Monday, August 12, 2013

Chilling Out

Whew- the last week went by in a blur of house guests and a picnic and a dinner party and then our home Internet was sulking for a bit, but here I am. Four friends joined me for the fridge/freezer cleaning challenge and here's what they did.

Nikita at A Real Housewife took the challenge in a big way. Read her post for all the details and to get a useful recipe for a two-ingredient all-purpose cleaner. I love her idea of using trays to contain spills.

Nupur (another blogger, my namesake) did a fridge/freezer audit- go look at the well-stocked fridge and freezer in her post here.

Linda of Out of the Garden (now blogging from a different state- we've read each other's blogs for years and years, I think) organized condiments from several different cuisines in her fridge. Go on and read her very interesting post for a delicious coconut curry recipe.

Finally, Priti who does not have her own blog yet (but should think about starting one to show off her amazing birthday cake creations) wrote in to say...

I don't have pictures for you but I did manage to start my clean up and here's what I found and did.
  • The most unusual/exotic/interesting item in your fridge: nothing unusual but exotic and interesting, yes! A green bean and black chana bhaaji prepared undhiyu style and a rice payasam sent over by neighbour that tastes like puran from puranpoli, have to get the recipe! Having both for lunch today.
  • Three items you always have in your fridge: A box of best Saffron money can buy, fresh ginger (we use it up pretty quick) and a bunch of fresh cilantro (a must have for hubby!)
  • The oldest item in your fridge: Gulkand and a jar of mango pickle
  • Item(s) from the fridge that needed to be used and how you used it/them up in meals or recipes: The not-so-fresh green beans were made into an undhiyu style lipsmacking preparation (can share recipe if you want), a sleepy wedge of pumpkin woke up in a spicy sambar, a lonely capsicum was happy to find company in an omlette with onion and in pulao with other mixed veggies invited from the freezer, some leftover chicken salad was used up as a filling for sandwich that tasted nice!
Ditto for the freezer...
  • The most unusual/exotic/interesting item in your freezer: Frozen store bought uncut rolls of Patra/ Alu vadi, a special kind of rice flour sent from India for making steamed modaks and kanda-lasun masala (onion-garlic slightly moist spice blend) also sent from India.
  • Three items you always have in your freezer: frozen green peas, edamame, frozen grated coconut
  • The oldest item in your freezer: my mom's chakali bhajani that I plan to use up this Diwali (cousin sis asked me to store it there)
  • Item(s) from the freezer that needed to be used and how you used it/them up in meals or recipes: a packet of drumsticks (not from a chicken, from a tree!) was rescued and used up in sambar and I am still figuring out ways to use up frozen assorted veggies.
:-( Confession time. Some items that had to be trashed: A tiny bottle of artificial biryani essence handed over by a friend who was moving, I just could not stand the artificial fragrance and couldn't pass on something to others that I found so repulsive, it stayed in the fridge for a year before I let it go last week. A plastic bottle with leftover dried up ketchup that was crying out to be recycled. A small wedge of leftover stinky cheese that was bought for a new salad recipe which gave hubby horrible migraine, by the time he recovered and I dared to finish it myself a mold showed up (Oops! Sorry! no more stinky cheese purchase henceforth, promise! I'll do a sniff test before I buy.)

Thanks for playing along, ladies! And Priti, I wish you lived closer because I could have taken that stinky cheese off your hands. My husband is an ardent connoisseur of odoriferous cheeses.

OK, here are my answers to the survey.

Three things I have always have... my fridge: ginger garlic paste, lemons, yogurt. my freezer: frozen peas, vanilla ice cream, whole grain tortillas.

The oldest stuff: Nothing in my fridge or freezer is older than 10 months because that's when we moved to this house. But there is a puff pastry sheet sitting in the freezer that's been there since Christmas 2012, and Dijon mustard in the fridge that's been there probably since the week we moved.

The most unusual thing... the fridge is probably Biscoff spread. A peanut-butter-like spread made with cookies. Who knew? This was a gift from the aforementioned Priti and I made these cookies with some of it. Cookies to spread and back to cookies. Cookies thou art, to cookies returneth. There's a deep philosophical message in there somewhere. But mostly they were just good eats. the freezer is a gel-filled teething ring. My kid is past teething, but she likes to chew on the teether while Duncan chews on his toys.

It is so interesting to see what people have in their refrigerators. I notice so many people storing spices, nuts, flours and grains stored in the fridge/freezer to keep them from going rancid. However, I've found that spices and nuts really lose their flavor when I do this, so I store mine right at room temperature and (try to) use them up in a reasonable amount of time. I guess this one is really all about personal preference.

