EDF: Pantry Par-tay

New York-based writer Paula Crossfield is the managing editor of Civil Eats, a Web site focused on food and sustainability. She is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post's Green Page and is a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio. She is currently planning a vegetable garden for her roof in the Lower East Side.

Eating Down the Fridge is more about the pantry than the refrigerator at my place. An overwhelming sense of guilt should I allow lettuce to wilt, Emmental cheese to harden or citrus to mold pretty much keeps the fridge in check, save for some leftovers I can’t bear to eat a fourth time. No, this was an opportunity to go after those dried beans, grains, nuts and fruit I’ve been stock piling in the lazy Susan, which my husband keeps threatening not to fix should it break from the weight.

I have a hoarder’s sense when it comes to new and interesting ingredients. Just last weekend I couldn’t say no to local mung and cranberry beans. Dried blueberries and elderberries sounded too good to pass up, too. And, having found a New York source for beans like black and pinto (Cayuga Organics), as well as for grains like wheat, spelt and corn (Wild Hive Farm) I had overzealously collected dry goods through winter. What better time to get through those bags than just before the daffodils begin pushing their way northward and the local flour miller returns to the Union Square Greenmarket?

I took this challenge as a reminder that looking into a pantry full of random foodstuff is a chance for creativity. That is not to say there isn’t a need for meal planning (a favorite past time at my house is talking about your next meal whilst eating). But the secret is in wielding the spice cabinet with a cookbook by your side. Any grains or beans can be livened up with stock, herbs, spices and a tasty recipe.

On day one, while planning my week of food, a box of apples arrived -- an attempt at wooing a blogger, I suppose -- from an organic distributor in Washington state. Serendipity meant an apple tart was in order. Then, while peeling the surprise apples, (slicing half thinly for the top layer and dicing the rest to throw into a pot for the bottom layer with a stray vanilla bean that had been sitting on the counter top waiting for this very moment) the door buzzed again. My second package was a review copy of Bryant Terry’s new cookbook, “Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy and Creative African-American Cuisine.” Perfect timing, I was just looking for inspiration!

As I flip through the book, my mouth begins to water (it was lunchtime). Citrus and Spice Pickled Watermelon Rinds, Collard Confetti, Whole Grain Mustard and Cornmeal Crusted Seitan -- all things I couldn’t wait to try, someday. But on this day, I heat up the kasha and caramelized onions I had prepared using the pantry stash for dinner the evening before. It wasn’t a gourmet meal, but it would do. My apple tart filled the house with the scent of something delicious and I couldn’t wait to eat.

I return to my new book, and I’m drawn to a photo of Johnny Blaze Cakes, which calls for stone ground corn meal, rice milk, sea salt, cayenne pepper, wheat flour and olive oil – all of which I had in some form. I decide to add these to a side of my carrot coleslaw with currants and pecans, and hopefully there would be some leftovers for our two lunches the next day.

I was getting the hang of this. In the spirit of the challenge, I hadn’t shopped the weekend before, hoping to really make an effort to clear things out, and substitute using what was in the cupboard. My paltry produce (2 carrots, 2 parsnips, lettuce, parsley, 3 onions, shallots and a few stalks of celery) might just last the week when paired with the contents of my pantry.

Still digging through your own pantry? Stop by today at 1ET for What's Cooking, Eating Down the Fridge Edition. Joining me at the table are guest bloggers Julia Watson and Eddie Gehman Kohan, of Obama Foodorama.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 12, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Eating Down the Fridge
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Can you tell us how to make Vietnamese iced coffee as mentioned in one of the other EDF guest posts? Sounds delicious!

Posted by: awb1 | March 12, 2009 10:37 AM

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