Here are a few ideas for making pantry staples like rice and pasta a little more interesting. And if you're looking to relieve some stress through baking, try these five comfort-minded dessert recipes.
Seriously Simple: Spring pasta is easy to make with pantry staples
We are all having trouble finding ingredients right now. Grocery stores are mobbed, and shopping online is overtaxed. This Seriously Simple vegetarian pasta dish celebrates spring with common ingredients that should be relatively easy to procure or already in your pantry.
Picture a plate of pasta with an array of colors: green asparagus and peas, yellow sweet peppers and red tomato sauce sprinkled with straw-colored freshly grated Parmesan cheese. This is a dish that can bring some much-needed cheer during this bleak time. Don't worry if you can't find some of the ingredients. Just use what is available.
Springtime signals the peak season for asparagus. I love to use it in dishes that show off its unique flavor. The neutrality of pasta provides a perfect backdrop that allows the delicate, slightly grassy flavored asparagus and sweet baby peas to shine through. In this recipe, bottled tomato sauce is accented by the Mexican chipotle chile pepper, which gives the pasta an Italian Mexican fusion style.
This chipotle tomato sauce adds an unexpected touch of smoky heat thanks to half of a chipotle chile. If you prefer a spicier sauce, go ahead and use a whole chile. Use canned chipotles packed in adobo sauce for the best flavor. You can also use a bit of the adobo sauce to add even more heat, but be careful; these chilies can be very hot. If you don't have access to chipotle or chipotle hot sauce, add a touch of crushed red pepper.
Seared scallops or sliced grilled chicken breasts make this dish a substantial main course. For a pretty presentation serve this in wide, shallow soup bowls. Serve a simple green salad to begin and accompany with a spicy Zinfandel.
—When blanching the vegetables, use a kitchen strainer with a handle to make it easier to lift the vegetables out of the water.
—If you can't find chipotles in adobo, look for chipotle bottled hot sauce and add a few drops to taste. Crushed red pepper is also a good substitute.
—Look for jarred peeled yellow peppers or use a raw yellow pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced.
Pasta with Spring Vegetables and Tomato Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound pencil-thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
1 pound dried spaghetti, linguine or angel hair pasta
3 cups favorite store-bought tomato sauce
1/2 canned chipotle in adobo, coarsely chopped or bottled chipotle hot sauce
1 yellow or orange sweet pepper, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips, optional
1 1/2 cups frozen petite peas, defrosted
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Place the asparagus pieces in a kitchen strainer basket with a handle, lower into the boiling water, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Immediately transfer the asparagus to a bowl of ice water.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions, or until al dente.
3. Meanwhile, place the tomato sauce in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chipotle or a few dashes of chipotle hot sauce and optional basil and bring to a simmer. Add the asparagus, peas, and optional yellow pepper; heat just until sauce is hot and the vegetables are warmed through.
4. Reserve 1/4 cup of the sauce. Drain the pasta well and transfer to the tomato sauce. Use tongs and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Place the pasta in a serving bowl. Spoon the reserved sauce on top and sprinkle with the parsley and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)
The Kitchn: This pantry favorite is perfect for a busy weeknight meal
I can't tell you exactly where this dish came from — only that it's the star of my family's Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes meal. I only make it once a year, which makes its briny, garlicky, umami-packed flavor so special to me (and something I look forward to every year). But the dish is quick and dead simple, and chances are you have all the ingredients on hand. So if you'd like to make this spaghetti laced with red pepper flakes, garlic, anchovies and black olives one of your weeknight staples, well, I can't fault you for that.
Keep it low and slow
The key here is that you want to really coax the flavors together, so keep the heat on low while you're cooking the garlic, anchovies and olives in the olive oil. When I make it, the oil is on heat so low that it barely bubbles. Once or twice I've tried to speed up the process, only to burn the garlic, which ruins the entire dish. So, take it from me: Keep that heat knob turned to "low."
Choose your adventure
My family likes garlic (a LOT of garlic), but the amounts vary in the recipe below so that you can choose your personal level of garlicky-ness. Same goes for the anchovies. We'll dump an entire tin of them into the olive oil; but if that makes you uncomfortable, start with two fillets.
Punch it up
I personally never, ever deviate from the family recipe, but there are plenty of ways you could make this dish your own. Toss some toasted breadcrumbs into the mix to give it some crunch. Play with the type of olives in the dish (although, to me, there's something delightfully retro about using canned black olives). A hint of lemon or lemon zest would brighten things up. And even though my family holds to the Italian rule of "no cheese with seafood," a little Parmesan wouldn't be the end of the world.
