One of Parker Howard’s first friends in college bet him that he couldn’t last a week as a vegetarian, so the self-proclaimed lover of beef and potatoes took up the challenge.

“In 2006 you were lucky if you could find soy milk in Kroger. You didn’t have an entire wall of plant-based milks that you see now,” Howard recalled. “So I learned to cook out of necessity. I had to learn how to cook everything from scratch.

Not only did Howard stay committed to vegetarianism longer than his college friend, he also became a vegan and went on to work at one of DFW’s premier plant-based restaurants, Spiral Diner

Though they don’t serve any meat or use any animal-derived products, they try to provide an easy entry point to people who enjoy them.

“The goal here is to say, ‘Oh yeah, Uncle Ray, all he eats are steak and potatoes. He’s never going to eat vegan food.’ OK, cool. Let’s bring him down to Spiral Diner,” he said. “And they get here and they eat our nachos or they have pancakes on and they’re like, ‘These are great. This is vegan? How did you do that?’… They can find something on the menu that they’ll enjoy and want to come back.” 

Over the course of 11 years, Howard worked his way up from washing dishes to serving, to cooking and managing before taking on the role of executive chef.

When it comes to making the most out of leftovers, he improvises. 

“It’s all intuition. I’m just like, Oh, what do I have? What can I throw together?” he said. “Like the show ‘Chopped.’ I feel like I’d be really good at that because it’s all just like by the seat of my pants. What can I do to use up these leftovers?” 

Howard tends to eyeball measurements and do things by feeling. For home chefs he recommends using your resources, namely the internet. 

“For me, I’ll whip it together, do it until it looks right,” he said. “But, but yeah, you can always just Google similar recipes and get an idea about ratios and time.”

As with any recipe, tweaks are likely necessary. Every oven heats differently and the amount of food you have left over will likely vary, but Howard has four crowd-pleasing ideas to give you a jumping off point.

A “Festivus for the Rest of Us” leftover sandwich

Inspired by the holiday celebrated in the 90s sitcom “Seinfeld,” Howard says the leftover sandwich is the easiest way to remix elements of your Thanksgiving meal.

“That’s always a classic, especially when you’re still in a food coma,” Howard said. “That’s the quickest and easiest thing you can do, throwing a sandwich together.”

At Spiral their version employs two pieces of Texas toast, a healthy schmear of a vegan cranberry cream cheese on both slices of bread, faux turkey loaf, stuffing, lettuce and mayo.

Using whatever elements you have leftover at home, you can apply the same principles. Howard notes that mashed potatoes would be a great addition to the sandwich and dipping it in gravy will take each bite to the next level. 

Out of pie? Throw together a bread pudding

When the pumpkin and pecan pies are gone, but the cravings for something sweet are not — look no farther than bread pudding for your fix.

Feel free to use leftover cinnamon rolls from breakfast or the plain dinner variety. Dice or tear the bread into cubes and throw them into a baking dish. Add in your favorite plant-based milk to help create the custard, and season with cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar or maple syrup.

Cranberries, orange peels or the addition of dried fruit and nuts can elevate the dish from simple to stunning. Cook at 350 degrees for about 30 – or until it’s nice, golden brown and set throughout. 

Save the day with a savory waffle

Howard said he is constantly experimenting with his waffle iron at home.

“I think it’s fun if you are throwing stuff in waffle irons that aren’t meant to go there,” he said.

In this case, Howard suggests using mashed potatoes, a favorite plant-based cheese (he recommends Violife), chopped chives and any other savory toppings you want to throw in there.

The key to keeping the batter from coming apart is utilizing a binding agent. Howard prefers a tapioca starch, which is easy to work with and allergen-friendly. Regular all-purpose flour or a cornstarch slurry will also do the trick. To create the slurry, simply mix two parts cold water to one part cornstarch.

Use a nonstick spray to keep the batter from sticking to the iron, bake and enjoy. 

Still need guidance? Let a shepherd’s pie lead the way

“The shepherd’s pie is something I usually do every year,” he said. “By Saturday everyone is sick of everything, so it’s like, ‘All right, how can we turn this into something else?’”

Mince remaining protein and layer in a pan with leftover vegetables; green bean casserole and broccoli rice casserole work well here. Heat until warmed through, and then dump into a baking dish, add leftover gravy and cover with remaining mashed potatoes.

Bake at 350 for about 30-45 minutes.

“That’s an easy way to turn all of your leftovers into one big meal,” he said.

Before reaching for the trash bin with any remaining dregs from your Thanksgiving dinner plates, Howard has one final suggestion: compost

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcheta Fornoff

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...