Archive for the ‘Pantry Meals’ Category

A few weeks ago, I was able to head to Seattle for the baby shower of my dear friends, Cynthia and Nik.  Rumors say the little Mister is likely to come nearly any day now, as he has already begun to outgrow his surroundings, despite a May 12 due date.

I was called up last minute for cake duty, and I am pleased to note that if you are asked to bring cake on the Amtrak train for approximately 20 people, it’s not as difficult as one might imagine.

The best solution is to make 2 of Molly (aka Orangette)’s “winning-hearts-and-minds-chocolate cakes“, keep them in their tins in a tupperware, and then douse with fresh strawberries & fresh whipped cream upon arrival.   It wasn’t necessarily a baby shower cake, but I’ve found people get over the lack of pastels & overly sweet frosting when you put a delicious chocolate  cake in their faces.

While my cake made it safely and in a timely manner to Seattle, my return trip was not as smooth.

I had the unfortunate luck at the end of that weekend as I stepped into the train station approximately 30 seconds after they closed the train doors & refused to let me or another passenger on.  They did offer me a spot on the next train leaving at 5:30pm (the time was now 2:22pm).  *(and nicely did not charge me extra – try that one at the airport! I do love you still, Amtrak, even if you are stubborn)

So…I found myself with about 3 hours to kill in Seattle on a lovely sunny afternoon (ironically, I’d been bemoaning the fact that I’d be spending such a nice afternoon on the train).  Conveniently, Pike Place Market is a fairly short walk from the train station and a perfect place on a spring day.

Even more conveniently, one of my favorite specialty shops EVER is right behind the market — World Spice Merchants.  They have jars and jars of spices and blends from all over the world – many I’ve never heard of – and they encourage you to open the jars & take a sniff if you like.

The place feels like old Seattle to me — the floors are little funky and the bricks show through, the light filters in softly, and there is a tea area on the next level down.  It’s the Seattle I used to love as a teen – not the overly trendy, pricey, urbanized Seattle that sometimes feels like seeing someone you knew as a toddler now wearing too much make up.  The counter staff is exceptionally nice, and don’t complain when you order 1 ounce of 5 different spices (most of the spices have a 1 ounce minimum order; some have 2 ounces, especially the blends, I think).

This place is great for trying out new spices without committing to a full jar.  And, we all know we’re supposed to toss those jars annually for freshness, so why buy that much to begin with?  *(confession: I don’t toss my spices, I’m kinda thrifty at the expense of good taste).

On this lucky bonus visit, I got aleppo pepper, dried chipotle flakes, gomasio (Japanese sea salt/sesame seed condiment), and garam masala (Indian).   The aleppo (a dried & crumbled pepper from Syria) has been the star so far — it’s a lovely way to add heat without overpowering a dish.

Aleppo Pepper

Aleppo Pepper - image from World Spice Merchants webpage

I’d been nervous about the chipotle being quite hot as I am a little bit wussy about hot peppers, but I found it was perfect in the black bean soup I made this weekend.  Earlier this year, I went in on an order with a friend of Rancho Gordo beans – they are a farm that specializes in heirloom beans and shipping is a flat $8, no matter what you order so it’s worth ordering with a friend or two to split the shipping cost.  I got the sampler pack as it was my first order, and I wasn’t sure what to get.

I’ve only just started cooking beans from scratch — canned beans are so convenient, but I can tell the difference with the dried beans in taste and texture (and sodium!).  I was perusing the recipes on the Rancho Gordo website for ideas this weekend and decided to go with a variation on the vegetarian black bean chowder from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks (a great food blogger with a focus on healthy recipes), as I wanted to try out my package of Midnight Black Beans.

