Home cooks, are you ready for spring cleaning?

It’s spring cleaning season, the one time of the year we get out the vacuum cleaner attachments to suck up the icky everything deposited on our carpets and curtains. But, forget deep dusting the living room. This is the Food section. Let’s concentrate on the room we love most: the kitchen.

For all of us die-hard home cooks, the “cleaning” thing means considering the odds and ends that have accumulated in the fridge and pantry: the quart upon quart of pickled whatever, the jars of spices and bottles of sauces that fall out of the cabinet when we open the door, the bag of frozen sliced peaches staring us in the face every time we look inside the freezer.

It was in that get-rid-of-it vein that I invited to my home The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s food writers, challenging them to use up whatever was claiming space in their fridge, freezer, pantry or countertop, cluttering their food-filled minds, and needing good riddance. We’d turn those culinary efforts into a primo use-it-up potluck party.

The takers: C.W. Cameron, with a bottle of creme de banana that had lived in her liquor cabinet since 2009; Bob Townsend, whose quick pantry cassoulet is adaptable to whatever meat is lurking around; and the sweet-toothed Wendell Brock, who sought to rid himself of buttermilk and coconut in one pie and many an almond in another.

Even former AJC food editor Susan Puckett was game — and practically giddy when she showed up with a lentil salad in a quest to use up ages old legumes that my husband kindly dubbed “pantry-aged.” Puckett couldn’t resist also assembling an, ahem, “composed” plate of Girl Scout shortbread cookies sandwiched with local lime curd she was tired of looking at.

Then there was my AJC comrade in dining coverage, Yvonne Zusel. She and her husband, Charlie Hammons, both made desserts in an effort to say toodle-oo to too many cans of powdered cocoa: Mexican chocolate mousse pie and chocolate-peanut truffles.

I’d known from the outset what my contribution would be: a Spanish omelet studded with an entire pint of sweet pickled green tomatoes, something my former gardener-neighbor gifted me with each fall.

Yes, we food editors, writers and recipe developers have a lot of foodstuffs to get rid of, because we’re given myriad Mason jars of random home-canned goods. In addition, our kitchen projects and recipe-testing require us to buy uncommon items we rarely use again. But, we know we’re not alone.

Maybe you spent a fortune on a 3-ounce jar of truffle salt when you needed 1 tablespoon to bake that mac-and-cheese recipe you salivated over in a glossy magazine. What will you do with the rest before the heady truffle scent disappears and it’s just another jar of plain old salt?

None of us wants to see good food go to waste. So, put on your thinking cap and get cooking. In the challenge, I’ll bet you find fabulous fun, like we did at the use-it-up potluck. Here’s to turning spring cleaning into a party.


These recipes from some of the AJC’s food writers offer a few ways to use up unwanted ingredients — from potatoes and green tomatoes to duck and coconut — that are claiming space in your kitchen or pantry.

Spanish omelet with sweet pickled green tomatoes and onions

A classic Spanish omelet, known in the Iberian Peninsula as tortilla de patatas, is made with just two main ingredients — potatoes and eggs — plus a lot of olive oil for cooking down those sliced potatoes. It’s an easy dish that’s great for using up a fair quantity of taters and eggs.

This Spanish omelet is a bit sacrilegious in that it contains more ingredients than the purist version. But it does help to get rid of an entire pint of pickled green tomatoes — and once you add those toms, the dish needs the bite of a large onion to cut through the sweetness.

Got bottle upon bottle of hot sauce or ketchup? Put those on the table. Let guests squirt away, and you’ve got a use-it-up fiesta on your hands. — LIGAYA FIGUERAS

2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled, sliced into thin disks

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

8 large eggs

Salt to taste

1 ½ cups pickled sweet green tomatoes, sliced and drained of any pickling juice

1 large yellow onion, sliced into thin rings

Peel the potatoes. Slice them into thin disks and set in a large bowl filled with water.

Warm 2 cups of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Take half the sliced potatoes, drain well of water and add them to the skillet. Cook until soft and slightly golden, turning when necessary so that the potatoes do not brown or crisp. Once cooked, about 15 minutes, remove using a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander set atop a bowl to drain the oil. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs together in a large bowl. Season to taste with the salt. (I typically add 4 or 5 generous pinches of salt.) Set aside.

Warm a separate medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. When warmed, add the onions and saute 10 minutes, until soft and wilted, stirring periodically. Do not let them caramelize or scorch.

Add the drained potatoes to the eggs. Add the onions and the pickled tomatoes and stir well to combine. Taste, adding salt if necessary.

Drain the oil from the skillet used to cook the potatoes, leaving enough oil to keep the skillet well coated.

Add the egg mixture to the skillet and cook over medium-low heat. Periodically shake the pan to keep the ingredients well distributed. As the omelet begins to take shape, it will pull away from the sides of the skillet. If necessary, use a spatula to keep the sides and bottom of the omelet from sticking to the skillet.

Once the omelet has firmed up and the eggs have nearly cooked down, about 15 minutes, place a large plate over the skillet. (The diameter of the plate must be at least as large as that of the skillet.) Position one hand firmly on the handle of the skillet; position the other hand firmly over the center of the plate. In a fast, steady motion, flip the skillet and the plate upside down so that the top of the omelet (its undercooked side) rests on the plate. Return the skillet to the stovetop and slide the omelet onto the skillet so that the undercooked side is touching the base of the skillet. Cook another 5 minutes, until the omelet is fully cooked.

Transfer the omelet to a large serving plate and cut into 6 pie-shaped wedges.

Serve with baguette slices and hot sauce or ketchup.

