• Kara Cushway

Spring Clean Your Fridge!

Note: This post includes a few links to other websites and blogs, but please note that this post is not partnered with or sponsored by these other sites. The links are there so you have access to recipes I recommend based on personal experience and that I think you might like, too!


Is it just me or does it suddenly feel like spring? The time changed (again) and now I’m staring at what feels like two extra hours of sunlight flooding in the windows. (And on top of that, you, like me, might be facing a sudden and unexpected leave of absence from work thanks to the coronavirus.) And, me being me, the thing I usually do with that extra sunlight (and, ahem, extra free time), other than trying to get outside and enjoy it, is deep clean the house.



You probably already know the drill, come spring cleaning time. Bathrooms, bedrooms, living areas, and kitchen get a top-to-bottom refresh. All those things you’ve been putting off cleaning, like your windows, and under the bathroom vanity, get a thorough going-over. What I always seem to forget (or forgo, if you know what I mean) are the appliances. Who seriously cleans the inside of their oven? Or their dishwasher? Or their washing machine? Other than Martha Stewart?


And maybe the biggest task of all: cleaning out the fridge. I’m telling you, this was an EVENT growing up in a family of 9, and while it’s not as big of a task now as it was then, I still tend to put cleaning out the fridge off again and again.


This post is inspired by the seasonal (or yearly, I’m not judging) Great Fridge Cleanout; I’m going to share 5 types of meals you can make with leftovers, food scraps, and all the sh*t that’s been sitting in your fridge too long, so you can finally empty it out, wipe down those shelves, and have a fresh start.


Baked Pasta Dishes

Baked pasta dishes are a great way to use up leftovers. If you have a ton of different pasta shapes in your pantry, but not enough of one particular kind to make a full meal, just combine the ones with similar cooking times into a sort of pasta puttanesca. Pasta bakes are also a great way to use up dairy products – cheeses including cream cheese, and milk or cream lend themselves very well to pasta bakes, and if you have way too much extra, they’re usually extremely easy to freeze for later.


Apparently I have no photos of a pasta bake I've made for myself. This is handmade Tagliatelle from Primo in Tacoma. Let's just say pasta bakes are in a parallel universe compared to this pasta.
Handmade tagliatelle from Primo in Tacoma. The only photo I possess of pasta, apparently.

Here are a few combos to try:

Shredded chicken, cream cheese, and broccoli = chicken Alfredo pasta bake with broccoli

Italian sausage, tomatoes, milk/cream, and shredded mozzarella = garlicky Italian sausage pasta bake

Spinach, mushrooms, and cream or cream cheese = spinach mushroom pasta bake

Miscellaneous cheeses, milk, and miscellaneous pasta = crazy mac & cheese

Taco meat, bell peppers, diced onions, and cheddar = taco pasta bake


In the same vein as pasta bakes, pasta salads are excellent for using up leftover veg or food items. Roast all the vegetable odds-and-ends in your fridge and cupboards. Use up zucchinis, summer squash, mushrooms, spinach or kale, bell peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes; you could even make it a winter veg pasta by using cauliflower, carrots, fennel, squash, etc. A mixed veggie medley is always especially good with cheese tortellini and a pesto sauce.


Panini

If you’re part of a family that brings bagged lunches to school or work, you might have some leftover cheeses, meats, and sauces cluttering up your deli drawers. I love to have a sandwich night once in a while – it makes for a super easy weeknight dinner, and clears out some of those items that might be on the verge of lingering in the fridge for too long.



Here are a few combinations to try:

Pesto, mozzarella, and bacon

Cheddar and bacon

Chicken, sun-dried tomato pesto, and provolone

Ham, swiss, and Dijon mustard

Turkey, avocado, and sriracha mayo


Stir Fry

Got half a bag of rice and some green veggies to use up? Try doing a stir fry! The combinations are literally endless, and there are a ton of recipes on Pinterest to choose from. Just follow the basic stir fry math: pick a protein, any number of vegetables, and an aromatic sauce, and serve over steamed rice or with stir fry noodles.



I love uber-thin slices of beef with broccoli, or chicken with mushrooms and green onions in an aromatic ginger-garlic sauce, but you could also use up literally any vegetable you have in your fridge or pantry. Sugar snap peas, bell peppers, carrots, celery, mushrooms, onions, broccoli, water chestnuts, mini corn, and bean shoots are all excellent options for a stir fry.


Egg Dishes

Frittatas, omelets, quiches – any of these have the potential to bring new life to the odds and ends in your fridge or pantry. Like I always say, when in doubt, put it in a quiche.



Some especially good candidates for egg dishes such as these are as follows: fried, fresh, roasted, steamed, or sautéed veggies such as potatoes, red peppers, zucchini, hot peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, kale, spinach, mustard greens, and other leafy greens; any type of grated, shredded, or crumbled cheese including feta, cheddar, Parmesan, fontina, smoked mozzarella, and goat cheese (my particular favorite for its distinctive tang); and any tender herb such as parsley, chives, tarragon, or basil. Hearty herbs like thyme and oregano are good too, but they can be overpowering and sometimes tough, so handle accordingly.


Delicious combinations:

Bacon, caramelized onions, and cheddar

Peppers, onions, and shredded pepper jack

Spinach, mushroom, and feta

Potatoes, basil, and gruyere

Roasted red pepper, roasted eggplant, and goat cheese

Kale, sweet potato, and smoked mozzarella


Soup

In my opinion, soups aren’t quite as simple as the rest of these ideas, but they are still excellent vessels for using up leftovers. You can do anything from making your own homemade vegetable or chicken stock with limp vegetables, to making a full-on soup just using what you have in your fridge or pantry.



There are a few basics for soup making. #1: an aromatic base. #2: flavorful main components. And #3: liquid. You can mix and match based on what you’ve got in your fridge. If you have potatoes, kale, heavy cream, and spicy Italian sausage, you can make a version of zuppa Toscana. Onions, carrots, celery, and chicken broth can become the base for chicken soup. Various winter squashes can quickly turn into a pureed soup that freezes beautifully.


To give you an example: as I write this, I have carrots, celery (probably limp and sad), a partial carton of chicken broth that needs to be used up, and several sprigs of rosemary in my fridge, although parsley would be better. I have shredded chicken in my freezer, and onions, garlic, and egg noodles in my pantry. I have all the fixings for a chicken noodle soup. But say I’m not in the mood for the classic chicken noodle? In addition to all the above, I have limes on my counter, sriracha in my fridge, and soy sauce and thin rice vermicelli noodles in my pantry. With all those things, I could easily make my boring, normal chicken noodle soup into a punchy, spicy Thai chicken noodle soup. Yum!


Hopefully some of these ideas are helpful, and inspire you to actually make something out of those leftovers in your fridge before or during the big refrigerator clean of 2020. Even if you’re not cleaning, this is a great way to prevent bits and pieces in your fridge from going to waste!


What’s the greatest combination you’ve ever made out of leftovers? If you’d care to share, I’d love to hear your ideas down in the comments below! Stay healthy out there, and happy eating!

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