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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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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 12, 2015

Slow cooker North African beef and rutabaga stew

North African beef stew with rutabaga, lemon and cilantro, made easy in the slow cooker. From The Perfect Pantry.

"That's really, really good," my husband Ted declared as he inhaled his second helping of this beef and rutabaga stew. We're reaching the end of stew season, but this year's crazy New England weather has left snow on the ground where there should be daffodils, and stew on the stove where there should be fiddleheads and ramps and asparagus. No complaints in my house. Ted loves beef stew in all forms, at all times of year, and this version is so very different from the heavy stews I usually make for him. I cheated a bit, and used a bag of frozen, diced rutabaga; it was my first time trying this convenience food, and for a long-cooking dish like stew, it was great. You can swap fresh rutabaga, of course, or white turnips if you like those better. Warm spices, harissa, lemon, and a hit of fresh cilantro infuse this stew with an unusually bright flavor. Substitute gluten-free flour to make this easily gluten-free.

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March 25, 2015

New Orleans-style red beans and rice, with shrimp {gluten-free}

New Orleans-style red beans and rice, with or without shrimp, makes every day Mardi Gras!

In the final weeks before we moved from the log house to our city space, we dipped into the pantry almost every night to use up ingredients before the move. Some of our from-the-pantry creations were winners, others not so much. This red beans and rice variation, one of the keepers, came together quickly after I soaked dry beans overnight and then cooked them in the pressure cooker (I'd already run out of canned beans, which would be a fine substitute). Typically, the rice would be prepared separately, but I cooked it right in with the beans. If you omit the shrimp and use water instead of chicken stock, you'll have a hearty vegetarian main dish. Try to use homemade stock if you are gluten-free, but again, you can swap in store-bought low-sodium chicken stock. Don't wait until next year's Mardi Gras to enjoy this New Orleans-style recipe; make dinner a celebration, at any time of year.

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March 4, 2015

Grilled curry chicken with chutney and rice {gluten-free}

Use your panini press or broiler to grill this easy curry chicken.

The weather outside has been frightful, but chicken cooked on a grill is always delightful. If you like to stand outside in your coat, scarf and mittens and tend the grill, my hat's off to you. However, a grill pan on the stove or, in this case, a panini press, can give you that grill char you love, without suffering in the cold for it. The secret to great curry chicken is a long marinade, so start this recipe in the morning for dinner, or even the night before. Toss together the marinade ingredients, and pour them over the chicken. Refrigerate, and it will be ready to grill when you're ready. You can broil this in the oven, but a grill pan or panini press will give you those beautiful marks as well as the smoky grill flavor. Double the recipe, while you've got the grill heated; you can refrigerate or even freeze the leftovers for sandwiches, stews and curries. What a great way to banish winter.

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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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