Waste Free Holiday Meals

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Good To The Very Last Bite?

I am a huge fan of waste-free holidays, whether this involves decorating from the garden, wrapping gifts in pillowcases or making enormous meals that recycle inventively. There is an art to determining what is a useful leftover and what really ought to go right into the worm bin (anything involving jello, for example). I came to this art slowly, because for years, I routinely overcooked on holidays. Yes, there can be soups and sandwiches and so on, but too often we ended up with a truly depressing amount of food that nobody really wanted to appreciate again.

One grand way to avoid this is to send each guest home with a hefty selection of entrees and side dishes. I ask each person or family to bring an assortment of take away containers and let them select what they know they can use later. This enormously reduces the overflow of food. Another good technique is to skillfully transform the remains of the day into dishes that are eaten with alacrity. Here are a few advance notions that might help to steer your holiday menu towards the Next Step.

Many Layered Splendor

My family’s favorite aftermath, Seven Layer Casserole is pre-seasoned and a snap to make. Vary the layers freely (including any cooked vegetables, raw mushrooms, and/or cranberry sauce); it all smells and tastes wonderful. This is the one dish everybody asks for so I make it in individual casserole dishes they can take home.

Seven Layer Casserole

1-2 cups gravy
1-2 cups merlot or any red wine
2-3 cups stuffing, chopped if chunky
2-3 cups cooked turkey, chopped
2-3 cups cooked sweet potatoes or yams, chopped
2-3 cups cooked carrots, broccoli, or green beans, chopped
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
4 cups fresh spinach or kale, trimmed and shredded
3-4 cups garlic mashed potatoes (or any)

Combine gravy and wine to make 3 cups total and cover the bottom of a large baking dish with 1/2 cup gravy mix. Layer on the stuffing, then the turkey and drizzle with 1 cup gravy. Add the sweet potatoes and the cooked vegetables and drizzle with 1/2 cup gravy. Top with onion and kale and pour on remaining gravy. Cover completely with potatoes and  bake at 350 degrees F. until hot through (35-40 minutes). Serve hot. Serves 4-6.

Sweet Hot Chili

Green Chili Turkey Casserole is a splendid meal for blustery winter nights. Hot and sweet peppers, green chili sauce, and crunchy corn chips give yesterdays’ turkey a fresh new twist.

Green Chili Turkey Casserole

3-4 cups cooked turkey, chopped
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
2 cups corn, drained or thawed
4 cups fresh spinach or kale, shredded
6-7 ounces green chili sauce
28-30 ounces fire roasted, crushed tomatoes
2-3 cups corn chips
1 cup jack or cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

Combine all ingredients except chips and cheese in a baking dish and stir to blend. Top with chips and cheese and bake at 350 degrees F. until hot through, 35-40 minutes. Serve hot. Serves 4-6.

Sumptuous If Sloppy

Hot Browns are glorified hot turkey sandwiches invented in Louisville long ago. Here is a quick and easy version that looks elegant and tastes delicious.

Speedy Hot Browns

4 slices pepper-backed bacon, cut in half
4 slices onion, 1/4 inch thick, cut in half
4 slices sour dough or whole grain bread, cut in half diagonally
2-3 cups cooked turkey, chopped
1/2 cup gravy
2-3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

Preheat broiler. In a heavy frying pan, cook bacon and onions over medium high heat, turning once (3-4 minutes per side). Arrange bread in four individual baking dishes, spread each with 1 teaspoon gravy, then top with onion, bacon, and turkey. Drizzle with remaining gravy, top with cheese and broil until bubbly (3-4 minutes). Serve hot. Serves four.

Impressive When Pressed

Italians make especially flavorful sandwiches by pressing them firmly to marry the ingredients thoroughly. Use sourdough or any favorite bread for Pressed Turkey Hero (garlic bread is fabulous).

Pressed Turkey Hero

1 sourdough baguette, sliced lengthwise
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette or any dressing
1/2 cup fresh cilantro or basil, shredded
2-3 cups cooked turkey, chopped
1 cup roasted sweet red peppers, chopped
1/2 cup pickled Italian hot peppers, chopped
3-4 ounces provolone cheese, thinly sliced

Brush both inner sides of bread with dressing and sprinkle with cilantro. Layer on turkey, peppers, and cheese. Wrap bread in waxed paper and put it in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes beneath heavy cans or a carton of milk to press the layers together. Serve in thick slices. Serves 3-4.

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