‘I’m a Chef, Don’t Waste Holiday Leftovers—Try These 5 Tasty Meal Ideas’

I love eating; when I was younger, I realized that the best way to continuously eat was to follow my grandma into her kitchen and help her cook. Seeing the happiness that food can bring people in any situation is also what inspired me. To me, food, community, and happiness go hand in hand.

I first became a chef when I worked in a pub when I was 17 years old. After being a waitress for a little while, I asked the manager if I could work in the kitchen, as I really wanted to make food. Whilst I was there, I found an apprenticeship in a Michelin-star restaurant in Birmingham, where I am from. Since then, I have been working as a professional chef for ten years.

Poppy O’Toole became a chef when she was 17 years old.

For the past few years, I have been able to teach people how to cook, and within that, I want to show that cooking doesn’t have to be serious. It can be fun and bring everyone together. This Christmas, my partner and I hosted a pre-Christmas party for our friends because we are going to France for Christmas. So, I cooked Christmas dinner earlier this year. There are a few common Christmas leftovers that I would usually reuse the following day.

1. Turkey

There’s always some part of a turkey that is left over after Christmas dinner. Recently, I have loved eating Birria tacos because I find them delicious. So, what I would do with the leftover turkey is make a Birria taco sauce for it using different chili pastes and ancho chilies. I then get a little tomato puree and some stock and add the leftover turkey meat to the sauce, and leave it on a very low heat until the turkey absorbs the moisture and becomes tender again.

I’d then add some chopped onions and coriander to the mix, and put it into some tacos. Although the tacos contain turkey, the recipe is so different from what one would usually eat on Christmas day. That’s why I think it’s a wonderful Boxing Day recipe.

Poppy O'Toole Turns Christmas Leftovers Into Meals
Poppy O’Toole suggests turning leftover Christmas turkey into Birria Tacos. Stock images.
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2. Vegetables

I feel that a lot of people, including myself, always have vegetables such as parsnips and carrots left over after Christmas dinner. I’d usually turn them into a Japanese pancake, which is called Okonomiyaki.

I would finely chop the leftover carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and remaining vegetables that you have, and mix them into a typical pancake batter using egg, flour, baking powder, and seasoning.

After frying the pancakes for one to two minutes on either side, they will be very crispy. I like to eat them with Okonomiyaki sauce, which is made up of ketchup, soy sauce, honey, and sesame oil, which gives it a sweet and salty taste. Adding a poached egg on top of it would also be great. This recipe only takes twenty minutes to make, and it’s great for breakfast and brunch.

Poppy O'Toole Turns Christmas Leftovers Into Meals
Poppy O’Toole turns vegetables into Japanese pancakes. Stock images.
Getty Images

3. Potatoes

It wouldn’t be a Christmas dinner without leftover potatoes. People can mash them into hash browns for breakfast, which I think has been done a few times before. Instead, I think it would be great to make a well known British snack called a Cornish pasty. This is made by putting the potatoes into a shortcrust or puff pastry that you can buy from a bakery or grocery store. You put in a filling and then seal the pastry into half moon shapes and bake according to the specific packet instructions for the pastry.

Of course, leftover gravy is great to use in here, too.

Poppy O'Toole Turns Christmas Leftovers Into Meals
Poppy O’Toole turns leftover potatoes into a pasty. Stock images.
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I’d also recommend putting leftover bits of meat in the pasty too, as well as a chopped and fried onion. The potatoes work well in a pasty as it gives it a little bit of crunch, too. If you’ve got a family, you can get your kids involved here, or even do a bake-off. If you are making a few, this would take roughly an hour to make.

4. Stuffing

Sausage stuffing is very easy to make and it’s great for a quick meal. Usually, people make sausage stuffing using sausage meat, and sometimes stuff it in a Turkey or serve it on the side at Christmas.

For breakfast, the morning after Christmas, I would usually re-crumble turkey stuffing and fry it for four minutes until it is golden so that it is a sausage. Usually, I fry an egg on top and serve it as a breakfast meal.

Poppy O'Toole Turns Christmas Leftovers Into Meals
Poppy O’Toole turns leftover Christmas stuffing into sausage filling. Stock images.
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5. Minced Pies

For dessert, I like to turn leftover minced pies into a cheesecake. I use the pastry from the minced pie as a biscuit base for the cheesecake. I then scoop out the minced meat from the pie and mix it in mascarpone, cream cheese, or double cream.

I sometimes also put a little bit of Brandy or Sherry in there, and then leave it to set for a few hours. It’s also light on the stomach, so it doesn’t make you feel like you have eaten too much, and it’s one of my partners’ favorite recipes.

Poppy O'Toole Turns Christmas Leftovers Into Meals
Poppy O’Toole turns minced pies into a cheesecake. Stock images.
Getty Images

I love Christmas food, and of my favorite parts about Christmas for me is baking the turkey. I love when people say, “This is the best turkey I’ve ever had,” because I use a very special method. The feeling of bringing people together through cooking is good.

Poppy O’Toole is a professional chef, and a judge on Young MasterChef, airing on January 2nd on BBC Three and Player. You can find out more about her here.

All views expressed in this essay are the author’s own.

As told to Newsweek associate editor, Carine Harb.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at myturn@newsweek.com

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