Use It or Lose It: Cooking on the Move

Friday, October 29, 2010 28 comments
The BBLT - a beefy take on a classic sandwich
They say you can't take it with you, but when it comes to foodstuff and cookware, they can't stop me from trying.

With just four weeks to pack up our house before the big move to the Philippines, I've been cramming as much of my kitchen as will fit into the few boxes already stuffed with our worldly goods bound for Asia. Given such limited space, I had to make some tough choices - a stick blender, mini food processor and handheld mixer made the cut, but my ice cream maker, crock pot and Kitchen Aid mixer did not. The last was a particularly painful sacrifice soothed only by Mr. Noodle's promise to purchase a new one some time* after we've settled in Manila. *Actual duration unspecified.

Before the Great Pantry Raid
On the other hand, foods that had accumulated in my pantry proved much easier to pack. I managed to stash an assortment of dried chiles, beans, and herbs, as well as a variety of spice mixtures such as Ethiopian berbere, Moroccan ras el hanout and Japanese shichimi togarashi. Among these global flavors, I also made room for my favorite local Minnesota products, like hand-harvested manoomin from Scenic Waters Wild Rice Company and creamed honey from Ames Farm. But for all that I was able to bring, so much more would have to be left behind.

It was a disappointment of my own design, thanks to a pitiless compulsion to amass food for their potential as future posts, not for any immediate or specific need. As a result, jars of obscure fruit preserves languished in the cupboard, odd cuts of pig or cow hibernated in the freezer and product samples loitered in the pantry as they waited for dormant inspiration to awaken and turn the blog spotlight on them. But I postponed using this trove of novelty ingredients, holding out for perfect occasions that never seemed to materialize.

Well, what could be a more worthy event than moving pup and parcel to the other side of the globe? So, in between endless hours of packing and cleaning the house, I resolved to use good food that might otherwise have been discarded. The ensuing dishes were often made without benefit of a recipe as I simply tossed together ingredients that I hoped were complementary. Happily, the end results were on the tasty side of edible.

A Parade of Empty-Out-the-Pantry-'Cause-We're-Moving-Out Dishes

From specialty meats to a cannonball of Filipino cheese to jarred vegetables and canned beans, there were ingredients in my refrigerator and pantry that I simply couldn't bring myself to give away or throw out. Behold, then, the fruits (and sandwiches, stews, frittatas. . . ) of my labor:

BBLT - Beef-Bacon Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

Bacon purists may scoff, but one bite of these non-porky rashers will have any naysayer mooing with delight. Thinly sliced brisket is smoked to flavorful perfection by the Wemier family at Bar 5 Meat and Poultry, resulting in Beef Bacon that is worthy of a place in this classic sandwich.

Cannellini with Lamb Bacon, Marinated Artichokes and Roasted Piquillo Peppers

Bacon madness doesn't end with the porcine and the bovine. Say hello to the agnus - lamb, that is. Once again, Bar 5 is bar none when it comes to strips of smoky meat goodness. It was love at first sight when I spotted lamb bacon at the Minneapolis Farmers' Market; it became an obsession when I used it in Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Chopped and sautéed, the last carefully hoarded package served as the flavor base for a hearty stew of canned cannellini beans, marinated artichoke hearts and roasted piquillo peppers, perfect for our last Minnesota autumn meal.

Lamb Ragu

Lamb. Tomatoes. Pasta. Need I say more?

Teriyaki Goat Chops

Knowing your grower helps to assure the quality of the food you are buying and to support the continued success of local producers. Best of all, you will meet the most fascinating people. Such was my experience with Darryle Powers of Blue Gentian Farm in New Richmond, Wisconsin, where he and his family raise hormone- and antibiotic-free heritage breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and goats. During a visit to Darryle's stand at the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, I couldn't resist picking up these Boer goat chops. With equal parts mirin (sweet rice cooking wine) and organic soy sauce, I made a simple teriyaki sauce to marinate and glaze these grilled cuts. For an accompaniment, I topped steamed rice with a sample of Crisp Onions sent to me by Seneca Foods, for an extra bit of flavor and crunchy texture.

Crab Frittata

What to do with a big ol' can of crab meat? Grab some eggs and make a frittata! In a cast iron skillet, I sautéed diced onions until soft, added the crabmeat, then poured a mixture of half a dozen eggs well-beaten with milk, a couple of tablespoons of flour and seasoned with salt and pepper. That, in turn, was topped with diced tomatoes, chopped basil, and some grated queso de bola (see Cheesy Apple Chip Muffins below). Popped it all into the oven at 350° for 7-10 minutes and out came a satisfying meal.

Important note: Do not make a seafood dish the night before a scheduled showing of your house unless you're well armed with air freshener.

