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Try something different and use that leftover turkey to make tamales, which freeze well and are just right for Christmas Eve Mexican dinner.


The day is finally here. It’s the day any food writer worth his or her salt shaker looks forward to more than the other 364. Thanksgiving is the feast to end all feasts. Mardi Gras may be the day to lay your liver on the line, but Thanksgiving is the day to lay it all on your belt line.

Eating your way through a holiday usually ends with more to regret than there is to be thankful for, but I have never woken up on Black Friday and thought it wasn’t worth it. It’s always worth it. I don’t mean to be gluttonous, but the food is so good that I appreciate the fact that we don’t do it all year long.

The dressing is my weakness. My mom’s corn casserole, giblet gravy, deviled eggs, sweet potatoes, pies … oh, the cranberry sauce! Don’t change a thing, ma. It’s been perfect for decades! But yes, it would kill me if we did it more than once a year.

I couldn’t take frying turkeys at 8 a.m., beers in hand, with my 110-pound brother (I don’t know why we call him Big Al) any more than annually. We don’t see the point in going through the fuss to fry only one. Usually we cook somewhere in the neighborhood of three to five. A man can spread the beer out better that way. You may time your bird at 3.5 minutes per pound, but we have long since figured out how many beers are required for a 14 pounder. If you guess 14, you’re wrong, but we have usually solved the world’s problems around turkey number three.

I get super excited every time this issue of the paper comes around; I always want to avoid repeating myself, but I don’t want anything to change. This is my one holiday I will fight for. This is the one about which I’m most obstinate. My pigheadedness for Thanksgiving is certainly about the food (despite a lack of pig at the table, save a bit of sausage in the rice), but the real star of the show is family.

As much as I love the food it’s the family I crave more. I mentioned the rituals my brother and I have adopted over the past few years, but what good would Thanksgiving be if my sister weren’t there? I couldn’t lovingly harass her for being the last to show up for lunch and the first to pounce on the deviled eggs, not to mention her hoarding the canned crescent rolls. She could easily snuff my taunts by flying straighter. I hope she never does.

My mother, Khaki, the matriarch for the past nine years — who perhaps is the only one who understands how important this day is to me — unflinchingly will not entertain the idea of this meal leaving her table. We tried it once in the past 44 years. It wasn’t the same.

Aesthetically her china, the place settings, the chairs and the good silver add to the aura of it all and I don’t feel the same without it. Those things typically don’t mean anything to a guy like me, content to have dinner on the ground with paper and plasticware, but on this day they do. It’s Khaki’s moment to shine.

We tease her because she seems to never eat, only tending to babies, refilling drinks and making sure the big kids’ table has what it needs. I don’t know that we’ve ever seen her eat. It’s not like the mom in “A Christmas Story,” who is pulled in all directions against her will. It’s more by design. Does she have an odd eating habit? Is her dessert/protein/vegetable ratio embarrassingly out of whack? What could she be hiding from us?

Maybe she grazes when she cooks, but this year I am going to sit and watch her clean her plate, the reverse role of a mother to a son, the progeny who now worries his parent will neither appreciate her meal nor be healthy until every bit is gone.

In an attempt to not sound like a broken record, I’m avoiding a long list of what to do with leftovers. We’ve played that game. This year I’m focused on one leftover trick our house has never had: turkey tamales. The best part about them is if you’ve grown tired of turkey sandwiches, gumbo, tetrazzini and turkey a la king, but still have leftover bird, then these are perfect. Tamales freeze well and are just right for Christmas Eve Mexican dinner (hi, Betsy!). Bonus is the whole fam can be involved, assembly-line style.

A large pack of dried husks lasts me a year. Soak 20 or so in hot water before you get started.

• 3 cups masa cornmeal

• 1 cup shortening

• 2 cups chicken (or turkey) broth

• Shredded turkey leftovers

• Chopped onion

• Chili powder and cumin to taste

• Dried corn husks soaked for 2 hours

Once the husks are pliable we will basically make a skillet stew of turkey and onions. Garlic is great if you wish. Saute the onion in a bit of oil. Once soft, add the turkey and season with chili powder and cumin. Hopefully your bird is salty enough. If not, you know what to do. Add enough water or stock to cover and simmer until all is moist.

In a mixing bowl beat shortening and add a little masa at a time as well as the chicken broth, until the mixture has a spongy consistency. You may not use all of the broth.

Pat dry the corn husks and spread the dough mixture to a ½ inch thickness. Place a tablespoon of meat filling in the center, roll them up and fold the ends toward the middle. Steam these for about an hour. Serve them with your leftover turkey chili.

Have fun with this recipe and get creative. Tamales rule. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!