Leaving the Leftovers Behind

Come the weekend, the last thing your guests will want is anything with turkey.

November 23, 2005|By ELIZABETH LARGE | ELIZABETH LARGE,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

A lot of people think leftovers are the best part of the Thanksgiving meal. Chances are they aren't the people you're entertaining this holiday weekend.

Whether you have a household full of guests or you decided to have a party while the house is still clean and the silverware polished from Thanksgiving dinner, one thing is certain: You need a meal plan that doesn't involve turkey. Of course, you'll serve turkey sandwiches for Friday's lunch, but by the time you get to Friday or Saturday night, a meal involving leftovers is something only your immediate family will put up with.

The great thing about leftovers, of course, is that the work is mostly done for you, the cook. You're probably exhausted from Thursday's dinner, so whatever you fix needs to be easy but festive. The best holiday meals, says Lisa Ossie of Columbia, who is having people over for brunch Friday, are autumnal without involving the ingredients of the traditional feast.

Ossie is going to serve pumpkin muffins with her Morning After Frittata, filled with spinach, ricotta and hot Italian sausage -- a dish about as far from the flavors of Thanksgiving as you can get.

"It's not at all a Martha Stewart presentation," she says. "No froufrou food, and definitely not turkey! Stay away from the poultry angle and don't use any of the traditional vegetables."

She'll have some sort of citrus with the brunch, perhaps blood oranges or pink grapefruit heated under the broiler. A green salad with gorgonzola, chopped pralines to add a touch of sweetness and a light balsamic vinaigrette will round out the meal. She'll also serve wine and coffee.

"Fresh fruit or mimosas will carry the dessert, or someone will bring something," she says.

Staying away from poultry, as Ossie recommends, is probably a good idea. Carolyn Wille puts it succinctly: "By Saturday, I want a steak, and Friday I'll have seafood."

But the Owings Mills resident does make one exception. The duck and wild mushroom gumbo she creates from an Emeril Lagasse recipe is so good she will even serve it to family and friends the day after Thanksgiving.

"It sounds heavy, but it's not," she says. "It's very flavorful, and you can make it ahead."

Wille is planning to use the soup as a first course, followed by a traditional Maryland crab imperial and an antipasto salad.

The salad is easy. She starts with Italian lunch meats and cheeses and arranges them around the edge of a big platter, then places mixed greens in the middle, as well as whatever vegetables she feels would be good -- asparagus, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, olives.

As for dessert, Wille isn't sure yet, but a favorite of hers is a healthy version of creme brulee. She makes it with skim milk and Egg Beaters, but it still has the traditional burnt sugar topping that she caramelizes with a butane kitchen torch.

"Actually, it tastes pretty good," she says, in spite of the substitutions. Guests who have overindulged at the holiday meal (doesn't everyone?) will appreciate a dessert with fewer calories.

But while some cooks go light for the meals immediately after Thanksgiving, others figure it's the holidays and it's perfectly OK to keep splurging.

Ellie Wang of Baltimore will be having 20 or 25 guests for Thanksgiving dinner this year. She'll serve the meal in the middle of the day, and it will be very traditional. Her Chinese-American mother often added ethnic dishes like stir-fries to the meal, but Wang doesn't.

"I used to say, `I'm an American,'" says Wang. "`I want a pure American dinner.'"

Instead of leftovers tomorrow night, Wang will bring out a big pot of chili, "just because it's the opposite end of the spectrum. I just want something different." (She does use her leftover turkey eventually, perhaps making mock Peking duck by folding turkey and hoisin sauce in tortillas.)

Friday night, she plans to cook a large rib roast with Yorkshire pudding for the seven or eight family members who will be guests for the weekend. The vegetable will probably be brussels sprouts halved and sauteed in butter with crumbled bacon and a pinch of sugar.

"Even people who hate brussels sprouts like them that way," she says.

If all this seems like a lot of work, it's not to someone who loves to cook. "I have 800 cookbooks," says Wang, "and I love the chance to use them."

Not many of us are as ambitious as Wang. Susan Adams, who lives in Reisterstown, is a good cook, but as she says, "Here you've been cooking, cooking, cooking. The last thing you want to do is cook some more."

But for some reason, she says, she's always hungry after a big meal, so she may start the day after Thanksgiving with buttermilk pancakes for breakfast.

"But for dinner I'll probably dial it back," she says.

That means a simple cheese souffle with a salad, a meal that is both light enough and elegant enough that dinner guests won't feel cheated. Or she might make pasta.

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