Do you ever open the fridge, take a look around, and proclaim, “There’s nothing to eat”? That never happens at my house. Even if at first glance it may not seem like there’s anything to eat, there is–oh my goodness, there absolutely is. I can make an incredible meal out of whatever is in my refrigerator at any given time. People love my refrigerator, and I have to agree that it’s pretty spectacular–and I don’t mean on the outside. Not that there’s anything wrong with the outside–it’s a handsome, sturdy Sub-Zero, some 15 years old–but it’s the inside that inspires. “I am so jealous of whoever owns this well stocked and organized fridge,” I thought more than once, as I gazed at the photos we took for this article, trying to choose which ones were most typical of my fridge. That reminds me. Invest in a label maker, and label all your jars. You will not regret it.
This is the thing: people like to eat. And people who like to eat happen to love hanging around my house. I’m a gal that believes in a well stocked fridge, and not from a wasteful place. I don’t waste food and have a sort of superpower that knows how much to make, keep, freeze and share. I don’t like scrambling to figure out a dinner, so I do have lots of prep and integral parts of dishes chilling as we speak, which means right this second anyone could stop by with their unique dietary restrictions and I could fix an impromptu meal or happily create a small dinner party.
Partly this means having all the basics, and so should you. But beyond the basics, here is the Teri’s Enhanced Fridge Version 5.0.
Number one: preserved lemons. This Meyers lemon concoction is my dearest love and something that I use every day. I use them in every salad as a basis for the dressing; you macerate the well preserved rind and toss it in a salad with olive oil and it makes a pretty spectacular dressing and flavor enhancer. Think salty, brine, bright and lemony. (Does that entice you? Stay tuned to future ReadSource columns for the recipe!)
Another love of my life and staple in my fridge: red pepper paste. If you know me at all or follow me on Instagram you know that I love a magic potion like my red pepper paste, which I make once or twice a month. I always have a couple of pints in the fridge. You can use it whenever you’d ordinarily use tomato paste, but it’s so much more than a tomato-paste substitute: use a spoonful in every pot of soup or sauce, meatloaf, stuffed peppers, Sloppy Joes, or a dab as a finisher with pasta or any savory dish that needs a unique flavor-enhancer.
A third staple in my fridge: feta in brine. Wonderful with scrambled eggs and amazing in a Greek salad, nice crumbled over tomatoes and with black olives as a last-minute lunch or salad. Lucy always giggles at me and says, if we have nothing else, we always have a deluxe sheep’s milk feta in brine. I’m also known to save every bit of au jus or scrapings that come from a pan where I’ve roasted any chicken, beef, lamp, or pork, and I tuck that juicy goodness away in the fridge or freezer to add a little richness at the last minute to anything from a risotto to a cooked vegetable. That’s four.
My philosophy when cooking is why do anything but double portions, so whenever I make Harissa I double it so that I can use it for a weeknight dinner baked with chicken and onions, or with chickpeas, thrown in and baked to make them spectacular. I add homemade Harissa (which is by the way a million percent better than store-bought) to a last-minute Shakshuka. It is another (labeled!) staple in my fridge. There you have a glimpse into five potential elements of an inspired everyday dinner.
I like to invest the energy when I have it, so that later when we’re hungry there are some easy options. I always have a couple of proteins in the fridge marinating, for example, a skirt steak and possibly a Heroine Chicken. I always have pickles, olives, cornichons and a couple of nice cheeses, along with a good salami, and that prepares me for anything from a last minute charcuterie party to a late lunch or a snack for a meeting. Just add some grilled figs with balsamic and a baguette, and you’ve got a feast. (When a friend says, mind if I stop by for lunch? you can always reply, “Sure but can you grab a handful of figs on your way?” It’s an offer they can’t refuse.)
I bet you are saying, does she really use all those mason jars and label them, in real life? –and the answer is yes, she does. I love having crudités all cut up and ready to eat, and the labeled jar is so appealing and makes me so happy when I glance around my fridge. You know my philosophy is that if there are others who make it better than you, then seek them out and buy from them. My local Middle Eastern store has the best hummus, tzatziki sauce, fresh tahini and baba ghannoush, made daily and so much better than grocery store products. (That’s also where I get my aleppo pepper.) Certainly people have enjoyed my own “house” hummus over the years, but when I tasted this fresh and authentic (not to mention really reasonably priced) version, I realized I could save my time to make other things. I always have some kind of tuna, chicken or egg salad–they are a sort of superpower of mine. They are great for school lunches or as a snack, and they never go to waste. I always keep a fresh coleslaw or a cucumber salad too. They are ready to eat the moment you are hungry and wonderful as an instant side dish to anything coming off the grill. And no one’s ever complained when I served them a side of homemade guacamole.