Serves: 6

Per serving: 384 calories (percent of calories from fat, 58), 12 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 25 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 283 milligrams cholesterol, 103 milligrams sodium.

Quick pantry cassoulet

Though it’s a French peasant dish from the Languedoc region, some people tend to get all snooty and feisty about cassoulet. We like to tweak those types by calling it pork and beans.

The truth is that, like most things, cassoulet reaches its pinnacle when you use great ingredients, such as duck confit, and cook everything low and slow. But, as a weeknight pantry staple, rotisserie chicken legs or thighs, kielbasa or just about anything you want to use up will result in a tasty dish. We like bacon in the beans and bread crumbs on top. You may not.

Here’s a quick way to pull it all together. And the leftovers will taste even better the next day. — BOB TOWNSEND

For the base:

½ pound lardons or salt pork (we used Spotted Trotter)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 onion, diced

4 cups creamy cooked dry or canned white beans

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon thyme

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, render the lardons and add the garlic and onion. Cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, thyme and salt and pepper, and adjust seasoning to taste. Pour into a 9-by-12-inch casserole dish and set aside to marry.

For the meat:

1 boneless duck breast (we used Dartagnan) or roasted chicken thighs or legs

1 pound garlic sausage (we used Star Provisions) or other sausage

Sear the duck breast and sausage, slice the meat on the bias and set aside.

For the topping:

½ stick butter, melted

2 garlic cloves minced

1 cup bread cubes, croutons or panko bread crumbs

In a bowl, combine melted butter, minced garlic and bread and set aside.

To assemble the cassoulet:

Preheat oven to 350.

Tuck the meat into the beans, distributing evenly, and bake for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Top with garlic bread mixture and broil for 3-5 minutes until browned.

Serves: 6

Per serving: 923 calories (percent of calories from fat, 68), 26 grams protein, 48 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fiber, 70 grams fat (27 grams saturated), 108 milligrams cholesterol, 1,184 milligrams sodium.

Buttermilk coconut pie

For this custardy, macaroon-like pie, I used up shredded sweetened coconut that had been in my fridge for longer than I care to remember, and buttermilk left over from my biscuit research. (Seems like there is always a partly used jug of buttermilk languishing in my refrigerator, and I’ll bet a lot of people have the same issue. You make some cornbread, and the buttermilk just sits there.)

This was inspired by a buttermilk-coconut pie my mom made when I was a kid — she won a contest for that pie at the Decatur County Sesquicentennial in 1973! — and a recipe for Amazing Coconut Pie from Nancie McDermott’s “Southern Pies” (Chronicle Books, $22.95).

McDermott’s recipe calls for whole milk, but I used buttermilk (like Mama did) and a bit more sugar.

What’s so cool about this recipe is that it forms its own crust, so no need to roll out dough. Baking the pie in a glass dish makes for a nicely browned crust. — WENDELL BROCK

Butter, vegetable oil or baking spray for greasing pan

1 ¾ cups granulated sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 cups buttermilk

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted

3 eggs, beaten well

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups shredded coconut (may use sweetened or unsweetened)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 9 ½-inch, deep-dish pie pan with butter, vegetable oil or baking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and flour, using a fork to mix well. Add the buttermilk, melted butter, eggs and vanilla extract, and stir until mixed well and evenly. Stir in the coconut.

Pour the filling into the pie pan. Place the pan on the bottom oven rack, and bake until fairly firm throughout, puffed and golden brown, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. (Note: You may want to place a baking tray under the pie plate in case it bubbles over.) Place the pie on a wire rack or folded kitchen towel, and let it cool to room temperature.

Serves: 10

Per serving: 339 calories (percent of calories from fat, 43), 5 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 17 grams fat (11 grams saturated), 90 milligrams cholesterol, 170 milligrams sodium.

“Better than Hickory House” banana pudding

Substitute any liquor you have that has caramelized flavors. Dark rum, bourbon or caramel vodka (another bottle I need to use up) would all be delicious.

Simplify the recipe by skipping the directions for the crumble (and eliminating 1 tablespoon of butter) and layering the pudding and whole wafers in your serving dish. — C.W. Cameron

3 eggs

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups 2 percent milk

½ cup creme de banana, divided

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 cup vanilla wafers (about 15)

1 large just-ripe banana

Make pudding: In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring milk to a boil. Remove from heat and pour ½ cup hot milk into egg mixture. Whisk thoroughly to combine. Add another ½ cup and whisk again, then put saucepan back on heat and pour the hot egg-milk into the milk. Keep whisking and heat over medium heat until mixture thickens and turns glossy, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and put pudding in a medium bowl. Stir in ¼ cup creme de banana and 2 tablespoons butter. Allow to cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

If making vanilla wafer crumble: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put vanilla wafers in a resealable plastic bag and, using a rolling pin, crush to coarse crumbs. Melt remaining tablespoon of butter and stir into crumbs. Spread crumbs out on a small baking sheet and toast in the oven until they become fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Can be made up to 2 days ahead.

In a small saucepan, bring remaining ¼ cup creme de banana to a boil. Cook until reduced in half, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

When ready to serve: slice banana in half lengthwise and then into long quarters. Cut banana quarters into ½-inch pieces and toss with reduced creme de banana. Stir bananas into pudding. Pour pudding into serving dish and garnish with vanilla wafer crumbs. Makes: 3 ½ cups

— Adapted from a recipe in “Dam Good Sweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style” by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel (Taunton Press, $25).

Per ½-cup serving: 288 calories (percent of calories from fat, 36), 6 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 10 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 115 milligrams cholesterol, 407 milligrams sodium.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.