Eat Your Way Through a Good Fridge Cleaning

With a few culinary undertakings under my now much-tighter belt, I can tell you firsthand: Cooking is a humbling test of patience, organization and mental fortitude — hardly something you’d want to add to the nauseating schedule of a UCSD student.

There is perhaps no clearer depiction of the collegiate aversion to cooking than a peak in my refrigerator. For someone who proudly touts himself as a self-taught cook, my fridge is hypocritically sparse. A true bachelor’s box, it features two half-consumed Trumer Pilsner six-packs, a few sandwich fixings, cream cheese (no bagels), a solitary onion, a bulb of garlic and an array of condiments.

My saving graces for this particular night in — two pink chicken breasts — sat forlornly in the meat drawer. Fresh produce was absent, and frankly, sort of unwelcome.

Jaded from the soggy memory of too many Dos Primos burritos in my stomach, too broke to afford anything else outside fast food (despite my lucrative journalistic income) and sickened by thought of another greasy cheese ball between toast, I racked my brain for a recipe that could put my measly fixings to use.

Objective: transform as many of my end-of-week riffraff remains as possible into something edible.

Wary that my taste buds would soon give in to a quick PB&J sandwich, I begged the Internet to solve my dilemma. With a measured degree of skepticism and low expectations, I Googled “student-friendly recipes”.

Soon, I stumbled upon an unsuspecting Web site by a British cooking entrepreneur named Tom Tuke-Hastings; and suddenly, I was in kitchen-noob Nirvana. His site, www.cookingbynumbers.com, offered me two locations by which I could evaluate the worth of my scanty food stash: my fridge and my spice cabinet. I was given a ballot-style list of ingredient options that are typically found in fridges and cupboards.

I went through each ballot, checking off my random kitchenfull — like “American Idol,” but juicier.

Half of me expected the survey to declare my ingredients unusable, yet I couldn’t help but feel a creeping sense of excitement as I clicked the “Find Recipes” button.

To my astonishment, the search yielded over ten pages of recipes. All of them were pretty easy, too. Apparently, I could utilize my cream cheese, solitary onion, garlic, random spices and chicken breasts to make a “chicken and cheese parcel” dish in less than 20 minutes. What’s more, the preparation involved cooking en papillote — French for cooking in parchment (read: tinfoil, to keep the breasts moist), which entailed an impressive presentation that would surely score me points for international flair.

As I laid out my ingredients, disbelief seeped into my head at the idea of this actually amounting to a solid meal. The preparation was minimal. I diced the onion and a half-clove of garlic, then mixed them into 125 grams of cream cheese along with two tablespoons of rosemary and thyme (though any spices would’ve worked). Using two sheets of foil, I created a double-layered square tray for each chicken breast and spread the mixture on. I then covered the chicken breasts, slid them into my oven — preheated to 400 degrees — and, twenty minutes later, they were ready.

The foil trays were incredibly hot from the oven, so I allowed them to sit on the counter for about 10 minutes until they had cooled. As I was ravenously hungry at this point, I hastily removed the foil covering, grabbed my Trumer Pilsner (necessary to the recipe or not, the beer was mine for the gulping), hoisted the chicken breast onto my plate and cut into it.

The first succulent bite was far tastier than my scant ingredients foretold. The onion, garlic and spices had seeped delicately into the chicken breast while in the foil wrapping, producing an unparalleled hot juiciness with each bite. To my astonishment, cooking by numbers was a success.

Better believe I turned my leftovers into a lunchtime chicken sandwich with some lettuce, tomato and some bread slapped on to go. Thanks to all that handy-dandy aluminum, cleanup was virtually nonexistent. With some help from Tuke-Hastings — and, of course, the Internet — I learned that it hardly takes any creativity to make something out of nothing.

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