Know when to fold ‘em … know when to walk away, and know when to run. Those of us who pride ourselves on being thrifty, knowing how to make something out of nothing, occasionally take it a step too far.
Maybe we hang on to that pair of Armani pants from Goodwill when they definitely don’t fit anymore, because they were such a good deal. We get a little too crafty, because we can’t bear to throw out the leftover confetti from our last project. Or maybe we add one too many things when we’re cooking for the express purpose of cleaning out the fridge. Occasionally, you have to fold ‘em (and put them back in the bag to send to Goodwill), and in the kitchen, you have to know when to run (to the garbage can to get rid of that inedible mess).
I cook a lot, and have a fair amount of success, but anyone who cooks enough will have her fair share of failures. My failures almost always manifest when I take it one step too far, often when I try to avoid a trip to the grocery store by getting a little too creative. Recently, I made catfish rillettes. I’ve done this before and it’s one of my favorite snacks. The catfish is a nice southern twist on a French dish. And, look at that, I had a little black caviar left in a jar in the fridge. How old was it? I wasn’t quite sure, but it smelled fine. Or sort of fine. So I stirred it into my rillettes. It gave the spread a musty smell. And taste. And the color bled so my rillettes looked like it had measles. I should have saved those tasty little fish eggs as a last-minute addition to the top of some deviled eggs. My bad. I left the jar in the fridge for a few days, and my family tried a little here and there. We all pretended it was edible. But I knew it wasn’t, because we never keep rillettes in the fridge for that long. Eventually, I threw it out, which is what I should have done from the beginning. Hoarding useless food doesn’t serve anyone.
Phyllo dough has kind of been my jam recently, and I’ve been experimenting a lot, with some success. The vast majority of time, anything wrapped in flaky, buttery pastry tastes good by default. And it usually looks fairly pretty. When you’re making phyllo triangles, you usually have a strip or two left over, and you might as well fill them with something. One night, my youngest son suggested cheese and prosciutto, which turned out to be delicious (obviously). A few days later, I went to the fridge to find some filling for two more remaining strips of dough. I pulled out pimientos, smoked sprats, and the last of some grated Parmesan. The result? Tasted okay if you like weird smoked fish, which I absolutely do, but it looked like vomit. I might eat this in secret, but I wouldn’t serve it at a party.
Don’t get me wrong: I still believe in scrap cooking and using up everything in your fridge. You’ll come up with some winners, like a recent batch of arugula and Feta phyllo triangles we all loved. But if it doesn’t work? Give yourself permission to throw it out and start anew. You can’t nail it every time!