Sous chef refuses leftovers belligerently, which became painfully obvious this week. I made a casserole of shepherd’s pie this past week, and thought the leftovers that would inevitably follow would be great. Instead of dividing the casserole in two dishes and freezing one for later, I baked the whole thing. This was obviously a mistake.
The night I made it, Engineer came home late from work, and Sous Chef and I ate together alone. She ate her whole dinner happily and when asked, agreed that it was delicious. “A win!” I thought, doing cartwheels in my head. I was pleased that I had been able to get so many vegetables in her, considering I used a recipe which appeared in Rachel Ray Magazine several years ago for a lightened version of shepherd’s pie. This lightened version included sauteed mushrooms, steamed spinach, and parsnips along with carrots, making it, I felt, a nutritional win for anyone, but especially a toddler.
The next night, Engineer worked even later. Sous Chef and I sat at the kitchen table, staring at our (say this with a big sigh) leftovers. I ate mine, less enthusiastically than I had the night before and prodded Sous Chef to eat hers, too. Instead, she mashed it down with her fork, spreading it around her small, plastic plate before lifting it and dropping it back down, most of it landing on the plate. Eventually, like any good parent, I started yelling at her to eat, then abandoned her at the table to eat by herself while I checked my email, trying to calm down and avoid more yelling. Yep, responsible parent, right here.
I returned to the kitchen to see her still not eating, and finally issued an ultimatum of sorts, another great parenting trick. I told her she had a choice: she could eat her dinner or go to bed, not only hungry, but an hour early.
She opted to go to bed.
That’s when I knew how serious she was about not eating leftovers. She calmly, quietly, stayed in her bed even though it was an hour earlier than usual, just so she wouldn’t have to eat leftovers. Despite eating and, dare I say?, enjoying the dinner just one night earlier, she utterly refused to touch it. Several days later, the casserole remained in the refrigerator and Engineer pulled it out for lunch. Unlike me, who will barter and allow her to go hungry, Engineer made her eat it, tears streaming down her sad, three-year-old face as she put spoonful after spoonful in her mouth.
Yes, terrible parents, right here. The nerve, trying to feed her reheated nutritious food.
The problem is, I don’t exactly love eating leftovers either. Particularly when they have chicken. Have you ever noticed that reheated chicken takes on an odd, plasticky flavor when reheated in the microwave? I try, and I try, and it never tastes good. If it’s not chicken, it’s generally okay, but don’t even think about reheating a steak unless you need a new eraser. Leftovers seem to be such a great idea. You get out of cooking for a day and you save food from the garbage disposal. But the fact is, regardless of how much I enjoyed the meal the first time, I’m just not ready to eat it again before it goes bad. Now that Sous Chef has really exerted her opinion clearly (and with many tears), I’m having to rethink whether the convenience of leftovers is really worth it. I’ll have to find other ways to economize on my time. After all, cooking for me is many things. It’s enjoyable and it enables me to eat food I like. But more than that, it’s the way I nourish my family, physically and emotionally. Feeding them nutritious food keeps them healthy and also shows them that I love them. Planning for leftovers if no one wants to eat them doesn’t exactly help that goal.
adapted from Rachel Ray Magazine
2-3 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cubed
3⁄4 cup milk
3 Tablespoons butter
1 pint mushrooms, sliced (I use button because they’re cheapest, but crimini would taste better)
10 ounces baby spinach
1 onion, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1⁄4 cup flour
4-6 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
3-4 parsnips, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 14-oz can beef broth
1 pint chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste
3⁄4 cup grated cheese, such as cheddar or colby-jack
Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Add about 1 tablespoon salt, then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes depending on how small your pieces are. Drain and return to the pot. Add the milk and butter and mash. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat about 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned, stirring often. Arrange in the bottom of a greased 9×13 baking dish.
To the same pan, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, and parsnips. Cook until crisp-tender, stirring occasionally, 7-8 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Add the ground beef and cook, breaking it up as you stir, until it’s cooked through. Stir in the flour and cook for another minute, making sure that the flour is stirred in well.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl of water and adding ice cubes. When the water is boiling, add the spinach and stir down, cooking just until the spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove it to the ice bath until it has cooled completely, then drain and wring out the spinach in a towel. Chop the spinach, then set aside.
Add the broth and tomatoes and stir until it’s thickened, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spread the meat mixture of the mushrooms, then top with the spinach, followed by the reserved mashed potatoes, spreading it carefully to cover the mixture. Sprinkle the cheese on top. At this point, you can refrigerate or freeze the casserole until you’re ready to use it—cover it first with aluminum foil. If you’re ready to bake it, bake it on a baking sheet (to catch spills) until the mashed potatoes starts to brown on the edges and the meat mixture bubbles and boils, about 30 minutes.