Here are my 6 favorite tips for minimizing food waste in the fridge.

1. A fridge-cleaning meal once a week (usually the evening before I go grocery shopping). I will confess that I actually love doing this- making a great supper out of bits and bobs. I think of it as a creative challenge. Recipes for tacos, pilafs, soups and scrambled eggs are endlessly flexible and can accommodate all sorts of ingredients that may be on hand.

Here are some of my recent fridge-cleaning meals.

Sprouting potatoes, mustard and bread and butter pickles
went into an egg and potato salad.
The remainder of a can of coconut milk and some red curry paste, plus assorted veggies
went into a noodle salad.

Cheese was getting moldy. Sliced off that end and discarded it and used the rest
in a pasta sauce.
To use up avocados, carrot and tofu, I got really ambitious and made a sushi platter!
2. A fridge/freezer eat-down once every 3 months or so. This is like the fridge-cleaning meal but on a larger scale and this is when I try to use not only the obviously perishable items but also the ingredients that are packaged/bottled but that still need to be used up. With this eat-down, it helps to make a list of available ingredients and look up recipes and plan meals using them.

3. Prep food right after food shopping: Weekends are usually busy, grocery shopping is one of a dozen chores, you shop in a crowded store, get back tired and harried and the last thing you want to do is to organize the groceries nicely. So they pile into the fridge willy-nilly and you're setting yourself up for failure on the food organization/waste front. It helps me enormously to go grocery shopping at a time when stores are empty, like at 8 AM on Sunday mornings, when the good people of GA are either in houses of worship or sleeping in late. Then I can finish my shopping quickly and get back and take 10 minutes to put away everything properly. Going a step further, I sometimes even do some extra prep work, like cooking greens or shredding cheese to help later in the week.

4. Storing herbs: People recommend the whole "stick your herbs in a glass jar with water the way you do with flowers" thing but it never worked for me. I loosen my cilantro bunch, toss away grungy bits, then wrap the rest in a paper towel and place it in an airtight box. This is practically the only thing I use paper towels for any more. And after use they (the paper towels, not the herbs) go into the compost.

5. Veggies bits box: Why, yes, that is a technical term. A box ear-marked for that piece of cabbage, half an onion etc. left over from recipes. That way they don't get lost in the crisper and you can get into the habit of peeking into the box when you start cooking.

6. Know yourself: It helps enormously to pay attention to what I tend to like, what I tend to over-buy, what tends to end up sadly in the trash. Then I can tweak my habits accordingly. For instance, it could be that I buy greens with noble intentions and they sit there and rot. Some solutions for this could be to plan a recipe for greens on the very day I go grocery shopping. Or to switch to buying frozen greens so they can sit in the freezer and not rot while I make up my mind to cook them.

Over time, I have learnt that in my household, we love leftovers and tend to eat them very quickly, over the next 2 or 3 days. Leftovers become small 3PM-hunger-pang-killers, breakfast wraps, fillings for unusual sandwiches. For me, it makes sense to, say, cook the whole cauliflower or the whole can of beans and leave the pot of subzi in the fridge. But I know others who don't enjoy leftovers. For them, it will make more sense to make only enough for 1 meal and save ingredients for a fresh meal. Like I said, it helps to know the individual habits and preferences of the household.

Yes, we live busy lives but what could be more important than honoring food and not wasting it?

Just for fun, if you want to play along, tell us:
1. Three things you always have in your fridge/freezer.
2. Your best tips for organizing the fridge/freezer.

Your moment of zen :)


  1. Not sure how I missed your previous post. Very useful tips on keeping a well stocked fridge/ freezer and avoid food waste.
    We are leftover lovers and I think I get more creative with leftovers (LO)-- dal rotis with LO dal, scrambled tofu makes great vegan egg fried rice the next day.
    3 things that I always have in the fridge: Eggs/ Soy Milk/ ginger+garlic paste
    In the freezer: Frozen Peas/ Frozen rotis/ Homemade Ice cream.
    Keeping certain fruits and veggies in separate crispers keeps them fresher longer. Also wrapping the leftover cheese tightly in plastic wrap and then keeping in a ziploc bag gives them a slightly longer life. In any case, periodic audits and clean ups are necessary.

    1. Dal rotis sound wonderful, Pavani! I never seem to have any leftover dal, we all love it too much.

      Thanks for your tips!

