What's Cooking: Eating Down the Fridge Challenge

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, March 12, 2009 1:00 PM

Calling all foodies! Join us for an Eating Down the Fridge edition of What's Cooking, our live online culinary hour with Kim O'Donnel. All week long, Kim has been leading the charge in the Eating Down the Fridge Challenge with more than 100 hundred households across the country. Together, they've taken a break from food shopping, using up what's in the fridge, freezer and pantry.

A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education (formerly Peter Kump's New York Cooking School), Kim spends much of her time in front of the stove or with her nose in a cookbook.

The transcript follows.

Catch up on previous transcripts with the What's Cooking archive page. For daily dispatches from Kim's kitchen, check out her blog, A Mighty Appetite.


Kim O'Donnel: It's now Day 5 of the Eating Down the Fridge Challenge, and I gotta say, I'm having too much fun. Today, we've got reports from Canberra, Australia and from self-confessed pantry hoarder Paula Crossfield, who runs things at sustainable food site CivilEats. I've loved hearing from each and every one of you -- the successes, the bloopers, the trials and the revelations, the evening dinner reports, it's all amazing.

Today is all about keeping up the momentum. Are you now stuck on Day 5 and in need of inspiration? Tell us what's in your fridge and we'll figure out what you can whip up for tonight's supper. But wait, there's more! I've got special guests! Joining me at the table areJulia Watson, the voice of eatWashington (and EDF guest blogger on Tuesday) and blog minx Eddie Gehman Kohan, who writes Obama Foodorama (and whose guest blog post appears tomorrow). Eddie knows a good-golly-Miss-Molly amount about food safety, and Julia's been writing about food for about 20 years, so I'm feeling pretty confident we've got a bang-up crew to get you set for the rest of the week. And with that, let's get started!


Arlington, VA: I am SO much a bachelor. One quick peek in the fridge proves it. There's so very little food stored there. Currently, there's milk, juice, beer, eggs, and two blocks of cheese. Nothing 'green', unless you include any forgotten take-out.

Can you suggest a list of 7 to 10 items that I ought to keep on hand, as "staples" or essentials to be used as ingredients for "quick meals"??

Julia Watson: Bacon's top of my list. So's Parmesan. Both of these make instant pasta meals. (Pancetta is a bit more grand than bacon but bacon will do fine.) Olive oil, garlic, black pepper and plenty of Parmesan make a really quick sauce for spaghetti (hold back some of the [pasta water to loosen the pasta once you've added all the other ingredients. Bacon and eggs and Parmesan turned into very hot pasta make Spaghetti Carbonara (look up a full recipe so you don't get something from having the eggs raw...) I'd always have garlic and onions around. If you have some heavy fat, like mascarpone, or creme fraiche, you can boost any root vegetable you have around to make almost a one-pot meal" baked sweet potato with a wallop of it (and crispy bacon crumbled over the top), dump some on cabbage cooked in a little butter...Plenty of black pepper. But don't start buying just-in-case stuff. Otherwise you won't have room in the fridge for your regular shopping.


Springfield, Va.: Hi Kim, I love this idea of eating down the fridge but I must admit that it is a little easier for me to "cheat" because I keep two pantries. The first is the one that appears in our kitchen with the usual assortment of foodstuff while the other pantry is in our garage. The garage pantry has all of the stuff we'd need in the event of a bad storm or catastrophe but it also contains extras of the staples we regularly consume (e.g., tuna, olives, bottled sauces, canned peaches/vegs, pasta) so that I have the stuff I need in a pinch (or during a week like this). One last thing: you don't need an abundance of extra space for an extra pantry as I did a version of this (too many!) years ago in my college dorm room.

Julia Watson: When global disaster strikes, I'm heading over to your house...


Gettysburg, Pa: Here's my dilemma: I have a couple cans of spinach which have been sitting around the pantry for a while. How do i know they weren't canned during the spinach scare of a couple years back? Do i have to scan the codes on the can or something- that seems like quite a task. Or am i lazy bum? So far my answer has been to leave them on the shelves and just contemplate them. Help!

Eddie Gehman Kohan: The prudent thing to do is to ditch the spinach. Tracking down the product codes at this point would be very difficult, and sadly, there's no real way of knowing if you've got some super mutated bug in there that's managed to survive. One of the unfortunate things about food recalls is that they're never complete, and contaminated foods wind up staying in the supply chain long after the "official" recall has been forgotten. And BTW, don't compost anything you suspect is contaminated, obviously...

Julia Watson: There's a really nice appetizer - or cocktails snack - you can do with okra that also works as a side. Lay them out on paper towels to get as dry as possible. Dredge them in flour and deep fry till golden. Sprinkle with salt. Otherwise, cook them with canned tomatoes and some onions and garlic you've stewed in olive oil. That's a very Greek dish. And could be a one-pot meal.


Annandale, VA: Any ideas for spiffing up canned foods? I keep the recommended 3 days worth of food for emergencies. The problem is, it would have to be an emergency for me to eat some of this stuff. My office had an annual food drive for several years, which gave me a chance to rotate the stock, but they didn't do that this year.

Currently, I have canned soup (mostly Campbells Healthy Request chicken noodle and vegetable), canned peaches, canned tuna, canned chicken, canned V8 juice, and canned green beans. Oh, and two large boxes of corn flakes due to a coupon and a good sale. Fortunately, the can of Spam found a home at last year's food drive.

