Friday, March 27, 2015

Six Tips to Empty the Fridge Before Your Next Trip

I travel regularly for work and over the years certain patterns and rituals emerge.  You know them.  You see them coming and acknowledge there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change them.  When it comes to these rituals, my husband and I are a study in contrasts.  He’ll start planning for the next trip as soon as the last one ends.  Me, I start thinking about the next trip about a week to ten days before it’s wheels-up.  I’ll scan the calendar for upcoming appointments and will realize that a trip’s coming up in the next few weeks.  Immediately, I’ll think about what clothes I’ll need and what clothes will fit.  This is usually a good prompt to get to the gym and cut the fat, carbs, and wine out of the diet. 

A few days will pass with no real action and then I’ll look at the calendar again.  At this point, I’ll see the trip is about a week away.  I’ll notice a work dinner or two on the calendar that will need to be canceled.  I may learn my husband has a trip even before mine or he has other commitments that will keep him from a few meals at home.  I’ll then realize we’ve got all this perishable food that needs to be cooked and eaten!  And this is when my productivity kicks into overdrive. 
I’ll take an inventory of what’s in the fridge and on the kitchen counter and will ask myself, “Why the heck did you defrost a roast and buy Whole Foods salmon when we’re only home two nights this week?”  Inevitably the crisper drawers will be full of lettuce, broccoli, green onions, carrots, and the bags of cranberries from the holidays.  Cranberries last forever and never go bad.  GMO cranberries or my Wolf fridge?  Then I’ll look at what’s on the counter and see piles of fully ripened bananas, heaps of whatever fruit is in season, garlic, lemons, limes, chilies, and tomatoes. 
Instinctively, I’ll calculate how many meals we’ll be eating at home between now and the start of the next trip.  Then I’ll come up with ideas on what to cook to clear the fridge and pantry.  Inevitably, this involves making breakfast and lunch and bringing meals to the office, making lots of fruit smoothies, bringing dishes to the office to share with fellow foodie colleagues.  They get it.  They understand the predicament.  Ironically, it also means that I’ll be making a supermarket run or two to buy the missing ingredients for what I’m going to make.  It defies logic but I will find myself running to the supermarket two to three times for that needed spice, bottle of cooking wine, or special type of noodle after cracking open Joy of Cooking or How to Cook Everything. 

Now I’m about three to five days out from trip.  Reality has set it.  I’m aware of exactly how much food needs to be consumed in the course of roughly nine to fifteen meals and it all comes down to execution.  Here are tried and true tips for clearing the fridge and the pantry as well as having the peace of mind knowing that you’ll be coming home to a clean fridge without having to deal with the guilt of tossing good and expensive food into the trash. 

Tip #1:  Everyone in the house eats Museli for Breakfast.  Heck the Scandinavians know this and have been doing it for centuries.  This is my number one strategy for clearing the fat free, the 2%, the plain, the vanilla, the Greek style, and tubs of individual-serve Chobani yogurt that are all in the fridge in vast quantities before a trip.  It’s also a great way to consume fresh fruit and milk.  I’ve also made Museli with cheese, celery, and carrots in more desperate situations.  The key is the ratio of fruit to yogurt, to cereal.  Cereal is not perishable so I only use a dusting of shredded wheat on large quantities of the fruit and dairy. 

Tip #2:  Everyone in the house brings lunch to work and, regardless of the protein, it’s served on a tall bed of spinach or salad greens.  Spinach works well with microwave reheating.  I’ll pack half a bag of baby spinach into a glass container and top with stew meat, chicken fricassee, or grilled fish but I won’t stop there.  I’ll garnish with chopped green onions, chilies, fresh garlic, lemon or lime zest, and a good squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice.

Tip #3:  Smoothies are the go-to snack.  There’s nothing more heavenly and indulgent that a smoothie with fully ripened bananas and the fruit of the season.  Have you ever tried a double banana date smoothie?   Mix fruit with yogurt, milk, orange juice, and a few ice-cubes and you’ve got an indulgent sweet treat and you’ve cleared a whole bunch of perishables! 

Tip #4:  Hot Pot dinners turn leftovers into brand new one pot dishes.  I usually start by simmering stock, adding a minimum of noodles and cook for about ten minutes.  Then I’ll add chopped veggies such as onions, carrots, broccoli, peppers, or garlic and when they’re cooked I’ll stir-in spinach or other leafy greens, and finally leftover beef, chicken or fish.   When the stew is fully warm, I’ll season with salt, pepper, a handful of dried red chilies, fermented black beans, or curry.  And finally, I’ll flavor the hot pot with a good squeeze of lemon or lime or a healthy splash of white wine.  This hot pot dinner isn’t complete until it’s ladled into white soup bowls and garnished with green onions and other fresh herbs.  This meal is attractive, healthy, low fat, low carb, economical, exotic, fast, and convenient.  Who could ask for more? 

Tip #5:  Roast your vegetables for cocktail hour.  Pass on the cheese and crackers.  Toss peppers, carrots, onions, broccoli, beets, eggplant, squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, and char under the broiler.  Then season with coarse sea salt, lemon or lime zest, and a good squeeze of lemon or lime.  You’ll have the crunch and flavor that’ll stand up to stiffest dry martini. 

Tip #6:  Try freezing it.  Even despite my best efforts, I am often left with food that cannot be eaten before a trip and that’s when I turn to preparing casseroles and other dishes that freeze well.  When I open the fridge and find myself staring at containers of perishable food I ask myself, “How would that taste as a fritter or croquette?”  Mashed potatoes, eggs, some grated cheese, onion, and seasoning transforms leftover salmon, cod, chicken, or pork into a savory treat that freezes very well. 

Speaking of freezing, I’ve done a lot of experimenting and have found that many ingredients freeze incredibly well.  It’s been a trial and error process but over the years I have found that orange juice, milk, yogurt, peeled bananas, and even cheese all freeze very well. 

With these tips and tricks, you too will be able to leave on your next trip with the satisfaction of knowing you fed your loved ones well, didn’t waste food, and will be coming home to an empty pantry and fridge ready to be filled with the makings of new and exciting dishes. 

What are your go-to tips for emptying the fridge before your next trip?  Let us know!

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