  2. The people in our house also have a penchant for staring out the window just like Duncan :)
    I always have bread and cheese in my fridge.Also Kawan Paratha in the freezer ( our household vice). I tend to buy too many veggies but usually manage to eat through them eventually.

    Recently I've started to plan our lunches and dinners more carefully and have started to make a grocery lst before I shop.
    Also I'm following a handy tip from someone ie one week we do an extensive grocery shop and the next week try to finish off items and buy basics like dairy, bread, fruit etc. only.
    I hate crowded supermarkets too. We usually do a quick shop on thurs night after work and leisurely buy the rest on the weekend.

    1. Yes, Duncan is the self-appointed block captain around here :)

      I really like the idea of alternating a larger and smaller shopping trip. Makes so much sense.

  3. Hi Nupur,

    Thanks for this collection of fridge-freezer makeovers, with a lot of great tips. I can relate to the 'know yourself' part. Isn't it interesting to see who stores what, where and how ;)

    I will put my freezer in a future post; I did redo that as well, but was late with the fridge as it was -- thanks for including me (feels like old times, being late to one of your events!).

    Your sushi spread looks amazing! I should take a cue from you and make veggie sushi.

    Priti, please allow me to second Nupur's encouragement here to start a blog. You write beautifully and I'd love to see those cakes :)

    Also, to Nupur the Namesake :) I loved your post, but did not see a way to comment on it there. Thanks for sharing!

    All the best!

    1. This was my first attempt with veggie sushi, Linda. Took me months to collect all the paraphernalia- sushi rice, pickled ginger, nori, etc but it all came together one fine day ;)

  4. Hey....

    Thanks for a wonderful post (as usual)...

    And I especially want to thank you for the 'Veggies bits box' (dont know why I did not think of it earlier). I keep having to trash onion bits, ginger bits and other assorted veggies, because they have been forgotten and have spoilt away in the crisper. Its criminal to think of the mainy complete meals that could have been made out of these...

    Take care..


    1. Hi Meenal- I hope you'll find the veggie bits box useful- it quickly becomes a habit and I find myself using up every odd bit of veggie lying around.

  5. It's inspiring Nupur. Now, to gather some energy to do the same with my fridge!

  6. Nupur, I've been reading your blog for a while now, and I love your posts. I love your meal-planning posts in particular.

    And the veggie bits box is a very cool idea.

    Also, aren't paper towels safe to compost in general? They are carbon rich, no harm unless they're loaded with colour, I would think.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Shub!

      You're right, paper towels are compostable. But I'll trying to put "reduce" before "compost" and mostly use washable cotton towels for everything. Still it is nice to have paper towels handy for occasional use. And yes, I buy the plain unbleached ones.

  7. Nupur, I do not usually have too much stuff in the fridge. I buy only the veggies I want because I kind of try to plan the weekly menu in my head. Also I run to the grocery store during the week not necessarily a good thing but it works for me.

    I cleaned out fridge just before leaving to India because the fridge was empty and I almost delayed us into missing our plane :)

    1. LOL- I'm glad you made it to the flight, with a clean fridge, that too ;) Hope you had a nice vacation.

      Going to the store more often is a great strategy especially if the store is enroute to work or something, or close to home. In my new place, I've been doing that too, since the grocery store is only 2 miles away.

  8. Great tips for reducing food waste. Being aware of what you have plays a big part in that. Loved your sushi platter!
    I had fun participating in the challenge.

    1. Thanks so much for participating, Nikita!

  9. OMG! You made me turn all pink with the special mention. Now let me find some place to hide until my face turns normal again! :-D

    Your philosophical ode to Biscoff was hilarious LOL! Biscoff does that to people. I have used Biscoff as a filling with fresh whipped cream, not mixed but layered on top of other, in a cake soaked with dark chocolate-expresso syrup..I got rave reviews on that one. A friend used it as a filling for cupcakes which were awesome too!

    Sweet Duncan looks adorable standing by the window. I wonder if he's waiting for the mailman. :-) and Lila chewing on her teething ring as Duncan chews on his toys is sooo Cute! I can tell they are best buddies already.

    Your sushi platter looks amazing, Nupur! You have just encouraged me to try making it myself. I love the pickled ginger, sometimes more than sushi itself. ;-)

    - Priti

    1. I have biscoff left over and I'll definitely use it as a filling in cake. What a perfectly delicious idea.

      Yeah, Duncan waits for the mailman :) He's all growls when someone is by the driveway, then they come into the home and he's waggedy-wag best friends with them instantly.

      We love pickled ginger too. This stuff I bought from the nearby Asian store instead of pickling it myself.

