Sunday, January 3, 2010

Guest Blogger: Jessica Conant-Park on "Leftover Failure"

Please welcome our guest blogger for today, mystery author Jessica Conant-Park. (That's Jessica in the photo below with her adorable son, Nicholas.)
Jessica is not just a great cook and foodie, she's married to a professional chef and co-authors the fantastic series of culinary-themed Gourmet Girl mysteries.

Lucky for us, the paperback edition of her latest Gourmet Girl adventure, FED UP, hits stores shelves this week! Huzzah! And her new hardcover, COOK THE BOOKS, is coming in March. And now, here's the Goumet Girl herself,
Jessica Conant-Park!

~ Cleo Coyle

The Leftovers. Blech, right? Visions of overcooked pasta, dried out casseroles, soggy salad, and congealed fish dancing in your head? Yeah, me, too. Usually. Unless it’s a hearty soup that has doubled its flavor overnight (as many good soups do!), then I usually dread leftovers. But, aside from soup, I have two exceptions to this attitude: Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Both days we go to my parents’ house and my mother puts together a fantastic meal with the things I’ve demanded be served. (I’m a brat.) My favorites are the main meat dish (usually a crown roast of pork or a decadent prime rib), a cheese and cream laden scalloped potato dish, her absolutely perfect green salad, a cheese course, and finally her ultra-rich chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream. And each holiday I gorge myself silly. But even before the actual meal I am already anticipating what leftovers I’ll be bringing home. Look, there’s only so much even I can eat in one sitting, but give me a few days and I can really pack it in.

So the meat dish, the potatoes, and the expensive sampling of cheeses are all perfectly delicious treats for the few days after the holiday. I just don’t run around paying a small fortune for delicacies throughout the year and so, believe me, I take advantage of free food when I can get it. The joys of being an only (gluttonous) child.

I will admit in the privacy of this blog that I had a particularly selfish moment this season when it was unclear if three of our guests would be joining us at Christmas dinner… and my first thought was, More leftovers! That’s awful. I know that. I’m a terrible person and I’ll work on being less vile in 2010.

But as apparent punishment for my greedy thoughts, my anxiety about remembering to take my fair share of leftovers seemed to have depleted some of my brain cells, because I screwed up at Thanksgiving. And at Christmas. Big time.

I spent the day after Thanksgiving salivating at the thought of reheating the pork roast and the gooey potatoes for dinner. The way the cheesy potatoes’ sauce would run across the plate and coat the meat…. Ahhhh, it would be bliss! But as I began rooting through the fridge, I could not find the meat. I found side dishes, and chocolate sauce, and the potatoes…. But no meat. I swear that I had heart palpitations as I called my husband at work, hoping beyond hope that he’d stashed the leftovers in some secure part of the fridge. I must be blind with hunger and not seeing what was surely right in front of me, right? No luck. I called my mother who located MY pork in HER fridge. Seriously, people, my emotional upset at this error was no laughing matter. What the heck was I supposed to have with my potatoes now? I could practically taste what I was missing, but even my hallucinating skills were not vaguely satisfying.

Okay, I resolved, this hideous leftover failure on my part will NOT happen at Christmas. But, yeah. It did. Mom had assembled a particularly noteworthy cheese selection this year. Epoisse (which is one of the smelliest, gooiest, richest cheeses out there), St. Andre (to die for!), Explorateur (another triple-cream delight), a smooth, spreadable blue, a firm goat’s milk, and a few others that I’ve blocked out because the memory is too painful. But by the time we got to the cheese course at the end of the meal, I was stuffed and didn’t eat nearly my share. No worries: there would be plenty of leftovers. I never pay that kind of money for a multitude of cheeses just to keep around my house, so this would be a treat. God, the next few days were sure to be lovely.

And you know what I did? I helped clean up the table, divided up all the goods, wrapped up little packages, and promptly forgot the cheese! All of it. Not one little hint of Epoisse for me. Again, the emotional trauma that ensued the next day was not pretty. There were the usual frantic calls to my husband and mother. And the usual tragic result.

