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)
How to...clean out the fridge (AKA use up leftovers): Jodi's Blog
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How to...clean out the fridge (AKA use up leftovers)

April 19th, 2007 at 02:14 am

So many of my posts revolve around food and recipe creations that this seems like a natural topic for me to talk about Smile Oh yeah, and I love to eat too!

1. Take stock of what you have to work with. Check out the veggie drawers, the Tupperware containers that got pushed to the back, the near empty bottles of dressings and sauces. Discard anything that already has green fuzzies (unless, in true frugal style, cutting the fuzzies off cheese doesn't disgust you), anything that is too far past the expiration date, or anything that just smells gross. If thee's anything that can't be used in time, throw it in the freezer for a later recipe. Keep a pantry stocked with staples such as rice, pasta, beans, canned cream soups, spices, flour, sugar, etc.

2. Of the items left in the fridge, identify one or two that you really need to use up pronto, such as some wilting veggies or leftover meats. These will be your starting points.

3. Decide a basic form for your recipe, i.e. soup, salad, casserole, etc. From this point, you have several options. I use both of these interchangeably.

3a. Search for a recipe that uses the 1 or 2 ingredients you have identified. You might have a cookbook, a collection of clippings, or a trusted site like my favorite, Recipezaar.com. Whenever I need ideas, I will do a seach on Recipezaar cross-referencing the ingredients I have with the course, type of dish, or preparation method.

3b. Wing it. Once you have the basic methods of cooking under you belt, you can easily adjust any basic recipe to use up what you have on hand. Here are some very basic "formulas":
Soups: Broth or water, meat, veggies, starch (potatoes, pasta, or rice). Either a can of diced tomatoes for a tomato based soup, or cream/milk for a cream soup or chowder. Add ins: cheese, salsa, sour cream, spices.
Chili: ground meat (hamburger or turkey) or chunked meat (chicken or steak), canned beans, tomato sauce, veggies (peppers, onions, celery), spices.
Casseroles: meat, veggies, cream soup or basic white sauce. Add ins: cheese, cracker topping, fried onions.
Skillet dinners: meat, potatoes, onions. Add ins: green beans, zucchini, tomato or spaghetti sauce, cabbage.
Pasta: any type of cooked pasta, canned sauces or canned tomatoes, meat. Add ins: veggies, cheese.

4. Make it. It doesn't matter if you don't have everything the recipe calls for. You can substitute milk for cream, rice for potatoes, spinach for swiss chard, etc. Your substitutions might make the recipe just a little bit better.

This sounds a little too general, so let's give a specific example. I have a pound of Italian sausage to use by tonight. In the fridge I also have a zucchini that is going soft and a half jar of pizza sauce. How do I combine these to make a meal?

1. Grill the Italian sausage with peppers and onions (both staples in my house, both of which I also keep in the freezer just in case). Grill the zucchini too. Serve the sausage with heated sauce.

2. Make Italian sausage soup with the browned sausage, canned tomatoes, diced zucchini, broth, spices, and potatoes or pasta. Add the leftover sauce to the soup.

3. Make sausage and zucchini pasta with canned tomatoes, pizza sauce, and cream (a little vodka in the sauce wouldn't hurt either).

4. Slice the sausage and cook with sliced potatoes and peppers. Layer the zucchini with pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese - bake until done.
Four simple meals - and infinitely more combinations out there. This post does oversimplify things for the sake of brevity, but the best way to get creative is to just get your feet wet. I used to only follow established recipes, but eventually I became comfortable enough to start making my own dishes. The only way to get to that point is to start experimenting. Leftover sauces go great in soup. Leftover dressings can marinate veggies or meat. Sour cream is great for baking or stirring into soups, esp. chili. If you absolutely cannot use something up in time, throw it in the freezer. Leftover veggies freeze well to be used in soup later. I have also frozen leftover tomato sauce to throw in a soup or casserole later. You can always throw it away from the freezer, but if you leave it in the fridge too long, it's going to end up green and fuzzy Smile

3 Responses to “How to...clean out the fridge (AKA use up leftovers)”

  1. daylily Says:

    Great How-To!

  2. Fern Says:

    i frequently decide what to have for dinner on a given night based on what's about to 'go' in my fridge. i'll build a meal arond it. i can't stand to throw food away. It's just wasteful and i can't afford it anyway.

    When i'm alone, i eat pretty simply. Last night, I really wanted to use up 3 red onions that have been sitting around way too long. (I discovered they're not good in a lot of cooked recipes as the red in the onion stains everything else red.) So i made a big pot of brown rice, red kidney beans and sauteed those 3 red onions with it. Yummy. Vegetarian night.

  3. livingalmostlarge Says:

    Truthfully the best way to save money is eat all your food out of the pantry and out of the refrigerator. Everything that you throw out or dont' eat is money sitting. And it's better to save the money in your pocket.

    I save a lot if I make DH and I not shop and eat from the fridge/freezer. Now we're stocked for the month and probably next month so I think we'll be way under budget for groceries.

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