So, I actually made all the traditional Thanksgiving foods earlier in this week because my boyfriend Justin is driving home to Arkansas today to enjoy the holiday with his family tomorrow. Justin can be a picky eater, which means I always need to be creative with leftovers as he doesn’t like having the same thing twice in a row…but I can repurpose ingredients in different ways to make new meals he’ll like. I also try to keep things interesting for him, since he ends up having two holidays (one here in Chicago with me…and one with his family a few days later) and I like doing something different from what his mother’s going to cook.
I found a smart way to avoid even having leftovers to begin with by approaching each meal strategically and deciding what I’m going to do with all the food well in advance; this way, nothing’s ever wasted and I don’t have to scramble to think of things to do with all the stuff in the refrigerator before it goes bad. I also can save a lot of money on groceries by shopping according to a multi-day plan (my budget is $10/day for the two of us and I achieve this with no problems even during holidays by treating things like Thanksgiving foods as a 3-day cooking event instead of just one giant, expensive meal).
On Monday, I made all the traditional Thanksgiving foods the classic way: turkey and sweet potatoes (cooked in a crock pot I bought a few weeks ago and have been experimenting with), cranberry sauce (nothing fancy…just right out of a can), green beans, and stuffing (Stove Top, out of the box…just like mom used to make back in Cleveland). When all the food was ready, I divided it up for the next few days according to my plan: the first day we’d eat it normally, the second day we’d have Thanksgiving Sandwiches, and the last day (today) we’d enjoy a Thanksgiving Pizza.
This might be basic for a lot of you, but it was a revelation to me when I started doing it a few years ago: taking the time as soon as the food is ready to portion it out for the next few days is a great time and energy saver. Literally, while I am plating up our food for today’s meal I am also carving it all up and putting it into bowls for the next few days too. I don’t like Tupperware so I just use large serving bowls and aluminum foil to set things aside…and I never have any problems because I’m going to use all this stuff in the coming days. I keep any sauces or things that shouldn’t be mixed together in separate containers, covered and sealed for when I’m going to use them. But taking the time as soon as the food is all ready to reserve things for future meals feels like much less work than putting everything away after we’ve eaten. It just feels like part of the cooking process when I do it BEFORE we sit down to eat…as opposed to it being part of the laborious cleanup process after dinner.
Another tip I picked up years ago when working for a chef here in Chicago is something you might already do in your house (but if not, you should start today): clean as you go, in terms of the pots and utensils you use…so that when you’re done cooking there’s no giant mess or stack of pans in the sink. Justin still doesn’t know why I do this, as he’s used to having to wash a bunch of pots and things at his house after his mother’s done making dinner…but there’s no mess when I cook because as soon as something’s out of a pan then the pan is scrubbed, dried, and put away where it belongs. No mess means less work for me later in the day.
Thanksgiving Sandwiches have been around for about a decade or so, with chains like Cosi or Potbelly here in Chicago featuring them every holiday season. Literally, they are “Thanksgiving in a Sandwich”…with leftovers from the Thanksgiving meal assembled into a sandwich using whatever bread you happen to like. I like shopping at a store called Dominick’s that features a very good bakery…and they always have interesting breads to choose from that are baked right there in the store. For our Thanksgiving Sandwiches yesterday I used an asiago cheese bread…but in the past I’ve used French bread, cheddar bread, or any of the other kinds they have. It’s whatever you like, really. And then you just layer the Thanksgiving ingredients you have onto the bread in the way that you like. I start with the cranberry sauce, then I add the turkey, and I put some potatoes and green beans or whatever’s there on top of that. And it’s a simple and easy sandwich that has all the Thanksgiving flavors for the day after we had the big, classic meal.
The idea of a Thanksgiving Pizza is something that I first encountered here in Boystown at a little restaurant called Pie Hole, which was originally located at Roscoe and Halsted in the heart of the city’s strip of gay bars. Pie Hole has since relocated and seems more mainstream these days…but once upon a time it was a very eclectic and lively place that featured a different holiday-themed pizza every month. November’s was always “Thanksgiving Pizza”, which fascinated me and gave me all sorts of ideas to try at home. In the years since I’ve seen different Food Network shows present Thanksgiving Pizzas…and everyone does it a little differently.
Pie Hole used gravy for the pizza sauce…which is something I don’t do, mainly because I don’t like gravy and that was never part of Thanksgiving at my house growing up (as my mother didn’t like gravy either). Instead of gravy, we’d always have cranberry sauce with the turkey…so that’s the sauce I use as the base for my version of the Thanksgiving Pizza.
