Long-term commitments are kind of tough for me these days. My energy level fluctuates a lot, with the “extreme fatigue” end of the spectrum receiving serious overrepresentation. So setting a year-long goal for myself, in the form of a New Year’s resolution, seemed like a potential set-up for guilt and self-recrimination. Not how I wanted to start the year!
I decided on a New Year’s project instead. I decided that to start 2009 off with a bang, I would tackle the refrigerator. Ah, my dear fridge! Your top shelf brimming with rotten hemp milk and strange condiments that might or might not still be good. Your middle shelf awash in a sea of floppy plastic bags holding dried fruit and nuts and other things that get crammed into the back of the fridge every time we have a visit from moths or mice. Your bottom shelf lurking, dark and swamplike, crammed to its edges with plastic tupperware containers of dubious origin, many of them lingering there since Thanksgiving. Your crisper drawers containing nothing that might be described as “crisp,” only a collection of vegetables in various states of compost. And your door, proud and noble bearer of still more condiments, including things like anchovy paste that will likely not see the light of day again in this vegetarian/vegan household.
I had already pulled everything off the top shelf when I decided it might be fun to have some documentation of my project. Duck was away the week of New Year’s and, since things like messy, disorganized, overstuffed refrigerators don’t seem to bother him as much as they do me, I wanted some “before” and “after” pictures to show off just in case he didn’t really notice the change when he returned home.
It turns out cleaning out the fridge is fun. Like getting a CSA box, the fridge project offers a defined set of foods to make use of, but with the added bonus round of first determining which ones are still edible at all!
Nearly everything from the top shelf was a keeper, since this is where our hardy, long-lived condiments reside. I tossed some clumpy hemp and soy milks and decided to move some of the most-used items to the door area where they’ll be much more accessible. There was a jar of apple butter that I’m pretty sure was opened and put in the fridge sometime in 2002, and so, while it still looked and smelled fine, it got tossed preemptively because I know I’m just never going to want to eat apple butter that has been sitting in the fridge for 7 years.
There was only one item on the top shelf that called for serious action. A container of really delicious cranberry chutney my mom brought to Thanksgiving, full of raisins and orange peel, was still good but definitely in the “perishable” category. I googled “What do I do with leftover cranberry sauce?,” sure there would be plenty of inspiration online but the recommendations (“spread it on toast instead of jam,” “use it glaze pork loin,” “put it in muffins”) didn’t appeal to me.
I really wanted the cranberry sauce to have a chance to stand out rather than getting lost baked into muffins (which I hate anyways) or fruitcakes. Before I stopped eating gluten I was an avid baker, whipping up six or seven different kinds of cookies at the holidays to take to gatherings and put out for guests, bringing cakes and tea breads and bread puddings as my contribution to every potluck and party. But since going gluten-free I haven’t baked much (just a few of my old favorites that already happened to be gluten-free). I’ve focused on enjoying all the delicious things that are naturally free from gluten, and I also haven’t wanted to start gathering together a massive supply of alternative flours. But I did finally buy some sorghum flour, tapioca starch, and xanthan gum in order to make delicious blue corn muffins for Thanksgiving, and I had extras on hand to play with now.
After some deliberation, I decided to make cobbler. I found a recipe for gluten-free cobbler from the wonderful and beloved blog Gluten-Free Girl that sounded perfect and for which I had almost all of the ingredients. The only thing I was missing was potato starch. I checked the ingredients list of the two GF baking mixes I have but never use (one is french bread mix, the other is pancake mix) but they both had rice flour as their main ingredient. On a whim, I checked the ingredients of my Energ-G Egg Replacer. First ingredient: potato starch! There was other stuff in there, too, but it was good enough for me. This would be a cobbler, by its very nature the most forgiving of all baked goods (with the exception, perhaps, of the crumble).
Helpfully, the top shelf yielded up a random plastic bag containing a pear, an apple, four crackers, and a bunch of satsuma leaves, so the pear and the apple went into the cobbler as well. Also on the shelf was a carton of yogurt to use in place of the sour cream in Shauna’s recipe. I made the cobbler dough following Shauna’s directions though my lack of a pastry cutter meant it was mosaiced all over with blobs of butter. It also ripped when I was transferring it to the pan to top the fruit, but I smushed it back into place. Cobbler = forgiving. Fridge project = low standards!
When the cobbler came out of the oven I was much, much more than pleasantly surprised. It was beautiful, smelled like heaven, and tasted even better. Because I used yogurt and real butter this wasn’t a vegan dessert, but that was okay because I knew there wouldn’t be much left by the time Duck returned home! I sat in my kitchen with the fridge door open, licking sticky cranberry cobbler off my spoon and contemplating my top shelf triumph, and the refrigerator challenges still to come. If they all turn out this well, it’s going to be a sweet, sweet week!
What Do I Do With My Leftover Cranberry Sauce? Cobbler (adapted from a recipe from Gluten-Free Girl)
¼ cup sorghum flour
¼ cup tapioca flour
¼ cup potato starch (I used Energ-G egg replacer, which is mostly potato starch)
¼ cup almond flour
1 teaspoon iodized salt
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup yogurt
3 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tub cranberry chutney (or cranberry sauce – not the jellied kind! – with added orange peel, raisins, sugar, and a sprinkle of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice)
1 apple, peel left on, chopped into small pieces
1 pear, peel left on, chopped into small pieces
1 T organic cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cobbler topping (these directions are copied directly from Shauna James Ahern’s blog Gluten-Free Girl):
Combine all the gluten-free flours with the salt, sugar, cardamom, and ginger. Cut the pieces of butter into the flour until the mixtures comes together and has the texture coarse cornmeal. Spoon in the yogurt and stir the concoction with a rubber spatula, until it all just starts to come together. Stop stirring.
Making the dough ball. Put the completed dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Form a large ball of dough between the sheets, and then flatten it into a square. (Do this gently. This isn’t the opportunity to work out your animus.) Set the dough square into the refrigerator and let it chill while you prepare the filling.
Preparing the filling:
Preheat the oven. Turn on the oven and let it heat to 375°.
Cut the apple and pear into small cubes. Lay them all into your favorite baking dish (pie plate or 9-inch cake pan does well here). Add in the cranberry chutney and stir together with the fruit. Sprinkle the sugar and vanilla over the fruit and stir together.
Finishing the cobbler:
Retrieve the dough square from the refrigerator and carefully lay it over the prepared fruit. Slide the baking pan into the oven and close the door. Bake for 35 minutes and check the color and consistency. When the cobbler topping has a firm feeling and is lovely and brown, the fruit bubbling up the edges of the pan — the cobbler is done.