For almost 18 years, I’ve delighted in helping readers and “fans” with their assorted culinary crises — everything from how to feed ornery in-laws, migraine sufferers, and those with gluten sensitivities to entertaining on a shoestring, preparing heart-healthy indulgences for the holidays, and warding off assorted viruses.
Alas, I recently had to deal with a crisis of my own — the refrigerator went on the fritz. And mine is not a simple piece of machinery either — it’s a built-in behemoth with a cavernous volume and a computer motherboard that would even faze the brightest engineers at NASA.
On the day it rebelled, it happened to be packed to the rafters with a small fortune of organics of all manners. And, of course, the Murphy’s Law of kitchen disasters reared its head, and the defective part turned out to be an exotic one that needed to be special ordered from the manufacturer in South Carolina.
So, I had to think fast to salvage my food (and reputation) while awaiting the protracted repair date. Here’s what I did:
I quickly transferred choice items to the spare garage fridge before they began to spoil. Then, I cranked up the oven, gas grill and stovetop, and plugged in the food processor. Yup, it was time to bake, braise, barbecue, boil and blend to transform perishables into non-perishables, pronto.
The zucchini bread, nectarine strudel, blueberry scones and cherry biscotti made good use of assorted produce, eggs, milks (both dairy and non-dairy), kefir yoghurt, butter and nut flours to provide a bounty of quick breakfasts and decadent desserts for several days.
Frozen foods that started to thaw — including ground chicken and turkey, wild-caught salmon, deep-sea scallops, jumbo shrimp, berries, corn and coconut-based ice cream — were soon whipped into hearty meals and treats. The ground turkey became Bolognese sauce (see recipe); the ground chicken was added to a corn-and-bean chili.
The assorted seafood became a robust, roasted red pepper cioppino. The salmon portions were marinated in a soy-ginger sauce, then grilled to be enjoyed burger-style on sesame buns or crumbled in salad greens. Berries and ice cream were blended into smoothies. I then poured the sauces, soups and smoothies into Mason jars to be stored in the overflow fridge and enjoyed throughout the week.
Most of us tend to over shop and cram our fridges with items that do not need to be chilled. I’m one of the worst, so obsessed with food safety I even refrigerate boxed pastas. Some foods lose their flavor, aromatics, texture and antioxidant oomph when assaulted by cold air. Many fruits and vegetables should be resting comfortably on a counter, in a ripening bag or hibernating in a cool, dark pantry.
Never chill tomatoes, whether heirloom, Roma, cherry or dry-farmed. They’re delicate darlings — losing their grassy fragrance and fleshy texture when shocked below 50 degrees F. Same goes for potatoes and yams that will change color and taste, as starches convert to sugars when chilled.
Onions and garlic can also share a cool, dark place outside the refrigerator to maintain their Herculean properties and flavors, and prevent transference of odors. Bananas, avocados, cucumbers (and dill pickles), peppers, citrus, stone fruits and melons can also hang out on the kitchen counter until sliced.
As for breads, cakes and muffins, although the fridge wards off the formation of molds, these tend to stay moister and more toothsome at room temp.
Some folks even prefer their butter stored countertop in an airtight container, especially ghee or salted varieties, as it is easier to spread.
And, of course, honey — found preserved in pharaohs’ tombs for thousands of years — certainly does not need to be refrigerated, along with soy and vinegar-based sauces, and, yes, coffee, too.
And while the freezer is a lifesaver for preserving (and enjoying) out-of-season fruits and vegetables, seafood, fish, meats and fowls, it almost always compromises the integrity of foods — both texture and taste.
Perhaps, it’s time to take a page from the French foodies’ cookbook. Their food shopping, meal planning and preparation methodology is simple — shop daily and purposefully without getting sidetracked by novelty food items; always buy fresh, seasonal, local and high-quality; and serve balanced meals, presented artistically.
Recipe: Zesty Turkey Bolognese
• Ingredients: 1-pound lean ground turkey; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced; 8-ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced; 1 red pepper, diced; 1 jar of 18-ounce crushed tomatoes; 1/2-teaspoon each of dried oregano, basil and parsley; 1-tablespoon honey; 3-tablespoons olive oil or avocado oil; 1-tablespoon shredded Pecorino Romano cheese; salt and cayenne pepper to taste
• Method: In a large saucepan or skillet, heat oil on medium. Sauté peppers, garlic and celery until tender. Add turkey and vegetables, stirring occasionally until turkey is thoroughly cooked. Add remaining ingredients and simmer to desired thickness. Serve over your favorite choice of pasta.