How to turn Thanksgiving leftovers into something special

Thursday is Thanksgiving, so you know what the following day is.

Well, it’s the biggest shopping day of the year, for those willing (or eager) to fight the crowds in search of things that shout, “It’s the thought that counts!” For the rest of us, though, it’s Leftovers Day, when we remember the big beautiful Thanksgiving turkey and all the rest of the holiday trimmings that have turned the refrigerator into a food approximation of a mall on Black Friday.

So this might be a good time to mention something of which you may not be aware: Even chefs have leftovers.

Sometimes that happens at home.

“Last year we had a lot of leftover stuffing, because nobody in my freakin’ family likes stuffing,” said Todd Harrington, executive chef at Central Michel Richard at Caesars Palace. “Only my neighbor and I were eating it.”

Sometimes it happens at work.

“In this business, using leftovers is always a good part of the job,” said John Schenk, corporate executive chef for Strip House, which has a restaurant at Planet Hollywood. “In the steak business, it’s what you do with leftover potatoes.”

Yeah, using leftover turkey is kind of a no-brainer. You can always make sandwiches or soup or shepherd’s pie or potpie or tetrazzini or on and on.

“There are various preparations you can do,” said Marty Lopez, executive chef at 35 Steaks + Martinis at the Hard Rock Hotel. “It’s a healthier choice because of the white meat.”

Lopez actually came up with a more novel idea, shredding turkey, mixing it with stuffing, and wrapping and frying in egg-roll wrappers. Voila, Thanksgiving Egg Rolls, with leftover cranberry sauce, thinned with a little vinegar, for a sauce.

But we’re digressing here. We figure you have some ideas of what to do with the bird, so we asked Las Vegas chefs for nonturkey ideas, and as always, this creative bunch came through.

How did Harrington use his leftover stuffing? He cubed it, mixed in an egg and a little Parmesan cheese and used it to stuff mushroom caps, baking them for 10 to 12 minutes at 375 degrees.

How does Schenk use leftover potatoes?

“I like to think when it comes to that, I’m a genius; I can get more out of a potato than anyone can imagine,” he said. He grates them, mixes with sour cream, shallots and cheddar and has Potatoes Romanoff. Or he’ll “rip” them, using his hands, into a sort of free-form steak fry.

“You just take them and rip them in half and rip sections out,” Schenk said. “You really want that nook-and-cranny thing.”

Then toss with a little Parmesan cheese, parsley, chopped rosemary and rosemary salt, and deep-fry.

“They’re different sizes, a little bit soft, a little bit crunchy,” Schenk said. “It’s an interesting multipalate experience.”

But maybe you’ll have leftover mashed potatoes, which are more traditional at Thanksgiving and which you can’t exactly rip. To the rescue comes Mark Purdy, chef de cuisine at Alize at the Palms.

“Saute some leeks until they’re soft and translucent, add some cream so it’s warm, then add the cold potato puree to that,” Purdy said. “Process that in a blender and that makes a Frankenstein vichyssoise. Chill it back down. It’s very nice topped with a little bit of truffle oil.”

Harrington makes mashed-potato fritters with cranberry sauce (recipe follows).

George Jacquez, executive chef of Aliante in North Las Vegas, makes potato croquettes, balls or pops. He said to take the leftover mashed potatoes, add some egg, make the desired shapes and coat in panko, bread crumbs or flour, then deep-fry them.

“To get fun with it, you can also put it on a stick,” he said. He advises mixing some leftover cranberry sauce with some ketchup for a dipping sauce, and said it’ll be particularly popular with kids.

“They’ll think they’re eating a corn dog with cranberry ketchup,” Jacquez said.

So, three cranberry-sauce sauces so far, but what else can you do with it? Purdy said it depends on the type.

“When I grew up, my mom always had the canned cranberries that just pop out,” he said. “That really lends itself to just being thinned out. There’s all kinds of stuff you can do at that point. Just freeze it and make a granite. Or you could make a cranberry vinaigrette.”

Johnny Church, chef at MTO Cafe, makes cranberry vinaigrette. He said the way you treat the cranberry sauce depends on how it’s made: with a very sweet sauce, he’d just use lemon juice, but for a homemade sauce with fresh cranberries, he suggests adding orange juice as well.

“It’s beautiful on greens, or shaved root vegetables,” he said. “You could take the leftover stuffing and make croutons.” More on the latter later.

Purdy also likes whole-berry sauce made with fresh cranberries.

“The way I make it, it’s pretty much ready to go as a garnish or syrup for pancakes,” he said. “Maybe you could loosen it with a little bit of honey, or maybe just a little bit of water.”

Beni Valazquez, executive chef at Bar + Bistro, uses leftover cranberry sauce to make chutney.

