmed martini glass. Cheers!

RECIPES

Christmas Cookie and Eggnog Pie from Epicurious. (Courtesy of Chelsea Kyle)
Christmas Cookie and Eggnog Pie from Epicurious. (Courtesy of Chelsea Kyle)

Credit: Chelsea Kyle

Credit: Chelsea Kyle

Christmas Cookie and Eggnog Pie

The editorial team at Epicurious is big on making what they call “nextovers” — extras of whatever you’re cooking so you can turn it into something different and maybe even better the next day.

This pie is their clever trick for transforming a half-used carton of eggnog and those Christmas cookies gifted to you that have worn out their welcome. It can be made and chilled up to 1 day in advance. Add additional whipped cream just before serving.

Christmas Cookie and Eggnog Pie
  • About 1 dozen sugar cookies or other holiday cookies (enough to make 2 cups cookie crumbs)
  • 4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  • 3 cups eggnog
  • 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (plus more for serving, if desired)
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse the cookies in a food processor until finely ground. You should have about 2 cups cookie crumbs. Place in a medium bowl and stir in the melted butter. Transfer the mixture to a greased 9-inch pie pan and press into bottom and up the sides using a flat-bottomed measuring cup.
  • Bake crust until golden brown and set, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely, about 15 minutes.
  • Add eggnog to a medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until thickened and reduced by a third, about 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine gelatin with the water. Remove eggnog from the heat and stir in the gelatin mixture. Pour into a medium bowl set over an ice bath and whisk occasionally until cooled, 5-10 minutes. Do not allow to set.
  • Whip 1/2 cup of the heavy cream to soft peaks and keep chilled until ready to use. Once eggnog mixture has cooled, whisk in whipped cream until well combined. Pour into cooled pie crust and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours. Just before serving, top with more whipped cream, if desired. Serves 6-8.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 6: 367 calories (percent of calories from fat, 58), 8 grams protein, 30 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 24 grams total fat (14 grams saturated), 131 milligrams cholesterol, 180 milligrams sodium.

Christmas Cookie and Eggnog Pie from Epicurious, photo by Chelsea Kyle. Reprinted with permission.

Fried Rice with Edamame and Ham from "Milk Street: The New Rules." Copyright © 2019 by CPK Media LLC. (Courtesy of Connie Miller)
Fried Rice with Edamame and Ham from "Milk Street: The New Rules." Copyright © 2019 by CPK Media LLC. (Courtesy of Connie Miller)

Credit: Connie Miller

Credit: Connie Miller

Fried Rice with Edamame and Ham

Fried rice is a tasty catchall for leftover rice and stray tidbits in the fridge. This version, from Christopher Kimball’s “Milk Street: The New Rules: Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook” (Voracious/Little, Brown, $35), uses the shelled immature soybeans called edamame now widely available in freezer cases in place of the more common green peas. The editors note that any kind of rice can be used, but must be chilled first to avoid sogginess. For an extra flourish of flavor, sprinkle the savory-sweet Japanese seasoning blend furikake on each portion.

Fried Rice with Edamame and Ham
  • 4 cups cooked rice, chilled
  • 4 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 ounces sliced deli (or leftover) ham, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts reserved separately
  • 1 cup frozen shelled edamame (no need to thaw)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more to serve
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • In a medium bowl, toss the rice with 2 tablespoons of oil until evenly coated, breaking up any clumps. In a small bowl, beat the eggs until well combined. In a nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil until shimmering. Add the ham and scallion whites, then cook, stirring constantly, until the ham begins to brown and the pieces no longer stick together, about 2 minutes. Add the edamame and cook, stirring, until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  • In the same skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil until shimmering. Add the rice and cook, stirring to break up any lumps, until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Push the rice to one side of the pan and add the eggs to the clearing. Cook, stirring and pulling the eggs away from the rice, until mostly set but still glossy, 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Reduce to medium-low and stir in the ham mixture, breaking the eggs into small pieces. Remove from the heat and stir in the soy sauce, vinegar, mirin and scallion greens. Serve with additional soy sauce on the side. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 427 calories (percent of calories from fat, 41), 15 grams protein, 48 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 19 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 145 milligrams cholesterol, 415 milligrams sodium.

From “Milk Street: The New Rules” by Christopher Kimball. Copyright © 2019 by CPK Media LLC. Photographs by Connie Miller.

Cheese Mishmash from "Jacques Pépin Quick and Simple" by Jacques Pépin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35). (Courtesy of Tom Hopkins)
Cheese Mishmash from "Jacques Pépin Quick and Simple" by Jacques Pépin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35). (Courtesy of Tom Hopkins)

Credit: Tom Hopkins

Credit: Tom Hopkins

Cheese Mishmash

Fromage fort is a savory French cheese spread made by pureeing assorted cheese bits with garlic, a splash of white wine, and sometimes leek broth and herbs. In “Jacques Pépin Quick & Simple,” the legendary chef offers this sweet, chunky variation. Feel free to sub your leftover chopped party nuts and dried fruits for the seeds and cranberries.

Cheese Mishmash
  • About 12 ounces assorted leftover cheeses (such as feta, blue, Gouda, mozzarella, Muenster, Port Salut, Swiss, fontina, and/or goat)
  • 1/3 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • About 3 dozen savory wafers or rice crackers
  • Small mint leaves, for garnish
  • Trim or scape off any dry or damaged areas from the surface of the cheese. Cut or crumble the cheese into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine the cheese, sunflower seeds, cranberries, honey, lemon juice, and pepper in a medium bowl and stir with a spoon briefly to combine.
  • Mound a heaping teaspoon of the cheese mixture on top of each wafer, garnish each with a mint leaf, and serve. Makes about 36 hors d’oeuvres.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per piece: 63 calories (percent of calories from fat, 48), 3 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 3 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 9 milligrams cholesterol, 72 milligrams sodium.

About 12 ounces assorted leftover cheeses (such as feta, blue, Gouda, mozzarella, Muenster, Port Salut, Swiss, fontina, and/or goat)

1/3 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup honey

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

About 3 dozen savory wafers or rice crackers

Small mint leaves, for garnish

Trim or scape off any dry or damaged areas from the surface of the cheese. Cut or crumble the cheese into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine the cheese, sunflower seeds, cranberries, honey, lemon juice, and pepper in a medium bowl and stir with a spoon briefly to combine.

Mound a heaping teaspoon of the cheese mixture on top of each wafer, garnish each with a mint leaf, and serve.

Makes about 36 hors d’oeuvres.

Per piece: 63 calories (percent of calories from fat, 48), 3 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 3 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 9 milligrams cholesterol, 72 milligrams sodium.

Excerpted from “Jacques Pépin Quick & Simple” © 2020 by Jacques Pépin. Photography © 2020 by Tom Hopkins. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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