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A kid-friendly twist on holiday turkey leftovers

Tate Johnson, 14, with his super-delicious tater tot cups and caramelized onion turkey mac and cheese, two recipes he created as tasty ways to use leftover turkey and trimmings. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Tate Johnson prefers to whip up cakes and cookies, but when asked by The Picayune Magazine to develop a recipe for leftover Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey, he happily complied with two delicious and different dishes. Bonus points go for making them so kid-friendly.

“This is my first time for holiday leftovers,” said the 14-year-old from Horseshoe Bay. “I haven’t made anything like this before.”

Tate’s dream is to one day attend culinary school in a far away country to learn the secrets of its exotic dishes.

“I want it to be somewhere I can learn different types of foods,” he said. “Then, I want to bring the recipes back here and open a restaurant and bakery.”

His ultimate goal is to make good food that results in big smiles.

“Food makes people happy,” he said. “It makes me happy. I love the taste, the colors, the texture. It’s fun.”

Cooking lessons begin early in the Johnson family. As a pre-schooler, Tate often pulled up a chair to the kitchen counter when his mother, Mara, was cooking. She taught him to measure, mix, and chop, a habit carried over from her own childhood.

“I have three sons,” she said. “I thought it was important to teach them because I didn’t want to send them out into the world without knowing how to take care of themselves.”

Tate has already started his culinary education. He attends a cooking camp in Austin twice a week, and if these two recipes are any indication, he is on his way to a successful career of making people happy with his kitchen creations. This reporter can certainly attest to the fact that these two dishes were extremely delicious and soon will be in production in her own home kitchen.


Tater tot stuffing cups:

  • Tater tots
  • Leftover stuffing
  • Shredded turkey, ½ pound to 1 pound
  • Cranberry sauce for garnish

Place 3 tater tots in each muffin space in a muffin tin. Cook according to package directions.

Use leftover stuffing (or prepare favorite stuffing) and mix ½ pound to 1 pound of shredded turkey into stuffing.

Remove tater tots from oven. Lightly smash together each tater tot compartment with the back of a spoon or small cup, forming a bowl shape. Fill with stuffing mixture.

Top with a dap of cranberry sauce.


  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 stick butter (8 tablespoons)
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 8-ounce package of Gouda slices
  • 8-ounce white sharp cheese block, cubed
  • 2 cups shredded turkey pieces
  • 1 pound pasta (we used rigatoni)
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup to 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Set oven to 375 degrees.

Melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter in pan, add onions and sauté until caramelized and golden brown.

Spray 9x13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Boil salted water and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and rinse lightly with cool water. Keep in strainer and use same large pot to make roux.

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in pot and add flour slowly while whisking. Start adding milk slowly while whisking. Keep stirring and add cubed cheese, followed by Gouda slices. Keep heat on low to medium and stir constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Remove pot from heat and fold noodles and turkey into cheese sauce. Pour mixture into pan and spread out evenly. Set aside.

Brown bread crumbs in small pan using 1-2 tablespoons butter.

Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top of mac and cheese.

Place into oven for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

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