I’ve been craving cheese since December 27th and so used New Year’s Eve as an excuse to spend an ungodly sum of money at the supermarket and throw together a meat and cheese plate. I was in a huge rush on the 31st and basically ran through the supermarket at top speed, haphazardly throwing things into my basket. I won’t tell you what I spent, but I’m not proud of myself. And the kicker is that the supermarket selection pales in comparison to what one could find at a specialty shop. Again, a rather ordinary selection was probably appropriate punishment for my selfish approach to leftovers. But our gourmet-ish plate of munchies was still lovely, although not viable competition for my mother’s.

So my New Year’s resolution for 2010 is to never again forget valuable leftovers. Never!


As I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of leftover salad. My mother, God love her, will eat a soggy nightmare the next day. But I won’t. I want fresh, crisp, perfect. I have one beautiful hand-carved salad bowl but really wanted more, so for I asked for a few for Christmas. I got two gorgeous ones: A medium sized dark one from Crate and Barrel, and a very large one from the Vermont Bowl Company.
I guarantee both are already being put to good use. (Side note: My mother-in-law wrapped the bowl she gave me just in wrapping paper, revealing it’s shape and obviously not disguising the gift. My son Nicholas thought it was very un-Christmas like of me when, on Christmas morning, I kept shouting, “I wanna open my salad bowl!”)

Here is the salad that my mother makes on a regular basis. It’s very simple but sometimes a light, uncluttered bowl is heaven. You won’t need all the dressing here, but it will keep for ages. Feel free to play around with ingredient amounts… I happen to like a really spicy dressing so I sometimes add more mustard, and I’m a mint fanatic so I also use a ton of that. But adjust as you like!

1 cup olive oil (a light/medium blend)
1 Tablespoon good quality Dijon mustard
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 good squeeze fresh lemon juice (don’t you dare try and use that junk that comes out of a plastic lemon!)
Salt and pepper, to taste (Be generous. An under-seasoned salad is a waste.)

Mix all together and let stand at least ½ hour before using. Refrigerate leftovers.

1-2 heads Boston/Baby Bibb lettuce, thoroughly washed (unless you enjoy grit.)
¼ thinly sliced red onion
½ cup fresh tomatoes (in the winter I like grape tomatoes, cut in half)
1/3 cup good feta (Trader Joe’s carries a delicious kind that comes in a white and blue container… I forget the name, but it is wonderful.)
1 small handful chopped fresh mint
1 small handful Calamata olives

That’s it! Toss with the dressing and you’re set!


In book news, the fourth Gourmet Girl mystery, FED UP, is out in paperback on January 4th. I love this book because there is both a baby shower and wedding in it, and who doesn’t love those scenes, right? I also throw out a juicy cliffhanger at the end… But don’t worry, COOK THE BOOKS comes out in March and I promise I take care of it then.

I’m also blogging with my pal Michele Scott at Adventuresnwriting. Or rather, I occasionally blog there when I think of it. Mostly I write about stupid things like Levi Johnston’s photo shoot, Lady Gaga’s outfits, or inform the public about very insightful things my kid has said. (BTW, his most recent eye-rolling statement was that the parents from Cheaper By the Dozen “must have had a lot of sex!”) So I suppose I should resolve to blog more. I’ll work on it. And Michele is generally better behaved than I am, so we balance each other out. She and I also have a Food Fiction newsletter that we send out every few months with recipes, book news, contests, and wonderful guests. We’d love to have you sign up, so stop by our site and enter your email address in the form!


  1. Hi Jessica. Thanks so much for hanging out with us today at the Kitchen!

    I love your tribute to leftovers--you've inspired me to appreciate them more! And I'm looking forward to trying the salad recipes...I was just telling Cleo the other day that we needed to have some more salads after all the holiday heaviness! This looks awesome...thanks.


  2. OK, I'm sitting here sipping my morning tea and wanting some of that salad. It's not even 8AM! Very nice post and I'll definitely try the salad. Looking forward to the new books!