Garlic, Anchovy & Olive Spaghetti
Serves 4 to 6
3 to 6 cloves garlic
1 (12-ounce) can black olives
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 pound dried spaghetti
1 (2-ounce) tin anchovy fillets in oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, finely chop 3 to 6 garlic cloves. Drain 1 (12-ounce) can black olives, then cut each olive in half crosswise. Heat 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a small saucepan over low heat for a few minutes. Add the garlic and a pinch red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until the garlic starts to soften, 7 to 10 minutes.
2. Add 1 pound dried spaghetti to the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Meanwhile, add the anchovy fillets and some of their oil to the garlic mixture; stir to break the fillets up so they eventually melt into the oil. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the olives and cook for 5 minutes more to warm through.
3. When the spaghetti is ready, drain and return it to the pot. Pour in the olive oil mixture and use tongs to thoroughly toss and incorporate the flavors. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve warm.
Recipe notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to four days.
Chorizo paella is easy to make, and requires only one pan
Paella is one of Spain's most famous rice dishes, taking its name from the wide, shallow traditional pan used to cook the dish on an open fire. An equal-opportunity meal, it typically includes meat along with some type of seafood. A sprinkling of paprika adds some mild heat.
This recipe is made on the stovetop with slices of chorizo, a spicy pork sausage, diced chicken and shrimp. Canned tomatoes and roasted red peppers imbue the dish with a lovely ruby hue, while blue cheese-stuffed olives add a briny, pungent kick. If you don't like shrimp, you could double the amount of chicken or sausage, or substitute chunks of lobster or clams.
All you need for a complete meal here is some crusty bread and a glass of fruity red wine.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small sweet onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces Spanish chorizo, sliced into coins
1 (14-ounce) can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) jar roasted red pepper, sliced into strips
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups basmati or jasmine rice
4 cups chicken broth
2 small skinless chicken thighs or breasts, diced
1/3 cup blue-cheese stuffed olives
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Generous pinch of saffron
1/2 to 1 pound raw shrimp, optional
Juice of 2 lemons
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Place a large (at least 12 inches) cast-iron skillet on stovetop over high heat. Once hot, add olive oil, onion and garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add chorizo and cook until just browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Crush tomatoes with your hand and add, with juice, to the pan, along with roasted red pepper. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add wine to deglaze the skillet. Then stir in rice, cooking until toasted, 3 to 5 minutes. Slowly pour in chicken broth and stir.
Add chicken, olives, paprika and saffron. Stir gently to combine, then cover tightly with skillet lid or foil. Cook for 15 minutes.
Arrange the shrimp on top. You may need to press the shrimp into the rice with a spoon so that they are almost covered with the rice. Continue cooking until seafood is cooked through and rice is fluffy, about 10 minutes.
Remove skillet from heat and drizzle with lemon juice. Garnish with parsley, and serve.
Spice things up with this pizza-flavored chicken burger recipe
Two of America's favorite foods, pizza and burgers, combine in this pizza chicken burger. This quick dinner takes only 10 minutes to cook.
The burger uses ground chicken. Make sure the package says made from chicken breast meat only. If it says ground chicken, then skin, fat and dark meat can be used.
— Other pasta sauce can be used instead of pizza sauce.
— Any type of cheese slices can be used.
— Any type of olive can be used.
— Make salad and set aside.
— Make burgers.
To buy: 3/4 pound ground chicken breast meat only, 1 bottle pizza sauce, 1 package part skim milk mozzarella cheese, 1 small container black olives, 1 package whole wheat or whole grain hamburger rolls, 1 bunch fresh basil, 1 bag washed ready-to-eat salad, 1 large tomato and 1 bottle reduced-fat vinaigrette dressing and 1 can olive oil spray.
Staples: salt and black peppercorns.
PIZZA-FLAVORED CHICKEN BURGER
Recipe by Linda Gassenheimer
3/4 pound ground chicken breast meat only
1/2 cup bottled pizza sauce, divided use
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil spray
2 slices part skim milk mozzarella cheese, about 1 ounce total
6 pitted black olives, sliced
2 whole wheat or whole grain hamburger rolls
Several basil leaves
Mix chicken with 2 tablespoons pizza sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. Shape into two burgers about 4-inches in diameter and 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with olive oil spray and saute burgers 5 minutes. Turn and saute 3 minutes. Place a cheese slice over each burger. Cover with a lid and cook 2 to 3 minutes. A meat thermometer should read 165 degrees. Place burgers on bottom half of each roll. Mix olives into remaining pizza sauce and spoon over the burgers. Place several basil leaves over the sauce. Close with top of the roll.