I invite you to alter the recipe you’ll find below to incorporate the things you make for Thanksgiving and how your own family likes to celebrate the holiday. What’s great about a pizza is that there’s very little chance of it being bad, no matter what you add or subtract. One solid rule in life is that if it’s a pizza, chances are it will be delicious…or at least edible (though you should always strive for delicious). I think your family will love having something new and fun to do with your Thanksgiving leftovers…even if like me you decide ahead of time that you’re going to make a Thanksgiving pizza and reserve the ingredients to do this…so it’s less “leftover” than it is “reserved for this purpose ahead of time”.
Thanksgiving Pizza Recipe:
NOTE: As detailed above, I’m writing this assuming you have made all the traditional Thanksgiving foods and have either put some aside for the express purpose of making a Thanksgiving Pizza the next day (or two days later) or you have Thanksgiving items leftover and are looking for something to do with them. So we’re going to operate with the assumption that you have almost everything you need to do this already. The only exception might be the pizza dough.
If you aren’t someone who makes his/her own pizza dough at home you might be intimidated by it…I know I was the first time I thought about trying it, but it’s a GREAT way to save a lot of money. After trying a lot of different recipes and having varying degrees of success with them, I realized my favorite recipe of all was THIS ONE...which is a homemade approximation of the Papa John’s pizza dough. If you don’t want to make your own dough then you can buy pizza dough at your local grocery store; different stores have it in different places so ask someone if you can’t find it (but here in Chicago it’s almost always either by the cheeses or it’s with the cooked pasta/Italian foods cooler where you’ll also find different fancy meats and cheeses). You can also use those Boboli pizza shells they have ready-to-use that are okay (but you sacrifice some flavor for the convenience of using one of these…and they are more expensive than making the dough yourself).
STEP ONE: Make up your dough and get that ready to put into the oven just like you’d make any pizza. I make all pizzas at 450 degrees and need to heat up the oven in our apartment for a few minutes so things turn out the way I want them. Adjust this to however your own stove works.
STEP TWO: While the oven is heating, you can get the cranberry sauce ready for the pizza. Some of you will hate how I describe a recipe because I don’t measure things…I just eyeball them. I take the cranberry sauce and put it into a small sauce pan and I judge how much of it I have…if I need to stretch out the sauce and I don’t have another can of it leftover I just use either wine or orange juice to make more of the sauce. You have to be careful doing this because you don’t want the sauce to be too liquid…but you also don’t want it so viscose that it’s clumpy and doesn’t spread over the whole pizza. I make a lot of pot roasts so there’s usually a box of cheap-o Franzia burgundy or cabernet in the house that I use when cooking…and a little of this (about a 1/4 cup or less) is usually enough to add to the cranberry sauce in the pan to turn it into a pizza sauce. Don’t worry about the alcohol…it burns off as you cook the sauce on a low flame until it starts to boil and then you let it simmer a bit until it’s a nice consistency. If you don’t have wine, use orange juice. The idea is to get the cranberry sauce to be the consistency of a regular pizza sauce (or a BBQ sauce if you like making BBQ pizzas).
STEP THREE: Once the sauce is ready the oven should be hot enough for you to put the pizza dough in. I bake the pizza crust for 5-10 minutes or so and eyeball it to make sure it’s ready to top. Don’t sauce it until it’s baked a little first because it won’t turn out right that way (a mistake I learned the hard way).
STEP FOUR: After the dough has baked into a crust, take the pizza out and sauce it with the cranberry sauce the way you would normally sauce a pizza with tomato sauce. I like to add the turkey next, and I sprinkle that around the pizza so that every piece will have a nice helping of turkey breast pieces. The next thing I add is the Gorgonzolla cheese…but you could use asiago or provolone if you like those instead. Cheddar might be good as well, but I think the Gorgonzolla goes the best with the turkey and the cranberry sauce. Cheese is not a normal part of a Thanksgiving meal so you can take creative license with this as you like. Goat cheese might be interesting too, but it’s overpowering so I’d be careful if you go there.
