Fridge-Clearing Cooking Without a Recipe

If you're one of the over 2,400 people participating in our Spring Kitchen Cure, you spent the better part of this past week cleaning your refrigerator and pantry. (Not signed up? There's still time!) I hope it's been fun and that you've had great music playing.

When we delve deep into the crisper and cabinets we often find forgotten ingredients. Some might be plain rotten, but others might be just a little past perfect: about-to-sprout onions or meat with a touch of freezer burn.

Just last week I found a frozen chicken breast and neck which turned out to be duck. I figured this out when I started making a soup from it and noticed that it took much longer than expected to cook. The good news was that the resulting soup was even better than I'd expected, cooked over time with a carrot and onion base and finely-shredded kale wilted in toward the end.

So put on your adventuring cape and try off-roading with what you have in your kitchen. Improvising really the most natural way to cook. Like walking down the street, or getting dressed in the morning, maybe someone showed you the way at one time, but now these are things you do naturally without instruction. Try cooking that way.

If you're really stuck, send me your list of orphaned ingredients, ideally with a photo. I'll reply to the first five I receive.

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kategal25's "Very Veggie Chili, made with all the veggies that didn't fit
into the crisper after cleaning out the fridge"

Here's a hint: if you have some past-prime veggies and/or some meat, soups and stews are great fridge-clearing options.

The 2-second non-recipe recipe for fridge-clearing soup/stew:

In a pot large enough to fit your soup fry up in butter or olive oil some chopped onions, garlic, carrots and/or celery. If you have some rice/risotto and want a grainy touch to the soup, add that and cook for a minute or two. Add seasonings like ground pepper or sprigs of fresh (and wilting) herbs now, but wait on the salt. If there's meat involved, throw it in. (Break down whole chickens into parts, but keep bones. Stew meat like shoulder should be cubed.) Brown on all sides, then add liquid (broth, water, or a combination) depending on how soupy you want your dish to be. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer and cover. Pop in a bay leaf if there's one handy. Cook, stirring and skimming away the foam occasionally, until the meat is fork-tender. Pull meat apart if needed. If not dealing with meat but you have some potatoes, cube those and toss them in. Same thing: boil then lower to simmer and cover, cooking until fork-tender. Season to taste with salt, more pepper, shaved hard cheese like Parmesan, and a drizzle of nice oil.

Here are a few more fridge-clearing soup "recipes":
Fridge Clearing Avocado Soup
"Things I Find in the Refrigerator" Soup
Fridge-Clearing Lentil Soup

If you need a more specific prescription, send me a list of your ingredients, no matter how wacky, plus a photo. I'll reply to the first five I receive.

Spring is coming. Whether or not you're doing the full Kitchen Cure, now is the time to clean out that kitchen and make room for the bounty that is headed our way.

(Images: Cure-participant and Flickr member kategal25)

A version of this post was originally sent to our email subscribers yesterday. To receive Sara Kate's weekly email, sign up in the column to the left or click here. Something tasty will arrive in your inbox every Thursday.

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2010, The Kitchn Cure

Sara Kate is the founding editor of The Kitchn. She co-founded the site in 2005 and has since written three cookbooks. She is most recently the co-author of The Kitchn Cookbook, to be published in October 2014 by Clarkson Potter.

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