Yield 2 servings.
Per serving: 391 calories (31% from fat), 13.4 g fat (3.5 g saturated, 4.8 g monounsaturated), 137 mg cholesterol, 45.6 g protein, 19.4 g carbohydrates, 3.7 g fiber, 364 mg sodium.
Recipe by Linda Gassenheimer
4 cups washed, ready-to-eat lettuce
1 large tomato cut into small wedges
4 tablespoons reduced-fat vinaigrette dressing
Place lettuce and tomato wedges in a bowl and add dressing. Toss to coat salad with the dressing.
Yield 2 servings.
Per serving: 54 calories (40% from fat), 2.4 g fat (0.2 g saturated, 0.7 g monounsaturated), 2 mg cholesterol, 2.1 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 3.1 g fiber, 21 mg sodium.
(Linda Gassenheimer is an author of over 30 cookbooks. Her newest is "The 12-Week Diabetes Cookbook." Find her on Facebook (@FoodNewsandViews) and Twitter (@LGassenheimer), and listen to her podcasts at www.880thebiz.com.)
Let's bake: Here are 5 comfort-minded, stress-relieving recipes
The moment I started making banana bread, a sense of calm began to wash over my jittery, anxious self.
Moving through those familiar rituals — measuring flour and sugar, cracking eggs, greasing a pan — turned out to be the kitchen equivalent of a deep cleansing breath.
Once the house began to fill with the tantalizing scent of this childhood favorite, I was certain that I'd made the right decision to pull out the mixer and preheat the oven.
I've always been aware of the concept of stress baking, but only as an intellectual abstraction. But in this time of ongoing crisis, baking has become a new meditation of choice, an emotional salve.
I highly recommend it.
Start with these time-tested crowd-pleasers, reliable for their uncomplicated nature. No ingredients that stretch beyond pantry staples, no challenging techniques, no out-of-the-ordinary equipment. Also, they're delicious.
One peek into a refrigerator drawer filled with Braeburns and McIntoshes and my imagination immediately dashed to fragrant, cinnamon-scented baked apples, and to "Comfort Me With Apples," the second (and best, in my opinion) of food writer Ruth Reichl's series of memoirs; I think I'll download it on Kindle and reread. And because it's fruit, it's good for you, right?
I'm baking coffee cake because it's not just for breakfast, and because I happened to have sour cream on hand, and blueberries in the freezer. And cinnamon, always; my spice rack is never without it. Coffee cake also has a long shelf life, a key selling feature for the housebound.
Cookbook giant Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies have been a fixture in my baking repertoire ever since 2006, when Mary Eckmeier entered them in the Star Tribune's annual holiday cookie contest, and won. They exude a deep chocolate aura, one that's accentuated by sea salt (even more so with the addition of espresso powder). They follow a basic cut-and-bake formula, yet taste as if you fussed.
There are almost always a few ripe bananas in our freezer, waiting to be converted into smoothies. Or, better yet, banana bread. This recipe is adapted from the one that my late mother-in-law used to feed her family.
As for the pudding, yes, technically, it's not baking. But it is dessert, and who doesn't like butterscotch pudding? This recipe requires just a few steps beyond the instant boxed mix variety, and the results are far more impressive.
The recipe hails from a foolproof collection of comfort foods that New York Times food writer Marian Burros published in response to an earlier tragedy, the Sept. 11 attacks, and I've been cooking and baking from it ever since. Now I realize that I reflexively reach for it during times of stress.
CINNAMONY BAKED APPLES
Note: Calvados is apple brandy from France's Normandy region. If you don't have it, you can substitute apple juice, brandy or even water. From "The Silver Palate Cookbook: 25th Anniversary Edition" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.
2 1/4 cups brown sugar, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 medium—to—large tart baking apples, washed (do not peel)
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons Calvados, divided (see Note)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces of equal size
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with parchment paper.
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 2 cups water, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon and the lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove syrup from heat and reserve.
Remove the apple cores, but do not cut all the way through the bottoms.
In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, remaining 1 tablespoon cinnamon, raisins, pecans and lemon zest. Fill each apple with brown sugar mixture, to within 1/4 inch of the top. Pour 1 teaspoon Calvados over the filling in each apple and top with 1/2 tablespoon butter.
