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Cooking with what's on hand during Snowverit

Necessity is the mother of invention when it comes snowpocalypse cooking.
(Michael Temchine for The Washington Post)

There’s been lots of talk about creative kitchen feats during Snowmaggedon Part Deux (aka Snowverit, aka Snowverkill). Around the metro area, cooks took to their stoves: challenging each other to make bread, turning out sundried tomato and spinach soufflés and almond cakes with rose water ice cream for an “Asian tea.”

Well, good for them. Some of us, and by that I mean me, were a lot more limited in what we could pull off.

I escaped the first storm. (If escaping can be defined as coming home from New York to discover a tree had fallen all but on my car, wedging it in between snowy branches and an icy wall of snow from the street.) When, after a seven-hour trek I made it to home, I had very little to work with: one package of sweet Italian sausage, pasta, Grape Nuts, one yogurt, one slightly shriveled red pepper, a bunch of limp celery, several grapefruit and condiments such as mango chutney, mayonnaise, mustard, salted shrimp paste and various jams. Try making dinner out of that.

A trip to the supermarket didn’t help. There was nothing at my local Safeway. A few apples, one papaya and some scotch bonnet peppers in the produce. No milk. No yogurt. No meat. No canned beans. I got one of the last jars of peanut butter and a loaf of bread. Clearly, this was going to be a week of making do.

Cooking with what you’ve got became a bit of a trendlet over the last 18 months. The tanking economy made many cooks take stock of how much food they were wasting and how good meals could be made with little money and effort. The Washington Post’s former blogger, Kim O’Donnel, started up a regular feature called Eating Down The Fridge, where she brainstormed creative ways to use what you had on hand. This month, Real Entertaining columnist David Hagedorn created an entire dinner party using only what was in his (impressively packed) pantry.

But the snowpocalypse has forced many of us to unwillingly put those make-do skills to the test. With what I had on hand I was able to make some pasta with sausage, roasted red peppers and rosemary (good but far from earth-shattering) and my favorite molasses cookies with crystallized ginger from our Christmas issue (the best, as usual).

Other Washingtonians pulled off far greater feats. Blogger Marjorie Wine made two versions of what she called Cream of Refrigerator Soup. The first was a chicken and black-eyed peas chili. The second a turnip, leek and mushroom soup. On Twitter, readers told tales of kimchi fried rice, blueberry pancakes with sweet and spicy bacon and a dish my friend Chris Schroeder is calling “Rome without Power” (small pasta, bacon, onion, olive oil, black pepper, and Parmesan cheese). The mayor of Takoma Park, Bruce Williams, even drove around the area picking up donated homemade goodies for public works crews.

But my favorite story came from avid home brewer Art Drauglis, who set out to make Blizzard Beer.

Drauglis was inspired by Sahti, a rustic Finnish beer that Church Key beer guru Greg Engert describes as a beer “based around what would have been immediately available to the brewer … as well as baker’s yeast.”

What Drauglis had on hand was winter squash.

“Having made the ‘African banana beer’ recipe which Charlie Papazian had in one of his home-brewing books, I knew that this would be relatively easy, but stood a good chance of tasting like crap," Drauglis wrote me in an email.

Long story short: It did. Drauglis roasted the squash. He used wheat berries he’d received in the Moutoux Orchard’s winter CSA. He made a yeast starter using Red Star baker’s yeast, water and molasses. Then he let it all ferment for a few days.

The taste? “Sort of like alcoholic Worcestershire sauce. [Our friend] Joel decided that it would make a great marinade or cooking sauce for beef or game.”

Perfect … if you happen to have any meat in the freezer.

Tell us your snowpocalypse cooking adventures. Any great discoveries? Anything you never want to eat again?

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  February 11, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
 | Tags: Jane Black, snow  
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Comments Cooking and eating salmon for the first time in at least a year and pairing it with a crazy combo of steamed kale + collard greens with raisins + cranberries, and balsamic rice w/ vidalia onions + red peppers.

Posted by: crystalndavis | February 11, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

I'm a fanatic for clearing out the 'frige before refilling because I think we Americans waste way too much food (avg. American throws out 24 lbs. of food each month!!). Therefore, this blizzard cooking is a dream come true for me. Tonight's feast was frozen Boca burgers on frozen whole wheat buns with a homemade Asian slaw made with purple cabbage--that stuff can last for weeks in the refrigerator. Probably going shopping tomorrow as we're out of milk and we're having guests for dinner, but I know we could eat well for at least a few more days if we needed to.

Posted by: avivathescramblecom | February 11, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

In the last week it's been nothing but roasted vegetable quesadillas from the moosewood cookbook, tuna melts on english muffins with swiss, and cabbage and noodles served with bacon and sour cream. Sorry for those of you who didn't get to the store in time. My $80 investment has kept me well sated until today. Oh I also had a case of Bell's two-hearted ale. And lots of omelettes.

Posted by: dcmusician2 | February 12, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I welcomed this chance to clear out the freezer and the pantry. I roasted some chicken that we had in the freezer and made enchiladas and a pot pie. Made chili with some hamburger and canned tomatoes we already had. Made a huge pan of macaroni and cheese to eat with ham that my mother-in-law sent at Christmas. Ventured out to the store on Tuesday and scored some French bread and heavy cream. Used the leftover bread the next day to make bread pudding -- heavenly. Took time to make pancakes from scratch. And on and on. Too bad it's over and it's back to work tomorrow. I love having time to cook and nothing else to do.

Posted by: margaret6 | February 15, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

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