May 2009


Fast, because you have all the ingredients on hand already.  Economical, because canned goods and frozen veg are cheap.  Able to feed small children without a single complaint (because who doesn’t love novelty pasta shapes?).  Look!  In the pot!  It’s easy!  It’s a full meal!  It’s Supersoup!

Pantry pasta and bean soup

Yield:  About 4 qts., serving at least 8

1/2 lb. small pasta shapes

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 carrots, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

A small handful fresh sage leaves (or thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, or just parsley), finely chopped

1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes

2 1/2 qts. hot chicken or vegetable stock (or a combination of stock and bean-cooking liquid, if you have it)

1 15-oz can beans (or about 1 1/2 c. cooked, dried beans), rinsed and drained

1/2 c. frozen peas

Cook pasta in generously salted, boiling water until just tender.  Drain, rinse under cold running water until cool, drain again, and set aside.

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add carrots, celery, and onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and sage, cook 2 minutes more.  Add tomatoes and raise heat to medium-high.  Cook, stirring, until tomato juices are almost evaporated.  Add stock and beans.  Bring to a simmer, add peas and pasta.  Serve as soon as peas and pasta are hot.

A tip for making pasta soups in advance: This soup will keep, refrigerated, for about 5 days.  To prevent the pasta from getting mushy, cool the soup to lukewarm before adding peas and cooked pasta (hot soup will continue to cook the pasta).  Then ladle into storage containers and chill in the fridge.  Or freeze the soup without the peas and pasta (add them both to the thawed and heated soup just before serving).

Make it gluten-free: If you have kids (or if you are a kid at heart), try Tinkyada’s brown rice pasta, which comes in all manner of adorable shapes.

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I planted cucumber seeds at the end of April with the intention of making bread and butter (my very favorite) pickles this summer.  This will be the year I learn proper canning, I told myself, so I can savor my harvest throughout the year.  A month later, my cucumber “bushes” are still only three inches tall, but my pickle craving is such that when I came across this recipe on CHOW, I went straight to the garden and unearthed the last dozen radishes.

Sweet, sour, crunchy, and cold, these refrigerator pickles are quick to make and add zing to salads (particularly soft, mild lettuces like Boston and bibb), sandwiches (try them with avocado, smooth and creamy cheeses, or simply with butter), and burgers.

Bread and butter radish pickles

Adapted from CHOW

Yield:  About 1 1/2 c.

1 large bunch radishes (about 12)

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. granulated sugar

2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. brown or yellow mustard seed

1/4 tsp. whole coriander seed

1/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

Trim roots and leaves off radishes, then thinly slice into rounds.  Put sliced radishes into a heatproof, non-reactive bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, spices, and bay leaf.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.  Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.

Pour brine over radishes.  Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate.  Pickles will mellow and turn salmon pink after a day or so.  They keep in the fridge for about a week.

Forgive the novice gardener a melodramatic observation: growing food from seeds is amazing!  I pressed a few tiny specks into the dirt, watered faithfully, and hoped something would happen.  Something did: a neat little row of twin-leaved seedlings.  That’s great, I reported to my mother, but I can’t quite bring myself to believe they’re going to become actual vegetables.  They will, she said.

Growing vegetables is, for me, a little like having a baby (but without the massive responsibility and boundless love, of course).  I saw two pink lines on a stick — twice — but couldn’t wrap my head around the eventuality of a new little person until the moment he (and she) arrived.  And I didn’t really believe those seedlings would become radishes until I saw their blushing heads break the surface of the soil.

With great anticipation and pride, I pulled up about a dozen from the garden this morning, and used them in a recipe I found on the back of the seed packet.  Mine are an elegant, oblong variety called d’Avignon or breakfast radish, which have a mild zing and juicy crunch, but regular red radishes will work as well.  I think the salad is absolutely delicious — and not just because I grew the radishes myself.

Cucumber and radish salad

Adapted from From the Cook’s Garden by Ellen Ogden

6 radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced

2 cucumbers, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 tbsp. kosher salt

3 scallions, white and light green parts only, very thinly sliced

2-3  tbsp. chopped fresh dill

1/3 c. unseasoned rice vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper

Toss radishes and cucumbers with salt in a colander.  Set aside for about half an hour.

Rinse radishes and cucumbers under cool running water, then press gently between your palms to remove excess moisture.  Toss in a bowl with scallions, dill, vinegar, and a few grindings of pepper.

Marinate at least 30 minutes or overnight.  Serve chilled.

A few months ago, my local Trader Joe’s started selling their own brand of white whole wheat flour for under $3 per 5-lb. bag.  I didn’t have any particular recipes in mind when I bought it, but now I use it all the time.  Milder in flavor and lighter in color than regular whole wheat flour — but with the same nutritional profile — white whole wheat flour slips easily, often undetected, into all manner of baked goods.

Saturday is pancake day in our house.  This weekend, instead of the usual fluffy, white pancakes, I broke out the white whole wheat and made some light, crispy, 100% whole grain flapjacks.  They were a huge hit.  Served with fresh fruit or a simple compote, they make a hearty, healthy, weekend breakfast.

Cornmeal flapjacks

Adapted from Healthy Eating for Life by Patricia Bertron

Yield:  Makes 16, 3-inch flapjacks, serving 3-4

1 c. milk (cow’s, soy, rice, or nut)

1 1/2 tbsp. maple syrup

1 tbsp. cider vinegar

1/2 c. stone-ground cornmeal

1/2 c. white whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

Safflower or canola oil or butter, for the griddle

In a liquid measuring cup, combine milk, syrup, and vinegar.  Let stand while you measure dry ingredients.