Julia Watson: I'd say you might have to add some purchases to make use of the canned soups. So if you buy some chicken breasts, you could use the soup as the sauce for a chicken pot pie (with added par boiled potatoes, maybe those canned beans. And instead of a pastry crust, how about crushing - though not to dust - those cornflakes and sprinkling them on top?


Washington, D.C.: Hi there,

I got some leeks, ground beef, a red bell pepper, some kale, and a pretty well stock pantry. Dinner ideas please. I have made soups with the leeks and the kale earlier (but not together) so maybe something more solid.

Julia Watson: I know this doesn't use anything but the leeks. But I really like leeks vinaigrette. You steam the leeks till soft then plate them and pour over a mustardy vinaigrette. Then you get your grater and a boiled egg and you grate the white part over each end, then the hard boiled yolk in the middle. Serve it with a good meat patty using the beef spiked with finely chopped red peppers. Or broil those peppers till blackened. Slip of their skins, slice them in strips and bathe in olive oil as another side to the burgers.


EDFreezer, Tuesday in Indiana: I had a pork shoulder in the freezer. I had de-boned it before freezing, but that is not required. I made a delish Carolina-style crockpot pulled pork. For a 4-5 pound boneless shoulder put into the crockpot:

3 TBSP liquid smoke

2 cups cider vinegar

up to 4 tsp salt

2 tsp cayenne

3 tsp red pepper flakes

2 TBSP packed dark brown sugar.

(If your roast is smaller, cut down the other ingredients. There is no prize for exactness, so just approximate the amounts.)

You can adjust the salt and peppers, too based on family prejudices. I put these ingredients in the crockpot the night before and in the morning added the (mostly thawed) meat. When I came home I used 2 forks to pull the pork and it was ready to serve.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for filing your report, Indiana! By the way, did you all know that 120 households across the country signed up for the EDF (plus EDFers in Denmark, S. Africa and Australia)? On the Eating Down the Fridge Facebook Group page, we've got 228 folks talking to each other 24/7. The concept has spread like wildfire!


Silver Spring, Md.: How long can you safely keep eggs? I don't eat them very often and wanted to use them in a banana cake recipe. Would it be dangerous to use them after say four to six months or would they just not taste as fresh?

Julia Watson: If you plop them in a glass of water and they float, then throw them out. But the egg will tell you if it's gone off when you break it open. The stench is foul. But if in doubt, don't use them. They're not that expensive to make you feel guilty for chucking them.


Anonymous: I have always been so intimidated by bread-baking, but the EDF has me considering that by Sat pm when I am making my wild boar ragu, I will probably have run out of a nice crusty bread to go with it. Since I did my last grocery shop on Saturday, I am going to try to go until next Thursday (my usual shopping day) without a trip to the store. I have all the ingredients for making one of your white breads - after reading Parts 1-3, it is unclear to me if you ended up with any preference. I was thinking about doing the bread on Saturday - so I won't have overnight to refrigerate. In that case, I was leaning to #3, the no- knead bread. Do you have any recommendations?

Kim O'Donnel: I think this is Miz Mack in Holden Mass, no? re: bread: I liked all three that I tested, but I'd say that #3, the NK method by Zoe Francois is incredibly practical (and economical), as you're making a batch of dough that yields 4 loaves of bread, and you can bake bread as you need over a 2-week period. Since last weekend, I've baked 3 one-pound loaves, and will likely bake the fourth this weekend.

Julia Watson: How about doing biscuits instead of bread? Much faster to make. For about 10, sifting 8 oz of self-raising flour and a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl. Add 3 oz of butter, cut into small lumps. This must be at room temperature - if it is too cold, it will be difficult to rub in. Lightly rub the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. In a jug, beat one large egg together with 2 tablespoons of buttermilk and start to add it to the rubbed-in mixture. Mix in with a palette knife. Bring the mass together by hand. Roll out gently to about 2 inches thick. Punch out circles with a wine glass. Set on a baking tray and cook in a 425F oven till gold, about 10-15 minutes. Eat once.


Swarthmore, Pa: I found five cans of various preparations of pineapple in my pantry--crushed, rings, you name it. Any great ideas on what to do with them all? Or some? Bonus points if it includes one of my zillion cans of diced or crushed tomatoes.

Eddie Gehman Kohan: I had exactly the same thing in my pantry, and made a really yummy, unexpected pineapple "chutney" with 1 can of drained chunk pineapple (cut into smaller pieces), 1/4 cup chopped jalapeno and banana peppers, 1/2 cup of dried tart cherries, 1/4 cup of white balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and a tiny grating of lemon peel. Put in a saucepan, cover and let simmer over medium heat so the liquid reduces; less than an hour, and stir occasionally. Remove lid so excess liquid cooks off. Went swell with roasted chicken, and also put some in a baked potato with sour cream. Reduce the amount of peppers if you don't like super-spicey! No bonus points for me...although tomato and pineapple sounds very interesting....

Kim O'Donnel: Like Eddie, I love the heat of chiles with fruit. I've been known to add chopped peanuts to pineapple chunks, with cilantro, a little chopped fresh chile, red onion, red bell pepper, plus a sauce, with fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar. It's DIVINE

Julia Watson: I like pineapple rings just sprinkled with sugar and caramelized under a hot broiler to eat with vanilla ice cream.

