EDF: Saving the Best for Last

Guest blogger Nicole Spiridakis lives in San Francisco, where she writes about food, travel and her native state at Cucina Nicolina, her cooking blog. When she's not in her (tiny) kitchen working on a new dish, she contributes to NPR's Kitchen Window, the San Francisco Chronicle's Home and Garden section, and other publications. She ate down her fridge last week to file this report.

The trouble with leftovers is that you can get tired of them. Or, at least, I tire of them after awhile. I love making an enormous pot of quinoa-mushroom-spinach stew, and will eat it happily throughout the week for lunch, but by the time long-awaited Friday rolls around I’m looking at my Tupperware container with slight distaste -- even though it’s one of my very favorite meals. I’m sure you know what I mean.

Nicole's quinoa stew. (Nicole Spiridakis)

And yet, I adore a meal cadged from bits and pieces. Leftover chickpea-tomato soup with a hunk of bread dug out of the back of the freezer and warmed quickly in the oven until it's soft enough to be smeared with good butter (or olive oil in a pinch)? Yes, please.

I'm also loathe to throw anything away; even that last little bit of cream cheese that I probably should just add to a vegetable sandwich I'll hold on to until I'm good and ready to eat it. My freezer is stuffed with foil-wrapped mini loaves of honey cake, whole wheat tortillas, a few tomatoes, apple slices peeled and bagged from a friend's tree, veggie burgers.

I guess you could say I'm a bit of a hoarder. Much as it's impossible for me to resist a pair of sweet little flats on sale I'm also powerless when faced with a shelf of discounted canned goods (my mother is so proud). Two-for-one on chickpeas? Prices slashed on organic, fire-roasted tinned tomatoes? If I have enough funds in my checking account I'll fill my shopping bag and lug it home across San Francisco's hilly streets because I can't help squirreling it away against a long winter (or an economic collapse).

But things were starting to get a little crowded. I looked around and saw half-emptied bags of bulk couscous, unopened packages of my beloved Rancho Gordo dried white and black beans, the red quinoa I cherish like pure gold, no fewer than seven frozen bananas (a trick: to save on-the-verge bananas, chuck them into the freezer, peel and all), an inordinate amount of whole grain pasta and a jar of applesauce from the batch I'd canned in August. That applesauce did it: here we're poised on the cusp of spring and yet I still had last summer's preserves kicking around. I was about to drown in a wave of nostalgia and barley.

Blackened bananas make supreme banana bread. (Nicole Spiridakis)

The "Eating Down the Fridge (and Pantry) Challenge" clearly could not have come at a better time.

The first night I made a fine dinner of chickpeas and the spinach I'd picked up at my neighborhood farmer’s market. I sauteed a few cloves of garlic in olive oil, added the chickpeas, spinach and a splash of water. I poured the whole mess over a pot of couscous. The next night, I tumbled in from my run, chilly and starving, and went immediately for the protein punch of quinoa, to which I added a mushroom, asparagus, and white bean stir fry. The next after that, I roasted half a head of cauliflower and heated up the leftover couscous and chickpeas, freeing up even more space in the fridge. I found a box of long-neglected ravioli I'd never gotten around to finishing, and so happily lapped them up with a from-canned-tomatoes sauce. The shelves were clearing up just a little bit. Toward the end of the week I finished off the cauli, some baked tofu that'd been lingering for a while and the rest of the quinoa. I was sated and my fridge was bare of leftovers.

But all those bananas were getting on my nerves, not to mention I was feeling hungry for some fruit. Unfortunately I'd eaten all my market stash and the applesauce I'd already devoured with my morning bowl yogurt and granola. Then I realized I'd saved them for a reason: banana bread. I eked out enough butter from my remaining stash -- having barely enough to grease the pan, too -- and dug around the cupboard to come with a handful of sliced almonds and just enough chocolate chips to make it worthwhile. When it was finished I could barely wait for it to cool enough off to dig in; the bananas, long past their prime, had capitulated gracefully to being baked into something much more than mere leftovers.

All that saving finally paid off.

Quinoa Stew

1 cup quinoa
1 cup sliced mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, sliced
Olive oil
Splash soy sauce
1/2 cube vegetable bouillon
2 cups fresh or frozen spinach
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1/2 cup carrot, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the quinoa in a strainer. Meanwhile, saute the mushrooms and garlic in a large, heavy pot with a little olive oil over low heat until soft. Add a dash of soy sauce if you like.

Add five cups of water and the quinoa and bring to a boil. Add the bouillon cube and stir to dissolve. Reduce heat to low and cook about 10 minutes. When the quinoa is cooked, add two more cups of water, the spinach and corn and carrot, and cook a few minutes. Simmer for 10 minutes to combine flavors, adding more water if you'd like a more soupy stew. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve very hot.

Makes 2-4 servings

Banana-Chocolate Bread

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 very ripe bananas, coarsely mashed (about 1 1/2 cups); if frozen, bring to room temperature before using
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk + 1/2 teaspoon vinegar)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips
handful sliced almonds or walnuts

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

Using an electric beater, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until creamy, about one minute. Add the bananas, vanilla and eggs, and beat until smooth. Add the buttermilk and beat just until combined.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and beat just until combined. Add the chocolate chips (and nuts, if using). The batter should be slightly lumpy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the loaf is dark golden brown, a toothpick inserted into the center come out clean, and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, 55-60 minutes. Let the bread rest in the pan for five minutes, then turn the loaf out onto a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut into thick slices to serve.

Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 11, 2009; 10:00 AM ET Eating Down the Fridge
Previous: Eating Down Fridge: Guest Blogger Julia Watson | Next: EDF: Hump Day Reflections


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Yesterday we had shepard's pie (or is it cottage pie when you use ground beef?)--beef and veggies from the freezer, 4 last potatoes in the pantry. Used up the rest of a bottle of wine from last year (my mom likes it but is not sweet enough for me) in the filling. Also used up leftover salad (on the side) with the last of a bottle of Italian dressing. My daughter wouldn't eat the shepard's pie but helpfully finished off an old container of ice cream!
Still not able to see the lightbulb in my freezer...this has been fun! I've played this game before, but in a more limited, happened-by-accident way.

Posted by: GirlScoutMom | March 11, 2009 4:54 PM

Oops, posted to the wrong place. Sorry!

Posted by: GirlScoutMom | March 11, 2009 5:01 PM

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