“Saute up some onions, take some oranges and chop them with skin and all — and the juice and all that — and put it in with the onions and the cranberries on top of that,” he said. “Slow-cook it with a little bit of chicken stock or vegetable stock. Let it cook. It turns into almost like a jam or a jelly. You can use that for sandwiches.”

Similarly, Anthony Vidal, executive chef at Hash House A Go Go, puts leftover cranberry sauce in a small pot and adds orange juice and brown sugar, then cooks it on low heat for about 30 minutes, adding a slurry to make cranberry jam.

But back to the stuffing croutons. Purdy said he’s a big fan of stuffing and makes it all year, but even he sometimes has extra.

“Stuffing is bread, of course,” he said. “You can make stuffing a couple of different ways. One way is almost like a bread pudding. All of the ingredients are cooked and then it’s just kind of soaked in eggs and cream and milk — a royale — and that’s baked like a bread pudding.

Purdy bakes his in a sheet pan.

“You’re left with a flat sheet of stuffing,” he said. He suggests cutting or crumbling and then pan-frying the chunks.

“If you toast those until they’re crispy on the outside and a little bit soft on the inside, they’re really good,” Purdy said. “They’re basically impregnated with eggs and cream.”

Vidal likes to take leftover stuffing, add eggs, flour and onions, form them into 2-ounce balls and deep-fry them to make hush puppies.

Jacquez suggests mixing leftover stuffing with leftover cranberries, walnuts, a little bit of milk, two eggs and maybe even some chopped vegetables and forming it into croquettes, balls or logs. Then coat with Panko, bread crumbs or flour and deep-fry.

OK, so how about sweet potatoes? Tony Gemignani, 11-time World Pizza Champion and chef of Pizza Rock in Las Vegas, uses them in — you guessed it — pizza. That recipe came after a Thanksgiving dinner a long time ago, when his mom sent him home with leftovers.

“I ended up making a pizza out of it when I went back to work,” he said.

Purdy said he usually makes his sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

“If I have some of that left over, I’ll puree them together, like in a Robot Coupe,” he said. “This makes a spread for crackers or toasted bread. That’s kind of nice, and it couldn’t be easier. Even cold, it’s fine.”

Valazquez likes to puree yams with honey or brown sugar and apples or pears.

“Add a little bit of stock, some fresh thyme and puree to make a soup,” he said. “You don’t really need to do much to it because all of the flavors (are) in the yams already from what you did to it. Even if you use the little marshmallows, it’s OK to have a little marshmallow in it.”

How about sweet-potato bread pudding?

“You can take some of your leftover dinner rolls and slice them up nice and chunky,” Lopez said. “Take leftover sweet potatoes, reserve the liquid (from cooking), dice them up a little smaller than the bread. Make a bread-pudding mixture with eggs, milk and some sugar, or you can use less sugar and the syrup from your candied yams. Toss your bread and your yams with that, put it in a dish, bake it maybe a half-hour until it’s crisp on top. I would probably use 350 (degrees). The main thing about bread pudding is cooking the center. Once you put your knife in the middle and touch your bottom lip with it, and it’s nice and hot, it’s ready.”

Vidal said he adds yams to pancake batter for brunch the next day.

OK, so how about the vegetables? If you have squash, Schenk recommends using it to make gnocchi.

“Take your leftover puree, put it in a Teflon saute pan and cook it as dry as you can get it,” he said. “You don’t want to color it at all.” He rices about ¾ cup squash puree with three large baked Idaho potatoes and adds fresh ricotta and salt and pepper.

Jacquez uses leftover vegetables to make turnovers, popovers or quiche.

“You can make hashes; you can fry it in a skillet,” he said. “You could do butternut-squash pancakes the next day.”

The chefs at Carmine’s at the Forum Shops at Caesars recommend leftover sweet-potato pie with cranberry glaze, or fried mashed-potato balls.

“You’ve got to be really creative with that stuff after Thanksgiving,” Purdy said.

Schenk also suggests cranberry juice, left over from making sauce, to make a sorbet

“Of course, the problem with it is that nobody really wants cranberry sorbet after Thanksgiving,” Schenk said. “Save that juice for another time. Put it in the freezer for when people are no longer focused on cranberries. Maybe in January, when there’s a more nostalgic edge to it.”


Stretch pizza dough into a 13-inch circle. Using a blender, whip the sweet potatoes (or yams) with a little heavy cream, butter and sea salt, and use that as the “sauce” for the pizza. Add 8 ounces of shredded mozzarella and stuffing and cook on a pizza stone at 500 degrees for 9 minutes.

Top with dollops of mascarpone, cranberry sauce, brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon.

