Monday, January 14, 2013

UnRecipe: Deck the Halls with Leftover (Meat)Balls

One of the best thing about the holidays, from Thanksgiving through New Years is the food, food, FOOD! It's everywhere. The roasted turkey, the whole ham, crown roasts of pork or lamb, prime rib, feasts of several fishes -- it's no wonder we promise ourselves diet resolutions in the new year from the ample feasting that goes for a steady two months. But even when our well-intentioned resolutions fade, we're all left with the same thing: leftovers. Don't roll your eyes and groan -- leftovers are a wonderful, beautiful thing. They are brand-spankin' new meals waiting to happen!

Christmas dinner, all rolled up into a bite-sized piece! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
When I say "leftovers," I'm not talking about the good leftovers, the marvelous whole pieces of ham and turkey that can get layered into Dagwood Bumstead-sized sandwiches, I'm talking about the dribs and drabs of this and that, stuff that most would probably just throw out. Miscellany that fits the smallest of your tupperware containers. Barely a full meal, just a buffet of small bites. It's the most maddening of leftovers -- you hate to waste food, but what do you do with such a shotgun blast of random crap?? I can credit my father for being a compulsive food/leftover hoarder -- he never lets a thing go to waste, even to my mother's irritation for finding a container with barely a bite of food being kept for some rainy day. Thanks to him, I was introduced to croquettes -- traditionally a French fritter made with potato and other chopped vegetables and meats, but it's been co-opted by many cultures who all face the universal quandry of leftover food and refuse to give in to waste. After only scraps of a holiday meal remained, my dad would refuse to throw it all out and my mom would make what could only be described as Leftover Spam -- chopped up bits of everything mixed together, bound with egg, battered and fried. Croquettes are just a prettier, Frenchier way of saying: crap we don't know what to do with, so we make a fritter out of it. See, everything sounds better in French.

Holiday ham and the many secondhand meals it provides - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I took a cue from Wasabi Dad's post-holiday meal game plan and made a couple of batches of croquettes from our sizeable supply of leftovers. We had a banner season of festive meals: Christmas Eve I cooked a whole ham, basting this hoggy mountain of meat with a whiskey honey glaze, serving it alongside a creamy cauliflower gratin. Don't ask why, but the ham wound up looking like a meaty rosebud when it cooked. Christmas Dinner, I cooked my first duck (I know, weird that I'd never cooked waterfowl before, but there's a first time for everything). Served alongside the duck were potatoes that were roasted in the fat that came off the duck as it cooked, and a dressing made with quinoa, walnuts and dried fruit. The Mister loves cranberry sauce, so even though it wasn't Thanksgiving, I made another batch of  it to go with the ham and duck. Leftover ham is good for every meal -- it got whittled down with several breakfasts, and I was inspired by a friend's "French" toast stamp and made ham and cheese paninis in our waffle iron for several mornings. I don't have a sandwich press, but I have to say, a waffle iron makes for a great ghetto panini press, as long as you have thick slices of bread.

Falafel that inspired Christmas duck croquettes with jam a week later. - Photos by Wasabi Prime
But back to the B-Team Leftovers, as in, a few handfuls of quinoa dressing, scraps of duck meat and mostly duck skin... and more quinoa. I know -- what's with the quinoa? It's been my new favorite side dish and it ends up being a great component for croquettes or, in an earlier meal of spherical leftovers, falafel. I mashed drained/rinsed chickpeas into a paste, added finely minced garlic and parsley, and leftover plain quinoa. One egg was mixed in to help bind, and I throw in a little cornmeal, just to help soak up any excess moisture. They're formed into little balls and pan-fried. I made a batch of these that stretched scraps into a couple of meals. They were such a nice treat, that idea stuck with me through Christmas when I made croquettes with finely minced duck, the dried fruit/quinoa mix, and gave each little leftover ball a cheesy center of melty havarti.

A feast of beasts... and yes, Indy got to sample some of the duck and ham - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The duck croquettes truly made leftovers magical. These little spheres were like something a wizard made, they were so good. The duck meat was from random scraps and the little wings, which is more skin than meat, really. I removed the bone and minced everything super-fine. I put the bits into a hot skillet to further render the fat and make crispy whatever was there, skin and all -- I wanted crunch, not rubbery, overly fatty bits. I put that crisped duck into the leftover quinoa dressing, which had an egg added to help bind. I formed balls around small bite sized pieces of havarti cheese. The croquettes were still sticky, so I rolled them in some breadcrumbs before frying them up in the same skillet that had the duck fat because... well why wouldn't you? The cheesy center got melty from the heat, the outer crumb coating made a strong enough shell to keep the center from oozing out. The croquettes were perfectly browned, savory bites, but with a little sweetness from the dried fruit. Eating them with a berry jam or the cranberry sauce was a perfect pairing -- duck goes nicely with fruit. It was one of those things where you create the dish in your mind, it comes together well during execution phase, and it tastes exactly as how you anticipated. In that sense, leftovers are perfection.

Never throw out leftovers - there's still good meals to be had! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Literally nothing went to waste over the holidays, which is great -- I hate when food goes to waste. Christmas Eve's ham bone was made into Portuguese bean soup for New Year's Eve and the duck croquettes went well with salads, which were a welcome change from all the super-rich food. It was nice to skip going to the grocery store and fret about what to cook. And the benefit of playing with one's food yields new meals and keeps the boredom away at the thought of having dreaded leftovers again. So cheers to recycled holiday food!

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