Tako Tom Kha

Before making this dish, I made sure that no potential homebuyers would be coming through our doors for at least 24 hours. A package of frozen tako (baby octopus) was intended for making the popular Japanese dumpling snack called takoyaki in my aebleskiver pan. By the time I remembered it in my freezer, said pan had been packed away for the Philippines. Instead, I gently boiled the little suckers, then added them to a coconut milk sauce made with a packet of tom kha mix, and served it with a generous scoop of long grain sticky rice. This was Mr. Noodle's favorite of all the improvised dinners.

Cheesy Cinnamon Apple Chip Mini Muffins

There was a lot going on for such tiny muffins, but then again, I had a lot of ingredients to use up. To a basic muffin recipe from King Arthur Flour, I added ground cinnamon and skipped the usual streusel topping for one made with crispy Apple Chips (again courtesy of Seneca Foods) and some grated queso de bola, which is the Filipino name for Dutch Edam cheese. This red wax-covered ball of cheese is de rigueur for a proper Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) feast in the Philippines when it is traditionally served with hamon (a dry-cured glazed ham), and pandesal (a soft, slightly sweet bread roll). But its sharp flavor also enhances the taste of baked and steamed rice delicacies like bibingka and puto bumbong and seemed just the right touch for these quick apple and spice muffins.

Last but not least . . . 

Sweet Cornmeal Cake

Given the long search all over the Twin Cities to find masarepa, a pre-cooked corn flour used in making the South American flatbread called arepas, I wasn't about to ditch the unused portion left over from my Arepa Dumplings foray. For my last baking hurrah, I settled on a version of Bolo de Fubá, a Brazilian breakfast cake made with a very fine cornmeal flour called fubá, for which masarepa seemed an appropriate stand-in. By this time, my kitchen was almost entirely clear of food and cookware, so I made use of what remained, necessitating some minor changes* to this basic recipe (or click on the link above for a super-charged coffee-and-caramel version from Natasha of 5 Star Foodie). The result is a moist yet delicately crumbly sweet cake - perfect with coffee, tea or a side of warm chocolate sauce.


1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs*
1 cup masarepa*
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup evaporated milk*
1 teaspoon baking powder
*Denotes ingredient or quantity substitution from original recipe.

To make:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating them well into the mixture after each addition. While mixer is running, add masarepa, flour, milk and baking powder, and beat well. The resulting batter will be much like a soft cookie dough. Spoon the mixture into a greased and floured loaf or 8-inch square pan, smoothing it into the corners, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature*.

*I found that leaving the cake in the pan and covering with tin foil keeps it well for a couple of days, while refrigerating tends to dry it out. If this happens, microwave servings for 10 seconds on high power.

A Final Note on My Minnesota Kitchen

I consider myself a proficient cook, skilled enough to put together satisfying meals each day, but I owe much of my confidence to the dream kitchen in which I had the pleasure of cooking for three filling and fulfilling years. It was more than just stainless steel appliances, granite surfaces and cherry cabinets. It was the space in which I felt most competent and creative, nurtured and nurturing; where I could stir a simmering sauce in solitude, or share a bottle of wine with Mr. Noodle while he waited in hungry anticipation for dinner. As I wiped down the counters and turned off the lights for the last time in that wonderful kitchen, I thought of all the nourishment it had provided me and Mr. Noodle, and I could manage only a whisper: Thank you.


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  • lisaiscooking said...

    I bet your next kitchen will have you feeling competent and creative too! What great uses of your pantry items. The frittata looks fantastic, and the muffins sound so great for fall. This inspires me to sort through my pantry and see what I find. Enjoy your remaining days in Minnesota!

  • Jeanne said...

    Have a safe journey. I'm sure that your new kitchen will bring you new sources of inspiration and many creative meals. Packing up sure sounds like quite a task but it looks like you've had some fabulous meals as a result!

  • Conor @ Hold the Beef said...

    I don't think I've seen such creative use of must-use-up ingredients before, what a group of great recipes. SO CURIOUS about the lamb bacon!! Luckily I have some goat chops in the freezer so I can at least appease my newfound hunger with those :)

    Safe travels!!

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    I hope you have a safe and stress-free trip! Picking which kitchen tools to take is the worst. My KitchenAid too was left behind, but I have stronger arm muscles now! Just as well because I probably would have fried it to bits with the different electrical currents. Even with a converter I managed to fry a few things. Now I get most jobs done with a hand mixer and stick blender (that doubles as a crude food processor).

    When I think of home it's always the stuff that happened in the kitchen I remember. Can't wait to see and hear about life in Manila!

  • Brenda said...

    Sigh - I left my KA mixer too. And it was brand new - only used once after our wedding - before moving to London! When do you leave?

    The baby octopus is my favorite of your meals too from the look of the picture and description. But the cornmeal bread looks delicious too.

    Best of luck in this move!

  • Jenn said...

