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Start the new year fresh by cleaning out pantry, cookbook collection


It’s the new year. Time for a fresh start. You’ve cleaned out your car, your closet and your garage over the holidays, but when was the last time you purged your fridge, freezer, pantry, spice cabinet or cookbook shelf?

Sometimes, this isn’t an easy task. A visiting friend last year took one look at the 20 glasses filling the lower half of one of my cabinet shelves and said, “I could Marie Kondo the (heck) out of your kitchen” — a reference to the bestselling de-cluttering author. After I got over the sting of being seen as a clutterer, I realized she was right. I needed to cut the fat. A kitchen diet, if you will.

Maybe your kitchen is like my kitchen this time of year. As I’ve been cooking my way through the dark, colder months of winter, the canned goods, utensils, spices and stack of cookie trays overfloweth. There are corners of my pantry I haven’t seen in a year. The 10 packages of dried pasta that all have exactly 1 1/2 servings left are not cooking themselves away.

My cookbook shelf also gets fresh scrutiny. Does this book spark joy? If I’m not sure, I put it in a pile of “maybes” on the counter and set the intention to try to use it. Can I use it in the next 48 hours to be reminded of that joy? If two days pass and I haven’t found cause to open the book — or, in the case of the other kitchen supplies under investigation, use those canned butter beans or that Bundt pan — it goes in the giveaway pile.

This Christmas break, I yanked out dozens of cookbooks that I wanted to get rid of and replaced them with the new cookbooks I’d let pile up around the house and at work that I knew I wanted to keep. I then updated my virtual library on EatYourBooks.com, a website that allows you to keep track of your physical cookbooks and search their indexes.

It didn’t take long to do, and that website is particularly helpful if you’re trying to find, say, grilled eggplant or cheesy grits and don’t want to hunt and peck your way through the books to find those specific ingredients or dishes.

Thanks to that website, I know I have room for about 125 cookbooks in my house, so I’ll have to stick to a one-in-one-out policy this year. Even though my cupboards can hold more, I’ve cut the number of glasses in half. (Almost.) That little green plate that I always hated using but kept around anyway? It’s in the thrift store box.

Your kitchen self changes just as much as your regular self. Turns out, I don’t need so many wine glasses because we usually drink out of those little mason jars these days. All those healthy soup and slow cooker books? One of each will do. The cookbooks about making baby and toddler food will be of better use in someone else’s hands.

What do I get for all this sifting, besides a less cluttered kitchen? A better connection and sense of what I do have, from the 20,000 recipes that Eat Your Books tells me are indexed in my cookbook collection to that packet of Thai peanut sauce that my cousin brought me from Thailand last year.

As we enter a new year of cooking, it feels good to reset the kitchen, just like nearly every other aspect of our lives.

I’ve included a few recipes here to help you work through your own stash of excess potatoes, random vegetables, dried pasta and canned beans. My colleague Elizabeth Findell’s chocolate cake will give you an excuse to use that Bundt pan that’s collecting dust, and if you don’t have canned pumpkin, try another fruit puree, or even baby food.

Clean-Out-the-Fridge Minestrone Soup

It’s amazing how you can pull a tasty soup together from stuff you might otherwise throw out. Any vegetable, root or leafy thing that’s on the verge can go in. You don’t need meat. You don’t need bouillon cubes. All you need is an assortment of food, some stock and a pot.

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion or leek, chopped

1 cup chopped carrot

1 cup chopped celery

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 cup chopped turnip (optional)

1/2 cup chopped celeriac (optional)

1 cup chopped tomatoes

6 cups chicken stock, store-bought or homemade

2 cups tomato sauce, homemade or store-bought

8 oz. small dried pasta

1 can (14 to 19 oz.) white beans, drained and rinsed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chopped fresh basil and/or Italian parsley leaves, for serving

Grated Romano cheese, for serving

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add the turnip and celeriac, if using. Add the tomatoes, stock and tomato sauce and stir to combine. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, cook the pasta according to package directions.

Drain the pasta and add to the soup along with the beans and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes to warm through. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with the herbs, and pass grated Romano at the table. Serves 8.

— From “Scratch: Home Cooking for Everyone Made Simple, Fun, and Totally Delicious” by Maria Rodale (Rodale Books, $35)

Saag Aloo (Spinach with Potatoes)

Potatoes are often added to vegetable dishes for bulk and texture. This north Indian dish is popular in Indian homes as well as in restaurants because of its striking color, creamy taste and the wide availability of spinach. If making this in advance, add the spinach at the last minute when you reheat the curry.

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 onion, finely chopped

1 fresh green chili, diced

1 tsp. ginger-garlic paste (or 1/2 tsp. minced of each)

1 tomato, finely chopped

1 tsp. garam masala

2 potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 lb. fresh spinach, washed, drained, and finely chopped

Salt

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over high heat, add the cumin seeds and cook for 10 seconds until they darken. Add the onion and chili and cook for 5 to 6 minutes until soft.

Stir in the ginger-garlic paste and tomato and cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until mushy.

Add the garam masala and the potatoes and season with salt. Add enough water to barely cover the potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Add the spinach, adjust the seasoning to taste, heat through and serve. Serves 4.

— From “The Indian Cooking Course” by Monisha Bharadwaj (Kyle Books, $39.95)

Pumpkin Chocolate Cake

This 2-2-2 cake comes from Statesman reporter Elizabeth Findell, who brought this to the office last year. Her use of pumpkin puree in a cake that isn’t explicitly so pumpkin-y is why I wanted to share it now, as all of us are cleaning out our pantries. But here’s the really cool thing about this cake: You can replace the roughly 2 cups of pumpkin puree with any fruit puree, including baby food. “I seriously never cook or bake, but it’s my favorite recipe for that odd occasion when I do, because it’s super easy and I love pumpkin/chocolate as a combo,” she says.

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 Tbsp. cocoa

1 1/2 to 2 cups pumpkin puree

1 1/2 cups oil

4 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

Frosting:

2 Tbsp. butter

2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

6 Tbsp. heavy cream

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all the cake ingredients together, starting with the dry and then adding the wet. Bake in a floured Bundt pan 45 to 60 minutes.

While the cake is baking, mix together frosting ingredients in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat until melted. Spread over the cake once the cake has cooled a little.

— Elizabeth Findell



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