Rancho Gordo Midnight Black Beans

Rancho Gordo Midnight Black Beans - photo from website

Here’s my spin on it – I decided to mix the tangy kick of the OJ with the toasty chipotle heat & smoky paprika.  Feel free to toss in whatever veggies around your crisper or lingering in your leftovers:

Black Bean & OJ Chipotle Soup

a glug of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 shallots, chopped
1 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 small zucchini, chopped
1-2 carrots, peeled & chopped
~4 cups of Rancho Gordo midnight black beans, cooked and drained (I started with about 1/2 lb dried) or about 2 cans of black beans
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 cups of orange juice
1/2 tsp dried chipotle flakes (could sub cayenne pepper or canned chipotles — use chipotles to your level of acceptable spicy-ness!)
1 tsp smoked hot paprika
good shake of chili powder & cumin — maybe 1 tsp each

Saute onions, shallots, and salt in olive oil in a large soup pot for about 5 minutes or till softened.  Add garlic after about 3 minutes, once the onions start releasing some moisture (I always overcook my garlic if I put it in at the beginning with my onions).  Add other veggies (zukes & carrots) and cook till softened.

Toss into the pot:  beans, tomatoes, orange juice, and spices.  Bring to a boil, reduce to low, and simmer (covered) for 10 minutes.  Add salt if needed.   I served mine with a little sour cream & cheese for topping, along with corn bread on the side.

Last night’s recipe via the web (a sweet-n-sour tempeh recipe) that I tried out was not so successful and resulted in a painful burn from honey (don’t ask!) and lumpy cornstarch.  So, not all internet recipes become princes, but this soup has royal status in my house.


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I was a bit of a whirlwind in the kitchen this weekend, and a lot of great stuff came out as a result.

First off, I am sure you may be anxiously wondering what I did with my Alma’s caramel sauce.  As suggested by a reader, I first sampled it warmed up with fresh Concorde pear slices which was quite good and simple.

Thinking about ginger + caramel + pears, which is one of my favorite dessert combos, I decided to make gingerbread which seemed fitting for the drizzly Portland Friday that faced me.

I recently got this book from the library:

The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper

Picture of book courtesy of delish.com

If you are an NPR fan, you may be familiar with Lynn Rossetto Kasper’s Sunday night cooking/food show, The Splendid Table.  It’s also available as a podcast for your bus-riding pleasure!

So far, I am really enjoying this book.  It has some great simple recipes, with a focus on weeknight cooking, so most of the recipes are not too fussy & require only a handful of ingredients.  It’s also the kind of cookbook that’s perfect for just curling up in a chair and reading – if you’re a cookbook fan, you’ll understand what I mean.  I also like how frequently they will have a recipe, then a variation or two on the same idea.  I’m going to give a few more recipes a spin, but this may be a contender for adding to my shelf.

I have already made a chowder from it – using a great suggestion from the book to add both smoked & fresh salmon.  I decided to next try the “Dark and Moist Gingerbread” and furthermore, the variation called “Apple Chunk Double Gingerbread” as I had both some apples and candied ginger clunking around in the kitchen.

It was fantastic – just what I like in a gingerbread – dark and smoky and moist.  Perfect with tea, and even better with a little of that previously mentioned caramel sauce & a few Bartlett pear slices to scoop up the extra sauce bits.


Molasses meets the egg

Gooey gingerbread and caramel sauce, with pear wedges

Dark and Moist Gingerbreadfrom The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper

2 cups minus 2 Tbsp flour
1 generous tsp baking soda
generous 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup mild or dark molasses (I used Aunt Patty’s Blackstrap – from Fred Meyer’s natural foods section)
3/4 cup very hot water (190 F – I just boiled water in my tea kettle & let it rest a few minutes while mixing the other stuff)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed (I used light ’cause that’s what Trader Joe’s sold me!)
1 large egg
Variation for apple chunk – double ginger: 2 Tbsp finely chopped candied ginger & 1 apple, peeled/cored/cut into small chunks (the book suggested Granny Smith, but I used a mystery apple from the produce drawer)

Preheat your oven to 350.  Butter & flour an 8-inch square light-colored metal baking pan.  (To flour: dump some flour in your tin and then shake around over a sink, tapping it so that the flour just barely coats the sides & bottom).

In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt) and all spices.  Add apples & ginger, if using, at this point.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, molasses, hot water, and brown sugar till somewhat frothy.  Add egg and beat well, then gradually add the flour mix.  Stir till just mixed in.

