Category Archives: Eat The Freezer

What The Hell Is That?: A Story of Leftovers Gone Wrong

So, what happens here at Al Dente HQ when we make too much soup or buy too much meat? We freeze it. You’ve seen this with our periodic Eat The Freezer entries.

More often than not, we bring it back out for a meal to be named later. Sometimes though it gets lost to the deep freeze, only to come back during a cleanout day.

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Al Dente HQ has three freezers. There is the primary freezer located in the kitchen. I have a secondary standalone freezer in my basement that is only slightly warmer than your average cryogenic unit. And then there is the freezer that is part of the 1970s-era refrigerator-freezer in my basement that keeps my beer cold. That is the last option for freezing.

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Sunday became a cleanout day when it became clear that there was not enough space upstairs for us to store any groceries this week. I made my way downstairs and attacked those freezers as well. Anything without a label was immediately discarded. Anything older than eight months went too.

The results were troubling. I found marinara sauce (above) dating to 2012. There were containers of green stuff (below) that could not be identified. There was soup of some sort that predated The Kid. One bag of rolls had more ice crystals than bread.

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My mother would have called this a sin. “It’s a sin to waste all of this food.” (Everything for Northside Italian Catholics was either a blessing or a sin. There was never any middle ground with these people.) She would also have tried to feed us the 4+ year old soup. “It tastes fine,” she would say, her own taste buds fried by years of smoking (Salem Menthol Ultra Light 100s, preceded by Parliament 100s).

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She would have also yelled at me for forcing everything down the garbage disposal. There was a glacially slow melt occurring after dumping everything into the sink. Hot water moved things along slightly, but an extra-large chef’s knife and the disposal helped me clear it all out. As a child, I was constantly accused of trying to break the garbage disposal by, you know, using it.

All told, 12 quarts of frozen liquid and two garbage bags of food were tossed. Some items were relocated to the basement. And, I clearly need a Foodsaver or better way of packing food to freeze.

Maybe my mother was right. Maybe it is a sin.


Thursday Dinner: Muffaletta Burger

2014-07-31 at 17-22-58There has been a bottle of Central Grocery olive salad in my fridge since I returned from New Orleans this winter. I have broken it out for muffalettas, sandwiches and as a snack (a spoonful of olive salad at the right moment can fix everything wrong in the world), but I’ve been trying to figure out other ways to deploy it.

There was almost always a bottle of giardiniera in my house as a kid. Most of the time, it was store bought from William’s or one of the Italian grocery stores on the North side. Every so often, my father or mother would get ambitious and make their own. It actually doesn’t seem all that difficult, combining olives, carrots, cauliflower, celery and onions in a olive oil brine, but for something I only eat once in a great while, it strikes me as not worth the time or money.

That said, I still have this bottle of stuff from Central Grocery.

(Tangental side note: I really want to go back to New Orleans. Coincidentally, I also need to put a new roof on my house. I’m thinking that the order of priority will not go in my favor here.) Continue reading Thursday Dinner: Muffaletta Burger

Pork Belly and Smoked Sausage Cassoulet

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Planning for this dinner started two or three weeks ago during a visit at Side Hill Farmers in Manlius. (SIDE NOTE: If you haven’t visited this place yet, you really are missing something special. Yes, it’s in Manlius, but they are about 200 feet from Lune Chocolat and right behind Sno-Top, so you really have no excuse.) I had asked Kevin — the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef/butcher who patrols the joint with a holster of very sharp knives at the ready — if Side Hill stocked pork bellies. He said that they typically get thrown on salt for bacon since that moved quicker than a belly. But, he said, if I wanted one he would set it aside.

And I did.

So he did.

And that’s where this story begins.

2014-05-24 at 12-24-27 Continue reading Pork Belly and Smoked Sausage Cassoulet

Meatless Monday: Eggplant with Roasted Tomato Sauce

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Eggplants are fickle little things. It’s a vegetable that does not taste good raw and it’s absolutely useless standing alone. It needs to be stewed, smothered in sauce or served with something to dip it in. The eggplant is nutrient rich, loaded with potassium and folates. And there is nothing finer than a good, slow-cooked eggplant parmagiana.

As a kid, my parents would pickle and jar eggplant to use in salads or other dishes. My favorite thing to do with them was to take a large spoonful of pickled eggplant and put it between two slices of Italian bread. Not the sexiest sandwich in the world, but full of garlicky, vinegary goodness. But I digress. Continue reading Meatless Monday: Eggplant with Roasted Tomato Sauce

Meaty Monday: Chorizo and Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

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As you may know, Mondays are typically meatless around here. This week, not so much.