Transfer the apples to prepared baking dish. Stir the remaining 1 tablespoon Calvados into the reserved syrup and pour syrup over apples. Bake apples until tender, about 1 hour, basting them occasionally with the syrup in the pan.
Remove from oven and, using a slotted spoon, transfer baked apples to a serving dish. Pour the syrup from the pan into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly, then pour 1 tablespoon of syrup over each apple, and serve remaining syrup at the table.
SOUR CREAM COFFEE CAKE WITH CINNAMON STREUSEL
Note: Author Tom Douglas notes that raspberries, blackberries or even pitted sweet cherries can be used instead of blueberries. Frozen berries do not need to be thawed. Adapted from "The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook."
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into dices
2 1/2 c. flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups berries, fresh or frozen
To prepare streusel: In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add 6 tablespoons butter and, using a pastry blender or your fingers, blend until mixture is crumbly. Reserve.
To prepare cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan.
In a large bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups flour, baking powder and baking soda.
In an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 1 cup butter and 1 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the bowl down as needed. Add the sour cream, vanilla extract and salt, mixing until well incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture in thirds, mixing just until everything is blended together. Gently fold in berries (the batter will be thick).
Scrape batter into prepared pan and spread it evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle streusel mixture evenly over batter. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar over streusel. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few crumbs clinging but no batter, about 45 to 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Cut cake into squares and serve warm.
CATHERINE DAVID'S BANANA BREAD
Makes 1 loaf.
Note: To toast walnuts, place the nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, and cook, stirring (or shaking the pan frequently) until they just begin to release their fragrance, about 3 to 4 minutes (alternately, preheat oven to 325 degrees, spread the nuts on an ungreased baking sheet and bake, stirring often, for 4 to 6 minutes). Banana bread is remarkably adaptable. Add a half cup of a whole range of ingredients: chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, unsweetened cocoa, shredded coconut, pitted and chopped dates, or chopped (and toasted) pecans, macadamia nuts, pistachios or unsalted peanuts. If you have unflavored yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk, add 1/4 cup after beating in the eggs, which will make the cake more moist and rich. No brown sugar? Just use 2/3 cup granulated sugar instead. If you have whole wheat flour on hand, substitute 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. Or follow the directions as is.
1 3/4 cups flour, plus extra for pan
2 teaspoons. baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (2 to 3 bananas)
1/2 cup chopped and toasted walnuts (see Note)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter the bottom and sides of a 5-by-9-by-3-inch loaf pan, then dust with flour, tapping out any excess.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and reserve.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in thirds, alternating with mashed bananas and beginning and ending with flour mixture, mixing only until just combined. Fold in walnuts.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until nicely browned and a tester inserted into the center of the bread comes out fairly clean (with bananas, this bread is moister than most). Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan.
Note: If whole milk is unavailable, substitute 2 % milk. From "Cooking for Comfort," by Marian Burros.
2 tablespoons. unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 cups whole milk, divided
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua), optional
Freshly whipped cream for garnish, optional
In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, then stir in the brown sugar. Increase heat to high and cook until the mixture bubbles. Reduce heat to medium, stir in 3 cups milk and cook for about 5 minutes; the mixture will be a little thick.
In a small bowl, combine a little of the remaining 1 cup milk with the cornstarch to form a paste. Stir the remaining milk into the paste, then add the milk-cornstarch mixture to the pan. Cook the mixture over medium heat until it thickens slightly, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the salt.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Pour a little of the hot mixture into the eggs, whisking well, and continue until the eggs are warm. Whisk the warmed egg mixture into the pudding mixture and continue to cook, bringing to a boil and whisking constantly. Cook until thickened, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in coffee liqueur (optional). Spoon pudding into 6 cups or small bowls, and refrigerate. Serve cold, garnished with whipped cream, if desired.
WORLD PEACE COOKIES
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (or 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel)
In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder together, and reserve.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until soft and creamy, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt and vanilla extract, and beat for 2 additional minutes.
Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just combined, working the dough as little as possible. Fold in chocolate pieces.
Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. Gather dough together and divide it in half. Working one half at a time, shape the (sticky) dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months; if using frozen dough, no need to defrost, just slice the logs into cookies and bake 1 minute longer).
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick (the rounds are likely to crack as you're cutting them; just squeeze the bits back into each cookie) and place 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake cookies 1 sheet at a time for 12 minutes. They won't look done, nor will they be firm, but that's just the way they should be. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.