All of the focus this time of year is on the Thanksgiving meal. However, in my mind, the leftovers are the thing.
Of course, I don’t mean to minimize the importance of The Main Event. The triumphant withdrawal of Big Bird from the oven; the care and devotion to the creation of the perfect gravy; the in-kitchen show of carving the bird with the inherent snacking on slivers of crispy skin and thigh meat (oops, that fell on the counter! We’ll just have to take care of that!); and the multiple trips back and forth delivering steaming dishes of delicious family favorites to the dining table. At last we are all seated, aprons removed, hair combed, and we start to joke that none of the ladies had time to put on any makeup *again* this year. We say grace, one of two times this nonsecular utterance occurs, and despite 50% of us at the table being nonobservant, it is always a moving and bonding moment. Then, the fun begins! Turkey! Stuffing! Mashed potatoes! Sweet potato souffle! With orange sauce! Getman cabbage (it’s tradition). Gravy over everything! Aspic salad! It is all so delectable, so perfectly prepared, so appreciatively consumed. But never more so than the following day. The first turkey sandwich.
I seriously wait *all year* for that turkey sandwich. This year, around 11 am I started watching the clock, ticking down the minutes to my beloved sandwich. I even played it ever so nonchalantly to the casual observer. I took a leisurely shower. I knitted a sock. I stretched. And at 12:15 pm Pacific Standard Time I announced, rather offhandedly, “Hmm, I’m feeling a little peckish. Would anyone like a turkey sandwich?”
Without really waiting for any answers I pounced on the leftovers in the fridge, feverishly pulling out the bird, jellied cranberry sauce, the dressing – the good bag with the dressing from *inside* the bird, mmm – and the mayonnaise. I sliced sourdough leftover from our Turkey-eve crabfest. I assembled the perfect combination of light and dark meat with a smidgeon of ultraflavorful skin. The sandwiches were so fat that I had to wrap them in wax paper.
We assembled in the normally blazing lit family room, now dim from a storm, hearing the rain drum on the roof and watching the raindrops plink in the birdbath. We attack. There is no conversation.
There is only this space in time, this combination of flavors, the chewing…. Ahhhhh….
Mom tells us the story how Grandpa B asked her one day-after-Thanksgiving as she was packing up us kids for the 7 hour drive home if she would like some sandwiches for the road. “Sure, Daddy, that would be nice.” (I love it that she always called him Daddy.) Somewhere around Coalinga she opened the sack of sandwiches, and there they were, this assembly of turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce. It was divine. And it still is.
We feasted on Thanksgiving Dinner Parts 1 through 3, and perhaps enjoyed these postscripts even more than the first night. Then I suggested that we perhaps assemble a turkey pot pie for Night 4? I was asked to elaborate on my idea. The Council deliberated, then concurred, there was to be a turkey pot pie.
But not just any pot pie, shades of Swanson or of even Marie Callendar’s. Our pot pie would be a symphony of turkeyness, a compilation of moist nuggets of brined, herb butter roasted meat, savory chunks of winter vegetables, bound with leftover gravy and crowned with buttermilk biscuits. My sis found a great recipe for roasted pear and blue cheese salad in her local paper. Our menu was complete.
Now, I realize that few other people in this world will have access to a quart of turkey gravy to the degree of perfection such as my mom creates. I cry for you. Someday my family will allow me to share with the world the 30 minute plus FlipVideo I shot of mom making gravy this year. But until that day you will have to make do with the gravy you have on hand. And I am sorry if this sounds smug. But really. Mom’s gravy is truly exceptional, exquisite even. One could seriously serve it it a cream soup dish with a spoon and people would forget all about the turkey. But if you love your gravy, more power to you and I sure hope you make too much next year and then make this pot pie.
Operation Pot Pie commenced. My sis stepped out into the dark garden with shears and a flashlight to gather any viable herbs and to hopefully catch a glimpse of the frog that still hadn’t hibernated yet. Mom sauteed sliced mushrooms and thinly sliced leeks in butter while I chopped all the winter veggies I ran across in the crisper into large chunks. I took over the skillet and sautéed the vegetables until they were meltingly tender in the olive oil saved from frying the crispy shallot with rosemary garnish for the Turkey-Day green beans. My sis chopped herbs and passed them to Mom who was assembling the biscuits, then she filled a small bowl with hunks of turkey until it was brimming. We warmed them gently in the gravy and added grinds of pepper. Everything was gently folded together, tasted for seasoning, and tasted several more times just to be absolutely sure it was good (and it was, really, really good) and spread into a large casserole dish. The biscuits, flavored subtly with fresh herbs, were gently laid on top and the pot pie was baked until the biscuits were golden brown on top.
It was hard to wait 10 minutes to avoid molten gravy induced burns.
We dispensed with using forks and spooned up a corner of the herby biscuit and a mound of the rich filling. The sweet and tangy salad was a perfect foil to the pot pie, and the gold medal award-winning local wine went equally well with each dish. Please look for the Van Ruiten Old Vine 2006 Zinfandel at your local wine shop.
Sometimes leftovers surpass the original meal. Our turkey pot pie certainly surpassed the usual defintion of “leftovers”. As PodChef says, “Leftovers are a gift.”
My Family’s Turkey Pot Pie
3 cups turkey, cut into large chunks but small enough to fit comfortably in a soup spoon
1 quart of turkey gravy
1 cup peas
2 cups sliced crimini mushrooms
1 leek, white and light green portions thinly sliced
2 Tbl butter
3 ribs celery
A large onion
2 Tbl shallot and rosemary infused olive oil
4 cloves roasted garlic, minced
Note: these vegetables are what we had on hand, so please use whatever combination and quantity of vegetables you like. We agree that in our family an abundance of carrots and onions are crucial, as is the addition of peas.
In a large skillet, melt the butter and sauté the mushrooms and leeks until tender and remove to a large mixing bowl. Cut celery in half lengthwise and chop into 1″ chunks. Scrub carrots and parsnips well, halve if large and cut into 1″ chunks. Chop onion. Add olive oil and add carrots, celery and parsnip and a dash of water, cover and let steam for 5 minutes. Remove cover and add onions and sauté 5 to 10 minutes mote, or until very tender. Add to the bowl and add peas and garlic. Toss well and season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, heat the gravy in a saucepan and when hot add the turkey. Stir gently and combine with the vegetables, taste again for seasoning (and try not to nibble so much) and pour into a 9×13 casserole.
1/4 c chopped mixed herbs (optional)
1 c AP flour
1 c cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp soda
1 stick butter (1/2 c), chopped or grated
Note: double the recipe for the pot pie or use as is for great breakfast or supper biscuits. We did not double the recipe and wished we had!
In a food processor, place all dry ingredients and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse a few times to combine. Then pour in buttermilk and optional herbs and pulse several times. The dough will be a crumbly mass. Dump onto a floured board and form onto a rough ball with your hands. Using a pastry cutter, divide into 12 (or 24 if doubling) pieces. Gently form these pieces into balls then flatten into discs 3/4″ thick.
Place biscuits on top of warm filling and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown on top and the stew is bubbling.
I am asking my sis to send me the recipe for the salad so I can share it with you here. We punted and used apples instead when we discovered the pears were off, and realized that the apples were better suited for the turkey pot pie. Sometimes all things happen for a reason!
Now I have to wait another year for leftovers…..