If your refrigerator is at all like mine, it harbors an odd assortment of leftovers and “almost gones.” After all, it’s hard to throw out what appears to be perfectly good food, but what can you do with a little of this and not very much of that? Here are some suggestions that may get your creative juices flowing to come up with your own ideas for what’s lurking in your refrigerator.
Bottled Salad Dressing
It’s a rare refrigerator that doesn’t have an assortment of almost empty salad dressing bottles. Here’s what you can do with any oil and vinegar based dressings like Caesar, Italian, or other vinaigrettes, even the low-fat varieties: Mix all of those small amounts together in one bottle, then label for marinade for beef, pork, or chicken. The oil adds flavor, and the vinegar (or another acid such as lemon juice) tenderizes. You need enough to coat the meat or poultry, then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before roasting, grilling, or baking.
That last bit of applesauce in the jar will make a wonderful coleslaw dressing. Make sure you have about 1/2 cup applesauce left in the jar and then add about 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/3 teaspoon celery salt, 1 teaspoon prepared mustard, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 2 tablespoons water. Apply the lid and shake well. To use: Toss with about 4 cups shredded cabbage or packaged coleslaw mix. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to meld. Yield: 8 servings.
Leftover mashed potatoes make a great topper for almost any casserole, such as shepherd’s pie, for example. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté 1 pound ground or shredded turkey (you can also use chicken, beef, or other meat), 1/4 cup minced celery, and 1/2 cup chopped onion until brown.
Add 3/4 cup beef or chicken broth, 1 tablespoon ketchup, 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard, and 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce. Cook for 5 minutes. Mix in frozen or drained canned green peas. Pour mixture into an 8-by-8 square baking pan. Spread the leftover mashed potatoes over the top. Sprinkle with a little paprika for color (optional). Bake for 30 minutes. Yield: 6 servings.
Turn that leftover rice into a wonderful quiche crust. Mix together 2 cups white or brown leftover cooked rice, 1 beaten egg, and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Spread evenly to cover a well-buttered quiche or pie pan. Bake crust at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Place any kind of fresh or frozen vegetables (broccoli is a good choice) or meat on the crust. Mix together 4 beaten eggs, 1 1/2 cups milk or half-and-half, salt and pepper to taste, and a dash of nutmeg. Pour over vegetables and meat. Top with 1 cup grated cheese (Swiss, cheddar, Monterey Jack, or any combination). Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted near center of pie comes out clean. Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes before serving. You can practically clean out the refrigerator right into your quiche pan. Just remember to add the cheese last to make a beautiful, golden-brown crust on the top.
Lots of recipes call for a fairly small amount of buttermilk. That’s great, but what to do with the rest of a quart or pint? That 1/2 cup of buttermilk languishing in the back of the fridge won’t last forever. Here’s an awesome suggestion: Before it goes bad, use it to make fabulous oven-fried fish.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking pan or cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray it with cooking spray. In a flat dish or pan, mix together 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon oregano, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste, stirring with a fork until blended. Pour the buttermilk into a shallow bowl. Cut fish fillets into portion-sized pieces to equal 4 servings (catfish is perfect for this recipe, but any white fish works really well). Dip each piece in the buttermilk and then in the cornmeal mixture, making sure to dip both sides of each piece. Place on the sprayed foil. Drizzle olive oil over the fillets or spray with olive oil-flavored cooking spray. Bake for 25 minutes.