Refrigeration Inspiration and a Little Surprise!

It’s that night time shot time of the year again!

A few weeks ago I heard a segment on public radio that I found jarring even though it wasn’t really news to me. It spoke about how much food is wasted or thrown away in the United States. Tons and tons.

No matter how conscientious well all try to be, I think at one time or another, many of us have found ourselves purchasing or even growing more food that we can use or give away. Sometimes it goes to waste because we’re too busy to use it for it’s original intended purpose or recipe. Sometimes it’s because we’re so busy we forgot about the food entirely. While I always try to keep in mind what I have in my fridge and use it up, occasionally it goes to my compost to recycle back into the garden. Better than a total waste, but still not ideal.

However, other times those forgotten contents in my refrigerator become the sole inspiration for what I cook.

I recently opened my fridge to find I had a plethora of arugula, two sad zucchini, some wilting shallots, a large carton of grape tomatoes going south, some rapidly aging brussels sprouts and a couple of portobello mushroom caps mushing it up in my fridge. “So,” I said to myself, “what can I make to use up all of these ingredients fast this week before they become an, er…experiment?”

Following in the answer in the form of my resulting recipes. They start with a wonderfully bright arugula pesto and build on that with 3 easy and delicious meals that provide a little something for everyone. In fact, many of these dishes would make great additions to a holiday table. I hope these recipes will inspire you to dive into the depths of your fridge, think creatively and come up with some tasty saves for those forgotten ingredients and leftover food items that lurk there!

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And here’s my little surprise:
Early this summer I was hired to write my first 450 word food article for a magazine! I’m pleased to share this link to my article on chili beers for use in cooking as well as for pairing with food, featured in the Fall issue of The Beer Connoisseur, a premium web magazine on the BeerConnoisseur.com site. You can read the article and see one of the my recipes at this link, then see the rest for a $2 subscription to the issue or a full subscription to the magazine. It’s an informative and website, chocked full of tasty craft beer, food and travel. I hope you’ll enjoy this little taste for free. Cheers!

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Even though I know better I tend to limit my thinking to “Basil = Pesto.” Not true, and this time of year that’s especially not true when greens like arugula and kale are in season. The peppery arugula makes a delicious and very versatile pesto as you will see. And unlike basil pesto, arugula pesto keeps retains its bright green color. This is now my “cold weather” pesto of choice.

Arugula Walnut Pesto
Makes about 1 1/4 cup

4 cups baby arugula packed, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a food processor or blender, combine the first 4 ingredients and puree until smooth. Transfer the sauce to a medium-sized bowl and stir in the cheese and salt by hand. Any pesto not used immediately can be covered with plastic wrap touching the top of the sauce and another piece of plastic wrap covering the bowl, then refrigerated for several days. You can also make pesto with another green or herb of your choice and nut of your choice, but this combo is dynamite.

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pastafinished1BThe ridged cavatappi pasta makes a perfect foil for this pesto-based dish. Best of all, it comes together quickly! Pass some extra cheese if you must…I understand.

Cavatappi with Arugula Pesto, Roasted Tomatoes and Zucchini
Makes 4-6 servings

16 oz. grape tomatoes, split in half lengthwise
2 medium zucchini squash diced to 1/2″
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
12 oz. dry cavatappi pasta, penne or other hollow pasta with ridges
1/2 to 3/4 cup arugula pesto, or more to taste
Kosher Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup reserved pasta cooking water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil, then make a foil tray with the sides folded up that is 1/2 the length of the baking sheet. Place the tomatoes into the tray and the zucchini into the flat space on the sheet beside the tray. Divide the olive oil evenly between the tomatoes and the zucchini and toss to coat. Sprinkle the tomatoes and the zucchini with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the sheet into the oven and roast the vegetables until just beginning to brown and soften, about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through the roasting time.

While the veggies roast, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente. When the veggies are done and the pasta is al dente, drain the pasta reserving 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid and return it to the pot. Add the roasted vegetables and any collected juices to the pasta, then gently stir in the pesto. If the sauce and the pasta need to be more moist, add some of the cooking water a little at a time and stir, just until you have the sauce the way you like it. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if needed and serve.