But I've made a good relish, like Eddie, with a mix of 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of vinegar and a chopped red chili pepper. Add less than 1/4 pint of water for it all to melt in then poured it over the pineapple chunks. Eat once cold, store in fridge.


Charlottesville, Va.: This is in the fridge: organic American cheese, chicken cutlets, bread, garlic, pears, apples. Possible to do anything interesting with this?

Julia Watson: Apple pie with the cheese (if it's a hard cheese) cut into small chunks and folded in with the apple slices to bake together. Apple pie without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze, as they say in Yorkshire. Nigella Lawson puts them together like this.


New York, N.Y.: I know that Spam gets a bum wrap, but after living in Hawaii, I love it. Any suggestions for what to do with it, other than Spam and eggs and Spam musubi (a slice of Spam on top of sushi rice and wrapped in nori)?

Julia Watson: Spam fritters! Takes me right back to my grandmother's kitchen - heart attack central. But they're good. Just dip slices in flour and fry them each side till brown.


Oviedo, Fla.: I spent nearly $300 less on food in Feb., eating down the frig and pantry. Bread-machine bread and coffee cake and pancakes, baked beans, lentil soup, even Jello - we made use of all the staples and just used our own stuff. Bought dairy and produce and used meat and fish from freezer - and lots of meatless pasta dishes. We wasted less, freed up storage space and had six weeks of lighter spending. It was great! Inspired us to shop the closets and use up paper goods, toiletries, even gift cards. Use what you have - a great credo!

Kim O'Donnel: Nice going, Oviedo. I find myself wanting to keep going, with a small replenishment of fresh produce this weekend. We've got plenty here at the Casa for at least another week.


Eating down for other reasons: Hi Kim! I have been involved in EDF/EDP for the past few months. It's going really well. I am making bread, pudding, risotto, stew, bean purees and soups, chili, cornbread, buckwheat kasha, pancakes/waffles, cookies, etc. These things are helping us use up marinades, dressings, syrups, jams, canned fruit and spice blends.

Why? Pending kitchen renovation! The more we clear out now, the less we have to move out or toss out. The other reason is a new vigilance about becoming an HFCS-free household.

My EDF recipe for the week, courtesy of the trusty Better Homes & Gardens 3-ring binder cookbook, was "Finnish Chestnut Fingers" whereby I used up some flour and a can of French chestnuts, as well as some chocolate morsels.

My EDF embarrassment for the week was finding a bulk bag of poutine gravy mix from Quebec -- packaged in September 2000! It was initially in powder form, but was hard as a rock. In my defense, I'm short and it was in the back of a shelf that I cannot access without standing on a chair. But still -- wow.

Kim O'Donnel: I know a lot of readers can relate to the "science experiments" we have found in the fridge and cabinets!


Arlington Gay: Kim, my Mr. Gay requested a 1 day respite from EDF, but as a former Arlingtonian I'm sure you'll understand his request for Italian Store subs for dinner.

I have some ideas for the rest of the week, though I haven't had to buy much at ALL so far. Last night was my white pizza; I had a Bobili shell and cheese, some chicken, and I always have garlic on hand. Only had to buy some fresh basil and a pepper. (I knew produce would be an issue...)

I had another idea for Saturday, though, once I've made some room in my pantry. I'm going to sort thru what's left and anything that's been a long-term resident but didn't get used is going to the local food bank. A group I'm active with does fund raisers for the Arlington Food Assistance Center so I know where to go. If it's still usable but I haven't used it, I'm going to donate it.

I'm calling it EDF Gives Back. <g>

Kim O'Donnel: GAFF, I LOVE The idea of taking the EDF to the next level and sharing your pantry bounty with those for whom EDF is not an option. It's got me thinking of putting togehter a list of organizations on a national or regional level, for next week's blog space. Keep the amazing inspiration coming!


Seattle, WA: JR has seal oil in the fridge. Any suggestions? km

Kim O'Donnel: Pour it on corn cakes? This one definitely has me stumped. Seal oil thoughts, folks?


Clam Chowder: Hi Kim and gang! I am having so much fun with this challenge! Tonight I am going to use up some of my canned clam chowder! Normally I add some red and black pepper to it, and some onion, to perk it up a bit. Any other suggestions?

Julia Watson: I jazzed up some canned soup with a shot of sherry just before serving. Really lifted it from the canned level!


Toronto, Ontario: My husband and I work from home so the challenge has been great doubly fun (it may be a while, though, before I eat braised beef or black bean chili). My dilemma today: any ideas for using up a nearly fully wilted bunch of basil? Not eating pasta or other grains these days and I also have no pine nuts on hand, so pesto isn't a great option. Original intent was to use them in a Thai Beef Lard last night but then I looked more closely at the recipe and it didn't call for basil. This is "regular" basil, not Thai.

Julia Watson: That's a tough one because you don't say what else you have on offer. If you don't chuck it finely minced into a soup, you could just stuff it into a bottle of olive oil and leave in a dark place to flavor it for another use.

Kim O'Donnel: Use on top of pizza dough? Throw into tomato sauce? Chop up with black olives?


