Big holiday meals too often end in a horrific disaster. Three weeks after a steaming, juicy turkey is carved, a container of a once great side dish is discovered wedged between the back wall of the fridge and a half empty jar of olives. And yet an unfortunate event such as this is nearly always avoidable.
All the effort, creativity and love that went into the sweet potato soufflé can seem unappreciated when gray fuzzies are permitted to form colonies between the pecans and lumps of brown sugar topping. And if the person who created the savory-sweet culinary masterpiece is the one to discover the fuzz-filled container, the devastation that follows could be earth-shattering.
There are ways to avoid post-holiday meal catastrophes. The best defense is, of course, a great offense. Have a plan in place before dinner is served and put it into action before the plates are cleared.
It is perfectly acceptable to send guests home with a little of this and a little of that. Even if every guest went home with a container of their favorite food, the host’s fridge will still be packed to overflowing.
But you have to be prepared if you’re going to force food upon your guests when they leave. They are already full and, if asked, will decline the offer to take a little something home. Therefore, before they are able to hoist their overstuffed, lethargic bodies away from the table, you must pass around containers.
Once everyone has a container with matching lid, as host and presiding official of the event you must demand each person fill their container with the entree or side dish they enjoyed most. Have markers at the ready so guests can put their names on their containers. Also, you will have to monitor your guests as they leave to be sure they take their containers with them.
To ensure you have enough containers, you must be diligent all year long about collecting and saving plastic ware. Cold cut tubs and Chinese takeout dishes make for excellent leftover food containers.
Don’t waste any time worrying about dessert. The sweets all have a way of completely disappearing within 48 hours of the holiday meal. Although, you might have to do a walkthrough of your home to collect empty pie plates and cake dishes your family members will forget to return to the kitchen.
Getting back to the leftovers, it is imperative casseroles be assembled as soon after the event as possible. Sure, as the host, you’re completely drained of all energy by the time the last, lingering relative heads out. Either grab a shot of espresso and start filling up the casserole pans or plan nothing else but leftover prep for the next morning.
Our go-to leftover casserole recipe is easy. We cut up turkey and ham into bite-sized pieces and cover the bottom of a lasagna-sized pan. We dump in the remains of the green bean casserole and roasted veggies and then toss it all up with the meat. We then add a few glops of sweet potato soufflé and the innards of the corn pie.
I also like to include a few spoonfuls of homemade cranberry sauce to add a bit of tanginess. Then, we pour the remaining gravy all over the mess and cover it all with plastic wrap. At this point, the casserole can be stored in the fridge or freezer, depending on when it will be served.
When it is time to feast upon the leftovers casserole, we top it with biscuit batter or leftover mashed potatoes re-whipped with a little milk. We then bake it at 350 for about 45 minutes or until our house smells amazing and the edges of the topping are golden.
You will get sick of leftovers after several days; therefore, you must have freezer bags on hand to freeze some of the bounty soon after your holiday meal. Freeze meat for future casseroles and salads. Freeze side dishes in one or two-serving amounts so you can easily microwave them after an exhausting day digging for 75 percent off deals.
Last week, I had one too many cooked sweet potatoes for my sweet potato soufflé. Therefore, I peeled the skin off, shoved it in a freezer bag and labeled it "cooked sweet potato." It will be thawed and used as an ingredient for squash soup later this month.
If you want to use up all the leftovers, you cannot discount breakfast. This year, we have plenty of cranberry sauce, which happens to be amazing on top of oatmeal on cold mornings. Hubby has been scrambling the dressing—stuffing cooked outside the bird for those of you picturing ranch and lite Italian—with eggs for his breakfast since last week.
As you plan your next holiday feast, please be proactive. Do everything in your power to plan ahead and avoid a stranded leftover tragedy. Oh, and email me if you’d like my sweet potato soufflé recipe.
Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of "Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville." She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org