- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I always give thanks for Thanksgiving, but, quite honestly, the leftovers are the best part of the meal. Not only are they versatile, but they also represent hope for future meals, a low-cost jump-start on dinners to come. So after the original feast, followed by a similar meal or two, I cut turkey leftovers in chunks, shred some, and divide them into 1- to 2-cup portions. These are wrapped in plastic wrap (with as much air as possible squeezed out, as air encourages freezer burn) and dumped into resealable heavy-duty plastic bags. The packages are labeled, dated and frozen.

This pre-bundling in plastic wrap is a system I adopted so I could reuse the resealable plastic bags and save big bucks. As luck would have it, this method is recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a way to insulate frozen foods and keep them fresher.

Turkey will stay at its peak for four months if wrapped well and frozen within three to four days of roasting. Even after four months, according to Bessie Berry, manager of the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline (888/674-6854), frozen turkey is will remain safe for essentially an unlimited amount of time.

Do not take this as an excuse to leave turkey in your freezer indefinitely, though. This is what you might call a quality-of-food issue. Like our upper arms after 50, there is a slow decline in quality for frozen turkey, which means that it is not really fit for public viewing after a certain period. And besides, next year at this time, you will have more turkey, and the cycle of leftovers will continue.

Another tip from Miss Berry: After dinner, cut the turkey into pieces and refrigerate. Not only does this retard bacterial growth, but also, the pieces will chill more quickly than the whole bird would, and the chilling will make it easier to cut and shred.

Do not be concerned if the turkey you roast for Thanksgiving was purchased frozen. It is OK to freeze what would seem to be pre-frozen bird. It is not even considered refreezing, according to Miss Berry.

The frozen turkey we buy is “flash-frozen, and it is as fresh, in terms of nutrients, as one that is fresh,” she says.

Because frozen cooked turkey contains very little moisture, Miss Berry says, it defrosts quickly in the refrigerator. Or, as is the case with the recipe for Thai turkey-coconut soup that follows, it can be added frozen to some dishes and will defrost during cooking.

Turkey chunks can also be defrosted in the microwave in just a few minutes. The length of time will vary with the microwave oven and the amount of turkey.

Microwave defrosting works well for the lemon turkey pasta that follows. While the pasta cooks, simply pluck out a bag of frozen shredded turkey, defrost it in the microwave and toss it with the lemon sauce. Dinner will be ready in less than 20 minutes.

The turkey salad with pine nuts, grapefruit and avocado, however, is better made with room-temperature turkey. So once the turkey is defrosted, let it sit until it comes to room temperature before adding it to this simple salad, which is more delicious than the amount of work required would suggest.

My choice for turkey rolls with tapenade is fresh turkey, but I will leave that to you. As mentioned before, leftover turkey is a great investment in our future. It’s safer than the stock market, and you don’t have to worry about bankruptcy.

Turkey salad with pine nuts, grapefruit and avocado

1 scallion

1/4 cup light soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Dash of cayenne pepper

½ cup vegetable or canola oil

1 avocado

½ lemon, juice only

1 head butter lettuce (about 8 cups pieces)

1 large grapefruit, sectioned (about 1 cup)

1 cup shredded cooked turkey

2 tablespoons pine nuts

Crusty bread

To make the dressing, mince the scallion in a food processor, then add soy sauce, vinegar, honey, sesame oil and cayenne. With machine running, pour in the oil. Set aside.

Slice the avocado into wedges; sprinkle them with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Tear the lettuce into bite-size pieces and place in a salad bowl.

Re-whisk the dressing, and toss the lettuce with enough dressing to moisten. (Leftover dressing can be refrigerated for up to four days.) Top with grapefruit, turkey, avocado slices and pine nuts. Makes 3 to 4 servings with crusty bread.

Thai turkey-coconut soup

2 14.5-ounce cans chicken broth

1 cup bite-size cubes of cooked turkey

1 15-ounce can straw mushrooms, drained, or 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1 14-ounce can coconut milk (unsweetened)

1 to 2 hot Thai or other chilies, seeded and minced

6 tablespoons Thai fish sauce

4 tablespoons lime juice

1 cup baby bok choy or other cabbage (see note)

Kaffir lime leaves for garnish, optional

Cilantro for garnish, optional

In medium saucepan, combine chicken broth, turkey, mushrooms, coconut milk, chilies to taste, Thai fish sauce, lime juice, and bok choy or cabbage, and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve garnished with lime leaves and cilantro, if desired. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Note: I like the bok choy or other cabbage, but my son prefers substituting a 3-ounce package of ramen noodles (don’t add the seasoning packet) 3 minutes before the soup is done. I have to admit, it’s good that way, too.

Lemon turkey pasta

1 cup whipping cream

Salt and white pepper

2 lemons, zest and juice

1 cup shredded cooked turkey

1 16-ounce package fettuccini or linguine

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

In a large skillet, bring cream to a gentle boil. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon white pepper and the lemon zest and juice. Add turkey, cover and keep warm over low heat.

Bring a Dutch oven filled with water and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Add fettuccini or linguine, and cook until al dente, following directions on package, probably 8 to 10 minutes for dry pasta. Drain pasta, add to skillet along with cheese, and toss to blend. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Spoon onto serving bowl or plates, sprinkle with parsley and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Turkey rolls with tapenade

This sandwich is made with ingredients left over from Thanksgiving dinner. The tapenade is a Provencal mashed olive, garlic, anchovy and caper spread that I serve as a dip or topping for bruschetta. I make my own, but tapenade is available in many upscale markets and supermarkets. The spinach is from the spinach salad I serve. And the brie is added if there is any left. There usually isn’t.

4 4-inch rolls of choice

1 tomato, thinly sliced, or roasted red pepper

Sliced turkey

Sliced brie, optional

1 cup spinach leaves

8 tablespoons tapenade

Slice rolls in half. Begin by layering bottom halves with sliced tomato or roasted pepper, if good tomatoes are not available. On top of that, pile turkey, brie (if using) and spinach leaves. Frost the inside of each top with 2 tablespoons of tapenade and place on top of turkey and spinach halves. Makes 4 servings.

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