Holden, Mass.: Yes, it's me. Is something like Tupperware considered a "close-fitting, but not airtight" container for the purposes of the NK bread?

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, and if it creates a seal, just cover it and don't worry about shutting it completely tight. That's what I've done with this batch.


Washington, D.C.: Eating down the fridge/freezer -- last night I had shiratki noodles with shrimp, black beans, green beans and teriyaki sauce. Somewhat random combo, but it was tasty and healthful!

Kim O'Donnel: Nice going, DC! Isn't it cool to see what we're capable of creating?


EDF, DC: This is such a great idea!

Possibly for dinner tonight from the contents of my refrigerator -- grilled cheese sandwich made with cinnamon raisin bread, cheddar and slices of an Asian pear. Not sure if it will be delicious or weird.

Eddie Gehman Kohan: I'm voting delish. Can it be mailed?

Kim O'Donnel: Bring it on!


Rockville, Md.: Okay, so I have a lot of rice, beans, lentils, and frozen veggies stocked up. How do I make the generic rice and beans more exciting? Are there different types of rice and bean recipes I can make to avoid leftover fatigue?

Julia Watson: Do you have Indian spices to hand? If you could cook in hot oil before adding the rice and beans, etc, some garlic, chili, fresh ginger, coriander (ground seeds as well as chopped fresh, cumin you'd have a curry-type dish. Simmer it all up with a stick of cinnamon...


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

We got a bag of frozen okra instead of frozen broccoli in our peapod order a few weeks ago. I've never eaten okra before, but in the interest of the challenge, what can I do with it?


Eddie Gehman Kohan: Okra is like an awesome rock n' roll cover band that can play anything; it's really versatile. It gets "gummy" when stewed or boiled; thus its use in Gumbos. But if you fry it,the gummy thing doesn't happen, and that's the case with raw okra, too. So, you could simply defrost your happy bag and be all Elvis Costello (he's vegan!) and toss it into a salad, or you could get all Elvis Presley and fry it on up--a traditional Southern way of prepping. You could also get all Katrina and the Waves and make a seafood dish--Mark Bittman has a really good recipe here-- http://tinyurl.com/ap53y6 -- for stir fried Shrimp with okra and lime. I'll assume you're wanting to stick with the challenge though--and I'll also assume you have spices, and some cornmeal on hand. So, here's Elvis Okra: Cut off stems and tips, and slice the okra into 1/4-1/2 inch pieces. Put in a bowl and toss about 3/4 tsp salt in, and let chill in the fridge. Heat up a deep skillet with about an inch of vegetable oil, and let it get hot. Drain okra thoroughly, and then dredge each piece in a bowl that has about a half cup of cornmeal in it, with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper mixed in. You can also toss in 1/2 tsp of cayenne, or even more, if you want Hot Okra, or conversely, toss in 1/2-3/4 tsp of curry powder if you want to get all Jai Ho. Fry until golden. Goes swell as a side, and is also a sneaky way to get kids to eat their veggies, if the frying idea doesn't offend you. Okra is high in fibre and low in fat, and has a lot of Vitamins A and C, and minerals...

Kim O'Donnel: I have had the best time with Scott Peacock's okra fritters. I've only done them with fresh okra, but I'm sure you could use frozen.


Centre of Nowhere: Hi! I am enjoying the challenge and may go for a few extra days becausse my better half has been travelling for work this week. Aside from the usual pastas and baking supplies that we go through regularly, here is what has been lingering in my pantry and freezer that I'd love some ideas for:

can of coconut milk, lo mein noodles, somen noodles, jar of Hungarian peppers (from last summer's markets -- so pretty!), capers, mushroom stock (frozen), dried mushrooms, pine nuts, frozen spinach, frozen cherry peppers

I have plenty of rice, garlic and ginger and am looking for a Thai-inspired something or other. Help? Pointers? THANK YOU!!

Julia Watson: Everything for the perfect meal! I'd go for a soup/stew, reconstituting the dried mushrooms in the unfrozen stock, then frying up plenty of garlic, those cherry peppers then adding the mushrooms in the stock, the coconut cream and the spinach. If you've got onions, slice one very very thin, separate the circles and fry them in a little oil till they turn brown, drain them on paper towels where they'll crisp up. Sprinkle over the thick soup and gobble it all up!


Big Eater, Charlottesville, Va.: Speaking of canned goods: I often buy organic soup or stew in a can. Sometimes it doesn't say "product of USA" even though it will say USDA organic. Should I assume that some of the ingredients (especially herbs, spices) are NOT from the U.S.?

Eddie Gehman Kohan: Yes, USDA Organic does not mean there are NOT foreign products in your processed foods. We have very odd labeling laws in the US and all sorts of sneaky things get on to your dinner plate, from genetically modified whatev to irradiated spices and meats..to, you know, salmonella...If you're a seriously xenophobic eater and want to eat exclusively red, white and blue chow, you need to make sure the company you buy from only sources all ingredients from the US. And BTW, good luck with that...

Julia Watson: ...And US organic certification isn't necessarily as tight as it is in, say, the UK, where the land has to be organic before you grown the organic produce. And animals can only be certified as organic meat if they've eaten on organic grass and never been fed anything but organic feed. Not the same strictures in the US.


