It was cold, dreary and raining one Sunday recently and I decided that this made for the perfect opportunity to clean out the fridge. Again.
This time was more of a deep clean than a swipe and wipe down. I boiled water because well, scalding hot water is a very cheap cleaning agent. I don’t recommend this for safety reasons but I am exceedingly careful to not get burned. My strategy is to clear out a shelf, carefully pour just enough really hot water on the shelf and wipe and sponge up the excess water. This way also cleans out any stray goo, sticky bits or random food that has somehow adhered to the shelf. I do this for all shelves and then use the rest of the hot water to soak in the crisper drawers before I clean them out as well.
Cleaning, as it turns out, is the easy part of this chore. The tougher part is gathering up everything that needs to be used up quickly and figuring out how to use it all up.
For using up produce from the vegetable bin, I suggest a soup. It’s winter and cold in most parts and a good veggie-based soup can warm your insides as well as your soul without denting your pocketbook. My go-to free style recipe is below. I then rely on my a favorite bread dough to create a swirl bread. Since I had a bunch of leftover cranberry sauce, this was ideal. You could easily use frozen bread or pizza dough for this application. I then took the rest of the salvaged leftovers and threw them into my pasta of the week recipe. This recipe is really useful for using up cheeses of all kinds. I found a knob of goat cheese, a half a block of cream cheese and a couple of handfuls of grated Italian blend cheeses along with some capers, am onion and of all things, some sugar snap peas along with a double fist full of leftover cherry tomatoes. I got the tomatoes sizzling in a hot cast iron pan along with half of the onion that I’d sliced thin. Once the tomatoes started bursting, I tossed in the sugar snap peas before stirring in the goat and cream cheeses on low heat so all the cheese could melt and meld together. I then thinned out the sauce with a bit of milk and added in the grated Italian cheeses and some capers for snap. After grinding in lots of fresh black pepper, I tossed the sauce with a pot full of hot spaghetti., a package of it costs me $0.89 cents at my local discount grocery store. This is a perfect way to use up loads of produce that may be on it’s way out.
Free Form Crisper Soup: As for the soup, I like to use up broccoli or cauliflower but this free form recipe also works for all sorts of hardy produce from potatoes to parsnips, celery and carrots. I had half a wedge of Irish white cheddar that needed using up and half a carton of chicken broth. Since I’d also recently poached some chicken thighs, I found more chicken stock to add to the pot, about six cups total. I took all the chicken stocks and got it boiling in a big pot. I then sliced up a humble potato for thickening and body and a couple of large handfuls of broccoli which I added to the boiling stock. Once the veggies got boiling, I tossed in the rest of the sliced onion and threw in about ten cloves of garlic I’d smashed, fresh whole cloves, for good measure. I have a lot of fresh garlic in my kitchen. Once this all cooked for about 15 minutes, I turned the heat off and let it cool. I then strained out all the cooked produce and gave it a good zap in the blender before returning it all to the pot of stock. Setting the heat to a low simmer, I then added in the grated Irish cheddar and a half eaten container of cheddar flavored cream cheese-based dip that I had lost interest in as a snack. Once the soup thickened up a bit, I added a third of a cup of slurry in the form of mixed together cornstarch and cold water to thicken it up even more. While cleaning out the fridge, I also found two small bags of grated cheese mixes in my cheese drawer so I tossed one of them in the soup for good measure and let the soup’s flavors develop. Finally, I seasoned well with salt and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. To garnish, I used up the final dollops of sour cream and green onions that I’d made for latkes the day prior. I could just as easily used up a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt.
I ate this soup for lunch for nearly a week straight; it was warming and nourishing and oh-so satisfying. The leftovers freeze well though they didn’t last long in my house. Warm and cozy, a cheese based soup like this is filling and lovely during these cold winter months. I could have tossed the whole thing into the slow cooker had I been busy doing other things but since I was working at the stove, post fridge cleaning, I cooked this soup in under an hour though it tastes like it has been simmering on the stove all day long.
I also scrounged up some additional cream cheese and mixed it with some homemade salted caramel sauce and used that as a fun and tasty filling for my weekly batch of banana muffins that I bake for my grandkids. Finally, I used up some leftover fig jam, soy sauce and a few assorted condiments including a half a bottle of teriyaki sauce and made a savory coating for some meatballs that were languishing in the freezer. Served over a bed of cheap rice, it made for another easy, frugal meal for a wintery day.
Speaking of cleaning out the freezer, that will be a blog for another day.