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pork chop 2

Really easy to prepare chops. Keep an eye on them and use the cooking time as a guide and you’ll have nice, flavorful and juicy chops. The Brussels sprouts below can roast alongside in the same oven if desired, just check them separately.

Simple Herbed and Baked Pork Loin Chops with Arugula Pesto
Makes 2 servings

2 – 6 or 8 ounce thick cut (about 1 inch) boneless pork loin chops
1 small clove of garlic, mashed with the flat side of a knife
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon each of finely chopped fresh sage, rosemary and thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons arugula pesto to serve

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients except the pork to form a paste. Evenly divide the paste between the two pork chops and rub them all over to evenly distribute the seasonings. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Place the pork chops in the skillet and sear them on each side, turning once, until you have a nice golden crust, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from the heat and place into the oven. Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes until the chops are just done through or the thickest part registers 155 degrees, watch carefully and check so as not to overcook. Remove from the oven, cover lightly with aluminum foil and allow the chops to rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve each chop with 1 tablespoon of arugula pesto on top or alongside.

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brusselssproutsEven if you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts—and I can see why because I hated them for years until I tasted this cooking method—you should give these a try. The dark crispy edges and sweet caramelization that happens to these by simply roasting them, transforms them into…well, almost a snack!

Simple Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Makes 4 servings

1 lb. raw small fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed of wilted leaves and stem, then cut in half
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly oil it. Place the cut Brussels sprouts onto the prepared sheet, drizzle evenly with the olive oil, then sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Toss together with your hands to combine and spread the sprouts evenly in a single layer on the sheet. Place in the oven and roast for about 25 to 30 minutes total, stirring once, until the sprouts are tender and have dark brown caramelization spots as shown in the photos. Remove from the oven and serve.

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I forget how much I love a good stuffed portobello mushroom. In addition to making use of my forgotten fridge ingredients, these beauties gave me the opportunity to use up some “many days old” bread and the last of some mozzarella cheese that needed to go, too! When served alongside a green salad topped with some apples, dried cranberries, a sprinkle of goat cheese, nuts and a balsamic vinaigrette, you end up with quite an elegant vegetarian meal. Add some roasted Brussels sprouts and you may even have a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal for two!

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Makes 2 servings

2 large portobello mushroom caps, cleaned with a wet paper towel, stems removed, chopped and set aside
2 large shallots, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 slices multigrain and seeded bread, cut into small (about 1/2 inch) cubes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil, any type
2 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, finely chopped
1 generous tablespoon arugula pesto
2 tablespoons dry white wine (dry rosé will work as well)
2 tablespoons finely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil for lightly coating the mushrooms and the stuffing

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a glass baking dish or line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease with a tiny bit of olive oil.

Add the olive oil to a medium sized non-stick skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped mushroom stems and the shallots and cook until the shallots are tender and just beginning to turn golden. Remove from the heat. In a large bowl, combine the bread, parsley, basil and tomatoes. Stir in the shallot and mushroom mixture, pesto, wine, the parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup of the mozzarella. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. The stuffing should just barely hold together when pressed with your hands.

Place the two mushrooms on the prepared baking dish gill side up, drizzle about 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil onto each mushroom and coat the cap with your fingers. Very lightly season each mushroom cap with a tiny bit of salt and pepper. Place one half of the stuffing into the gill cavity of each mushroom, pressing and mounding the stuffing to fit into a dome shape. Drizzle the top of the stuffing with about 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the top of each mushroom with the remaining mozzarella, dividing evenly. Sprinkle the mozzarella with another grind of black pepper. Place the mushrooms into the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes. Check to see if the mushrooms are done and bake for up to 5 to 10 more minutes if needed, or until the cheese is golden brown and the mushrooms are tender. Remove from the oven and serve immediately with a green salad, some leftover Brussels sprouts if you got ’em and a knife and fork.

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Bon Appétit magazine used to close every issue by asking a celebrity: “What three items do you always have in your fridge?” The three things I know are in my fridge are good quality parmigiano reggiano cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and nuts of some sort. Without those items, I’m somewhat lost, because WITH those items I can make a world of difference in a lot of dishes. What are your three items?

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