New Jersey: I'm so sorry I missed the fun! But I did make lunch this week from ratatouille made and frozen last summer from my CSA - added cooked rice and kidney beans and plain yogurt. Am eating it right now. Good! Lasted me 4 lunches.

I have a plug for an out-of-print cookbook - "Fresh from the Freezer." It's NOT a "cook 21 meals in 1 day cookbook. It's a FANTASTIC guide to preparing and freezing prepped ingredients (like eggplant slices) for future gourmet meals.

Question - just how long can you dig down? I mean, really .... not those fake generic guidelines .... or at least point me to a website with the REAL times you can use frozen foods.

Eddie Gehman Kohan: Ice, Ice, Baby: The secret to safe food from the freezer is making sure that it was properly prepped to begin with--and that it's packaged securely. The guidelines for "digging down" are: At 0 degrees, Fruits and Vegetables last 8-12 months, Poultry 6-9 months, Fish 3-6 months, Ground Meat 3-4 months, Cured or Processed Meat 1-2 months. It's a good idea to write the date you popped your food into the freezer on the outside of the package, in more than one place, just in case. If you've had a power outage that lasts more than 10 hours, unfortunately all hell may be breaking loose in your freezer, and you should reconsider the chow stored inside. The USDA has an eggs-cellent fact sheet with everything you need to know about freezing here: www.fsis.usda.gov/FactSheets/Focus_On_Freezing/index.asp#1

Kim O'Donnel: Great rule of thumb, Eddie. Maybe we should make fridge magnets!


Denver, Colo.: This challenge came at a great time, as I'm traveling for the next two weeks. Am simmering a veggie stock at this moment, with a shriveled potato, celery, green onions, and some flimsy carrots, plus a rind from some unknown hard cheese. The fridge looks great! But, I made a ton of black bean soup early this week (with stale sourdough bread mixed in), and no way to finish it. Will it freeze okay?

Eddie Gehman Kohan: Your soup sounds yummy, but unfortunately you may want to refer to it as Gambler's Choice once it gets frozen. The presence of the sourdough bread may make it difficult to defrost and still taste the same. It's worth a shot, though! It's worth a shot though...

Kim O'Donnel: I agree, the bread part may not translate well upon thaw, but definitely worth trying.


Reston, Va.: Last night we had pork cutlets with a mustard sauce: grainy mustard, white wine, peach jam, lemon juice, and a dash of curry powder. All stuff I had in the pantry or fridge, and it was ready in twenty minutes. Served it over some microwaved leftover rice. It was good enough that I'm planning to serve it when we have company in a few weeks.

Julia Watson: Love that use for peach jam!


Have pineapple -- make pina coladas!: One of my pantry finds was a can of crushed pineapple and a can of coconut cream. Over the weekend, I intend to puree the pineapple and make some mean pina coladas!

Or you could combine canned pineapple with ginger, brown sugar and soy sauce and make a nice homemade teriyaki sauce for all manner of things.

Kim O'Donnel: Brilliant idea for cocktails, and I love the idea for teriyaki sauce. Pineapple is great in a marinade. Good call.


EDF Q: Hi Kim! Love the EDF challenge; makes me so much more thankful for what I have and determined to use it up! What can I do with crushed tomatoes other than spaghetti sauce? I have a value-sized can sitting, lonely, in my pantry. Thanks!

Julia Watson: You can make your own tomato paste. Just fry it all down gently in some olive oil into which you've melted some garlic. Once it begins to caramelize watch it. You're looking for a thick paste that you then use like an olive tapenade, spreading it on bruschetta, or serving as a kind of dollop of ketchup on chicken breasts, burgers, etc. You can keep it in the fridge in a jar and reconsitute it with stock into a runnier sauce or soup.

Kim O'Donnel: Julia is brilliant, no?


Rockville, Va: What can I do with carrots? They always just get left in the fridge.

Kim O'Donnel: Ah, you must look at today's blog space, with EDF report from Canberra, Australia. Reader has a thing for carrots, see what she's cooked up. Link is at tippy top of page.


Reston, Va.: EDF this week involved quiche and salads. The quiche has bacon, caramelized onions, spinach, and cheese; my work-lunch salads came about because I'm out of bread. So I just chopped up the cheese and lunchmeat and threw it in a container with lettuce and cukes. Yum.

We're also eating stuff that's been in the pantry or freezer for awhile -- pasta and rice side dishes with some sauteed frozen veggies. It's amazing how a little browned onion can mask boring frozen-veg taste.

Kim O'Donnel: Right on, Reston. I think what's happening for you is happening to others -- you're being resourceful. All of sudden, the lightbulb goes on. It's been very eye opening.


B'More Cat and EDF Lover: Enjoying the chat here from my desk where I am eating leftover Green Coconut Curry Fish with spinach and brown rice that I made for dinner earlier this week. The fish had been lurking in my freezer for quite a while and I was happy to finally use it up. Tastes great! However, in the past I've made some scary combinations from what I had on hand.

For future follow up, would you consider compiling a list of resources (books, blogs, websites, etc.) that help with combining ingredients? For example, are there websites where you can input ingredients and get back recipes that combine those ingredients? That would be very helpful.

Kim O'Donnel: Well done, B'More! I love reading about all these EDF meals! Great idea about recipe databases, resources to help with meal planning. Going forward!


