Count on leftovers: The best way to store, reheat and reuse leftovers after the holiday

Published 6:17 am Wednesday, November 21, 2018


Boyle County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences

One of the best things about the holidays is all the food. Oftentimes, the abundance of food results in many, many leftovers. Just like uncooked food, leftovers can cause a foodborne illness if you don’t properly handle them. Taking proper food safety precautions will help you get the most from leftovers.

Email newsletter signup

Have a plan for how you are going to use those leftovers and stock up on grocery items like noodles, broth and relishes, which can help you reuse your leftovers in new ways. Holiday meals can be sort of a practice run for meal prepping. Look for recipes you can use turkey meat and other side dishes in new ways to create pre-made meals in advance.

Refrigerate any leftovers within two hours after preparation. Discard any perishable food that’s been out in room temperature for more than two hours. Keep in mind if you’re going to save leftovers by freezing them, have freezer safe containers on hand. For example, freezer bags are heavier than storage bags. They are designed to keep food fresh in the freezer you end up with a better quality product.

Although you can safely store hot food in a refrigerator, you can help the food cool quicker by dividing it into small containers. For turkey and other meats, it is best to remove all the meat from the bone and place it in shallow containers or small zipper bags.

You can leave the legs and wings whole. Store the meat in the refrigerator if you plan to eat it within the next three or four days, or freeze it if you’re unsure. Frozen leftovers should be consumed within four months. Store leftover stuffing and gravy separately from the meat.

When you are ready to eat the leftovers, use a food thermometer to make sure you reheat the food to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. When reheating sauces, soups and gravies, make sure they come to a full rolling boil. If you are reheating your leftovers with a microwave, check to make sure there are no cold spots in the food where bacteria could have survived. Cover, stir and rotate the food for even heating in the microwave.

If you are in need of a food thermometer call (859) 236-4484, mention this article and get a free one while supplies last.

Turkey bone broth

Turkey carcass and all bones from leftover turkey

2 coarsely chopped carrots

1 celery rib with leaves, chopped

1 onion chopped

1 clove of minced garlic

1/4 cup chopped parsley with stems

1 teaspoon peppercorns

1 bay leaf

Water or canned chicken broth (if you are short on bones)

Break up turkey bones and place in a large pot. Add remaining ingredients and cover with 2 quarts water or canned chicken or combination of the two. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook, skimming for 2 hours. Strain and boil down to one quart.

Turkey black bean wraps

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups chopped, leftover turkey

2 green bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch diced (about 2 cups)

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 10-ounce can tomatoes with green chiles

1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chili powder

12 flour tortillas

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add bell peppers, garlic, oregano and cumin; cook, stirring, until pepper softens, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, beans and vinegar; cook, stirring occasionally until thickened, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon olive oil in a skillet; add turkey and sprinkle with chili powder. Heat and stir for about 5 minutes. Cover and set aside. With back of spoon, coarsely mash some of the beans. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Heat tortillas in a dry skillet or microwave. Spoon bean filing onto tortillas and layer with seasoned turkey. Wrap and serve.

Mashed herb potato soup

1/2 teaspoon crumbled, dried rosemary

1 teaspoon crumbled, dried thyme

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup minced onion

1 small rib of celery including the leaves, minced

1 carrot, grated coarsely

2 cups unsalted chicken broth or stock (fresh or canned)

2 1/2 cups leftover mashed potatoes

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced

In a small dry skillet toast the rosemary and thyme until fragrant, do not burn. Shake the skillet and heat for about 3 minutes. Set aside. In a large saucepan sauté the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil over moderately low heat for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the broth or stock and bring to a boil.Break potatoes up with a fork. Using a wire whisk, add potatoes a half cup at a time. Continue whisking until smooth, reduce to a simmer and add toasted herbs, lemon juice and fresh parsley.Taste soup and add salt and black pepper if desired.

For more food safety information, contact Alethea Price, County Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences at the Boyle County Extension office. Email me at