  10. Hi,
    That sushi platter looks awesome. Recipe please. Can you please post the party menus whenever you throw a party? It would be interesting to know. Thx

    1. I'll try and post the sushi recipe one of these days. And party menus- I do post them every now and then. Thanks for your comment!

  11. Three things always in my fridge: Milk, Yogurt and Hummus (We are big diary consumers and my son will eat anything with hummus on the side, so...). Oh and if I can add one more thing, i would say TJ's dark chocolate bars. I break off a bit every night after dinner and watch with my favorite show. Addicted now!
    The three things always in my freezer: Shredded coconut (I restock like a crazy woman, but how is a Tamilian supposed to cook without coconut?), shredded cheese and pureed fruits and veggies for my son.
    Great post on fridge cleaning. You are always such an inspiration to lead a healthful and green life!

    1. Well of all addictions I would say a small bit of dark chocolate is rather a good one! :)

      I hear ya on the coconut, but in my case it is coconut milk. Shredded cheese in the fridge, eh? Interesting.

  12. I like the veggie box tips and the tip about knowing your family's habits.
    Things I always have in my fridge: milk, yogurt, butter (moo!!)
    and freezer: frozen peas, nuts, homemade popsicles
    I used to put fruit in the crisper drawer and quite a bit would go waste because I'd forget about it or not make an effort to use them up. Now, I've dedicated one whole shelf for fruit, it's almost at eye level and as a result we eat more fruits now. I fill a bowl with plums, peaches etc, wash fruits like grapes and keep berries as is. Now, when I pack our lunches in the morning, I just have to grab 2-3 varieties and we're good to go.


    1. Homemade popsicles- mmm mmm. I'm with you on the fruits. Well, I keep them in the crisper and my toddler loves them and asks for them. But with other fruits like melons, we eat them if they are diced and boxed and ready to eat, rather than sitting around whole or in wedges.

  13. My fridge always has: yoghurt, milk and carrots
    My freezer always has: green peas, every possible nut imaginable, kadipatta
    The key to keeping fridge sanity for me is to not fill it too much. That helps me know where things are at a glance and also helps me get rid of things without them lingering. My fridge rarely needs a purge, just a cleaning.
    For the freezer, on the other hand, I adopt the opposite outlook and fill it to capacity with frozen veggies like okra, pepper strips, peas and beans. For one thing, a packed freezer functions quite well, and secondly, I always have something on hand to cook. Nuts last a long time in the freezer and I'm always throwing them in a variety of things. We love the crunch. I also tend to keep extra batches of pasta sauce in there and also over-ripe bananas to cater to my random banana bread cravings.

    1. Yup- I keep carrots on hand too. You're so right- it is more energy efficient to keep the freezer full (not crammed!) rather than bare.

  14. Shubha from SydneyAugust 13, 2013 9:53 PM

    I have heard that sprouting potatoes are very toxic and should not be eaten.

    1. You are right in that there is a toxin called solanin that is found in the sprouts and greening potatoes. However, the dose makes the poison and one would have to consume a LOT of sprouting potatoes to get sick.

      If a potato is soft and wrinkled, I toss it out. If it is otherwise firm but starting to sprout, as this one was, I just cut away the sprouted part and use the rest.

      As with everything else, this is a judgement call each person has to make.

  15. Nupur,
    I was so excited to participate in this but I'll be honest, I have had no luck cleaning out my fridge - on the contrary, its filled with new groceries again! Obviously I need to focus on this problem and fix it. I realize that its happening so often because I'm tryin very hard to eat at home for most of our meals and feed my son home cooked meals and snacks- which leads to a lot of cooking. I did end up using up a bunch of things in my fridge for various recipes on my blog - it was kind of the secret motivation to try a new recipe at times.
    I do usually have cilantro, tomatoes and yogurt, eggs and milk in my fridge.

    1. Yup- cilantro is a fridge staple for me too, I go through a whole big bunch every week.

      Fresh tomatoes I have access to only in summer and I never store in the fridge though because they get mealy in the cold. They just sit on the countertop.

  16. I did do a tune-up(rather than clean up because I am usually fanatically organized anyways:-)) of my fridge and freezer too(or rather freezers cuz I also have one standup version outside my kitchen because I make ahead and freeze meals, store extra frozen veggies etc) inspired by your earlier post but don't have a blog so didn't chime in, so here goes.

    Three things always in my fridge- lemons(preferably meyer variety from cost co available in the summer here in bay area), parsley, cilantro or scallions

    Three things always in my freezer- frozen palak and methi packs, frozen extra butter( I buy in bulk and freeze extra for last minute baking), homemade pizza dough for my son's Friday evening pizza.

