Last week, I spent an entire day taking stock of every item in my overstuffed refrigerator and cabinets. I filled several garbage bags with long-expired canned goods and condiments, emptied bins of shriveled produce, and carefully rearranged what was left on the freshly wiped shelves so that everything was in full view.
I owe this burst of motivation to Ronna Welsh, a New York cooking instructor who teaches chefs and home cooks simple, efficient cooking techniques designed to stimulate creativity while managing kitchen chaos. She presents these ideas in her debut book, “The Nimble Cook: New Strategies for Great Meals That Make the Most of Your Ingredients” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30).
A quick scan of recipes had me intrigued: Braised Chicken Legs with Balsamic-Poached Figs; Collard Ribbons with Pickled Garlic; White Watermelon Rind Gazpacho.
But before jumping in, I needed to take a step back.
Welsh believes meals planned around recipes often lead to wastefulness. Instead, she advocates for flexibility, beginning with an assessment of what you already have on hand.
Chapters are broken down into preparations designed to extend the freshness and usage of a single ingredient (“Starting Points”) and dishes that build upon those components (“Explorations”). Engaging watercolor illustrations map her thought processes and help us imagine other possibilities.
A pork loin hiding in my freezer inspired me to put her approach to the test. I roasted it as instructed, first poking the thawed meat all over with a knife and filling the incisions with garlic slivers, then rubbing it with olive oil, crushed fennel seed, dried thyme and salt. I drizzled the succulent slices with a sprightly Grapefruit Salsa embellished with refrigerator staples including capers and grainy mustard, and served it alongside Seared Kale with Garlic and Lemon. The next night, I took her suggestion and heated the leftover kale, cubed roast pork, and reserved drippings with chicken broth for a hearty soup that took all of five minutes to make.
The fact that all the ingredients were waiting for me in my own tidy refrigerator made it all the more delicious.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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