Laurel, Md.: I've got enough in the freezer to keep me going a while. I'm such a sucker for sales.

I've run out of veggies pretty quick, and pretty much all of it was in the freezer to start with. I've got a couple of "perfect for pot pie" veggies containers, and a while back, I bought pie tins just for this, but I have a meat question:

I have a whole roaster chicken (that was on sale!) in the freezer. Can I cook it and then use the meat for the pie? Or do I start with uncooked meat? I thought this would be neat way to get some complex flavors going into the pie.

Kim O'Donnel: Cook it first. You'll enjoy it just out of the oven, and then you can slice off bits for the pie. You can also remove all the meat, then make stock, which is like having a little pot of gold in the kitchen. Divide up, freeze some, have some on hand in the fridge.


Bethesda Mom: Greetings all: I'm having some success with eating down the fridge/freezer -- made chicken sausages with carmelized onions, jarred pasta sauce and pasta -- but I was intrigued by Julia's mention of marscapone cheese. I bought two 8 oz tubs of it for a dessert that I never made, and put it in the freezer so as not to spoil. Any savory suggestions that I could make with it? (None with bacon or pork, however). Thanks!

Julia Watson: It's just a fancy cream cheese. You can use, thinned with a little milk or water, instead of milk, in, say, a quiche, for a much richer center. You can also loosen it with a little milk then beat in some fine sugar to taste and a teaspoon of vanilla essence, whisk up an egg white (one to about 4 ounces of mascarpone), fold in the egg white and you'll have a mousse which goes well with fresh or frozen berries. It's also good to dollop in a soup just before serving. And makes a quick filling for a cake - sweeten it, it will become a frosting too.

Julia Watson: I've just remembered - I folded in a whole lot of hard cheeses that couldn't be eaten with bread, and used it instead of bechamel to make a cheese souffle...


For pineapple: I've made this recipe a bunch of times when unexpected company arrives, because you WANT canned fruit as opposed to fresh. It's all stuff I usually have on hand. The recipe calls for canned peaches, but I bet it'd be great with canned pineapple.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! Thank you for sharing.


fried rice/frittata/savory bread pudding: These are my three staple meals for using up the stash on hand. Tuesday night I made a bread pudding with homemade whole wheat bread (from the no-knead book), a bunch of frozen carmelized onions, some cubed steamed butternut squash, the end of a chunk of gruyere, parsley, eggs, milk. It was fantastic and we've been eating it reheated for breakfast! We also had fried rice this weekend -- used up a couple red peppers, the end of a bag of carrots, a block of tofu, some withering green onions. I love usin' up!

Kim O'Donnel: I've been loving it, too. Fried rice is a staple here at the Casa, so I can relate. Keep up the good work!


Washington, D.C.: I have been EDF'ing it for 2 weeks now and it's been great to see my freezer and cupboards clear out. I live alone and like trying new recipes, so things tend to pile up -- even in my very small kitchen. So far, I've been through frozen chicken, several bell peppers I had lying around, Asian noodles, banana muffins AND banana bread and much more! My favorites so far have been making potatoes gratin (using potatoes that were grossing me out with their many roots) and salads featuring lettuce, dried cranberries, nuts and apples. I have a few more things I want to clear out, but my pantry and freezer are now almost half as full as they were before.

Kim O'Donnel: Congratulations, DC! You must be so proud. I encourage everyone to do this at least once, for the experience. It's impossible not to learn something along the way.


EDF: Leftover Thumper in a Pot in fridge (rabbit in white wine/tomato sauce). I'm thinking make pasta, toss in bunny and serve with salad.

Two more in freezer and I'd like to try something different. Do you think a heavier beefier gravy like sauce would be too much?

Julia Watson: How about an old fashioned rabbit pie? Wash the rabbit joints, get rid of the ribs (no meat on them), put them in a large pan with onion and a chopped apple, some chopped bacon, a bay leaf and some thyme. Season. Add half apple cider, half chicken stock to cover, bring to a simmer and skim any scum. Cook with lid on over gentle heat till tender, about an hour. Strain off the liquid, put everything solid into a pie dish, make a bechamel with the liquid, cover the whole thing with pastry, bake it till gold, and the farmer's got his pie!

You could wrap just the saddle in prosciutto and roast in a hot over.

Any of your left over rabbit sauce for the pasta you could use to stuff empanadas.


Holden, Mass.: For Eddie: Pawing around my pantry has me discovering some really old baking ingredients -- yesterday I made a cake using cake flour with a 2005 expiration date. The cake flour smelled fine, so I used it. What's a good rule of thumb for dry goods? (Rice, beans, grains, flours.)

Eddie Gehman Kohan: Great question. And let me congratulate you on your courage. That's a big expy date! But I myself am always managing to find elderly baking products that qualify for social security benefits, and yet they are usually good to go. The key is storage--air tight, low moisture, keep out of direct sunlight. Transferring any/everything from a cardboard-paper box or bag into plastic when you first get it home is the best way to ensure safety and long shelf life. And the Mormons, despite their disastrous positions on marriage (uh oh, politics crept in...) are absolute disaster masters when it comes to food safety and security. Everything you could possibly need to know about proper food storage and shelf life is at this site at Utah State University: extension.usu.edu/foodstorage/ Keep in mind, though, that they recommend 300 pounds of rice per family member per year, which is beyond most people's "interest," unless perhaps for use as a mattress. But the recommendations are swell. There's also this other Mormon site, which gives equally good advice, and also sells storage containers, if you are not too politically correct to give Mormons your money: www.providentliving.org/channel/1,11677,1706-1,00.html And there's always your friendly local Container Store....


