Gretchen McKay

A few ideas for those Thanksgiving leftovers

Thanksgiving dinner takes so much time, energy and planning to prepare, and then everyone’s done eating in what feels like five minutes. It’s enough to drive a conscientious cook crazy.

Thank goodness, then, for the meal’s many leftovers, which give those of us who prepare the holiday feast a second (and maybe even a third) chance to show off our culinary mettle — hopefully at a much more relaxed pace, without the insanity of a typical Thanksgiving meal prep, where so many things have to come out of the oven at exactly the right time.

We’re not talking about the boring turkey sandwiches. Ditto on simply reheating the spuds, corn or rolls, which is equally uninspired.

To really keep the celebration going, why not get your creative juices flowing with recipes that reinvent what you just had for dinner instead of simply duplicating it? That way, your leftovers won’t feel like, you know, leftovers but rather like something special.

Blended with oil and vinegar and a little Dijon mustard, surplus cranberry sauce is easily transformed into a tangy-sweet salad dressing. Mashed potatoes mixed with cheddar and chives are reborn as savory, pop-in-your-mouth mini muffins. With a little garlic and chili, rolls destined to chopped into bread crumbs become tender sponges for a spicy egg drop soup. Chilies also can breath new life into leftover bowls of corn, folded into an eggy batter to be fried up into griddle cakes.

As for the main event turkey? This year, why not forgo the traditional leftover turkey casseroles, pot pies, turkey a la kings and turkey-frame soup in favor of a slow cooker chowder made with wild rice, wine and mushrooms?

Enjoy, it’s less than a month until you have to do it all again for Christmas.

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.


Leftover Cranberry Sauce Dressing

PG tested

Cranberry sauce doesn’t only have to be paired with turkey — It also can brighten up a salad, as this tangy vinaigrette demonstrates. 

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Process ingredients in blender until smooth. Serve over tossed or chopped greens.

Makes about 1 cup dressing.

— Southern Living

Leftover Bread Egg Drop Soup with Garlic and Chili 

Leftover Bread Egg Drop Soup/Gretchen McKay

PG tested

A warming soup for cool fall nights. 

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons garlic paste

2 Thai chilies, sliced

12 bite-sized pieces stale, crusty bread

6 cups chicken broth

4 large eggs, whisked

1 teaspoon oregano

2 tablespoons shredded Gruyere cheese

In large stockpot over medium-low heat, warm oil. Add garlic paste and chilies. Stir occasionally for about 8 to 10 minutes until garlic is fragrant but not browned.

Add bread and stir evenly to coat. Pour in chicken stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat and stir in eggs. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve garnished with oregano and cheese.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

— Chile Pepper magazine

Cheesy Leftover Mashed Potato Muffins

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Spin your leftover spuds into something spectacular with this easy recipe. If you like, add diced turkey or ham. Be sure to grease the muffin tin really well so that the potatoes don’t stick to the pan. The end result is like potato chips — impossible to eat just one.

3 cups leftover mashed potatoes

1 large egg

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a non-stick mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, stir together the mashed potatoes, egg, ¾ cup cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons chopped chives. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Using an ice cream scoop, divide the potato mixture evenly into the prepared muffin pan, packing the potatoes down into each cup.

Bake muffins for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown and crisp around the edges. Remove the pan from the oven, top the muffins with the remaining ¼ cup cheddar cheese and return them to the oven for 3 more minutes. Remove muffins from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan for 5 minutes.

Transfer muffins to a serving dish, top them with the remaining 1 tablespoon of chopped chives and serve immediately.

Makes 24 mini muffins.


Leftover Corn and Jalapeno Griddle Cakes

Corn and Jalapeno Griddle Cakes/Gretchen McKay

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These griddle cakes can be stored in a zip top bag in the fridge for up to 2 days, or the freezer for up to 1 month. Simply heat them in a toaster when ready to eat.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1¼ cups whole or 2% milk

1 tablespoon butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan

1 egg

1½ cups cooked corn kernels

1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped fine

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt. In a small bowl or measuring cup, use a fork to lightly beat the milk, melted butter and egg. Pour the milk mixture over the flour mixture. Add the corn and jalapeno. Use a fork to stir until just mixed and there are no visible traces of flour.

Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Sprinkle a few drops of water into the skillet — if they “dance” across it, the skillet is ready. Add a pat of butter and swirl to coat. Drop scant ¼ cupfuls of batter into the skillet, leaving 1 to 2 inches between each cake. Cook until set around the edges and air bubbles form on top, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook 1 to 2 more minutes. Serve hot.

— Food Network 

Leftover Turkey and Wild Rice Chowder 

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Hearty and flavorful, not to mention easy to throw together, this chowder is perfect for those lazy nights when all you want to do after work is curl up on the couch with a hot bowl of soup. Don’t forget the crusty bread for sopping. 

