In Praise of Leftovers

What you start withSo you had your holiday bash. You cooked your steaks; you made your fancy desserts. You even shopped at the local farmer's market for fresh salad fixings. But now you're left with a few odds and ends, not a lot of time, and a stomach that's growling like nostalgia for that delicious New York Strip. Don't settle for a glass of ice water and a handful of Cheeto's. Relive the magic with leftovers. They won't ever take the place of the first time around, but done right, and with a little inventiveness, you might even pass them off as French.

Ingredients: leftovers and a reasonably well stocked pantry

  • For example, a few hunks of grilled New York Strip
  • six ounces of heavy cream
  • half a large onion
  • a big handful of leftover mushrooms
  • 1 tbl flour
  • about half a cup of beef broth (from the fridge) and.....
  • a package of lo mein noodles

plus, salt, pepper and olive oil are always good to have around

Quick Hint: When reheating steak--when cooking steak, for that matter, but this is more important--make sure you let the steak come to room temperature first. You want to reheat the steak, not cook it further.

So what can be made with that hodgepodge of materials? A not-bad steak and pasta dish with mushroom cream sauce.


Cook the lo mein noodles according to the directions on the package (make sure you get a solid pasta pot; it should hold a couple quarts of water at least)

While the water's coming to a boil....

  • Set a good-sized skillet over medium-high heat
  • Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil (you've got olive oil, right? Nothing fancy, just the regular stuff)
  • Once it reaches temperature, add the onions and sweat them for about three minutes
  • Then add the mushrooms and sauté them with the onions for about another three minutes

Quick hint: Storing mushrooms can be problematic. They contain a rainy season's worth of moisture and can turn on you without a moment's notice. I've found the best way to store mushrooms is to take them out of their container, wrap them loosely in paper towels and then stow them in a brown paper bag. On the counter is fine for a couple days at least. Probably.

  • Once the mushrooms have given up some of their moisture, add the cream and some of the beef broth
  • stir slowly and add in the flour (make sure to sprinkle it slowly, stirring the whole time. If you just dump in the lot, it'll clump on you. Essentially, you're making a gravy, and no one likes lumpy gravy)
  • Use the remaining beef broth to get the sauce to a consistency you like and add salt and pepper to taste

In praise of leftoversAbout this time, the noodles should be done. Drain them, and go ahead and reduce the sauce's heat source to low. Slice the steak thin and go ahead and zap in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Again, we don't want to cook it further if we can at all avoid it. Plate along side the noodles and lightly drizzle (or drench) each with the mushroom sauce. Ta da! (nearly) Instant comfort food!

Don't be afraid to make additions. I think some diced roasted red peppers would have been a terrific complement, in both color and flavor, but I was dealing with pantry food. I had to settle for some olives and capers to give the dish a tepenadish zing.

What to pair it with?
Wine was made for this kind of meal. Seriously. Wine's tannins serve to cleanse the palate after each sumptuous mouthful, and each mouthful serves the prep the palate for wine's complex flavors. The dish I ended up with would stand up to all but the heaviest wines. But with leftovers, you don't often have the luxury of choosing what you'll end with, so you want versatility. Enter Rex Goliath's merlot.

I've talked on occasion about RG's pinot noir--arguably one of the best wine values on the shelf--and decided to give one of their other varietals a try. I wasn't disappointed.

From the wine maker:

We really love this wine. Soft, supple, and complex. There is a certain elegance to this wine that fits our vision of the perfect Merlot: Pretty and seductive with a decidedly spicy nose of black cherry, cassis and cedar. Very ripe and round, almost like a Jolly Rancher candy. Mouth-filling flavors of plums, cherries and wild red berries dominate from start to finish. Good seam of acidity paired with soft tannins make this a wonderful wine for game fowl such as pheasant or duck. Try a nicely roasted Rock Cornish Game Hen...yum!


Another no-brainer from the world of science

Zoning out in front of the television discourages kids from active diabetes control:
Diabetic children who spent the most time glued to the TV had a tougher time controlling their blood sugar, according to a Norwegian study that illustrates yet another downside of too much television. The findings, based on a study of children with Type 1 diabetes, lend support to the American Academy of Pediatrics' advice that children watch no more than two hours of TV daily, said lead author Dr. Hanna Margeirsdottir of the University of Oslo. more...
Like sprawl contributing to obesity, it comes as no surprise that kids who are not actively engaged in their day-to-day lives will tend to let things like insulin injections slide. However, the study didn't include factors such as exercise, diet or snacking habits.


You don't need fire to be fire roasted

Here's a little secret: when you're in a restaurant, and you see something described as 'fire roasted,' it doesn't necessarily mean that it's been roasted over a fire. Normally it means that whatever roasted item you're about to order also happens to have a little kick to it, and these days that kick is most often provided by some kind of chipotle variation, be that sauce or pepper chunks. So when I tell you I'm all about the fire roasted tomato sauce, don't think for a moment that I roasted the tomatoes over fire. I roasted them in the oven, just like you will, and the fire comes from regular old Louisiana Hot Sauce. Though adding some chipotle might provide an inviting smokiness...

Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • Four tomatoes, halved--we're fortunate here in Florida. The tomatoes have are now in season and will be fresh and delicious for another month or two. After that, it'll be back to the regular hothouse varieties
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • two garlic cloves (or more, to taste)
  • Plenty of hot sauce (your personal favorite will be fine--you'll end up adding one shake, or many, depending on how hot you like it)

Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. The salt will draw some of the water and sugars out of the tomatoes and provide for better caramelization. Preheat your broiler on low, if you have that option. Place the tomatoes cut side up on a cookie or baking sheet and place them on the second rack from the top (if your broiler is permanently set to 'scorching,' you might want to place the tomatoes on a lower rack. Let the tomatoes roast for about 15 - 20 minutes, or until you notice they're developing black spots across the top and their skins are beginning to get dry and a little wrinkled. Transfer the tomatoes with the additional ingredients to a blender and give them several good pulses on Liquefy (Note: Be very careful blending hot items! The aeration will generate a great deal of steam, which will create pressure inside the blender. Ever couple of pulses, crack the lid to let off some steam)

Serving suggestion:
Grilled chicken breasts and red leaf lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing.

