The challenge of creating a spectacular-or at least edible-dish out of fridge odds and ends is one that I have always relished. I believe it to be a sign of a good cook: creative, resourceful and an independent thinker rather than just open a cookbook. I have to say I'm pretty good at visualizing how ingredients can come together for a potential meal-probably thanks to all the practice I got making 'staff meal' when I worked in a professional kitchen. No, we didn't tuck into a lamb chop from the menu when we were hungry or munch on foie gras pâté and croutons, we ate a family-style meal together every night just before service that was prepared by one of the chef de parties.
I should have kept a log of the random items that were held on the shelf designated for staff eating. It was not uncommon to have to put together a meal for fourteen using some or all of the following:
several litres of razor clam juice
60 or so scrawny quail legs
reject fresh pasta dough (presumably tough as nails)
soft/slimy cucumbers (tomatoes, peppers, spinach)
a jar of picked quail eggs
giant tub of dijon
mounds and mounds of venison scraps
a litre or more of beet purée
and so on and so fourth.
What I made was generally decided for me; it depended on how much time I could take away from my usual lengthy list of prep work. One has to think "is it really in my best interest to clean all the venison, grind it, make a bolognaise and a spinach béchamel, and roll the pasta for a lasagna?"
As popular as I would have been with my fellow chefs had I done so (comfort food rocks when night after night all you plate is ultra-finicky fine cuisine) the more realistic scenario was probably me tossing the quail legs in a speedy marinade before roasting them and serving with a pot of rice.
All that said, I recently made a memorable soup from my fridge scraps after a vigorous clean turned up some withering vegetables. There's hardly a better time to clean out the refrigerator than after the holidays (after a power outage is pretty ideal, too) and it's a New Year to boot, so if you haven't done it yet, get in there and toss those mouldy brussel sprouts and stale fruitcake. Be sure to wear gloves, though, it may be worse than you think; as it was in my case.
As I was making the soup, I took the time to scribble down what I was doing in loose recipe form in case I wanted to blog about it. Of course, I have no idea where that piece of paper/napkin/envelope is now, so I'm going to try and remember what I did because it's worth repeating.
Carrot, leek and apple: not a new combination by any means, but a trio that I had wasting away in my vegetable drawer; add a liter of homemade chicken stock in the freezer that needed to give way to three vital incoming pints of Hagen Daaz (good things come in threes), and voilà, soup! For fun, toss in some whole-wheat garlic croutons for crunch and bacon because--well, bacon needs no explanation, really.
Carrot, Leek and Apple Soup
(All measurements are estimates. Feel free to change up the recipe to suit yourself)
Peel four large carrots and chop into 1-inch rounds. Remove outer leaves from a large leek and discard. Wash the leek well and chop roughly. In a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter and add carrots and leek. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables start to soften and their color brightens.
Peel two apples (I used Granny Smith), core, chop and add to the pot. Add about 4 cups of chicken stock or water (enough to cover the carrot mixture by an inch or so), a bay leaf and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover pot and simmer until carrots are tender. Remove pot from heat and discard bay leaf.
In a blender, puree soup until silky smooth. Season with salt and pepper and thin with a little cream to desired consistency.
Cube several slices of bread into 1 centimeter cubes. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. When it is very hot, add the cubed bread and a clove of peeled, smashed garlic. Toss gently to coat bread with oil and cook until brown and crispy. The oil will be all absorbed. Salt generously, remove from pan and cool on a paper towel. Discard garlic.