During a raging rain storm, when you can't work in the garden, you have time to do many things. Read a book. Take a nap. Build a fire in the fireplace. Talk to the cats. Root around in the pantry. This tomato vegetable soup with cheese ravioli is a forgiving soup. If you want to use up a bit of potato, toss it in. Fresh chives from your garden? Add a handful. Some shreds of rotisserie chicken? Sure, why not? Let Mother Nature have her temper tantrum. After all, you have a perfect pantry, and you can always make soup.
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Do you remember American chop suey, a dish whose name has absolutely nothing to do with its contents? In the part of the country where I grew up, the mac-and-meat-sauce casserole found its way into every school cafeteria and church supper. It even followed me to sleepaway camp, thanks to a cook who got his kicks whipping up noodle dishes for 200. Here's a Rhode Island spin on the classic, featuring a spice mix that usually stars in the sauce that tops our state's famous hot weiners. If you live near me, look for the blue box of Harry's New York System Original Weiner Sauce (the dry spice blend) in your grocery store. If you don't, the recipe below makes enough for this dish and more, or substitute your favorite chili powder mixed with a bit of celery salt.
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Buried in the deepest corner of my freezer, an "emergency" bag of shrimp and vegetable dumplings waits for the times when I crave dumplings and nothing else will do. The dumplings I buy from the Chinese market are okay, not great, not sensuous like these spicy, salty, red curry shrimp dumplings. I can microwave the storebought dumplings in a couple of minutes and get my fix, but it doesn't take all that much longer to create these one-bite shrimp dumplings from scratch, especially with all of the ingredients sitting in my pantry. The technique is the same one I use to cook potstickers: pan fry the dumplings to get a nice chewy crust on the bottom; then, steam them in the same pan to finish the cooking. Once you master the method, you can build your own dumplings with wonton skins and any mix of fillings (chicken, cabbage, tofu) you have on hand.
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Sometimes -- very lucky times, indeed -- you find yourself with a house full of kids and grandkids having so much fun playing in the snow that afternoon turns into evening and, while wet jackets and mittens and shoes bang around in the clothes dryer, everyone decides to stay for dinner. If that happens, and you have nothing prepared, you'll be glad you stored this recipe for baked three-cheese bow-tie pasta in your recipe box. It's a mac and cheese made easy, combining low-fat ricotta and cottage cheese with just enough nutty Parmigiano-Reggiano and a buttery bread crumb topping. Toss together a side salad for the adults; then, with dinner under control, get out of the kitchen and have fun with the kids.
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