  3. We're weird here. We love leftovers. Lots of leftovers. Sometimes when I'm ordering at a restaurant, I'll choose the option that makes a better leftover just because I know I'll have it to enjoy the next day. And my kids tell me that the best thing about hosting a holiday here is having leftovers. Your mom's dinners sound like heaven! Thanks for sharing your story and your salad! Congrats on the books!!


  4. I love visiting here with this great group! Thank you so much! Yeah, Julie, I've actually started planning meals around what would make the best leftovers, LOL! Riley, you'll start doing the same. :) And Kay, hope you enjoy it! I love this dressing recipe because it's pretty hard to foul up... changing amounts gives different variations of flavors and any version is wonderful. It works on pasta salad, grilled beef salad, etc. and is always a big hit with guests.

  5. Those were some fabulous sounding leftovers. I would have been upset if I forgot them too!

    I'm in the mood for a salad, so thank you for sharing.

  6. Jessica, thanks for your post. Leftovers. Got to love 'em! I'm with you! And my mother would eat soggy salad too. What is that about?

  7. In a New Year's Eve leftover update, I will tell you proudly that I brought my tray of cheeses, etc. over to my neighbor's on Friday afternoon and we made a good dent in the leftovers while chatting and laughing. Then today I had a delicious panini made with fontina, Boursin, and salami on the wonderful thinly sliced bread. And it was as good as I'd hoped. :)

    Avery: Yeah? What is up with our soggy salad eating mothers, huh? Now anything lke peppers, tomatoes, olives and cheese will be nicely marinated the next day.... but the lettuce? I'll pass, LOL!

  8. Hey, Jess, good to "see" you here. This year at Thanksgiving, I bought a 20 lb. turkey (approximately 15 lbs. more than I actually needed for just hubby and I), and enough stuff to make all the trimmings, intending to take most of it to my job for those who had to work that day to enjoy. The day after I bought groceries for this feast, a big note appeared on the time clock, saying that everyone who worked would be treated to a holiday meal courtesy of the Deli and the store director. We had leftovers til even I was a little tired of turkey, and that's saying a LOT, cause I love me some turkey.

  9. Just a quick shout-out of thanks again to the Gourmet Girl for joining us today...

    Also major props to you and your mom for the "be generous" comment on the salt and pepper. I agree that under seasoned salad is a waste. The best advice I ever received on this topic came from an older cousin of mine who told me her secret. (I was still a kid, but I absolutely loved her salads.) She told me to use more ground black pepper than I would ever think I needed -- it worked! She was right! And so are you and your mom!

    Cheers and congrats again on FED UP's paperback release this week!


  10. Cleo: A million thanks for everything! And, yes, I've learned how my pepper to add by how the dressing looks. It's more than just a shake, that's for sure. I can tell the ratio of black specks to olive oil that I should be seeing, LOL! Also, I know just by smelling the dressing if it's balanced the way I like.

    Shel: Wow. That's a lot of turkey! But I could eat turkey every day if I have a good gravy and some of my favorite scalloped potatoes to go along...

  11. I like to pop a bit of crushed red pepper to really season up a salad...

    And thanks for stopping by Jessica, good luck with the PB release, and look forward to the new HB in a couple months

  12. Oh, yeah! Crushed red pepper! (Which, I'll confess, I initially typed as "read," LOL! Freudian typo!) I'm always up for a little extra spice in my salad. I'm a big fan of sliced poblano peppers, too, which add some nice heat and a touch of bitterness (a la arugula) that I'm crazy about.

  13. Jessica, thanks so much for coming to visit us!

    I know what you mean about that craving for cheese. There was a stinky cheese at the store recently that called to me every time I shopped. I was brave enough to pass on it a couple of times but I finally caved for New Year's. Yum!

    ~ Krista

  14. Do you know what it was, Krista? The stinkier the better, as far as I'm concerned.

    I discovered Epoisse when I was in Burgundy with my parents years ago. A very good friend of ours competed in a tennis tournament and guess what she got for winning? A giant wheel of Epoisse! I'm sure there was a little trophy, too, but leave it to the French to award a cheese as the grand prize, LOL!