Sift flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a mixing bowl.  Whisk wet ingredients into dry until just combined.

Preheat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat.  Add just enough oil or butter to lightly coat, then ladle in batter to form 3″ circles.  Cook until bubbles rise in center of flapjacks, then flip and cook another minute or two.  Serve immediately.

Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.  Flapjacks reheat nicely in the toaster oven.

There are some things I love to cook as much for the way they smell in the oven as for how they taste.  Apple pie is one.  Thanksgiving turkey is, too.  And a rich, meltingly tender, meaty braise is another.  This particular recipe for slow-cooked pork, infused with a dizzying amalgam of beer, caramel, and garlic, will bring your neighbors to your door, on their knees, begging for an invitation to dinner.

Use any cut of pork from the shoulder:  bone-in or boneless, picnic (remove the leathery skin first), blade, or butt.  And cook it really low and slow, at least 3 (but more like 4) hours at 275 degrees, until the meat falls off the bone and shreds easily with a fork.

Beer-braised pork shoulder with Asian aromatics

Adapted from lachoy.com

Yield:  About 9 c. pulled pork, serving at least 9

1/2 c. granulated sugar

3 tbsp. cider vinegar

2 bottles dark beer (I like super-smooth Newcastle for cooking)

1/2 c. soy sauce

2 c. chicken stock, as needed

6-7 lb. bone-in pork shoulder (or about 4 lb. boneless)

2 tsp. Chinese five-spice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tsp. canola oil

2 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled

6 scallions, trimmed and cut into 2″ pieces

3 oz. ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir sugar and vinegar until sugar dissolves.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until caramel is light amber in color (make sure you don’t burn it, or it’ll be bitter, not sweet).  Very carefully and very slowly pour beer into saucepan (it will bubble and foam vigorously).  Stir well.  Set aside.

(If you’re cooking a picnic shoulder, remove the tough skin before browning.  Gripping and pulling back the skin firmly with one hand, cut with long strokes, aiming the knife slightly upward toward the skin.)

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Sprinkle pork with five-spice, season lightly with salt and pepper.  Brown pork in oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Pour in beer mixture, soy sauce, and enough chicken stock to come half-way up the sides of meat.  Add garlic, scallions, ginger, and red pepper.  Bring to a boil, cover pot, and transfer to oven.  Cook for 3-4 hours, turning meat every hour, until meat falls off bone and easily shreds with a fork.

When cool enough to handle, slice or shred meat.  Skim fat from braising liquid, strain, and spoon over meat.  This dish reheats well — refrigerate or freeze in strained sauce.  Serve over rice with bok choy, broccoli, or a citrusy cabbage slaw.

Make it gluten-free: Use a gluten-free beer and tamari in place of regular soy sauce.

This sassy, easy salad makes use of one of my favorite culinary shortcuts:  frozen orange juice concentrate.  Tangy and sweet, it keeps almost indefinitely in the freezer and adds a potent zing to vinaigrettes, marinades, sauces, and — of course — drinks.  Here it combines with rice vinegar and canola oil to make a light, bright dressing for crunchy, shredded vegetables.

Mint is a fine substitute for cilantro in this recipe.  If you’re making the salad in advance, or if you anticipate having leftovers, refrigerate the dressing and vegetables separately, tossing together only what you’ll finish in one sitting.

Cabbage slaw with cilantro and orange dressing

Adapted from Epicurious

Yield:  Enough for a crowd

1/3 c. frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1/3 c. unseasoned rice vinegar

1/3 c. canola oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 lbs. red or green cabbage (1 medium head), or use a combination of the two

2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated

1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced into thin strips

6 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced

1/2 c. chopped, fresh cilantro

To make dressing, whisk together orange juice concentrate, rice vinegar, and oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  (The best way to taste for seasoning is to dip a piece of lettuce — or, in this case, cabbage — in the dressing.)

Cut cabbage into quarters, remove the core, then cut each quarter in half to form eight wedges.  Cut each wedge crosswise into thin slices.  Combine cabbage, carrots, red pepper, scallions, and cilantro in a large mixing bowl.  Toss with enough dressing to coat.  Let stand 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld.  Toss again and serve.

Crunchy, tangy, and shockingly pink, pickled red onions are as easy to make as they are addictive.  Serve them with just about anything, from salads and sandwiches to charcuterie and cheese.

Quick pickled red onions

Adapted from Vegetable Heaven by Mollie Katzen

Yield: About 3 1/2 c.

2 red onions (about 1 lb.)

1/2 c. cider vinegar

1/2 c. water

3 tbsp. honey or granulated sugar

1 tsp. fine sea salt

1 tsp. black peppercorns

1/2 tsp. whole cloves

Bring about a quart of water to a boil (a tea kettle will do this quickly).  While water heats, trim stem ends off onions and peel them, keeping root end entact.  Slice onions into very thin rounds and place in a mixing bowl.

Pour boiling water over onions and let sit 5 minutes.  Drain thoroughly in a colander.

While onions drain, whisk together cider vinegar, 1/2 c. water, honey or sugar, salt, peppercorns, and cloves.  Add drained onions and let marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.  Transfer onions and liquid to a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate.

Pickled onions will keep, tightly sealed and in the fridge, for weeks (though they will lose their crunch over time).

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