Pour into prepared pan, and bake for 35 minutes or till a tester in the middle comes out clean.  Mine was a still a little gooey, but I decided to go with it, as the edges were done and pulling away.  It set up well, and I kinda like my baked goods a little soft in the middle.

Cool on a wire rack, but be sure to eat some while still warm!  It gets even better in a day or two if it lasts, as the flavor just deepens.  Great with caramel sauce, if you got it, pears, and/or fresh whipped cream.  Or just plain with hot tea.

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Two years!! Two years!!

And even a few months beyond that.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  Okay, what am I muttering about?

Us foodies can be a bunch of procrastinators at times.  I started this blog mainly as a way to motivate myself to both organize my recipe pile that teeters in one corner of my kitchen and perhaps actually cook through some of those recipes I’ve clipped or sticky-noted hopefully in back issues of bon appetit magazine.

So, I finally did it!  I made the simple tomato sauce ala Marcella Hazan via Orangette that I first read about over 2 years ago.

The ingredients are so simple – there are 4 – butter, canned tomatoes, salt, and an onion.

If you’re afraid of tears, there will be few, as you peel and chop the onion in half.  Then, you grab a deep saucepan or skillet, throw in the 4 ingredients (yes, just 2 big chunks o’ onion!) and simmer for 45 minutes.  Done.

That’s it, but what remains is lovely and smooth and surprisingly rich for a tomato-based sauce.  Mmmn, butter.  I even put a very non-traditional spin on it (kind of embarrassing but let’s just say it involved veggie turkey grounds that had to be used & I have this thing about needing protein in my meal, especially after the gym) that wasn’t pretty but damn tasty.

The full recipe is covered here on Orangette. Oh, and I feel better as the amazing, prolific blogger, Smitten Kitchen only beat me to it by a mere week or so.   Please, learn from my mistakes, and don’t wait till 2012 to make this.

Try it out this weekend and tell me what you think.  BTW, I’ll also own up to not even using San Marzano tomatoes (half the reason I put it off, as I don’t usually keep those around).  I used just ordinary canned whole tomatoes (Hunt’s, I think) as I had those on hand.  And if you have made it already, tell me what your favorite use is for the used onion halves – they seem tasty on their own, but I’ve got them and some odds & ends staring at me in the fridge for tomorrow night’s meal .

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One of my favorite Trader Joe’s products is their Soyaki teriyaki sauce.  I think it’s the TJ-version of Soy Vay, which is similarly great (especially the wasabi one -yum!).

Trader Joe's Island Soyaki sauce

I like this stuff for several reasons:

  • It’s pretty cheap & lasts a long time in the fridge.
  • It’s tasty!  It’s got a mix of great stuff like ginger, pineapple juice, sesame seeds, garlic, and soy sauce.  Shake it up well before using!
  • It’s a great protein marinade when you’re short on time & ideas.

I used it the other night to marinate tuna that my brother caught, then quickly sauteed thin slices of the tuna and served it bento-style with steamed broccoli & brown rice.  It’s also great with salmon, and I use it for an easy baked tofu, too (just chop tofu in chunks or wedges, mix with sauce & bake in one layer on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for about 30-45 min).

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So far in January – okay all 10 days of it – but anyhow, so far, I have been making a big pot of soup on Sunday that gets us to at least Tuesday lunch.  There’s no need to go on about how great Sundays are for making simmering soup all afternoon, and we all know the benefits of a big pot of comfort food to start the week.  Oh, and can we say thrifty, too?

I really like having a good supply in the pantry – perhaps I’ll talk more about this in another post, but there’s something comforting about knowing there are several meals lined up behind those doors.  The last 2 weeks I have used soup gift packs from my pantry to make my big pots.  You know – the packs contain some sort of lentils or beans and some seasoning.  You add a can or two of tomatoes and perhaps some fresh veggies, simmer, and poof – soup.   A lovely gift really.   No recipe here to really share though.

However – fear not – you need something to go alongside all that soup, right?  And you’ve already made my cornbread, right?  How about some cheddar & sage buttermilk biscuits?