    I can't imagine how you're feeling right now especially with your big move just right around the corner. Looks like you've been really creative on the food side. Please do keep us posted.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thanks to Halloween candy, I have extra energy even though it's nearly bedtime. So, I'd better put it to good use:

    Rachel - Thank you! I look forward to writing from Manila and seeing where it takes me and my blog. 8-)

    Vanillasugar - Thanks! So far, so good - it's been tiring and a bit daunting, but excitement is starting to take over. 8-)

    Lisa - That's what I'm hoping for! I'm actually in California now - the last leg before Manila. I'm having a great time going through my sister's pantry now ...! 8-)

    Penny - Fingers crossed that all of our boxes arrive intact. We packed so haphazardly that I don't know what is in each box - it will be like opening surprise gifts! If, for some reason, my gadgets are waylaid, at least I'll have an excellent excuse to buy new ones. 8-)

    Jeanne - Thank you! I will sorely miss my MN kitchen; by any measure, it was a wonderful space. But I've always enjoyed new experiences and challenges, so I look forward to what I can do in a new kitchen! 8-)

    Conor - I think my husband was a bit concerned that I'd be serving him a mish-mash of leftover, unwanted or strange ingredients! About the lamb bacon, check out this article from the New York Times about making your own: At the very least, it identifies the part of the lamb used; perhaps your butcher might be persuaded to make some? 8-)

    Gastroanthropology - Oh, I hope my converter works! We bought two to accommodate the few electric items we packed, including my sewing machine & the above. I haven't worked out in a long while, so perhaps it's a good thing I won't have my Kitchen Aid - I can expect to develop my biceps, triceps and deltoids! I look forward to telling you all about life and food in the Philippines. 8-)

    Brenda - Poor Kitchen Aid mixers: always left behind! I am currently in LA, staying with my sister and her family, and will be leaving for Manila around the 15th of November. I am so anxious to get there but appreciate the opportunity to spend time with my dear sisters before I'm so far from them.

    The baby octopus turned out better than I'd hoped; happily, seafood is so abundant in the Philippines and I look forward to cooking with fresh, rather than frozen, tako in the near future! 8-)

    Jenn - I will! It's been crazy-hectic for the past 6 weeks so I am antsy to get going and set up shop in Manila. It'll be interesting to see what's in store for my blog in its new digs. 8-)

  • 5 Star Foodie said...

    Isn't it fun to clean up the pantry and the fridge! And you came up with some amazing dishes! I have masarepa in my pantry that I need to use up and would love to make that delicious looking cake! Wishing you the best of luck with the move and safe trip!

  • The Beancounter said...

    looking forward to your posts from Manila where you'll be presented with some challenges and lots of opportunities (foodwise that is)...

    I wish you and Mr Noodle well...

    Tako Thai curry...hmmm sounds good to me!

  • Faith said...

    I love how you made great dishes out of a must use food in the firdge! I know I would go fo the beef bacon like crazy! And you sweet cornmeal cake is something else! You're very creative:)

  • UrMomCooks said...

    The lamb ragu got me!!! It is amazing how many dishes you can pull out of the food around your house when you are really dedicated to doing it!!! (PS-I have left several beloved kitchens behind myself. Always bittersweet.) Godspeed on the move!

  • emiglia said...

    What a great adventure! I look forward to reading all about it. About the cornmeal cake... it looks like everything northern cornbread is supposed to be. Am I way off base here? Because if not, I believe I've found a new addition for my Thanksgiving table.

  • Daily Spud said...

    It may say something about my potato-obsessed brain that I read Teriyaki Goat Chops as Teriyaki Goat Chips which, I would be safe in assuming, is a different dish entirely :D

    Meanwhile, I can certainly sympathise with both your accumulation of edibles and your need not to waste them - I've been through the same pantry clearing process just recently and ate some curious combinations as a result! I hope the move to Manila goes smooothly for you - I can understand how much you will miss your Minnesota kitchen, but there will be another kitchen in Manila which I am sure will serve you well.

  • Dee said...

    Your dishes all looked simply wonderful. How therapeutic it is to clean out & use up. You are smart to take those spices & touches from Minnesota for future cooking adventures in your new home. I look forward to the delicious meals you will bring us once you move to Manilla. Safe travels my friend.

  • Hornsfan said...

    Wow, reading your post makes me think about the dark recesses of my pantry and freezer, certainly stuffed with a similarly odd assortment of goodies....all awaiting the moment of inspiration or to become the inspiration for a dish.

    The dishes you shared look delicious as always but what truly touched me was the thank you to your kitchen. It's the heart of the house and the thing that I would miss most in any move, I wish you much luck in your move and hope the new kitchen is as fruitful as the last one!

  • Jenni said...

    Oh, TN. I know you'll dearly miss your old kitchen, but I cannot wait to see what you whip up in your new one! I'm eagerly awaiting new posts!

    And hi to Mr. Noodle, too:)


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