No, I'm not talking about actual lemonade. It's just a play on the philosophy of taking life's little lemons and turning them into something we like better. During the holidays, most of us go to seasonal parties and holiday themed events with our friends and with the companies we work for. As most have likely noticed over the years, the theme of the table fare is usually a bit repetitive, and it's often on the heavy side due to the traditions from whence it came. By the time we prepare our own holiday meals as well, it can all seem so overdone that we get burned out, and we're utterly disinterested in the leftovers. Yet if we've depleted our bank accounts and our cards have bad friction burns, as is often the case, it can be really beneficial for us to find more palatable uses for them, if for no other reason than to give ourselves a little less financial burden with our grocery bill over the next few weeks, in order to recover financially just a little more quickly.
Fresh fruits and vegetables some of the least expensive foods in the grocery store, and a lot of them come in quantities: in bunches, bundles, bags, or baskets. Because of this we almost always default to the notion that it's better to have and not need than need and not have, and we end up with extras. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing since they're also among the healthiest foods in the store. Most of us could probably stand a few more servings of them daily than we take in anyway, we just sometimes need to be a little creative with them to avoid the burned-out-doldrums after eating so many of them cooked nearly the same way at so many meals. Luckily the the same types of foods are used by different cultures all around the globe, and by perusing a few cookbooks, or even online cooking websites, we see they can be used in lots of ways to achieve completely different appearances, textures, and flavors than just the ones we know and are used to.
Of course, given all the cold season traditions, there will likely be some roast beasts in the mix. I grew up on a working farm, so I do have some vegetarian tendencies, especially in the growing season when it gets very hot here in the south, and having blood too thick from lipids can be a very bad idea when you work outdoors. My oldest daughter is a true vegan these days, but her sister and I are definitely omnivores. It just so happens that I prefer fowl, fish, and small game over beef, large game, and other red meats, and for me sandwiches made from slices of turkey breast are never a bad thing. It's something I make for lunches for my daughter and I quite often all year long. So during the holidays, with the whole bird available and so many people preferring the white meat anyway, I tend to go for the thighs and wings and save the leftover breast meat for later. For those who don't really care for the darker meats, the sliced breast is too much like every holiday dinner they've attended recently, and between work, friends and family, and their own they've been to a fair few of them by the end of the season. This is one of the reasons I don't usually pre-slice all the breast meat when I carve the fowl, because I don't like saving the turkey breast in thin slices that get all dried out by the time the dinner is over. I leave the bird as whole as possible, then cut all of it into as big of pieces as possible. Then I freeze most of it for other recipes at a later time.
My youngest loves chef's salads with the full complement of ingredients, it's one of her favorite meals any time of the year. I make at least two a week for her lunch all year long, and sometimes twice in a week during the school year to fuel her brain as well as I can. I just vary the toppings some and change up dressings to keep it interesting. So her school lunch the Monday following Thanksgiving is usually the first place some of the turkey breast gets used in large cubes. When it's tossed with all the greens and other toppings, and coated with her favorite vinaigrette, it tastes completely different than the turkey and dressing dinners and she has no complaints at all.
The leftover meats can be used in lots of recipes that are much different than how it was originally served. My favorites are to make sauces with it and various vegetables, and seasonings that are completely different from the savory flavors used in the original dinners. For example with turkey and dressing, here in the south anyway, there is usually a prominent presence of sage and poultry seasonings along with thyme and salt and pepper. So afterwards I tend to use more intense herbs and seasonings like Bay Leaf, Oregano, Garlic, Cilantro, Rosemary, and maybe some peppers for good measure. Sometimes I lean more toward an Italian influence, other times I go for more of a Latin flavor. Either way the point is just to differ it from its origin. These sauces are really easy to make. The first step is to simmer the vegetabes herbs and spices in a few cups of stock to tenderize them. I like to use chicken broth for fowl, beef broth for roasts, and pork broth with ham, but I have also used vegetable stock with all of them to lighten the taste and that works fine as well for my tastes. When the veggies and herbs are softened, make a slurry of corn starch in a small amount of cold water or cold stock (hot liquid will make the corn starch clump very badly) using roughly one heaping tablespoon of corn starch for every two cups of broth simmering in the pot. Maintain a low boil with the stock and stir in the slurry. Stir the mixture very well and let it continue to simmer. You will see the mixture thicken up over the next few minutes. Once it has reached peak thickness, add in the meat. If the sauce is too thick to suit your tastes, just add a small amount of stock to thin it. If it's too thin, add another small amount of slurry to thicken it.
Once made this sauce can be used a number of ways. A thick and hardy sauce, with big chunks of meats and vegetables makes a great filling for a pot pie. A slightly thinner sauce is great for serving over pasta. One of our favorites is a poultry version off Stroganoff. I prefer to use crushed mustard seed instead of Dijon mustard in my versions but either will work. In this case I used extra wide egg noodles as they are my favorite, but pretty much any pasta you like will do.
If you're more into the near-eastern flavors, you can always go with really flavorful seasonings like turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, and chilies to make something more curry-like. There really are a lot of different choices to change things up and avoid the leftover doldrums. And any way you want to use it up to save on your food bill, is better than just tossing it out and letting it go to waste.
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Brian Griffin is an author, photographer, wilderness and survival skills teacher, knife enthusiast, outdoor gear researcher and product development consultant. He has a decades-long history of using and developing outdoor related tools and gear.