Speghetti alla Carbonara: This recipe always works for me. I usually use all Parmesan cheese.

Speghetti alla Carbonara


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 pound bacon (6 to 8 slices), slices halved length-wise, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 large eggs

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (3/4 cup)

3/4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (about 1/4 cup)

3 small cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced to paste

1 pound spaghetti

Table salt and ground black pepper (see note)


1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, set large heatproof serving bowl on rack, and heat oven to 200 degrees. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil in large Dutch oven or stockpot.

2. While water is heating, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Add wine and simmer until alcohol aroma has cooked off and wine is slightly reduced, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm. Beat eggs, cheeses, and garlic together with fork in small bowl; set aside.

3. When water comes to boil, add pasta and 1 tablespoon table salt; stir to separate pasta. Cook until al dente; reserve 1/3 cup pasta cooking water and drain pasta for about 5 seconds, leaving pasta slightly wet. Transfer drained pasta to warm serving bowl; if pasta is dry, add some reserved cooking water (see below) and toss to moisten. Immediately pour egg mixture over hot pasta, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes or 3/4 teaspoon table salt; toss well to combine. Pour bacon mixture over pasta, season generously with black pepper, and toss well to combine. Serve immediately.

Source: Cooks Illustrated

Kim O'Donnel: We had carbonara last night! Here's the version that rocks my world


Washington, D.C.: I have one of those tubes of concentrated tomato paste. If a recipe calls for 1 tsp. of tomato paste, should I just squeeze out half a teaspoon from the tube?

All this EDF chatter reminds me that I have some pesto that needs to be eaten!

Julia Watson: Half a teaspoon won't put you wrong. Me, I'd even go for the whole teaspoon. I think the concentrate has a really good deep flavor. So unless you're making some very refined recipe and obviously don't want to overwhelm less strong tasting ingredients, I don't think a whole teaspoon would cause any harm.


Washington, D.C.: We used to put Spam in our fried rice. Chop it up into tiny cubes and toss it in.

Eddie Gehman Kohan: And thus you are officially eating like Our President, Spam lover, and "Son of Aloha."


Re: Spinach: The spinach scare related only to fresh spinach, as I recall. I think the heating process during canning kills bacteria. I'd eat it.

Eddie Gehman Kohan: Negative on that. Raw spin was publicly the culprit, but salmonella doesn't get killed in cooking and canning at a reliable enough level to encourage anyone to eat recall-era food.


Del Ray, Va: I've got half a bag of Yukons. I used some earlier in the week to make some great dairy-free smashed potatoes. I plan to use some to make some freezer gnocchi.

I need some ideas to use the rest for a great side for dinner tonight with a lovely roast pork loin.

Kim O'Donnel: Mister MA loves nothing more than a bunch of roasted Yukons. We brush them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and add a little chopped rosemary, into a 400 oven and cook til tender. Heaven.


EDF in KDH, NC: This challenge gets more challenging as the week progresses, but so far there has been NO suffering.

Last night we had cabbage stuffed with ground beef, smothered in curry lentil soup. Tried this at the suggestion of a friend who's a chef. It was really tasty. Other creative cabbage suggestions would be welcome.

Gearing up for the weekend by cooking dried chick peas. Will make chick pea salad with roasted red peppers then grind the leftovers into hummus.

Kim O'Donnel: KDH, NC: So glad you've been on board. As our supplies dwindle, I've been thinking about pizza dough and collaborating with a friend. Should declare Friday night EDF Pizza Night. Who's game? We could share pix on the Facebook group page as well.


NWDC: Is the date expiration label on the cans really true? I have some cans that I just look at because I know how long I've had them but the date of expiry is less than one year. I'd feel guilty throwing them away. Please tell me the truth. :)

Scaredy cat in D.C.

Eddie Gehman Kohan: It depends on what kind of food you're talking about for expiration dates, unfortunately. Sometimes the expy date is for "taste and flavor" and sometimes it means that chemical transformation may set in after a certain date...sorry to not be more specific!


Takoma, D.C.: Total EDF issue here -- I have some rice noodles left over from some long ago recipe (the broad noodles, not vermicelli) -- what should I make with them? I'm willing to go shopping for standard food items (i.e. produce, chicken, shrimp, etc.) if it will help use up the rice noodles. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Takoma, check out today's blog space for Canberra's suggestion for using up rice noodles, with a veggie stirfry. Have you got any peanut butter or crushed peanuts? You can make a peanut sauce. Lime? Soy sauce?


Alexandria, Va.: I've been trying to pare down my perhaps-too-well-stocked pantry in anticipation of a move this summer (like I said... it's very well stocked!). I seem to have a lot of tea -- some bagged, some loose. I think it's probably a bit "aged," so maybe not ideal for steeping and drinking (which I'm not so keen on anyway). Any suggestions on, say, baked goods I could use tea in?

Julia Watson: I haven't tried this myself, but I'm told you using tea as a smoking medium makes delicious meat and fish dishes. Apparently it involves a wok with a lid and some aluminum foil.

