NEWS

Kitchen Call: Emptying out the icebox

Linda Bassett

The back porch was a mess. The paint peeled off in ragged strips, the floor looked scarred and scuffed. Plant hangers had rusted, strings of twinkle lights smashed flat against the fencing. There was work to be done. Definitely.

I’d just finished testing a bunch of recipes. Now leftovers lingered in the fridge — partial packages opened and abandoned, bits from bunches of this and heads of that. I was determined not to waste the food — and equally determined not to interrupt my project with a trip to the grocery store. I would feed the family with the contents of the fridge, freezer and pantry.

The refrigerator held four lemons, four Portobello mushrooms, a red onion, six slices of bacon, thee chicken breasts, two pints of cherry tomatoes, half a carton of buttermilk, 1/2 jar of mayo, four pork chops, a quart of orange juice, a few lemons, one avocado, some eggs, ricotta, bag of baby carrots, half a dozen celery stalks, two Idaho potatoes, some leftover mashed potatoes, 1/2 head romaine lettuce, a few tablespoons of grated parmesan, a quart of half-and-half and three lonely slices of bread.

In the freezer, a package of hot dog rolls kept company with homemade breadcrumbs, leftover canned tomatoes and tomato paste.

Stashed on pantry shelves I found olive and canola oils, curry powder, a 32-ounce can of kitchen-ready tomatoes and a can of tomato paste, two boxes of my favorite chicken stock, a bag of large pasta stuffing shells, apple cider vinegar, two cans of chickpeas and two cans of tuna. Plus a healthy bouquet of chives from a friend’s garden on the windowsill.

Out of this seemingly mismatched abundance of bits and pieces, I managed to put together enough quick cooking, decent tasting sustenance to get both jobs done — refurbishing the back porch and cleaning out the refrigerator.

The leftover pork chops along with the red onion formed the base for a rich tomato sauce using both freezer and shelf tomato products. It cooked merrily by itself on a back burner. Later, I stuffed the pasta shells with ricotta, put them in a baking dish and doused them with the sauce.

I boiled eggs, shelled and saved them to mix the yolks with a bit of mayo, mustard and some snipped chives for stuffed eggs. I mixed the mashed potatoes with parmesan cheese, formed the mixture into little cakes and coated them with bread crumbs. I put these into the refrigerator to pan fry in some olive oil later.

The remaining half onion sweated in a large pot with the baby carrots and canola oil, then splashed with chicken stock and orange juice and left to simmer gently on another back burner. When softened, I smoothed out the mixture in the food processor with half-and-half and curry powder and reheated it for a curried cream of carrot soup. A quick rinse of the food processor, then another whirling this time with chick peas, juice squeezed from the lemons and olive oil seasoned with salt, pepper and cumin for hummus. No pita in the house, but enough celery sticks — fewer calories.

I was also able to save a stalk or two of celery to chop into tuna, mayonnaise and another snipping of chives for tuna salad stuffed into the hot dog rolls from the freezer. Plain baked chicken breasts were paired with hash started with two strips of bacon, cubed and boiled Idaho potatoes, chopped Portobello mushrooms and sprinkled with more snipped chives. The leftover hash worked with eggs for a breakfast feast.

By Sunday night, the family had eaten well all weekend while producing a masterpiece. The paint had dried, plants were hung, lights repaired and furniture replaced. It was time for a big salad and icy glasses of lemonade. I served up a huge bowl brimming with chicken, avocadoes, tomatoes and bacon, all drenched in a homemade dressing made with contents of the refrigerator — and windowsill. It was time to take a bow and put up my feet.

CHICKEN-AVOCADO SALAD

Makes 6 servings

1/2 head romaine lettuce

6 slices bacon

3 boneless chicken breast halves

2 avocadoes

A few teaspoons lemon juice, for avocado

1-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half2 cups croutons, preferably homemade

Dressing:

1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons freshly snipped chives

Salt, pepper, to taste

1. Tear the lettuce into bite-size pieces. Cook bacon until crisp; drain on paper towels; crumble coarsely.

2. Pound chicken breasts until 1/2-inch thick. Season with salt and pepper; brush with oil. Cook chicken in a skillet or a grill pan until just done. Set on a cutting board to rest. Cut into a large dice. Peel avocado; cut it into a large dice; sprinkle with lemon juice.

3. Put lettuce on a serving platter. Add chicken, avocado, tomatoes, and bacon. Top with croutons.

4. Whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise and cider vinegar. Stir in chives and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle about one-third of the dressing over the salad. Serve the remaining dressing in a separate bowl.

Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com.