By Pam Anderson
[Pam Anderson is a veteran food writer and cook book author, a colleague of mine from the old Cook’s magazine (the predecessor of Cook’s Illustrated) – there are times I feel like she and I learned to cook together, because our styles are so similar. She blogs weekly with daughters Maggy and Sharon at threemanycooks.com–an ongoing lively conversation about food and life. -mb]
Most of the time it’s fun to be a food writer. Sometimes it’s not. Like last Friday when David and I went to a matinee of Date Night. Despite bad reviews we refused to believe Steve Carrell and Tina Fey wouldn’t be hilarious together.
We got out of the movie about 5:30 and auto-piloted home to make dinner from a week’s worth of recipe experiments languishing in the fridge. We’re usually very good at turning these little tidbits into a feast, but sometimes I just wish we were the normal couple for whom dinner-and-a-movie means going out.On our way home David’s phone rang—his brother wanting to know if we could come for a late dinner. Most people would have graciously accepted the invitation and gone out for a nice drink in the interim. Our response? “Our fridge barely closes. You’d be doing us a favor to come to our house.” They happily obliged.
We noshed on two of last week’s experiments—boiled and fried peanuts (Peanut Gallery) and Smoked Salmon Tartare (Evening Drink)—while I pulled together prosciutto-blanketed steamed asparagus topped with boiled egg, shaved Parm, and a vinaigrette drizzle. Meanwhile David made Linguini with Red Clam Sauce. Between the two of us we made a restaurant-quality dinner from fridge and pantry odds and ends.
I didn’t plan dessert but when I checked interest, my brother-in-law’s eyebrow rose. In less than five minutes we were enjoying one of my favorites: light sour cream cascading over mounds of Greek yogurt with leftover berries from the week’s breakfast pizza tests and enough sugar to call it dessert. Upside: a really cool impromptu dinner with family we don’t see nearly enough. Downside: besides light stress and a little clean up, not much.
But this week I’ve been testing vegetarian pasta dishes—ten in two days. Each one needs tasting but after that, the other tester (these days that would be Maggy!) and I split the booty. A little of this is good, like after a harried day realizing dinner’s just thirty microwave-seconds away. But every time I’ve opened the fridge this past week, ten little zip-lock baggies of vegetable pasta stare back at me. But I don’t want to see pasta for a week, and by then of course they’ll be slightly over the hill.
So what to do with it? Well-meaning people are always full of suggestions. Give it to the local homeless shelter, offer it to the neighbors, take it to our church community supper. Sounds good but it’s not as easy as you think. Imagine knocking on someone’s door and sheepishly handing them half of a less than perfect day-old dish with two bites missing.
More often than not, however, those little leftover baggies offer opportunities for simple brilliance. Like last night before steaming haricots verts, I spied a baggie of sautéed yellow peppers and onions leftover from pizza night. In they went, along with a small amount of water and salt. The beans steamed and once the water evaporated, the oil from the peppers and onions started to sauté them. I removed the lid and turned the burner on low so the beans would continue to slowly soften without losing their color.
This vegetable duo was much more interesting than either would have been on their own—more than I can say for Steve Carrell and Tina Fey.