I’d say the odds of there being a recipe at the end of this column are pretty slim. Because in order for there to be a recipe, I’d first need to have cooked it. And to cook, I’d need to have ingredients. Which would require a trip to the store, as there is absolutely nothing to eat in my house. But no such trip to the store is on my agenda. I’m heading out of town tomorrow, and the last thing I want to do is to put perishable items into my pristine fridge.
The only things I have been cooking recently are “desperation dinners” — strange inventions derived from the odd ingredients on hand. Trust me, you don’t want those recipes.
It all started last month. I had planned a brief vacation over Labor Day weekend, meeting up with a group of my oldest, dearest friends for a sojourn in upstate New York. I was only going to be gone a week, but even so, it seemed like a good idea to clean the fridge before I left. (I like to do that every couple of years, whether it needs it or not.)
In preparation, I stopped buying food about two weeks in advance. Thanks to a farm box delivery I had forgotten to cancel, my bins were overstuffed with veggies. I set myself the challenge of scraping together meals to use them up, supplemented by whatever pantry staples I could find.
I have always thought that the mark of a good cook is the ability to create a dish on the spot from whatever ingredients are at hand. That’s what they do on all those TV cooking shows, right? This would be my own private Iron Chef competition.
It started off pretty well. I had a package of bacon, so I used some of it and a tired-looking leek to cook up the red cabbage. I blanched the green beans and threw them into a monster salad, making a big dent in the vegetable bin. Next, I dragged out the juicer and made a healthy-tasting beet-carrot-celery-apple combo from the sad specimens I found lurking below the lettuce. The juicy summer tomatoes went into killer BLTs with the rest of the bacon.
But then it got harder. I started enjoying some pretty interesting meals (“interesting” being a euphemism for “strange and just barely edible”).
I found myself not so much cooking as scrounging. Plain pasta with butter and some dried-up scraps of Parmesan. Pancakes, until I used up the milk. Peanut butter on crackers until the crackers were gone. Then peanut butter in oatmeal (which would have been a whole lot better with milk).
Mercifully, the peanut butter ran out before I was reduced to eating it on pickles.
Next, I turned to eggs. I started with egg salad sandwiches. Then, when the bread was gone, just egg salad on its own, then scrambled eggs when I ran out of mayonnaise.
Then I ran out of eggs.
It has gotten pretty desperate. Last night I made quesadillas with some ancient tortillas I found in the freezer, a couple of slices of provolone found hiding at the back of the cheese bin and some hot sauce that was about three years past its use-by date. As with every other dish mentioned above, I enjoyed them with some cabbage on the side. (Give a gal a fish and she’ll eat well once, but give her a cabbage and she’ll be eating it for what feels like the rest of her life.)
I know, you are thinking, “Why on earth doesn’t she just go to the store and buy some food already?”
I can’t. This has turned into a compulsion. I just can’t stop. I have developed a new form of mental illness I’m calling “anorexia by proxy.” I’m taking a strange delight in watching my refrigerator get slimmer by the day, whatever the cost to my intestines.
But you don’t need to send the men in white coats for me. I’m still relatively sane and I know this has to end. I promise, I’ll restock the fridge when I get back from my trip.
In the meantime, though, I think I have planned it just right. The shelves will be completely empty before I head off to the airport.
There is just enough cabbage left to get me through breakfast tomorrow.
OK, OK. This column is on the food page, so I guess I really do need to attach a recipe. I haven’t cooked anything new, but just in case you are planning to hole up in your house for two weeks and need an endless container of (really quite delicious) cabbage, I thought I’d reprise this recipe from several years ago.
Except when I am cleaning the fridge, I think of this as a cold-weather dish. Fall seems to have arrived while I was away, and Indian summer will soon be giving way to chillier days, so you may want to clip this one and try it next month.
Serves 6 very generously.
4 ounces bacon (about 4-6 strips, depending on thickness), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1-2 Tbsp. butter
1 onion or leek, halved and thinly sliced
3 carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)
2 pounds red cabbage, shredded or thinly sliced (1 small head)
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
2-3 cloves garlic, mashed or put through a garlic press
1 bay leaf
Pinch of ground clove
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups red wine
2 cups chicken or beef stock
Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
On top of the stove over medium heat, in a large (5- to 6-quart) ovenproof casserole, gently cook the bacon without browning it until most of the fat is rendered. Add the butter, and when it is melted, add the carrots and onion or leek. Cover and cook, again without browning, until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage and stir to mix it with the fat and vegetables, then cover and cook for another 10 minutes.
Add the apples, garlic, spices, wine and stock. Bring to a simmer. Then transfer the casserole to the oven to bake for 3½ to 4 hours, or even longer, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Correct salt and pepper to taste.
This is great the same day, and even better the following day.