Drink, Food, Philosophy

Three Cheers for Leftovers!

According to my mother, my father worries that I have become a hedonist. I most certainly do not agree with this assessment. Do I love to travel, eat expensive food, drink pricey wines, and wear stylish clothes? Most certainly YES. But are these the only ways I find pleasure? Most certainly NOT!

Last night’s dinner was a case in point. My husband Fred and I have a refrigerator full of leftovers from the Christmas Holidays. My daughter and son-in-law stayed with us during the past week, and our grocery list was full of every food we could think of to satisfy their tastes and needs. Now that they have returned to their own abode in Falmouth, Cornwall (U.K.), Fred and I are devising ways to use the disparate food stuffs and leftovers that are overflowing our refrigerator shelves. I decided to use leftover mushrooms, goat cheese, and mashed potatoes to come up with something satisfying for our dinner. Since I am writing a blog about the results, it is probably unnecessary for me to say that our meal was totally satisfying.

I devised this menu:

. Spinach salad with walnuts, goat cheese balls rolled in crushed walnuts, sliced mushrooms, and a walnut oil/balsamic vinaigrette;

. Sautéed Potato Cakes (really, a kind of potato croquette);

. Mushroom Ragu (à la Giada De Laurentiis, of Food Network fame).

First, let me say that these days, I accomplish my cooking by primarily using my left hand. In November, I had wrist reconstruction on my right hand because of an arthritic thumb joint that had deteriorated. Even with my unhelpful right hand, this dish was not very difficult to prepare, and that is the first thing to commend it.

Second, I have learned a perfect way to prepare leftover mashed potatoes that are “begging” to be transformed into potato cakes: For each three-inch scoop of potatoes, I add a heaping teaspoon of flour to give the cakes body. I used this ratio to turn five scoops of potatoes into five potato cakes, rolling them into flour before sautéing them.

Third, I made the ragu MOSTLY according to Giada’s recipe (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/mushroom-ragu-recipe3.html ). For those who are interested, Giada asked for a variety of mushrooms in this recipe. I used porcinis, creminis, and shitakes, and that combination turned out to be delicious. However, I suspect any kind of mushroom combination would have worked well. (Special thanks to my husband who purchased the freshest, meatiest, most beautiful shitakes I have ever seen.) Giada’s recipe also required Marsala wine, but I had leftover Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which turned out to be a lovely addition to the ragu. Remember to improvise and use what you have at hand!

After taking a bite of the potato cake smothered in ragu, my husband said things like “wow” and “luscious.” I consider that to be his imprimatur on the meal. Our dinner was lovely (although, I have to admit that it was not the low-carb meal I should be consuming right now!!!). Above all else, this meal shows that even leftovers can be transformed into a dining experience that is filling, fulfilling, and pretty darn easy to prepare.

Spinach salad with walnut-encrusted goat cheese

Spinach salad with walnut-encrusted goat cheese

Giada's "Mushroom Ragu" with Potato Cake

Giada’s “Mushroom Ragu” with Potato Cake

So, am I a hedonist? Maybe a little bit. But an Appalachian country girl like me knows the value of conserving and re-purposing. After all, I come from a family that had the imagination to sometimes have “Breakfast-for-Dinner” evenings toward the end of the month, when the budget would not allow for meat-centric meals with all of the trimmings. We knew how to turn pancakes, eggs, toast, and hot chocolate into something scrumptious and satisfying when steak was not available. “Pleasure” can be achieved with good planning, parsimony, and creativity.

Last night, my husband and I indulged in that kind of “Careful Hedonism.”

And, by the way—not to contradict myself too radically—I did supplement my dinner with a glass of a New York State Pinot Noir from the Ravines Winery (http://www.ravineswine.com ). It was the perfect accompaniment to our meal; not too pricey, and definitely delightful. My husband chose a bottle of Trader Jose’s Dark Lager, further proving that great tastes do not have to break the bank.