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Too Many Cooks: The Dregs

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You'll be hearing from the staff at FOOD52 every week in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.

Today: We confess the things we push (and push and push) to the darkest, farthest corners of our refrigerators.



We've been talking a lot in the office this week about dregs, the strange odds and ends of things that take up space in our fridges and pantry: egg whites, cans and jars of things, 6 tablespoons of something left in its bottle, half-empty bags of flours and beans. Like dirty secrets, we all have them—things we collected excitedly, kept begrudgingly, and forgot willfully (or tried to). We asked the team:

What ingredients do you buy, use partially, and then find yourself forgetting about? Please share advice and tips for using things up!


Caroline Lange: There is always some lost, miscellaneous jar of jam floating around in the back corner of my fridge—opened so enthusiastically and then forgotten about. So far my only solutions are spreading it on endless pieces of toast and making a fruity vinaigrette with it.


Kenzi Wilbur: Coconut milk! Cream. Literally always cream. Also: Cream cheese. Please send help! 

Leandra Levine: I will come eat all your unused cream cheese.


Weirdly, store-bought salsa. I truly think it's because I don't put it in a bowl cause I don't feel like washing one, so when the jar gets down to 1/5 full and the chip can no longer reach the salsa, it takes up residence in the back of my fridge forever. I suppose I could just spoon it into a bowl, but that last one-fifth always kind of grosses me out.

Caroline Lange: Leandra, I hear you on the salsa. Sometimes I'll stir it into hot rice if I'm making tacos!

Olivia Bloom: Jars upon jars of the leftover juice from various varieties of pickles. I tell myself I'm saving them for a fun party I'll throw where we'll take lots of pickleback shots. But there they sit, sad and ignored. Also, about 37 bags of dried-out thyme. Caroline—jam + Greek yogurt = love.

More: Coconut milk might be the sexiest canned good.


Laura Beam: Leftover beans. A stray carrot or two. And a big +1 to the dried-out herbs.

Tim McSweeney: Kenzi, use leftover coconut milk in your morning smoothie. 

Kenzi Wilbur: Tim! Nice work. Now I am inspired to do that and try to be the person who drinks a morning smoothie.

Jovan Stojanovich: Cans of corn and sardines. Corn is easy: Just heat it up with butter and salt on the stovetop or in the microwave. For sardines: I make sandwiches or incorporate them into a pasta dish (like seafood pasta).

More: How to dry out your herbs on purpose. 


Jackie Stauffer: I always have leftover crushed or diced tomatoes and usually some form of almond milk or coconut milk. Another culprit is jars of capers. I usually have multiple jars of them floating around my fridge and can't ever remember to use them.

Jeremy Beker: There are always some jars of pickled things in the back of the fridge. Normal ones, cornichons, olives. I think they breed back there. Also, egg whites, homemade mayonnaise, flavored simple syrups... so sad.


Jane Whalen: Every spring I feel peer pressured by internet chatter to buy loads of asparagus even though it's my second-least favorite vegetable. Never ends up anywhere but the trash.

Leslie Stephens: My mom sends me care packages of hand-me-downs of her own unused pantry items—the most recent box included goat's milk caramel sauce, four tins of expired Hello Kitty mints, Sriracha-covered peanuts, Sriracha salt, grasshopper salt (exactly what it sounds like), and a jar of what looks like olives (her pantry is a wonderful and terrifying place). My current strategy is stashing the loot in the basket at the top of my pantry, but it's starting to overflow, so if anyone has tips for using bugs crushed up in sodium, I'm all ears.

More: Wish you had some goat's milk caramel in your pantry? Your wish is granted.


Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm: I’ll use maybe 3 anchovies from a tin and then it just sits in the fridge and taunts me to use all the little fish ASAP. I’ll usually start making salsa verde, anchovy butter, and melting some into pasta sauces like it’s going out of style. And then buy another tin and start the whole process over again.

Tim McSweeney: Not exactly helpful BUT... My wife and I have learned what our dregs are, and as a policy we avoid buying them. If a recipe calls for something like thyme, we just won't use it, or we'll swap in another herb we frequently use (cilantro or rosemary). 

Micki Balder: Agreed on the cream! And the herbs! I also tend to have problems with half a lime or lemon getting lost in the fridge. I generally try and put whatever I can into the freezer before it gets a chance to spoil, but things that don't really freeze don't always fare well.

Stephanie Bourgeois: I'm always surprised at the number of people that don't know you can freeze egg whites and buttermilk with very good results. 

More: Yes, you really can freeze buttermilk! Or use it in some of these 14 recipes.


Hillary Pollak: I seem to collect little ends of cheese that are too small to serve, but I forget about them and they get dried out and/or moldy. I like bananas but can never find the right time to eat them, so I forget about them until they are too brown, and they end up in my freezer. My celery ends up getting soft and limp, and my seltzer goes flat too fast. And I have too many hot sauces and syrups that I snagged from the free table thinking I would use them. I do use some, but I don't really need 10 different types. 

Jojo Field: CAPERS! Luckily, they don't expire quickly, so once rediscovered, I can usually work onto a pizza or a Sunday morning bagel platter.  

Karl Rosaen: Even though it takes over a year to go bad and there's at least two Genius recipes that use it: tahini! Even after going on a hummus kick, I find it hard to use it all.

Merrill Stubbs: +1 cheese nubs, capers, condiments, herbs, celery, lemons and limes. It always pains me when my crème fraîche goes south before I have a chance to finish it, because finishing a tub takes a LONG TIME.

More: Psst—save your Parmesan nubs for making this broth.


Sarah Jampel: I always have dregs of condiments—tahini, harissa, that eggplant chutney I brought home from the office—and spice mixes—dukkah I brought home from the office, curry powder I brought home from the office, za'atar I brought home from the office... I'm starting to see a theme here! I normally combine all of it into dressings for salads or roasted vegetables, the only problem being that my salads and roasted vegetables end up tasting the same type of delicious. 

Christina DiLaura: Half bags of a plethora of grains (bulgar, couscous, rice, farro, freekeh) which are all likely to have that expired stale flavor and should have been thrown out long ago. SO many jams, chutneys, preserves—I've banned myself from taking samples home from the office any more. 

Samantha Weiss-Hills: Broth! Those packs are always so big. Soft cheeses like ricotta or mascarpone.

Jane Whalen: I also just realized I'm always throwing away alfalfa sprouts. Suggestions for alfalfa sprouts beyond sandwiches and salad garnishes is greatly appreciated.

Photos of cream and capers by Melina Hammer; photos of cilantro and canned fish by James Ransom; photo of asparagus by Alexandra Stafford; photo of bananas by Bobbi Lin; photo of noodle salad by Elizabeth Stark; photo of dukkah by Love and Lemons.

What are your serial dregs? 'Fess up—and share tips for how to use them—in the comments.

Tags: behind the scenes, too many cooks, dregs, leftovers