True Confessions

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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.

Posted in Produce

11 Comments

  1. adamelio3 said...

    pam,it’s refreshing to hear you speak to a more realistic, holistic understanding of cooking–and a way i try to live my life. (my dinner and a movie never looks like it does for others, either). i think it also speaks to one’s commitment to see that food does not go to waste, as well as an opportunity to continue challenging oneself to imagine more creative ways to use what we have, instead of always having to run to the store with a checklist to prepare a simple meal. plus, i’m always up for throwing that stuff in a skillet and enjoying a random leftover avec egg breakfast!

  2. vicnorth said...

    Love Three Many Cooks! It’s great to see that you will be contributing here as well. Also, I totally agree about Date Night. How could they possibly screw up Tina Fey and Steve Carrell together? I just don’t get it. Can’t wait to see more from you here and on 3MC.

  3. aryssabrooke said...

    I love it when a dinner comes together like that. We love to have guests over impromptu like that, as do my sister and brother-in-law. It’s just a shame we live 1800 miles apart, or I think we’d be in each other’s pockets nearly every weekend. Some of the best meals I’ve ever made have been with ingredients that were in my fridge, on the verge, and all went into the same pot because, well.. because they had to, or their next stop was the garbage bin. They’ve even turned into blog entries on Bluebonnets and Brownies (.com), saving me a lot of headache.

  4. sharonmarie said...

    i am newly converted to the cult of leftovers. i used to turn up my nose at things like day-old veggies, cold poultry, etc. the only thing i liked the next day was pizza. though that still remains my fave next-day meal (let’s be honest cold pizza for breakfast is probably equally as good, if not better than the night-of, and don’t even get me started on putting a fried egg on it), i’ve come around on other things. now that i am a poor grad student (and not a bratty child…most of the time) i realize that you can’t just THROW food away, or at least, you shouldn’t. so, i’ve opened up to all manner of leftover creations–pan-fried risotto cakes, anything in an omelet, and most things between two pieces of bread. Absolutely going to make that berry and yogurt dessert, sounds awesome, and simple (better yet).

  5. sixburnersue said...

    Pam, this is so familiar. Recipe testing does such weird things to your fridge, doesn’t it? And the dinners made of little bits can be pretty funny. When I first got to the Vineyard and didn’t know many folks, I wound up feeding three pigs my leftover recipe tests from Fast, Fresh & Green, as I was so desperate not to waste food. It worked pretty well, as it was a great excuse to go for a farm visit every afternoon! They liked everything of course, but especially the gratins! Anyway, you are always a great hostess and cook, and I’m happy Mark has invited you to blog here! Yay!

  6. sjurczak77 said...

    I love cooking healtby from scratch and believe that natural foods help us live a happy healthy life. My grandparents and their parents cooked from scratch so why not me? I use as little of the premade ingredients as I can and avoid canned and preserved foods. Simplicity is way tastier than anything else! Fresh veggies cooked just enough and white meats are the way to go. My family eats grilled veggies, fish, chicken most of the week and indulge in steaks etc once in a while. Want to stay healthy? I say go back to basics and do what our ancestors did. More times than not they were right!

  7. erikaele said...

    I first learned of the Asparagus and Egg creation from Pam after a day of shopping with Sharon. Pam and David were having dinner and movie in that night. Sharon and I were making a short pit stop before leaving them to enjoy the evening cozzied up on the couch. I doubt, Pam, you’re even aware I surreptitiously stole this recipe from you (not to worry, purely for my own enjoyment). I only noticed three ingredients on your plate that evening – egg, aspargus and an ‘unknow origin’ vinagrette. I experimented making mine with a simple shallot, dijon, red wine vinegar vinagrette. I also started adding chopped smoked almonds. So yummy you’re not even aware it’s good for you. I CAN’T wait to try it "prosciutto-blanketed"! Followed by some poor man’s suhi – another personal Pam Anderson favorite.

  8. mjhawley said...

    Love the approach, the writing, the jazzy attitude. Love it all.Guess I need to learn to be a lot less Draconian about the stuff in my fridge. There are ALWAYS leftovers, and what really separates the regular folk from the bon vivants is the knack for turning leftovers into something even more special that whatever they started as…Mike

  9. cjenest said...

    I’ve been a fan of Pam’s books for years, glad to see her make a guest appearance on your site!

  10. eharding said...

    Love the post, Pam! And so happy to see you sharing your cooking flair here :) Now if only I could whip up meals with this much ease and style…

  11. duchessinbrooklyn said...

    Pam, some of the best meals I’ve ever made have been thrown together with leftovers!

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