  1. Prepare the chicken breasts by trimming off any excess fat
  2. Brush lightly with olive oil and rub with crushed garlic cloves
  3. Season with salt and pepper and move to a hot grill
  4. Grill on each side four approximately four minutes
    • You want to get a good, smoky crust, and some charring is desirable. If the chicken begins to get too done, however, move it away from direct heat and let it cook until it's done through on the inside--perhaps an additional two to three minutes.
  5. Wrap in foil for a few minutes once it comes off the grill to allow the chicken to rest--this will allow the chicken to reabsorb all the juices its cells released

DSCF5209Plate the chicken and serve with red leaf lettuce Make sure you rip the red leaf lettuce as cutting or slicing often bruises the edges. Drizzle the chicken with the roasted pepper sauce and drizzle the red red leaf lettuce with the blue cheese dressing. The combination of the cool blue cheese and fiery tomato sauce provides a wonderful culinary contrast. Hott!

What to pair it with?
This dish isn't going to stand up to heavier wines, so Shiraz and Cab Sauv are right out. You could probably pair it with a fine merlot, but really any low-acidity wine is going to do right by this dish. Ideally, you might go with a rich, buttery chardonnay. The strong body and supple mouth feel will do well with the tomatoes' acidity. I went with the Cono Sur Pinot Noir and was not disappointed. From the vintner:

Como Sur Pinot Noir

This is definitely a young wine with a popping, refreshing acidity and fruit-forward nose and palate. While I would have enjoyed a slightly deeper flavor to accompany the chicken--and a little less acidity, given the tomato-based sauce--the wine did well in complementing both the chicken and the blue cheese dressing.

Dress it up; dress it down

I've been trying to eat healthier. This doesn't mean I've given up bacon or bratwurst. I'm only human, after all. And not an idiot. But it does mean I might forgo the second bratwurst in favor of a salad serving and might limit myself to two slices of bacon rather than four (or six....or...eight). But imagine my surprise when I began looking at salad dressings' ingredients lists: of eight dressings or marinades currently in my refrigerator, only one is free of high fructose corn syrup. And on the remaining dressings, HFC doesn't fall way down on the ingredients list. It falls no lower than fifth, and on two dressings, the balsamic vinaigrette and the honey mustard dressing, it is second, coming only after distilled water.

But none of us has to stand for this. Salad dressings aren't some alchemical secret sequestered in the ivory towers of Newman's factories. For the most part they're simple, easy to prepare and benefit from fresh ingredients (and an absence of HFC).

Blue Cheese

  • 12 oz. plain yogurt (fat free is fine)
  • 3 + 1 oz. crumbled blue cheese
  • Juice from half a large lemon
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • A dash of salt
  • Several to many grinds of fresh black pepper (to taste)

Combine the yogurt, 3 oz. of blue cheese, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper in a blender, food processor or other high-speed mixing environment and blend until mostly smooth. Remove, and mix in the remaining 1 oz. crumbled blue cheese, for texture and taste.

Honey mustard dressing

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard (brown, whole-grain, or yellow, depending on your personal preferences)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (it helps if it's warmed slightly)
  • Juice from 1 large lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except the salt, pepper, and olive oil in a bowl. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking vigorously. Once the olive oil is combined with the other ingredients, season the dressing to your liking with salt and pepper. (Science content: In this recipe, the mustard acts an emulsifier, binding together the water molecules in the honey, lemon juice and the mustard itself with the fat molecules in the olive oil. It may separate some in the fridge, but you'll just have to give it a quick shake to combine again)

Orange/balsamic vinaigrette

  • 1/2 Cup Orange Juice
  • The juice of 1/2 large lemon (you can use the other half from the blue cheese recipe. See how I did that?)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Combine all ingredients in a tightly-lidded container and shake vigorously to combine. You can alter the ratio of ingredients to taste--less orange juice and more lemon juice will provide for a brighter flavor. You could also substitute other ingredients for the lemon juice. Pureed raspberries, for example would provide a wonderful depth and sweetness and might make this the perfect dressing for a fresh spinach salad with feta and roasted walnuts.

Spinach salad with walnuts and fetaBegin by heating a couple handfuls of shelled walnuts in a shallow pan over medium heat (one handful for each serving. Assume medium-sized hands). When they just begin to caramelize--the walnuts, I mean. If your hands are caramelizing, there's something horribly wrong--and your kitchen is filled with a wonderfully rich, nutty smell, transfer most of the walnuts to a waiting bed of fresh spinach leaves. Sprinkle liberally with feta cheese and top with the remaining walnuts. Drizzle with the orange dressing and serve immediately.

This salad is a study in contrasts, with the bright, sweet dressing coupling nicely with the warm, rich flavor of the walnuts. It also provides a juxtaposition of warm and cold; crunchy, crispy and smooth; and bright acidity with rich savoriness.

What to pair it with?
Salads are usually going to call for a lighter wine, most often a white varietal. For the walnut salad, I would recommend going with a heavier Riesling, like the Blackstone 2005 vintage. This crisp, clean-tasting wine will complement the dish well, providing nice counterpoint to the walnuts heavy, smoky flavor. The wine is a little hotter than you might be used to--12.5% alcohol content--but that bit of heat provides it with a nice backbone to stand up to slightly heavier dishes than you might normally associate with a Riesling.