I've used green tea to flavor ice cream. You steep the leaves in the gently heating milk or cream then strain before carrying on with the recipe.


re: website where you list what's in your pantry and a recipe pops out: I'm all about the amazing ability of Google. Just google whatever ingredients you have on hand and I'm sure you'll get a recipe.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed. There are also a ton of recipe search engines, and I think that this may call for a blog post in the near future.


Super easy pineapple dessert: Just mix in one 20 oz can of pineapple (crush it if it's in rings) into a box of angel food cake mix. Bake at 350 for about 25 min in a 9x13 pan. SO EASY. I'm a chocolate person but needed a fat/cholesterol free dessert for my dad last summer, and this was surprisingly delicious.

Kim O'Donnel: Pineaapple is great in cakes, absolutely. Don't forget the classic upside down pineapple cake from the diner...


Connecticut: Hi Kim, I'm a hoarder and I've got dozen of cans of sardines, along with dozens more of canned fruit. Any suggestions of how to use these up for something healthy? (hopefully not at the same time...)

Julia Watson: Sardines on toast is one of my comfort foods, with lots of black pepper. If you thought toast wasn't healthy, you could perhaps just stick the sardines under the broiler and then serve them with a gremolata of finely chopped parsley folded in with some grated lemon zest and a little finely chopped garlic. As to the canned fruits, I'd stick them in a blender with some yogurt and have smoothies for breakfast.


Granola Overload in NY: kim--i've found your blog posts this week, and those of your guest-bloggers, particularly inspiring and even moving. i'm hoping you can help me eat down my pantry and fix a unique problem i have:

the proprietor of my local CSA goes an extra step and actually cooks with the food we get, which is fantastic. she also makes granola. i have, literally, quarts of her homemade granola that i am looking for creative ways to enjoy. it makes mean oatmeal in the rice cooker and i've found a few cookie recipes to use it up, but my tolerance for sprinkling on yogurt or eating it straight are limited!

any ideas? i am going to miss your chats more than i can say.

Julia Watson: How about Scottish flapjacks? Put 4 ounces sugar, 4 ounces butter and Golden Syrup (from the Giant) together in a saucepan and heat it gently until the fat has melted, giving it a stir now and then. Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the granola mixing thoroughly. Now pour the mixture into the prepared tin and press it out evenly, using a tablespoon or the back of your hand. Bake in the center of the oven for 20-30. I say that difference, because I've only made this with uncooked oatmeal, so you'd have to watch. Allow to cool then slice into squares. Leave in tin till cold.


Yogurt, chicken and food safety: Hi there. I'm planning to make Tandoori chicken tomorrow night in the oven. The recipe calls for making a yogurt marinade. How early can I combine the yogurt marinade with the raw chicken? I don't want to create a bacterial nightmare by combining them too soon, but for convenience, I would also like to mix the two together 20-30 minutes before roasting. Advice?

Julia Watson: I used to send my kids to school with Chicken Tikka. And I wasn't about to get up at dawn to make it. Indians would be horrified at this cheat recipe. But I made it the night before and marinated the chicken cubes in the fridge. They came to no harm and imbued the chicken with full flavor. Squeeze a clove of garlic into a small tub of plain yogurt, add salt to taste, one teaspoon turmeric powder, one teaspoon curry powder, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves. Fold a cubed chicken breast into it. The next morning, heat the broiler, line a baking tray with foil, spread the chicken mixture over it and broil till catching brown and turn to repeat.


Alexandria, VA: I have two cans of soybeans in my pantry; what in the world can I do with them? My victory last night was finishing off the last of a box of instant mashed potatoes. Okay, I know that probably horrifies Kim, but I love the doughy, pasty things.

Eddie Gehman Kohan: Toss 'em in a salad! They taste great....


Middletown, Conn.: Do you three have emergency food supplies, and for how long? Do you have the MRE's, or just raw ingredients?

Eddie Gehman Kohan: I live in an earthquake zone, and have actually been in a couple monster temblors, after which there was no electricity water etc. for a week First time it happened: 7.2 quake, and I had a snickers bar, half a bottle of vodka, and a diet coke in the fridge, as I was a swingin' career gal who ate out all the time. The second time: I had enough stuff stored that the entire neighborhhod block was at my house, eating--because none of them had stored food. So yes, I TOTALLY store food and rotate it in and out of use, so there is never anything getting too old, and replace with new stuff. Anything that seems unlikely to be used but is getting too old to use "soon" goes to a food bank. It's a lot of effort, but y'know...it's better than looting. Unless looting's your thing. See the other answers about food storage for links to good prep sites!

Eddie Gehman Kohan: Also: NO MRE's, but that's an easy, good way to go. I store for three months, which is perhaps excessive. 7 days is probably enough, unless there's pandemic flu...


Kim O'Donnel: Thank you so much for stopping by, and big hugs to Julia Watson of eatWashington.com and Eddie Gehman Kohan of Obama Foodorama for taking time out of their busy schedules (Julia's actually en route to the airport!) to share their wisdom and kitchen smarts. We've got another day in the blog space for the EDF, and I hope you'll check it out: A Mighty Appetite. And of course, next Tuesday, March 17, is the final chat. All best.


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