Confession: As a kid I had a crush on MacGyver, the secret agent on TV armed with nothing but duct tape, a Swiss Army knife and his big beautiful brains under that oh-so-stylish mullet. The dude could make anything out of nothing, which apparently still impresses me.
Which is why I can appreciate the skills of Liz Moskow, the “Food MacGyver.” Boulder-based Moskow is a professional trained chef, former restaurateur and gluten-free consultant who also offers group cooking lessons.
However, these days she’s making a name for herself by cooking delicious somethings out of the nothings in other people’s pantries.
She transforms freezer-burned chicken into tasty chicken tortilla soup. Stale blue corn chips morph into the beautiful crust on tofu slices served with a southwest sauce. Sprouting onions are turned into a dreamy caramelized onion and refried bean dish.
“In this economy, throwing away food is throwing away money,” Liz said.
Don’t I know it! Thanks to a monthly pay schedule, I spend the last week of every month trying to channel MacGyver, but feeling more like Old Mother Hubbard. I have been known to give my kid “fancy” toast made from hot dog buns or eat a concoction I like to call “poor girl’s chili” for both lunch and dinner until payday arrives. Glamorous? No. Necessary? Sometimes.
I sat down with Liz recently and asked her for some tips for those of us, ahem, who need a little inspiration and on how to make tasty meals out of the food we already have at home.
–Going off (cook)book allows for creativity: Once on a camping trip, Liz made a memorable chicken Thai pizza out of leftover peanut butter, shredded carrots, and canned chicken — because that was what was available.
“Welcome those moments because that’s when you can have the biggest bursts of creativity,” said Liz, who said she enjoys the challenge of an understocked pantry and groceries past their prime.
–Looks aren’t everything: If an ingredient looks a little iffy, such as a cheese that’s a bit moldy but it smells and tastes OK (after a good scraping), then go for it. If an ingredient tastes fermented or “fizzy,” trust your gut and toss it (or your gut will hate you later because of food poisoning).
–There is no right or wrong: If you don’t have a specific ingredient, see if you have a substitute by redefining your ingredient to its most basic flavor — sweet, salty, bitter, sour, spicy or savory. Don’t have sour cream? What about cream cheese? Soy milk? Adjust for texture and cooking method and be brave!
–Pantry staples Liz swears by: eggs, onions, some sort of carb (rice/pasta/noodle), canned beans, tomatoes (canned, crushed or paste), bacon (freezes well), coconut milk, and spices (her faves include powdered ginger, salt and pepper, oregano, cumin, chili powder, garlic). It’s good to have these on hand. You know, zombie attacks and all.
–Don’t panic: If your experiment is a flop, Liz states the obvious: “It’s just food — you’ll eat it, you go to bed, and tomorrow you’ll have another chance.” Oh yeah …
Hungry for more? Liz chronicles these adventures on her blog, Stranger Than Kitchen at http://strangerthankitchen.com/, in which Liz goes to your house and prepares a fine dining quality meal for you and your guests out of the food you already have. Sounds right out of a reality TV show, no? I think MacGyver may have met his culinary match.