Cooking out of the pantry

Cynthia Stone
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You know those days when you come home from work or shopping and you just want to have something homemade that’s warm and comforting?

They always seem to be the same days that you don’t want to go to the grocery store.

I don’t know what you always have in your pantry, but it’s not about the specific ingredients. It’s the way you look at your options.

Stand back and consider the cans and packages. They wouldn’t be there if you hadn’t considered cooking them at some time.

What’s in your freezer? Last time you made spaghetti or chili, did you squirrel some away?

Standing with the cupboard or fridge doors open, shifting from foot to foot as I imagine how the containers could come together, is one of my favourite things to do because I never know what delicious surprise awaits. Granted, the result is not always restaurant worthy, but at least I didn’t have to rig up and go out in the cold.

Goulash with Moroccan Attitude

The flavours here are reminiscent of a Moroccan tagine, and they work together deliciously, so I don’t care that this dish isn’t traditional anywhere in the world except for my kitchen.

Canned tomatoes and pasta can be found in most pantries, and there’s usually ground beef in the freezer from the last grocery store sale. If you have a few basic spices in the rack, you’re good to go with this variation of a supper staple.

This casserole serves 6.

1 lb. lean ground beef (or any ground meat you have)

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. smoked, hot or sweet paprika

2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (to taste)

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes

2 tsp. sugar

2 cups uncooked macaroni (or whatever small pasta you have on hand)

Optional Additions:

1/2 cup chopped olives

1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit

2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 cup slivered almonds

Brown beef in a Dutch oven or roaster. Add onion and cook until soft; discard any fat you can spoon out.

Stir in garlic, paprika, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne and cook together a couple of minutes. Add salt, pepper, tomatoes and sugar and simmer together 5 minutes longer.

Prepare pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain and add to meat.

Stir in olives, raisins and cilantro if you are using any or all of those ingredients and bake at 350 F for 25 minutes.

Sprinkle with almonds, or other nuts you might have left from holiday baking.

Mexican Rice

Green rice is a common side dish in Mexico, but if you don’t have green tomatillo salsa on hand. don’t worry — use red and you’ll get a great version of Spanish rice.

If your bottled salsa doesn’t measure two cups, add a little more broth or water.

If you don’t have any fresh garlic, or fresh onion come to that, then leave them out. This rice is delicious made with just salsa and water, but I like to dress it up with whatever I have on hand. It is delicious with roasted chicken, fried pork chops or a piece of fish, and there’s plenty for 6 servings.

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1-1/2 cups long-grain rice

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups bottled green tomatillo or red tomato salsa

1 cup chicken broth or water

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1 tbsp. butter or margarine

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (if you have some in the fridge)

Fry onion in oil in a large, heavy pot until soft and starting to brown lightly. Stir in rice and cook until it is completely coated in oil and thoroughly mixed with the onion. The rice should be starting to look a little chalky around the edges. Add garlic and cook another minute or two, just until fragrant.

Stir in salsa, broth and oregano and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how long your rice takes.

Stir in butter and cilantro if you are using it and serve.

Decadent Peanut Butter Cookies

Anyone who bakes anything any time likely has the ingredients for this recipe already on hand.

These are chewy and delicious, and feel free to stir in raisins or chocolate chips or chopped nuts as you wish, but these make a great dessert just as they are.

They are downright elegant accompanying a scoop of ice cream. You should get 36 cookies from this recipe.

1/2 cup soft butter or margarine

1 cup peanut butter, smooth or chunky

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tbsp. milk

2 tsp. vanilla

1-1/4 cups flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt (1/2 tsp. is using unsalted butter)

Cream butter, peanut butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla. Whisk or sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add all at once to creamed mixture and stir until completely incorporated.

Drop by spoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets — parchment paper will make removing them a bit easier. Bake at 350 F for 9 or 10 minutes, until set but not brown.

If you overbake these they will be crumbly instead of soft, so take them out before they colour. Allow to sit on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her

c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s,

NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Mexico

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