I had a couple of bell peppers in the fridge, which were going on one week old. I had actually planned to make this last week, but a late chiropractor appointment pushed it out of the picture. Unfortunately, I had already begun defrosting the fresh Mexican chorizo that had achieved a comfortable cryostasis in my freezer. My roundabout tale brings me to tonight, where I had to either cook these ingredients or toss them. And I can’t bring myself to letting chorizo go bad. Not chorizo. Never the chorizo.

The recipe goes together not unlike an Italian stuffed pepper recipe without sauce. Brown the meat, mix in the already softened aromatics, stuff the peppers and roast. The result was good, but missing something. The Italian in me says tomato.

But don’t get me wrong…I liked this recipe a lot.

Continue reading Meaty Monday: Chorizo and Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Meatless Tuesday: Chard Frittata


Monday being a national holiday meant that my garbage pickup is pushed back one day. In the spirit of the holiday, I pushed Meatless Monday off as well.

The weather has been a mitigating factor in the last two dinners here at Al Dente HQ. Monday evening’s sausage, peppers and onions were moved indoors when the skies opened and the lightning came. Of course, that happened when The Wife and The Kid were in the neighbor’s pool. We relocated to safety and I decided not to stand outside in the driving rain behind a stainless steel lightning conductor attached to a tank of flammable gas.

Continue reading Meatless Tuesday: Chard Frittata

Grocery list: July 7, 2013 (The Pre-Vacay Edition)

IMG_0107It’s a crisp 75 degrees right now in my living room and a swampy 84 in my backyard. Today’s trip to Wegmans and Target was a solo one, thanks to an ornery three-year-old who would much rather swim in a pool than sit in a cart.

I can’t necessarily blame her, all things considered. Today’s trip was fairly unexciting and rather quick. Even more surprising was that I kept the entire trip to less than $50.

Such is the week before our week of vacation. We leave Saturday for a week in Rehoboth Beach, Del., where it will most certainly be a thick-aired 95 degrees all week. But, the people, the beer and the people make it worth it. I mentioned the people twice because…well, you can read about it here.

It’s an Eat The Freezer week, so there will be content this week and next as I cut through the fossilized meat in the side-by-side in my kitchen. Yesterday’s trip to the market yielded some fresh veggies that will grilled or turned into salads (the green beans have been blanched and are marinating as we speak). Otherwise, we’re just biding time until Saturday.

Eat The Freezer: Stuffed Peppers

NOTE: Remember when The Cosby Show or The Golden Girls would run a clip show? Welcome to my version of a clip show. Eat The Freezer is where we work through the frozen leftovers in my basement freezer.

NOTE II: The recipe is from October 2011, but the stuffing was made in the winter. It was a smidge dry, but nothing that a little extra marinara couldn’t fix.

Italian food, much like its language, varies from house to house. Dialects make it one of the most difficult to speak fluidly as a second language, especially since words can have different meanings from region to region and household to household.

The cuisine is much in the same vain. No marinara recipe is the same. Food porn trafficker Giada DiLaurentiis tells you to use carrots and celery in one of her cookbooks. New York City landmark Rao’s blend looks traditional, until you run across the call for saltpork. My father-in-law doesn’t even make marinara. He does a traditional smooth sauce, loaded with pork. Mine calls for the usual suspects — tomatoes, basil, garlic, oil, salt, wine, onions — and adds sugar to balance the flavor.

That’s just the sauce. We haven’t even touched recipes like lasagna (my f-i-l does rolls; I don’t cook my pasta and use four types of meat), or stuffed peppers. I don’t have a fond memory of my mother’s stuffed peppers, probably because like everything she cooked with ground beef, they swam in grease. My guess is that she exceeded the recipes call for olive oil by a quart or two while buying beef in the neighborhood of 70 percent lean. She used breadcrumbs for everything, including the bulking of the stuffing. This is fine, but meat and breadcrumbs are not what I would call tasty. There always seemed to be a certain lack of flavor there.

When The Wife made a comment about how she ate stuffed peppers at her mother’s house one evening while I was away recently, I thought I’d give it a go. I think that the key here is advance prep. Make some of this the night before so that the beef, rice and liquid can settle and such. And, this cuts the prep time back by half, since all you do to serve is stuff the pepper, bake and serve. Continue reading Eat The Freezer: Stuffed Peppers