— Recipe from Tony Gemignani, Pizza Rock


8 ounces leftover mashed potatoes

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon sugar

1 egg

½ cup milk

1 tablespoon melted shortening

Oil for frying

Sweet-and-Sour Cranberry Sauce (recipe follows)

Freeze potatoes on a sheet pan until hard, then cut in ½-inch cubes.

Mix remaining ingredients well and add cubed potatoes.

Heat oil in a fryer or large saucepan to 350 degrees. Drop fritter mixture from ladle into fryer.

For cranberry sauce, mix 2 cups of homemade fresh-cranberry sauce, 1 cup orange juice, ½ teaspoon potato starch or cornstarch, ¼ cup sugar and any kind of vinegar, to taste (about 1/8 cup). Reduce to a thick sauce and serve with fritters.

— Recipe from Todd Harrington, Central Michel Richard


For filling:

2 pounds cooked sweet potatoes, skin removed

¼ cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon mace

For walnut syrup:

1 cup walnut halves

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup dark corn syrup

2 extra-large eggs

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Pinch of kosher salt

1 10-inch pie shell

For cranberry glaze:

4 ounces cranberry juice

4 ounces orange juice

¼ cup granulated sugar

¾ pound fresh cranberries

¾ teaspoon orange zest

½ teaspoon lemon zest

½ cinnamon stick

Place sweet potatoes and all other filling ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, blend the mixture on medium speed until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

To prepare the walnut syrup, toast the walnuts in a preheated 350-degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes, then set aside to cool. Leave oven on.

Add all remaining syrup ingredients to the stand mixer bowl. Blend on low, using the paddle attachment, for 1 minute.

To assemble, spread the sweet potato mixture in the pie shell. Smooth with a spatula, Place the toasted walnuts on the top of the potato mixture and gently pour syrup mixture on top.

Place in the oven, being careful not to spill, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the center is firm and jiggle-free. Place on a rack or countertop for an hour. Refrigerate overnight.

To prepare cranberry glaze, place all glaze ingredients in a 2-quart saucepot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the cranberries become fully tender and start to break apart. Texture should be thickened to a syrupy consistency.

Set aside. Can be served slightly warm or fully chilled.

— Recipe from Carmine’s at the Forum Shops at Caesars


1 cup cranberry sauce

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup orange juice and zest

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped chives

Salt and pepper, to taste

Blend above ingredients in a blender or mix in a bowl with a whisk.

— Recipe from chef Johnny Church, MTO Cafe


½ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)

1 cup finely diced white onion, plus 1 cup finely diced red or white onion (divided use)

2 tablespoons thinly sliced garlic

½ pound raw turkey giblets, rinsed

2½ cups chicken stock

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1½ tablespoons fresh chopped sage

½ cup whole fresh or defrosted frozen cranberries

2 cups cold water

½ cup honey

2 pounds leftover seasoned mashed potatoes

5 extra-large eggs (divided use)

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups seasoned bread crumbs

1 quart canola oil for frying

2 cups leftover turkey gravy

Preheat the ½ cup of olive oil in a 10-inch saute pan. Add 1 cup of onions and brown lightly. Add garlic and brown. Add giblets and saute until nicely brown.

Add chicken stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover; cook for 1 hour.

Remove giblets (reserve) and reduce the sauce until thick. Put giblets in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Place chopped giblets in a small bowl with the reduced sauce and the sage. Reserve.

Place the cranberries, water and honey in a 1-quart saucepan. Simmer for 15 minutes, or just until tender. Remove berries to a small plate to cool. Discard juice.

Preheat a 6-inch saute pan with the 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Add remaining onions and cook on medium until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the cold mashed potatoes, 2 eggs, parsley and cooked onions. Mix well until smooth. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Place flour in one bowl, remaining three eggs, beaten, in another bowl and bread crumbs in a slightly larger bowl.

To prepare balls, place about a tablespoon of the potato mixture in one hand, roll into a ball and then press a hole in the center. Into the hole, place a small amount of the giblet mixture and 2 or 3 cooked cranberries. Top with another tablespoon full of the potato mixture. Re-form into a ball and place on a small sheet pan. Repeat until all potatoes are used up. Refrigerate the potato balls for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Preheat remaining canola oil in a small fryer or a 2-quart sauce pan with high sides. Place a potato ball in the flour, shaking off excess, then in the egg mixture to coat, and then cover completely bread crumbs. Fry the potato balls in the hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes, or until nicely browned.

Remove with metal slotted spoon and place on paper towels to remove excess grease.

Heat the gravy and use as the dipping sauce.

Makes 12 to 15.

— Recipe from Carmine’s at the Forum Shops at Caesars

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at or 702-383-0474.

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