My Freezer. <Sigh> It’s just so full of goodness that I get a little thrill every time I open it. I stuff it full of wonderful supplies. Every week I make a large batch of chicken stock, so I always have a half dozen quarts in the freezer for everyday cooking, as stock is the base for every soup or sauce. Once a month I make a dark beef stock and that’s the base for so many wonderful dishes and soups. I make shrimp and lobster stock with the leftover shells every time I prepare either, so that’s always a thrill to see in my freezer. Every bit of leftover au jus or drippings from any and all protein is something I keep as a sort of magic elixir to add to other dishes. A couple of times a year I carmelize a large pot of onions and tuck them away in one-cup containers, and a spoonful can be added to hearty dishes such as rices, pastas, or savory dishes that I might send with a student to school last minute, or it can be used to infuse a tomato sauce or a soup, or ground up with a tomato sauce for a wonderful flavorful and healthful finish. After making a big pot of minestrone, I make a stock that I like to refer to as a “genius broth,” its genius being the way it can quickly and effortlessly become an amazing pot of soup just by adding a few vegetables and some rice. Last but not least is the chicken jus recipe by Thomas Keller. I make it a couple of times a year. It’s a long recipe: you cook down 12 pounds of bones to create the rather amazing drippings, which I freeze in cup cake tins and add to so many dishes, sauces, and stews; it’s a sort of potion that elevates the taste difference from fine to wow.
Dairy is simply not the place to skimp. If you want really great food you have to begin with quality products. I have a couple of kinds of butter–a good Irish brand for baking and spreading, and an organic sweet creamery butter for everything else. I have three different kinds of mayonnaise. Once a week I make a homemade paleo mayonnaise which I happen to love because it doesn’t have all those additives in it. I also get a grapeseed oil Vegenaise, because it’s wonderful in tuna and chicken salad and egg salad, and then I get Hellman’s because it’s the best for a tartar sauce and other sauces–sometimes that bit of sugar in there really helps. (If you have never made the chocolate cake recipe from the Hellman’s jar don’t scoff! Make it!) In the dairy department I also have eggs, milk, clarified butter, buttermilk, good high quality plain Greek yogurt, heavy cream, sour cream, manchego cheese, grated Parmesan, and Parmesan rinds (delicious in soup).
We love good olives, Cornishons, bacon, pickles, pepperoncini and tamari. I buy a good bbq sauce, Braggs, coconut amino’s, fish sauce, and a variety of mustards. Everyone needs hot sauce, real maple syrup, Worchestershire sauce, almond butter and jellies and jams, right? My fridge always contains seasonal fresh produce as well a variety of greens for salad and salad fixings including hearts of palm, small tomatoes, chives, cucumbers, and always onions, garlic, shallots, and lots of fresh herbs.
You will always find several quarts of unsweetened Passion Tea in my fridge; it’s the house tea!
My tuna salad is sort of famous in the Teri world. People always ask why mine is so much better, as it is made of the same things that everyone else uses, but I have come to realize that this exact combination of the ingredients somehow tastes better. I have been asked to share this simple recipe, so here it is. If you want the same result I’d suggest using the same brands. There is something about this brand of tuna–it is very firm and once drained is almost dry and not mushy or oily or wet and it makes the tuna salad great.
Teri’s Tuna Salad
4 cans Crown Prince solid white albacore tuna in spring water, drained well so it’s dry
1 cup finely diced sweet onions
1 cup finely diced celery
handful finely diced chives
Vegenaise brand mayo, 3/4 cup to 1 cup
1 teaspoon sweet yellow mustard
Make sure tuna is drained well and that it’s almost dry. I pick up the tuna and crumple some in a bowl, leaving some bigger and some smaller pieces. Add the finely chopped vegetables. Large chunks are not going to work. Mix in 3/4 cup of Veganise, add the mustard, and mix well. Do just a pinch of kosher salt. You can add more mayo if desired. I find it’s best eaten cold, and delicious after it sits.
In the ready to sauté asap category, I frequently have salmon cakes or my smoky chicken mixture. And I cannot forget the most important reach in and grab item: grapefruit, cut into sections, in a jar. Peel and cut some now; you will be thanking yourself later! What a great healthful snack or immediate breakfast. That’s why I keep my fridge stocked: it’s a way of loving myself and my family, taking care of myself, inspiring myself to peek into my fridge and create something spectacular.
Teri Turner is ReadSource’s contributing food expert. Follow her on Instagram here: @nocrumbsleft for more delicious recipes and photographs sure to make your mouth water. Have a question or just want to say hello? Email Teri here.