For the past five-plus years, I've been preaching the gospel of a well-stocked pantry, so when a recent medical episode grounded me for a few weeks, I dove into my pantry enthusiastically, and cooked some great meals with what I had on hand. These pita pizzas topped with caramelized onions, slow-roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, olives and parmesan cheese, epitomize pantry cooking. The small size pita, a low carb oat-and-flax flatbread from Joseph's, has few calories and fewer carbs, and it's just the right size for an individual pizza topped with whatever treasures your pantry offers up. I love this combination of caramelized onions (made two weeks ago in the slow cooker), sun-dried or slow-roasted tomatoes, olives and cheese; if you're into broccoli, or roasted red peppers, or pepperoni, pile them on. Pita pizzas are great for a party, too. Set up an array of toppings, and let each person create his or her own masterpiece.
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Three times I attempted this black bean recipe, as I tried to recreate a dish I enjoyed years ago in a local Puerto Rican restaurant. Three times I loaded my slow cooker with dried beans, not presoaked, just rinsed and picked over. First, I tried cooking them without any seasoning, thinking I'd add the flavorings at the end so they wouldn't keep the beans from softening. (Not enough water; the beans turned into a solid blob before I realized it.) The second time, I added sufficient liquid, but in an act of defiance, the perfectly cooked beans refused to absorb the sofrito, tomato or spices. (Blech.) The third time, success: dry beans, correct amount of water, sofrito and tomato and spices added right at the beginning, everything coming together with no more intervention on my part than a stir somewhere between hours five and six. In a pinch, you can substitute store-bought sofrito (I like Goya red sofrito, though it contains a tiny amount of MSG), but it takes just a minute to make your own from scratch.
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In the house where I grew up, my mother treated my brother and me (and my dad, too) to franks and beans for dinner every now and then. The franks came from the kosher butcher who delivered a freezer full of packaged meats to our house a few times a year, and I remember them as the best all-beef franks I've ever eaten. The vegetarian baked beans, on the other hand, came from the grocery store, in the red-and-white can, and I don't remember much about them except that I liked them enough to eat them cold, right from the can, when my mother wasn't looking. This recipe for vegetarian (and vegan) chipotle baked beans comes close to the taste I remember, except that they're a bit more grown up, not burn-your-mouth spicy, with a deeper smoky flavor that replaces the ham bone added to traditional bean pots. Let the slow cooker do the work, and start with fresh dry beans. No cans needed. When my husband Ted added a couple of turkey franks to a bowl of these beans for dinner, it made me feel like a kid again.
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This week, Chelsea, my summer intern, moved into her dorm, where she and three friends will share a suite with a kitchen and a brand new four-quart slow cooker. A few weeks ago, we tested this super-easy, budget-friendly recipe for slow cooker Indian-spiced lentils, paired with a cucumber raita that I'll post here later this week. Lentils, hardy and healthy, take particularly well to the spices that also warm up curries: cumin, coriander, ginger, and garam masala (which contains a bit of each). We used small brown lentils, the kind you can buy in bulk in an Indian grocery, but any brown or red lentils would be perfect. You can make this on the stovetop in a heavy pot or Dutch oven, but the lentils will tend to stick as they absorb liquid, so be sure to stir from time to time. Serve over basmati or brown rice, or add to stew or soup.
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