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Happy New Year!

We hosted a small get together at our place, as we have for the last five years or so. We play board games, chat, and eat, eat, eat. This year, we were a bit pressed for time and I started the night by cutting myself on the mandolin.

We were going to have mushroom-potato-cheddar pasties, but I didn’t want to make the pie crust with a deep cut on my hand, so we had mushroom-potato-cheddar gratin instead. I don’t know how chefs make gratin all crusty and perfect on every layer, but I find that cooking the potatoes and mushrooms to a golden brown in a pan, then layering the cooked veggies with cheese before popping it briefly in a hot oven gives the best result.

My friend Allyson wrapped a small wheel of brie in puff pastry with a generous layer of blackberry jam, to scrumptious result. The table was loaded with perfectly ripe orange slices, local apple slices, carrots and dip, French carrot salad, and fresh gingerbread cake. I put our friend Eric in charge of making hot toddies with cognac and fresh lemon, a task which he performed perfectly.

With our plates piled high and our hands warming around our mugs, we settled in for a night of games: Dixit, Black Orchestra, Condottieri, and Tokaido. Black Orchestra was a bit depressing, and brand new to all of us, so we packed that one up and moved on after a few rounds. Dixit dominated the evening, as usual. My boyfriend gave me the newest expansion, Revelations, for Christmas and the gold-foil cards are the most beautiful of the entire game.

After a champagne toast at midnight, we all said goodnight and I headed to the kitchen to put the (few) remaining goodies in the fridge.

Some of us had gingerbread for breakfast the next morning, and I’ve been munching on the remaining orange slices. As I brought leftovers out of the fridge tonight, I thought guiltily of all the times I was too lazy to save as much leftover food as possible.

I’ve been reading lately about how much food Americans waste and how it could be put to better use. Of course, each of us could be more responsible by buying just as much as we need, saving and eating leftovers, and composting scraps or making soup. On a larger scale, we as a nation have a long way to go in terms of the amount of food we waste.

Here are some numbers for the U.S.:

We waste between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply.

That is approximately 133 billion pounds of food.

Food waste is the number one product going into landfills.

The U.S. is the biggest culprit, but international numbers are pretty high, too.

Of course, there are those who see this data as an opportunity for tackling hunger. Extrafood.org collects perfectly good food from business who would otherwise throw it out and distributes it to organizations that fight hunger. The Atlantic (on point, again) finds even more folks who are doing good work. One idea the magazine mentions, that I think would be phenomenal, is to create a food sharing app where those with extra food can offer it up to others who might need it in their neighborhood. In our insular culture, that might also be a fun way to meet those neighbors. Of course, there are plenty of people already out there educating folks about this issue. Check out members of the Tisch Center for Food Education & Policy in NYC speaking about research on food waste reduction initiatives in schools and throughout the city. They give some solid advice on how to ensure that good choices are also the easiest choices.

So, share some food. Meet new friends. Reduce your food waste.

Here are my New Year’s Eve recipes, if you’d like to try them out:

French Carrot Salad
(the salad is French, not necessarily the carrots)

5 medium to large carrots
1/2 C chopped fresh parsley
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t Dijon mustard3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T honey (or 1 t sugar, whisked into the dressing, if you are vegan)
Salt and pepper

Grate the carrots and chop the parsley, then place them in a bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the other ingredients. Pour it onto the carrots and parsley and toss until coated. Adjust the salt and pepper to your taste.

Grating the carrots bursts the plant’s cells and releases an enormous amount of sugar. You’ll be surprised how sweet your carrots taste in this dish. It’s offset nicely by the tangy Dijon mustard.

Mushroom-Potato-Cheddar Pasties
You can fill these with anything. I’ve done apples, sage, sweet potato, and chevre, with balsamic onions on top, too. We’ll save that one for another time, eh?

For the filling:
4 medium white potatoes
1 C sliced cremini mushrooms
2 t dried thyme
2 T butter (for the pan)
1 C water
2 oz sliced cheddar cheese (or to taste!)
Salt & Pepper

For the dough:
8 T (1 stick) cold butter
2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
2 T ice water

Start with the dough. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into workable pieces (tablespoon sized works well) and cut it into the flour. Add the ice water and then knead the dough just enough to form it into a ball of smooth consistency all the way through. Wrap it in plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes while you cook the fillings.

While the dough is cooling, peel and slice the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices. Wash and then slice the mushrooms slightly thicker. Heat a medium frying pan on medium high. When the pan is hot, add 1 T of the butter to the pan along with the mushrooms and a sprinkle of salt. Turn the heat up to high and cook them until they are golden brown and the moisture has been cooked away. Sprinkle with half the thyme, cook for 1 minute more, then set them aside in a bowl.

Add the potatoes and the water to the pan and cover. Turn the heat down to medium. Stir the potatoes occasionally until all slices are softened evenly and the water has cooked off. Add the butter and a liberal sprinkle of salt and turn the heat up to high. Cook the potatoes, stirring and flipping them frequently, until they are golden brown on both sides. Add the remaining thyme and cracked black pepper to taste. Toss and stir a few minutes more. Turn off the heat and set them aside to cool with the mushrooms. If they are too hot when you put them in the pastry, the butter in the pastry dough will melt too soon. You can even pop them in the freezer for a few minutes while you roll out the dough.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Take the pie crust dough out of the fridge and roll it out into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Cut it into 4 smaller rectangles. Lay one rectangle of dough out on a baking sheet. Place it where you will want the pasty to cook, as moving it will be difficult once it’s filled. Pile 1/4 of the filling on the left side of the rectangle, leaving 1/2 inch of dough around the sides. Top the filling with 1/4 of the cheddar cheese. Fold over the other half of the dough. Use a little bit of water on your finger to seal the two sides of the dough together. Use the tines of a fork to press on the seal and make it look nice. Working quickly, use the same method to create the other three pasties. At this point, if the dough is very greasy, you can put the baking pan in the freezer for about five minutes until the dough has firmed back up.

When your pasties are filled and sealed, put them in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. When they are done, let them cool for 5-10 minutes. Enjoy warm out of the oven or reheat for lunch the next day.

Happy new year!