TAMPA — The first time Lanny Calhoun sampled turkey, she thought it was some "large, wild and strange chicken." • Calhoun, 61, never tasted turkey in her native Indonesia, but she has come to love it at Thanksgiving time in her adopted country, where she has settled in St. Petersburg. Still, she finds there's so much left over after the big feast that she doesn't know what to do with it all. • The same is true for Tonija Pelt, 47, of Tampa. Her problem is that the family won't even touch the day-old food. She doesn't know when that came to be or why, but she's just plain tired of tossing out perfectly edible leftovers. • We don't want them to feel guilty anymore, which is why we invited Calhoun and Pelt and 10 other readers to join our ninth annual Wishbone U Thanksgiving cooking boot camp at Publix Aprons Cooking School in Citrus Park last month. This year, we focused on leftovers, because while the turkey and stuffing are the Thanksgiving stars, finding ways to make them as delicious the next day can be daunting.
This year's stellar class of enthusiastic students ranged in age from 13 to 87. Chris Gomez, the Tampa teenager, is already adept at making Cuban sandwiches and buttermilk-fried chicken, or so said his grandmother, Rose Singleton, 70, who nominated him for the class. She also took part.
Gerry Browne, the octogenarian who looked much younger, caught our eye — and got a spot in the class — with two words: Turkey Tetrazzini. She's sick of it, she said. Plus, "I am an 87-year-old lady, so I need to get with it."
Browne epitomizes what we believe about cooking: It's never too late to learn something new in the kitchen.
To repurpose the traditional fixings, Aprons resident chef Rich Norris and sous chef John Barbie provided instructions for Butternut Squash Bisque, Turkey Stew With Drop Dumplings, Turkey Club Sliders With Cranberry Herb Aioli and Old-Fashioned Cheese and Potato Griddle Bread. All required a heaping helping of what usually graces the holiday table. Even the stew was made more luscious with a few scoops of stuffing and mashed potatoes.
Nearly all of the more than 100 people who wrote to the Times to apply for a spot in the class mentioned that they wanted to be better cooks for the benefit of someone else. Firefighter Rich McCartney, 37, wanted to up his game for the benefit of his colleagues at the Largo firehouse.
"The holidays are tough for firefighters because we are away from our families … I would love to provide the boys a nice, home-cooked meal similar to that which they would get at home," he wrote.
Alexis Joy Price, 24, also of Largo, is headed to Ohio to spend the holiday with her in-laws of just two years. Her mother-in-law is a wonderful cook and she wants to go north armed with skills of her own. Now she can volunteer to wrangle the leftovers; she promises to let us know how it all turns out.
Rounding out the group were:
• Cathleen Schott, 53, of St. Petersburg, who persuaded us to give her a spot in the class with her darling illustration of a tutu-ed woman cradling two turkeys, definitely enough for leftovers. "My Thanksgiving leftover 'go-to' is the same as I assembled when I was eye level with the cracked Formica countertop. Two slices of bread, slosh of mayo, gelled cranberry sauce, dry turkey, sticky stuffing sprinkled with salt and pepper to taste. After 50 or so of these sandwiches, they're ready for retirement," she wrote.
• Yenaidy Schrot, 27, of Tampa was nominated by her mother-in-law, Becky Schrot. Yenaidy and her husband, who have two young sons and just finished renovating their home, will have Thanksgiving at their house this year. The class was a good way for her to improve some already decent skills. Her mother-in-law did have an ulterior motive: "I am so looking forward to it," she said, "since my husband and I have had Thanksgiving at our home for 31 years."
• Sisters Alice Krisel, 51, and Patty Danks, 57, of mid Pinellas County will be entertaining a host of family members the day after Thanksgiving so they are looking for ways to feed the crowd with leftovers. Patty is the better cook, so says Alice, who mostly does the assisting. Their mother turns 80 on Nov. 30, another reason to celebrate. "Mom taught us to work, play and stay together."
• Julie Branaman, 36, of St. Petersburg left for college with this cooking advice from her mother: "If you want to cook a whole chicken, put it in a plastic shopping bag, tie the handles, poke some holes and throw it in the microwave for 5 minutes." She never tried it and learned to cook on her own. Still, she wants to learn more.
Thanks to Wishbone U, we think she did.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586. Follow her @roadeats on Twitter.