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May 6, 2015

Quick and easy creamy tomato soup {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Quick and easy creamy tomato soup, the perfect mate for a grilled cheese sandwich.

In the years after World War II, tomato soup served with grilled cheese sandwiches became a popular school cafeteria menu combination that carried over into home kitchens everywhere. Here's the most plausible explanation I've found for why this happened: institutional food service (including school cafeterias) paired grilled cheese with tomato soup to meet the minimum school lunch requirements for sufficient Vitamin C (from the tomatoes) and protein (from the cheese). As canned soups became more available and economical, and processed cheese extended its shelf life, soup and sandwiches were a practical choice for many school systems. Today there's only one reason we eat grilled cheese and tomato soup -- because it's still the best comfort food combination around. Of course, you can fancy up the cheese and bread in your sandwich, but at the end of the day, nothing beats a basic creamy tomato soup. When it's this easy to make soup from scratch, there's no reason to default to canned soup. By the way, both of my grandsons are dunkers, just as my school friends and I used to be, and this soup makes for great dunking of melty grilled cheese sandwiches.

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May 3, 2015

Spanish chicken with saffron and green olives {gluten-free}

Spanish chicken with olives, an easy party dish with real wow!

Whenever my parents entertained, my mother served one of her party dishes, a short list of easy-to-cook chicken (always chicken) dinners with a wow factor. She never made those dishes for everyday dinners, only for parties. I'm not sure why, but that's how she rolled. Mother would have added this Spanish chicken to the party list, because it's really easy on the cook (though it looks complicated), and it's beautiful on the plate. I want you to enjoy it on a weeknight, for lunch, for no particular occasion, or even on a picnic. The wow factor comes from a pinch of saffron, and some smoked paprika (pimentón), which is much easier to find these days, even in the grocery store. Smoked paprika comes in several degrees of heat; dulce (sweet, with no heat) is the most common, but if you can find picante (hot), that's the one I like to use here. This is not a hot and spicy recipe, and I know that, even if you think you don't like hot food, you'll miss the slight bit of hot paprika if it's not there. If you can't find picante, use regular smoked paprika and add the tiniest pinch of cayenne. Put this dish on your party list, and on your everyday list, too.

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April 29, 2015

Slow cooker beef brisket with pomegranate molasses gravy

Slow cooker beef brisket with pomegranate molasses gravy takes just a few minutes to prep. [ThePerfectPantry.com]

Cousin Martin came to visit last week, and I made our grandmother's brisket for him. If you've heard that I never met a brisket recipe I didn't love, you heard right, and while I've made brisket the same way my grandmother did for most of my life, lately I've been branching out, too. I've tried sweet, and spicy, Tex-Mex and BBQ and shredded. A bottle of Lebanese pomegranate molasses in the pantry inspired this latest slow cooker recipe, and when I went looking online, I found several versions to use as a starting point. Pomegranate molasses brings a tangy sweet-sour flavor to the meat, and mint leaves added at the end offer an unexpected -- and delightful -- change from the usual heavier seasonings. I use my new favorite technique of cutting the meat into four pieces and browning all of the edges before slow cooking with the remaining ingredients; this has the added advantage of producing pieces that are just the right length for sandwiches. You can cook the brisket in one whole piece, for a finished dish that's a bit less, well... edgy. Look for pomegranate molasses at Middle Eastern markets, or online.

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April 22, 2015

Pressure cooker brown rice risotto with asparagus, mushrooms and toasted almonds {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Use your pressure cooker to make brown rice risotto in no time. This one has asparagus, mushrooms and almonds, too. [ThePerfectPantry.com]

Please accept my apologies, but I absolutely cannot wait one more minute for the official start of asparagus season. Here in New England, the uber-snow has delayed everything: flowers, vegetables, and our general good humor. Asparagus season usually begins in early- to mid-May. This year, who knows what will happen? So, last week I gave in to temptation, and bought asparagus at the supermarket. Risotto seemed like the perfect transitional dish, and I'd been wanting to try short-grain brown rice in place of the Arborio rice I often use. Because brown rice takes so much longer to cook, I pressed the pressure cooker into service to speed things up. After 15 minutes of cooking at high pressure, the risotto gets finished just like it would on the stovetop, by stirring in vegetables, butter and cheese. Of course, you can make this recipe on the stove; just be prepared to spend more than 45 minutes stirring (tired arms!). Toasted sliced almonds echo the nuttiness of the brown rice, and provide a great contrast in texture.

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April 19, 2015

Broccoli slaw salad with peanut-mango-Sriracha dressing {gluten-free}

Broccoli slaw salad with peanut-mango-Sriracha dressing: flavor explosion in a bowl!

QUESTION: How do you know when a salad is really, really good? ANSWER: When you plan for it to be a side dish, but find yourself eating a huge bowl of it as your main course. This broccoli slaw salad hits all the high notes -- sweet, creamy, crunchy, and Sriracha-spicy. Best of all, it's a quick and easy dish if you take advantage of some conveniences from the grocery store, like a bag of pre-shredded broccoli slaw. In the produce section of my supermarket, I found "rainbow slaw", which is broccoli slaw (shredded carrots, cabbage and broccoli stems) with broccoli florets mixed in. Rinse it under cold water before you make the salad, to perk up the vegetables. You can prepare this dish early in the day, and let it sit in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve. Try it on top of a salmon or tuna burger, or with roast chicken or grilled fish. Look for mango nectar in the Latino foods aisle.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my tiny kitchen in Boston's South End, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives. Thanks so much for visiting.

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