Not gonna lie, my job is pretty cool. I'm a digital fellow (fancy word for intern) for both Cooking Light and MyRecipes, which are both headquartered in the same office as the Time Inc. Food Studios (makes sense) in Birmingham, Alabama. On top of all the fun, food-related assignments that I am tasked with each day, there are also some serious perks that come with working in a building that houses 28 test kitchens on the top floor. Since hundreds of recipes are being developed, tested, and shot here every week, you can only imagine how much food is coming into the food studios. Although all of the food is strategically shopped for on a daily basis depending on what the test kitchen professionals need for that day’s assignments, leftover ingredients at the end of the week are inevitable. And that’s where I come in.
In the test kitchen's massive walk-in refrigerator, there’s a rack of shelves dedicated to "giveaway food." The majority of what makes it to the giveaway shelves is produce that’s been cut open and not worth saving, or an ingredient that's close to its expiration. I like to call these items... my dinner. Every Friday before I leave for the weekend, I head up to see what produce the kind test kitchen professionals have decided to bless my kitchen with, and they never disappoint. Although the Food Studios staff who grocery shops and keep the pantry stocked/organized start quivering at the knees when they see me stroll in (and also probably refer to me as “broke ass Betty” in my absence), I have no shame. Free food is one of life’s greatest joys, and I genuinely have so much fun taking a random selection of food home and figuring out a timely and tasty way to cook it all. Oh, and also, I’m broke.
As an exercise ingenuity, culinary creativity, and frugality, I have dedicated myself to allowing no edible food item to go to waste on my watch, and sustaining myself primarily from the free scraps I am thrown at work.
SO, in this week’s episode of “What Random Ass Food Did I Bring Home?,” I salvaged:
- 2 f*cking adorable baby pineapples
- a bunch of mini Indian eggplants
- turnip greens
- onions (already peeled, IT’S LIT)
- a plethora of bell peppers
- a small block of Parmesan cheese
- asparagus that has seen better days (definitely still ate it, though)
- 1 peach
- 1 zucchini
- some fresh cilantro
- 2 hot Italian turkey sausages.
After screeching for roughly 45 minutes at the sheer cuteness of my baby pineapples and mini eggplants, I cut up the eggplants and roasted them. I cubed half and kept the others whole. I stuffed the whole mini-roasted eggplants with a simple quinoa mixture loaded with sautéed bell peppers, onions, turnip greens, cilantro and asparagus. I then topped these lil’ cuties with a thin layer of the Parmesan cheese and baked them for 7 minutes at 350°. They were extremely impractical to eat with your hands because you can’t really bite into them without ruining them and getting quinoa all over your chest, but they tasted delicious regardless. (Perhaps a wiser woman would have assumed them to be a fork-and-knife kind of dinner from the get-go.) If I leave you with any useful cooking advice whatsoever, let it be this: melted Parm makes everything taste better. I had way more quinoa mixture than would fit in my adorable eggplants, so I brought the quinoa veggie salad for lunch the next day.
As for the rest of the cubed roasted eggplant, I’ve been eating this all week in salads and stir fries. I sautéed it with the hot Italian turkey sausages (real talk, Jennie-O is mah girl), and that sh*t was easy and tasty as it gets. One of my better creations happened when I added some cubed eggplant to a stir fry with chopped onions, bell peppers, asparagus, and sesame oil. In a separate bowl, I used a vegetable peeler to make zucchini ribbons. Instead of cooking them, I like to salt the ribbons and let them sit for about ten minutes. The salt causes them to release some of their water, but just enough to soften them slightly, so that they keep a slight crunch. I then added the stir-fry contents to the zucchini ribbons, topped it with Parmesan, and brought it for lunch the next day. It was so delicious that I made the intern who sits next to me try it so that I could laugh at her failure to pack lunch that day. The best part of this happy desk lunch is that the only ingredient I used that wasn’t from work was the sesame oil, which was actually purchased by my roommate’s boyfriend. I am so frugal, it hurts.
Note how I am eating my lunch at my desk. I am so dedicated to my craft.
But let's jump back to the cuteness for a sec. As hard as it was to take a knife to my precious baby pineapples, I ended up hacking them up and freezing them for smoothies. I also chopped up that peach and added it to my frozen fruit collection. Not the most exciting use, but I like to think of myself as something of a health goddess (part-time) and I dabble in the smoothie prep game. When I go to make a smoothie, I just toss the contents of my freezer bag, some fresh greens, a splash of almond milk, and a little honey into the blender, and I’m on my merry way.
Even though I can't look at another eggplant anytime soon (because I literally ate it everyday last week), I look forward to what the future of test kitchen scraps holds. Tune in next week for more nifty tips on being cheap and to see how I utilize my most recent giveaway shelf raid. God forbid I step step into a grocery store anytime soon.