It all started with a pan of chocolate cheesecake brownies that I discovered in my freezer, unfortunately, just days after Shavuos. I confess: I haven’t made chocolate cheesecake brownies in well over a year. Then there was the cranberry pie, dated November 25th, another alarming find because I can tell you with a thousand percent certainty that I didn’t make it this past fall and when food in your freezer starts having birthdays, you know you are in trouble.
While I have written more than once about the importance of stocking your castle with plenty of food for those occasions when you either don’t have the time to cook or just don’t feel like it, finding mystery items from questionable dates in my overstuffed pantry, fridge and freezer was definitely not a good thing.
I decided it was time for a food challenge: no food shopping, other than milk, for an entire week. I told my family that it was like being on Chopped, challenging yourself to make great things out of a random collection of ingredients. While they were understandably skeptical, I figured it was a pretty good idea, especially because no one was going to eliminate me if they didn’t like supper, although to be fair, no one was going to give me $10,000 if I made it through the week either.
Breakfasts and lunches were relatively easy, given that with no little kids at home, everyone pretty much takes care of themselves and we always have plenty of essentials on hand. I stuck to the basics most days, although there was one morning that I had a hankering for pancakes. While normal people would have grabbed the flour, I remembered an open box of whole grain baby cereal that had been sitting in my pantry for too long and substituted that with totally fine results.
Rooting through my catch-all freezer basket for chicken one morning, I came across a quart-sized freezer bag stuffed with French fries, remnants of a recent barbeque. Contemplating the bag for a moment, I realized that they were just glorified potatoes, and I dug up a recipe for vichyssoise, using fries instead of potatoes. Drizzling the soup with truffle oil before serving added some class to the dish and, I have to tell you, it was amazing.
That same trip through the freezer yielded six bags of leftover sliced challah taking up more than their fair share of space. Maybe it’s a result of my upbringing, but throwing out food is a no-no, although finding uses for the inevitable challah surplus is always a challenge. Having recently made both stuffing and challah kugel, I left the challah sitting on my counter overnight and then pulled out my food processor, magically turning six large bagfuls of challah into two petite bags of bread crumbs.
As for the chicken I had gone hunting for, it tasted fabulous after being slathered with about a quarter of a jar of Costco salsa that was taking up way too much fridge space. I used an equal amount of salsa in a spicy tomato soup that was nothing more than pureed salsa mixed with chicken soup and topped with diced avocado. I won’t lie to you, the soup (thickened with the aforementioned baby cereal) was nothing special, but it wasn’t half bad either.
Other fun things we ate this week? A really fabulous pan of macaroni and cheese that finally used up the last of a three-pound brick of American cheese that we had bought for Pesach. Popcorn soup that sounds bizarre, but was quite good and used up almost all the leftover popcorn from an end-of-the-school-year party a few weeks ago. A blend of frozen yellow corn, popcorn, onions and garlic, the soup wasn’t all that different from your basic corn chowder except for the fact that even after pureeing it, I still had to put it through a strainer to pick out those icky popcorn hulls.