Eating Down Fridge: Guest Blogger Julia Watson
Julia Watson is an ex-foreign correspondent turned freelance food writer with her own Web site, eatWashington. She's also written on food for The Washington Post and NPR and has published two novels, "Russian Salad" and "American Pie" -- neither of which are about food. Her article on eating at French night markets will appear in the May issue of Gourmet magazine. A veteran fridge and pantry hoarder, Julia dishes up advice for the uninitiated in her essay, below. She'll join me Thursday at 1 ET for the special EDF chat.
It was the Sunday brunch gazpacho that made me realize there’s a skill to serving leftovers that’s not just about the food. It’s about how you’ve stored it.
I’d made a batch of Vietnamese iced coffee to serve with the chocolate mousse cake. And saved it in a juice bottle. I’d also made a pale peach-colored gazpacho that I saved in another juice bottle. You don’t need telling that the two are not compatible flavors when poured together into the tureen in a moment of pre-lunch panic.
My fridge is like a small boy’s closet. Things topple out when I open the door. Those little bowls from Chinese supermarkets are to blame. I bought them for the fabulous Chinese feast I’ll never give and they’ve become food coffins, filled with leftovers under a crime scene drape of plastic wrap. I lived in Moscow when there was nothing to eat but cabbage, potatoes, and meat butchered by chain saw -- and sometimes none of that. So I can’t throw anything out.
Instead I’ve built a support system to make something out of nothing: bottles of sesame oil, soy, Sriracha, jars of anchovies, capers and fermented black beans. I’m never without bacon (unopened, it’ll last longer than me), Parmesan, garlic, ginger, onions, lemons and tomato paste. I always make too much pastry so I can freeze small lumps to turn leftover meats into empanadas, old cheese into pies and wrinkling apples into tarts. In the store cupboard there’s always pasta, dried beans, lentils and rice -- and a sack of M & Ms. (You know of a better emergency dessert?)
Number one on the list of leftovers management is: Don’t kill yourself. It’s not worth the money saved by eating leftovers if you give yourself botulism (and you won’t impress yummy-looking doctors in the Emergency Room when you’re throwing up). Filled fridges are like gardens: you need to weed them. Check your little treasures regularly. If you’re storing mozzarella, change its water daily. If you’ve got a spare egg yolk keeping fresh in a glass of water, change that water too.
On the other hand, some things don’t need tossing just because they’ve changed color. Those furry blisters on yogurt won’t harm you (isn’t it just free penicillin?). But mow them off the surface with a teaspoon to stop the spread. Blue on cheese? Scrape it off. Fuzz on soft cheese rind? Ditto.
Keep a watch on Parmesan. It turns into a brick good only for breaking windows from one day to the next. Grate it and bag it before it gets to that stage. Keep the rind in a plastic bag or the freezer for tossing into minestrone, bean or tomato soup for extra flavor. (Fish out before serving.)
Some things are really not worth turning into leftovers. If it stinks like a swamp, toss it. If you don’t like pasta salad -- which in my book is useful only as drywall filler -- toss leftover pasta.
Also, keep a tight rein on your imagination. Just because you want to use something up doesn’t mean it will make a good dish. I can tell you that pork chops baked with blackening bananas make a stupendously disgusting combination.
EDFers: How are you coming along with the challenge? Weigh in with your own dose of advice, kitchen reports or lessons learned in the comments area or today at 1 ET for this week's What's Cooking.
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