Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
I love Thanksgiving. I love a day devoted to gratitude. I love a day devoted to national pride. I love a day devoted to eating delicious, once-a-year treats. After weeks of preparing, planning menus, stirring cranberries as they stew on the stove, reviewing seldom-used recipes, and finally gathering with family and friends, I am completely and blissfully grateful for a chance to really and truly enjoy an abundant table. In my life, I’ve hosted parties for huge groups who helped by bringing their own contributions. I’ve also cooked for smaller crowds, often single-handedly producing a feast I think the Pilgrims would have been proud of. I love both kinds of holidays for different reasons – one is expansive and energizing, the other is intimate and relaxing. But when the party, large or small, is over, one of the best things about Thanksgiving is the leftovers.
Feeding the people I love is one of my greatest pleasures. If I’m honest, though, I’ll admit that cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of work, so it’s nice that there is almost always enough food left to make meals for two or three days after the big day. Apple and pumpkin pie make excellent breakfast food, and the rest of the feast’s offerings make great lunch and dinner (and snack) options. For a few wonderful days, my fridge is full with ready-to-eat indulgences.
The only problem with the abundance of leftovers (aside from making room in the fridge) is the fact that I sometimes have a problem balancing the ratios of my leftovers, which has resulted in some pretty bizarre creations. My favorite cranberry sauce recipe yields roughly two quarts, and given that a typical serving of the stuff is a tablespoon or two, I always end up with a large container lingering in the fridge, even if I aggressively share my bounty with friends and neighbors. In an effort to avoid throwing any sauce away, I have made cranberry bars, cranberry cookies, and even cranberry scones to use it up. Stuffing is my absolute favorite part of any holiday feast, so I sometimes make what could charitably be described as a zealous amount. A few years ago, I tried a recipe which involved making a sort of dough with leftover stuffing and baking it in muffin tins in order to give the stuffing new life as “stuffin’ muffins.” I’ve used mashed potatoes in casseroles, hash, and even baked into bread to add texture and lightness.
The one leftover I generally don’t stress about is turkey. I find that I tend to have less turkey left over than other parts of the meal, simply because there’s less guesswork involved in deciding how much turkey to make (most recommendations are to plan on about a pound of turkey per person.) A few years ago, though, I made a serious miscalculation and found myself in possession of an abundant amount of turkey. The sandwiches were amazing on Friday, but by Sunday, the turkey had gotten a bit dry and I needed a way to give the bird a new life. Luckily, in addition to all that turkey, I had a few quarts of gravy that needed to be consumed too. Normally, re-heating turkey is a great way to make it tough and inedible. Douse it with enough gravy, though, and you just might get something delicious, like these turkey hand pies I came up with to use up my leftovers. If you’re lucky enough to have some extra pie crust on hand, by all means use it. In a pinch, pie crust from the supermarket makes a tasty and easy substitution.
These hand pies are quite small, just a few bites worth, and I think they make a nice addition to a selection of nibbles. If you’re looking for more of a main dish, cut the crusts larger and think about adding more to the turkey mixture: leftover squash, sweet potatoes, or even green vegetables would be delicious. No matter what you put inside, when you’ll pull them out of the oven, the house will smell deliciously holiday-like all over again. They’ll give you another reason to be grateful for just a little while longer.
This recipe can easily be doubled or even tripled.
Two pie crusts, rolled to about ¼ inch thickness
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 shredded carrot
2 cups chopped turkey
½ cup turkey gravy (add a few more tablespoons of gravy if your turkey is especially dry)
cranberry sauce, for serving
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet, sauté the onion in the olive oil until it is soft. Add the carrot and sauté a few more minutes, until the carrot just starts to wilt. Stir in turkey and gravy, heating until the mixture is warmed through. Set mixture aside.
Using a three-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut the pie crust into 24 circles, collecting and re-rolling the dough scraps as needed. Place 12 circles of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet, then gently place about a tablespoon of the turkey mixture on top. Place another circle of dough on top of each tablespoon of turkey, pressing the edges of the top circle and bottom circle of dough together (perhaps with a fork). Cut a small vent with the tip of a sharp knife in the top of each hand pie. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden. Serve warm, with cranberry sauce for dipping.