I thought so… I clipped this recipe from last Tuesday’s Food Day (the Oregonian’s food section) and knew this would be great with my Soup on Sundays in January.

Since there were just two of us, I halved the recipe, and we still only ate about 1/3 of the biscuits.  Oh, and I used a star cookie cutter, as I don’t have a biscuit cutter (note to self: seek next time at Goodwill!).  Please excuse the funny shapes and dark lighting (sigh…winter in Portland), but here’s a peek:


Star-shaped cheddar & sage buttermilk biscuits

Cheddar & Sage Buttermilk Biscuits – adapted from Food Day

Makes about 14 star-shaped biscuits – may vary depending upon your cutter size.

2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp coarse salt (I used sea salt)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar (I used a mix of  Tillamook vintage extra-sharp cheddar & regular cheddar)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, pulse flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add cheese and sage, and pulse to mix.  Add butter and pulse until mix is the texture of coarse meal.  Add buttermilk and pulse until just combined, 2-3 pulses.   You may then to use a spatula to scrape the sides down.

Dump it out onto a floured surface and knead until it just comes together.  Roll out to about 3/4″ thickness (I can never judge this well, and I probably rolled mine a little thin).  Cut into round or star or whatever shape you’re working with.

Place on a baking sheet, spaced apart, and bake about 10-12 minutes till golden and puffy.  Enjoy with soup!


I used my small food processor (crossing my fingers it all fit) and was surprised how well it worked!  It prevented the biscuit batter from getting overworked and made a light, fluffy finish product.  I think you could do it by hand if you don’t have a processor at your fingertips.

You could sub different cheese or probably use milk if you don’t have buttermilk.  Maybe rosemary or basil instead of sage?

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Cornbread seemed like a good place to start, I thought.  You can’t go wrong with cornbread, especially with a recipe called “the best cornbread ever.”

Okay, I take that back – for many years, I strongly believed you could go wrong with cornbread.  Very wrong. That was based on my experiences with those little boxes of Jiffy mixes (the blueberry wasn’t too bad actually).  Decent for the first minute after coming out of the oven, the cornbread muffins passed for good hockey pucks the next day.

So, finding a recipe for the best ever made me think there was something to be said for starting from scratch this time.   And, since this is my first blog post, I thought it was appropriate to use a recipe from one of my first cookbooks, a gift from my mom when I moved into my first college house in 1996.

The best way to eat this is like this: make some chili while the bread’s in the oven – your choice, I have an easy one I can make in about 15 minutes of work.  Once bread is done, put chili in a nice wide bowl and add any essential toppings (cheese, sour cream, and so on).  Chop yourself a good-sized wedge of cornbread.  Proceed to add chunks of cornbread into your chili bowl as you eat your soup – much like crumbled crackers or croutons.  Repeat.

So, (drum roll please!) here is my first blogged recipe.


I was a little nervous as I began to type this recipe about admitting to the can of creamed corn. What kind of tone will that set for a blog?  (Come on, secretly we all love creamed corn).

I’m no Alice Waters – I’m taking a risk here, but I’ll hope you join me.  But trust me on this – it makes for a soft, sweet cornbread that is almost cake-like, rather than hockey-puck like. And you may not even need the chili.

Best-Ever Cornbread (Adapted from a recipe in On Your Own by Alice Stern)

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup milk (I use soy)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 cup cream-style corn (8 1/2 ou can)
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1 4-ou can green chilies

1. Preheat oven to 325 and grease 9-inch square pan.
2. In large bowl, mix flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk eggs, oil, milk, and yogurt. Stir in corn, cheese, and green chilies.
3. Add egg mix to dry ingredients. Stir till just mixed.
4. Pour in greased pan. Bake about 1 hour

**Another thing I like about the chili combo is, if I’ve done good shopping, this is an easy pantry-type meal to make – I usually have all the ingredients on hand from cornmeal to canned beans & tomatoes for chili. And, I don’t claim this recipe is anything like traditional Southern cornbread!

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