Several tablespoons of turkey pan drippings or olive oil

3 medium celery stalks, diced

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

8 ounces mushrooms, stems included, chopped

1 large Spanish onion, diced

1 cup dry white wine

1 ounce (1/4 cup) dried porcini mushrooms

2 cups wild rice

1 cup white basmati rice

5 cups turkey or chicken stock

Bouquet garni of 3 fresh sage leaves, 6 parsley sprigs, 1 bay leaf and 1 small rosemary sprig, tied together

2 cups diced cooked turkey

Preheat slow cooker to low.

Place a large saute pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with turkey drippings/olive oil. Saute celery, carrots, mushrooms and onion in batches until lightly browned. Transfer vegetables to a slow cooker.

Add wine to pan and simmer for several minutes. Transfer wine to slow cooker. Add porcini mushrooms, wild rice, basmati rice, stock and bouquet garni to slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours until wild rice has split open and softened.

Remove 2 cups soup with rice in it. Puree until creamy. Add pureed mixture back to slow cooker and stir to combine. Add turkey, cover and cook for 30 minutes more.

Remove bouquet garni. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with parsley and sage.

Serves 8.

— “Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes” by Laura Frankel (Surrey Books)


Stunning, reliable cranberries are steeped in Thanksgiving’s heritage

Fresh cranberries at Pine Barrens Native Fruits in New Jersey/Gretchen McKay

BROWNS MILLS, N.J. — Love ’em or hate ’em, cranberries have long been part of America’s culinary history.

Even before Gen. Ulysses S. Grant gave orders in 1864 for the tart ruby berries to be given to Union soldiers as part of their holiday meal, cranberries were common on the table. Native Americans ate them and the wild perennials also were part of New Englanders’ diet in the mid-1700s, cooked with maple syrup or honey into sauces, preserves and tarts.

Yet it wasn’t until the 1930s, when the Massachusetts Ocean Spray cooperative started selling whole and jellied cranberry sauce, that the berry was really woven into America’s Thanksgiving fabric. It’s a rare holiday celebration that doesn’t include a log of canned sauce or some spiffed up homemade variety; its tart-sweet zing adds a welcome punch of flavor, color and texture to tender slices of turkey.

One of just a handful of native American fruits to be commercially grown, cranberries are most associated with New England, thanks to those kooky “straight from the bog” TV commercials starring faux fruit growers Justin and Henry. Yet Wisconsin actually is the country’s leading grower of the little red berries (it produced some 5.3 million barrels of fruit in 2014, or 530 million pounds).  New Jersey also has a thriving cranberry industry, with more than 3,000 acres of cranberry bogs producing 626,000 barrels.

Cranberries thrive in sandy, acidic soil and Jersey’s Pine Barrens  region — where the ground fruit has been cultivated since the mid-1800s — is rich in both.

Many of the state’s 20-plus farms are descendants of the original growers. Joseph J. White, a fifth-generation cranberry farm at Whitesbog, Pemberton Township, has been growing cranberries for more than 150 years. Second-largest in New Jersey, it has 76 bogs of different sizes and varieties covering 350 acres in production. During the fall harvest, growers Brenda Conner and Joe Darlington, who market the fruit under the Pine Barrens Native Fruits label,  give bus tours ($35; to the sandy roads and narrow dams surrounding the bogs. It’s fascinating.

Workers start “corralling” the fruit in early October — 500 pounds every 2½ minutes — and are generally finished well before Thanksgiving. Just a tiny portion of the seasonal haul makes it to the market fresh; most berries are shipped north to Ocean Spray (whose cooperative now includes 700 grower families) to be canned, bottled or dried.

After flooding the cranberry bog with water, workers at Pine Barrens Native Fruits in Browns Mills, N.J., wade through the thigh-high water and round up the fruit with large wooden brooms. Once the bobbing berries are gathered, they’re transferred via a pump into trucks/Gretchen McKay
Because they’re fragile, fresh berries have to be dry harvested — that is, picked while the vines are completely dry with a lawnmower-like mechanical harvester. What you get to see at the White’s farm from the bus is the more interesting wet harvest, which involves flooding the bogs with water so the cranberries float to the surface.

For generations, cranberries were picked by hand or scooped into baskets in a tedious process. Harvesting machines made things faster but left plenty of wasted fruit on the ground. When growers discovered that cranberries, because of their inner air pockets, float quite easily, things got interesting. In the 1960s growers started flooding the fields after harvest to pick up the leftover “floaters.”

Soon, though, they realized the entire process could be made much easier by flooding the field at harvest time, beating the submerged vines, and letting the berries float to the surface, where they could be skimmed away. The man-made cranberry bog was born, and cranberries were gathered by workers with wooden brooms and then sucked onto trucks by a conveyor belt.

Seeing all the fruit crushed by the rolling harvesters, Ms. Conner told her husband, Joe, that she could increase yield by 20 percent if he would just build her a floating harvester:  a one-man barge equipped with spinning beater arms that could be towed back and forth across the water, whacking away at what lies beneath without causing so much damage. He did, and today the farm’s bogs average 280 to 300 100-pound barrels per acre each season. Whether they make it north to Ocean Spray depends on how well they bounce — the sprightlier the specimen, the tastier the berry. Substandard ones go into the compost pile.

