Monday, October 1, 2012

The Freezer from Hell Returns: Use It Up Quick Pickles

I have been accused of not having any actual, ready to eat food in my fridge or freezer. Just ingredients. That's pretty close to right. Ingredients, and spur-of-the-moment purchases. Upon inspection on Saturday morning, I found that my basement freezer looked like a wall of food. There was a jigsaw puzzle around a few years back, of an open fridge door showing the crammed-in contents. I think the fridge model for that shot is in my basement.

So far this week has yielded a few odds and ends that I would normally just toss in the freezer, but this past summer it seems to have made that impossible. There is no choice but to cook and eat from the freezer and fridge for a few weeks to make room for inevitable stash of holiday foods that'll start to appear. This is a mini lesson in making do. Use what you have.

Today's lasagna started with 3 big bags of frozen plum tomatoes. From last summer. You can freeze them whole if you are short on time, and if you rinse the still-frozen tomatoes in warm water, the skins practically fall off. Problem is that when you freeze them this way, they take up a lot of valuable freezer real estate. So into a pot they went. There was also a bag of plain Ikea meatballs, bought in June during a fit of nostalgia. And a lost, vacuum sealed bag of swiss chard from 2011. Also a package of Wegmans whole wheat fresh lasagna sheets. Popped into the freezer God knows when. With garlic and basil from the garden, and a long, all day cook, the meatballs and tomatoes made a great base for our lasagna tonight. I only had 1 container of ricotta, so I mixed in a container of cottage cheese, some Romano and garlic, and the chard, thawed and well squeezed out and ...we had a really tasty lasagna for dinner.

There is no recipe for this, but I didn't have to visit any kind of store for ingredients. There is always cheese in my refrigerator, more than there should be. But I have substituted crumbled tofu for ricotta on occasion, or left it out entirely, and made a thick, cheesy béchamel to layer with meat and sauce. Think out of the recipe box every now and then, and using what's there is a good exercise. There are a few homemade pie shells in there, and that chard could have been combined with the cottage cheese, some eggs, milk and bacon for a quiche-like filling for one of those shells. Or a few of those frozen pork chops could have made it into the sauce.

On Friday, I showed you the lovely and killer hot sauce I made from fermenting a batch of red, ripe jalapeño peppers. I nearly choked my boss, Matt, but he's the one who insisted on tasting it straight. Sorry.  Hahaha! Anyway, Remember I told you to keep the leftover brine that didn't get used up in the sauce? It's salty and hot, and the perfect thing to use to make a quick pickle. It's also taking up space in the fridge. You'll also need some cider vinegar, some honey, and some hard vegetables. I had carrots and turnips leftover from that pot roast we made together last weekend, so those got cut into appropriate pieces, including one slice of turnip, about 1/4" thick, and larger than the mouth of the jar. Pack a clean quart canning jar with your vegetables. You can use whatever you like--green beans, onions, cukes, daikon... but use some carrot, since the sweet carrot is a great foil for the hot and salty brine. Obviously this is vegetarian, gluten free and grain free.

Take the big piece of turnip or carrot and wedge it into the shoulders of the jar so it will hold all the other vegetables under the liquid. Pour in the leftover hot pepper brine, add 2T of honey, and fill the jar to the top with cider vinegar. If you have a lot of brine, then just fill the jar 3/4 of the way with the brine and top it up with the vinegar. Let it sit at room temp for about 12 hours, and then chill. In 3 days or so, the most wonderful pickles, from leftovers.
Quick Pickle with Leftover Fermenting Brine

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