There you are, in the car, on the train or on the bus, stuffed, sleepy – and toting leaky plates piled high with turkey and all the trimmings. And, once you get the food home, you have to figure out what to do with it all.
Not to worry. With the right storing and creative prep tips, you can raise the bar and turn boring holiday leftovers into exciting new cuisine options, such as:
• Tossing cooked vegetables into a stir-fry
• Topping a ready-made pizza crust with shredded turkey
• Whipping sweet potatoes into a peanut butter cookie mix
• Boiling cranberry sauce into a syrupy topping for ice cream
• Stirring cranberry relish into yogurt for breakfast
Pack Up Correctly
Ensure that before you leave, the leftover food that’s been packed up especially for you has been adequately refrigerated. Also, consider bringing your own tote bag, quart-size freezer-weight storage bags and an ice pack to keep everything cold on the way home. An ice chest in the back seat or trunk of the car is a good idea as well. Double-bag everything to trap any leaks or spills.
Properly freezing foods calls for some special techniques – and they’re worth it.
Freezing lets you enjoy your food a week or two later, deliciously as is or recycled, instead of boringly repeated for days after. A favorite holiday tool is the freezer-weight storage bag. They’re sturdier than regular bags, and can be made airtight by gently squeezing out any air bubbles in the food.
Remember that when dealing with the freezer, air is the enemy. It can cause freezer burn, which leads to dry food.
Another enemy: Ice crystals that form in frozen food. Large crystals will ruin the food’s texture. The quicker the freeze, the smaller the crystals, Jacobi said. To do this, let the food cool, chill in the refrigerator, then freeze. Dividing larger foods, a lasagna, say, into serving-size portions will aid in freezing fast — and thawing more quickly.
Speaking of thawing, don’t use a microwave. It’s an invitation to disgusting food because the outside usually overcooks by the time the inside defrosts. Instead, try using bowls of cold water to thaw frozen packets quickly and evenly.
“Change the water every 15-20 minutes until the food is thawed, up to 60 minutes,” she said. “It’s great for soups, stews, turkey in gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes. It’s not for stuffing or green bean casserole; I recommend the refrigerator for that.”
Officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service say leftovers can be safely left out at room temperature for two hours (one hour if the temp is above 90 degrees). They recommend putting leftovers into shallow containers and immediately refrigerating or freezing to cool food down. Use most cooked leftovers stowed in the refrigerator within three to four days, the USDA says.