    My tips are very similar to yours concerning organizing by category. I've found that's the only way to find anything when I' rushed. I also tend to organize by height and heft. That is tall bottles/bins at the back, shorter in the front and so on. My hubby thinks it's crazy that I go nuts when he doesn't keep the order.
    What I liked most in the post above is the idea of bits and bobs veggie box. I need that desperately. I always end up letting a 1/8th of a radish or cabbage rot because it was tucked way back in my veggie drawer. I'm going to allocate one right away first thing tomorrow morning. I do need to stay super organized because I've switched the family to a very healthy(99.9999% of the time that is!), made-from-scratch home made foods to combat some of the mineral/vitamin deficiencies my son and I both have and also an illness that I currently trying to treat with a whole foods based mostly vegan diet.


    1. Thanks for chiming in, Deepa. Great tips, and yes, a bit of organization pays off in terms of saving time in the long run!

  17. Hi,
    Here in India we usually shop for veggies once or twice in a week but still I have found that refrigerators in Indian households are full upto the brim. Don't know why.
    I have made certain rules :
    1. Kill the instinct to buy immediately at sight of such goodies which are going to sit in the fridge. Think if it is really required and if the purchase can be delayed.
    2. Even if the bhajiwala says Rs.20.00 for pav kilo (250 gms) and 15.00 for ardha kilo (500 gms), buy only 250 gms and don't get tempted to buy half kilo to save money and then throw it off at a later date.
    3. Work on alternates to veggies likes usals so that over-stocking is not done. Once a week usals (lentils) are healthy also. The dear batata (potato) is always there to save us.
    4. Don't go on 'buy one get one' schemes for perishables. They are net loss if not used.

    I have allocated racks in the fridge and marked them as MILK, CURD etc so that at a glimpse I know the stock and all my house members (3 young gentlemen of 81 to 21 years old) know where to keep what. The topmost is for milk. Then comes curd. Then leftovers. The last is mirchi-kothimbir and ginger boxes. I admit lot many times coriander goes waste and has to be used really fast.
    Then comes the veggies compartment (crisper in our fridges).
    Also, I have decided that my next fridge is going to be of lesser capacity so that I just cannot stuff so much.
    I used to stuff a lot in the freezer which I am trying to not to and in India it is possible.


    1. Yes, if one is able to shop more frequently, then you can get by with not cramming the fridge as much. In many parts of India, there are frequent power cuts too, and that's a real problem when food thaws out during the power cut.

  18. I am SO sorry I missed out on this :(
    Life was a bit hectic,A friend's baby shower and then the mommy went in to pre-term labor and had the baby 3 weeks early!
    We went on a holiday and just got home last night ( this was the GOOD part)

    The sushi looks great, I have never tried this before. Will you post the recipe soon?

    Duncan and Lila must be the bestest of pals, how adorable of Lila to give him company <3.

    coming to three things n my freezer, I always have:

    -shredded Coconut , green peas
    -Spices ( mirchi powder, dabeli masala, garam masala, pav bhaji masala etc)
    -Flours like Jowar and Bajra (infrequently used)as well as Besan.
    - Left over coconut milk gets frozen in the ice cube tray.
    - tomato sauce ( out of a can) gets frozen in the ice cube tray as well.
    AS you can see, my freezer is packed!

    In my fridge:
    This, is my problem zone.
    I always have
    Left overs
    Assortment of condiments and sauces.

    Problem zone: leftovers, at times, I have small amounts of daal, veges left over, these get stored in 'vatis' and sometimes get shoved to the back, like in a local train in Mumbai.. they see light of the day when the train is empty , sadly, to end up in the trash.)

    1. Best wishes to your friend and her new baby! Hope they are doing well.

      I'll try and post the sushi recipe for sure. I sort of wing it, but for what it's worth, I'm happy to share how I do it.

      How about an occasional leftover night when you make an appetizer (such as veg patties) and then polish off the leftovers?

  19. Nupur
    You have a wonderful blog and your posts are so good .
    Here's is the list of my
    3 fridge items:milk,yoghurt,eggs
    Freezer items:spinach, raw mango pieces and green chillies

    1. Thank you Madhavi. Raw mangoes- mmm those would be delicious to have on hand!

  20. Shubha from SydneyAugust 17, 2013 4:33 PM

    Hi Nupur - how about something for Shri Janmashatami? Recipes, photos etc?


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