STEP FIVE: Next up is the more controversial additions to a Thanksgiving Pizza that some of you might be reluctant to try…but trust me, they really do add to the flavor profile. My boyfriend Justin is the kind of guy who thinks he won’t like something if he hears the ingredients…but then ends up loving it when he tastes it. He wanted nothing to do with Thanksgiving Pizza until he actually tried some, and of course he loved it. One of the big things he resisted was the sweet potatoes and marshmallows I put on the pizza…but when the marshmallows melt in the oven they add these little firecracker pops of sweetness that complement the tartness of the cranberries. The sweet potatoes add a nice texture here and there, too…and I like the orange coloring they give when sprinkled around the pizza. I try to always keep at least three vibrant colors in anything I’m making…and this Thanksgiving Pizza ends up looking gorgeous with the red of the cranberries, the orange of the sweet potatoes, the white of the turkey meat and the Gorgonzolla, and then the green of chopped up green beans (if I have them) to add another little accent color. I never put too many sweet potatoes or marshmallows on the pizza…just a little here and there so that every slice will have a bite of it and it will be a little “wow” moment that people might not be expecting.
STEP SIX: When I make the stuffing, I leave a little to the side uncooked for the Thanksgiving Pizza. I actually buy Stove Top Stuffing and use it as croutons in salad because I like how flavorful it is (and it’s actually cheaper than buying regular croutons, oddly enough). I like sprinkling the Thanksgiving Pizza with the uncooked, dry Stove Top stuffing croutons as the final step before it goes into the oven…but if you are reading this and don’t have any uncooked Stove Top you can use the cooked stuff too and sprinkle that around the pizza. The uncooked, dry stuffing just adds a nice crunch to the pizza here and there…which is a fun texture to have. I think the stuffing really makes it feel like Thanksgiving.
STEP SEVEN: Bake the pizza to your liking. This should be about 5 minutes. Justin likes his pizza very well done and I like mine less done, so I have to find a compromise for us. I’m sure that’s true at your house too.
I’ve never had anyone not like Thanksgiving Pizza…though 90% of people think it’s odd when they first hear about it. 99% of them fight me on the marshmallows because they just can’t imagine that tasting good…and 100% of them end up admitting they were wrong and that — yes — the marshmallows here and there combined with the tartness of the cranberries really is something special.
The Pie Hole pizza joint was also famous for many years for making an “After School Special” pizza that had sausage and marshmallows on it (which is another pizza I love that Justin resisted for about a year until I finally made it one day and left it on the stove, not telling him what it was…and he ate it and loved it…and had to admit the marshmallow and sausage combination was a winner).
If you try a Thanksgiving Pizza this year, be sure to let us know how it turned out. I really like finding fun ways to use leftovers so that food’s not wasted and I can save money on groceries. I kept track of what I spent making Thanksgiving foods for Justin and myself and it broke down to something like:
* Turkey = $12 (for a butterball half breast that I cooked in the crock pot)
* Cranberry Sauce = $2 for 2 cans
* Sweet Potatoes = I already had these in the fridge, but they are about $1 a potato and I used three potatoes…so that’s $3
* Green Beans = $4 for a large bag (that I already had)
* Stove Top Stuffing = $1 for a box (which I already had)
* Marshmallows = $1 for a small bag (which I already had…and a bag lasts a long time since I use so few of them)
So, that’s $23 to make the Thanksgiving meal on Monday…and then I stretched that to actually cover three meals between Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. All I had to buy after that was:
* Bread = $2 for an asiago cheese loaf from Dominick’s (to make the Thanksgiving Sandwiches)
* Pizza Dough = bought from Dominick’s this time because I didn’t have time to make my own today (it was about $3.50)
So, I easily brought dinner in under budget for Justin and myself Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday by just planning ahead to stretch the Thanksgiving cooking over these three days.
I take a lot of pride in making creative, interesting things for the two of us on a very tight budget…and I really like when a holiday presents itself as a chance to do something unique, fun, and different one week like a Thanksgiving Pizza that I know Justin won’t have when he’s down in Arkansas with his parents for the actual Thanksgiving holiday.
UPDATE – Someone in comments asked me to create recipes page on HB to collect some of the foods I talk about over and over and include recipes for them. I’m really touched there’s an interest like this in making the stuff that Justin, my friends, and I love so I am happy to oblige this. It will take me a while to write-up all the recipes but I hope to fill out this page in the weeks ahead. I think I will use the weekends to do this and will just write these up as I make them for Justin and myself. You can access this page at the top under the ADVENTURE tab or by clicking HERE.
Please tell me in comments below on this page or on the Recipes page if you want to know a recipe for anything in particular and I can add it to the list of things I need to write-up.
© 2012, Kevin DuJan. All rights reserved.
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