In the New Year, Out with the Old!

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

Happy New Year! After a week of celebrating, from Christmas Eve dinner to our traditional Japanese New Year feast, I was maxed out on cooking.

But there was one thing left for me to do after the holidays: I cleaned out my fridge. It was not a pretty sight. Much as I abhor food waste, a lot of what I removed went straight into the green compost bin.

It’s hard to keep track of your food inventory during the holidays—a busy time when you’re fixing special meals and having more dinner guests than usual. Extra ingredients like remaining chicken broth and cream, as well as mealtime leftovers, get shoved into the fridge. Just because we have a large refrigerator (full size; no freezer), doesn’t mean it’s easier to organize. It just means that more stuff gets crammed in.

So as I was empting containers and washing down shelves, I started to put together some refrigerator organizing and cleaning tips, in case you haven’t started your New Year fridge cleaning yet:

  • Store foods in rectangular glass containers with airtight plastic lids. They take up less space than bowls and they stack better.
  • Label everything, identifying the food and the date. This avoids trying to decipher mystery foods and determining questionable freshness later. We use Post-it notes to identify all leftovers.
  • Here’s a food storage chart from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to help you decide what to keep and what to toss.
  • Start with the produce drawers first. Trim any vegetables that are starting to go, such as outer lettuce leaves. Throw out anything that is beyond salvage.
  • I like to separate my bin, with hardy vegetables in one section and tender lettuce, green onions and other fragile vegetables in another section of the crisper. That way I know which items need to be used up first.
  • Make a list of all the produce, identifying the ones that you’ll need to use up quickly and prioritize menus around them. I turn these ingredients into fried rice, vegetable soup or omelets.
  • Store jams and seasoning ingredients in clean plastic shoe boxes (without their lids) or other another type of plastic bin so they’re grouped together and easy to find later. No more jars all over the place on your refrigerator shelves.
  • I’m trying something new that seems to be working: I used a label maker to label one shelf for ready-to-eat leftovers and one shelf for leftover ingredients that need to be used in cooking. Now anyone in the family can easily find any mealtime leftovers to take to work for lunch, and I can keep an eye on ingredients that I have to use up as I cook.

I try to use up the bulky produce first, to make more space in my fridge. In my case, it was some leftover Gravenstein apples that were starting to shrivel and some Granny Smith apples. I made a simple crisp with ingredients I had on hand.

Sometimes I turn apples into applesauce by coring, cubing and simmering in water with some sugar (I leave skins on). Then I puree the mixture in a blender or with my immersion blender.

Clean out the Fridge Apple Crisp
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup sugar, divided
6 tablespoons flour, divided
¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into pieces, plus extra for greasing
½ teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups peeled, cored and cubed apples (about ¾-inch cubes)

Heat oven to 375° F.

To make topping: In a medium bowl combine oats, ½ cup of the sugar, 4 tablespoons of the flour and nuts. Add butter and squish it into the dry ingredients with fingers, until the butter is incorporated into the dry ingredients and forms small crumbles.

To prepare apples: In a large bowl, combine remaining ¼ cup sugar, remaining 2 tablespoons flour and the cinnamon and stir to combine. Add apples and toss to coat.

To assemble: Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan with butter. Pour apples into pan, leveling surface. Sprinkle with topping, spreading evenly.

Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes until topping is golden, apples are tender and juices are bubbling.

Makes 6 servings.


  • Apples suitable for baking, such as Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, Cortland or Braeburn, will give you best results.
  • Dress up this dessert if you like, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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Posted: Jan 10th by Sandy_Hu