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January 18, 2018

Staying Open to the Unknown in the Kitchen

When you shop at Goodwill, random objects catch your eye. You won’t know what they’re for, but you’ll buy them anyway. (At that price? Why not?)

 Will you wear the fuchsia and green Pucci-esque scarf or drape it on a side table? Is that a coffee mug, or a vase for your desk? An almost-Liberty print blouse might look great on you, or it could be a gift for your niece, whose sense of style is budding in a way that moves you. You won’t know what that brass thing is until you get it home and see what it does, but it could pull the whole room together. The next time you look into your fridge or pantry, see what you can find, just like you do at Goodwill, and make it work.

Remember how cold it was recently? Did you want to leave the house? I did not, but I was having some friends in and we needed snacks, so I went to the fridge to avoid the store. We ended up with pimiento cheese, because I always have the ingredients for pimiento cheese, a baked brie because one of the friends brought a wheel of brie and some of her homemade lemon and fig jam (lawd, it was good), some olives (because I made my husband go to the store and get them), and these phyllo triangles stuffed with mushrooms, shallots, and gruyère. The phyllo was from the freezer and I don’t remember why or when I bought it, but it seemed like a good idea. Also it was taking up room in my small freezer and beginning to get on my nerves. The mushrooms had seen better days, and I had some thyme and parsley that were wilting fast.


I would offer you a phyllo triangle but we ate them all. Also, most of the brie and pimiento cheese. There may have also been a cheese board (there was a cheese board). Something about cold weather makes me want all the cheese, especially the melted kind.

If you’ve ever worked with phyllo – those thin sheets of paper-like pastry that demand melted butter just to survive – you know that you have to use it quickly or it’ll crack and become useless. A couple days later, I still had half a package of it and nothing for dinner. (Phyllo storage tip: Rewrap it in the plastic sheet it came in and seal it in a zippered plastic bag with a damp paper towel. Do not let the towel actually touch the pastry because it’ll get soggy and tear. Keep the bag in the fridge and it should last for a couple days.) By that point I had more mushrooms, still hadn’t gotten rid of all the thyme and parsley, and needed to use up some leeks. I bought goat cheese and got to work.

The mushrooms and leeks were caramelized in butter with the rest of the thyme and parsley and a dash of prosecco from a half-full bottle. I laid the remaining sheets of pastry in a square casserole, brushing each sheet with butter and letting them overlap, the extra pastry hanging over the side of the dish. When the mushrooms and leeks were cooked, they got a few pulses in the food processor and made their way into a bowl with a beaten egg and some goat cheese. I poured the mixture into the phyllo, folding the pastry still hanging out of the dish over the casserole. And brushed the whole thing with more butter, of course. There were no complaints. 

I rarely know what everything in my fridge is for, but somehow most of it makes its way into our stomachs. Is it always as good as buttery phyllo casserole? Of course not. But there’s something really satisfying about making something out what you have. And staying home in your stretchy pants instead of going to the store.

What was your latest and greatest creation in the kitchen? Did you plan it or were you surprised?

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