Piloting the floating harvester, which is guided by GPS, Ms. Conner says, “is like playing Nintendo.”  But it’s far from a game.  To be a cranberry farmer is to always be on call with Mother Nature. The vines must be properly irrigated to protect them from frost 24/7; when the temperature dips below about 23 degrees, growers have to “run frost,” or run their irrigation pumps to warm up the bogs, or freeze the water they put out to create a protective ice layer around the plant tissue.

Ms. Conner notes they also have to keep a close eye on bugs that, in some cases, are nocturnal. “So  we not only go out and sweep the bogs during the day, but also between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.”

The tour concludes with a cooking demonstration and cranberry tasting. Guests get a packet of family recipes. A versatile fruit, cranberries are good for everything from appetizers, bread and salads to sauces and desserts.

Even if you think you don’t like cranberries you probably should: Because of their disease-fighting antioxidants, they’re considered a super fruit along the lines of blueberries (which the White farm also grows); sailors in the 19th century ate them to ward off scurvy. They’re also high in vitamin C, fiber-rich and a low-cal treat at only 45 calories per cup — although any caloric benefit is easily negated by all the sugar many recipes require to make them more palatable. You also can eat them out of hand, like Ms. Conner, if you have a toothpick and a bowl of caramel.

Fresh cranberries will last for two months in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed plastic bag, and they freeze well for up to a year. So now’s the time to stock up so that you can experiment throughout the winter.

If you go …
Where: J.J. White, which sells under the label Pine Barrens Native Fruits, is located at 1 Pasadena Road, Browns Mills, N.J. It’s about an hour from downtown Philadelphia on New Jersey Route 70E. (Look for mile marker 32.5 on Route 70, then turn right onto a dirt road. Parking lot is a short distance on the left.).
When: Bus tours of the cranberry bogs are expected to start the first weekend in October 2016 and run for about five weeks.
Tickets: Individual tickets cost $35 and are available Fridays and Saturdays. (Weekdays are reserved for group tours.) Tours begin at 9 a.m., rain or shine, and are three hours long.
More info: 1-888-272-6264 or

Orange-Cranberry Sauce

Orange-Cranberry Sauce/Gretchen McKay

PG tested

This easy whole-berry sauce is sweetened with orange juice. Save the leftovers to mix with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard for a salad dressing.

4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1 cup sugar

4 strips orange zest, plus ½ cup fresh orange juice

Coarse salt

Rinse cranberries under cool water, then sort and discard any damaged or bruised cranberries.

Place sugar, orange zest and juice and ½ cup water in medium saucepan; season with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high and stir to dissolve sugar. Add berries.

Reduce to a simmer and cook until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes; berries will pop. Remove from heat and let sauce cool completely at room temperature; it will thicken as it cools. Transfer to a bowl to chill in the refrigerator.

Makes 2 cups sauce.

— Gretchen McKay

Cranberry-Brie Bites/Gretchen McKay


Cranberry Brie Tarts

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An easy make-ahead appetizer or snack that is pretty enough for entertaining.

¾ cup cranberry sauce or jam, canned or homemade

1 teaspoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel

24 wonton wrappers

8-ounce brie round, cut into cubes


Place cranberry sauce in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until hot, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice and lemon peel.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 24-cup mini-muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. Center a wonton wrapper over each muffin form, push down with fingers to make a little bowl, with the corners sticking up, and bake for 10 minutes. Place 1 cube of brie in each wonton bowl.

Bake for 5 minutes, or just until cheese melts and wonton tips are beginning to turn brown. Remove from oven; top each cup with 1 teaspoon of cranberry mixture. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 24 appetizers.

— Adapted from Pine Barrens Native Fruits

Candied Cranberries

Candied Cranberries/Gretchen McKay

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These are great for garnishing cakes, pies and other holiday treats or simply popping in your mouth when you need a sugary, lip-puckering snack.

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups water

2 cups fresh cranberries

¾ cup superfine sugar

Combine granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring mixture until sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer; remove from heat. Stir in cranberries; pour mixture into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to overnight.

Drain cranberries in a colander then place on rack and allow to dry at least 45 minutes (this allows them to get sticky). Place sugar in a shallow dish. Add the cranberries, rolling to coat with sugar. Spread sugared cranberries in a single layer on a baking sheet; let stand at room temperature until dry.

Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.

— Gretchen McKay

New England Cranberry Duff

New England Cranberry Duff/Gretchen McKay

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This New England spin on the traditional upside-down cake is about as easy as it gets when it comes to dessert or, in my case, breakfast.

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries

⅓ cup pecans, toasted, coarsely chopped

⅓ cup plus ½ cup sugar, divided

1 large egg

½ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter bottom and halfway up sides of an 8-inch square glass baking dish using 2 tablespoons butter. Spread cranberries evenly over bottom of dish. Sprinkle pecans on top, then sprinkle with ⅓ cup sugar; set aside.

Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat; set aside. Put egg and the remaining ½ cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until pale and thick, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low; gradually beat in flour and then salt. Pour in melted butter in a slow, steady stream, beating until smooth.

Slowly pour batter into pan to cover cranberries. Bake until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge to loosen, and invert to unmold onto a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.