Eating from the Pantry

by Mary Bailey

After the bursting cupboards and a refrigerator-so-full-the-door-doesn’t shut of the holidays, most of us spend January peering into that same fridge and thinking ‘there’s nothing to eat.’

But what about those bits of cheese in the freezer, the bin full of slightly limp carrots and onions, the boxes of pasta and rice and the dried chilies ready to expire? The cans of tomatoes, the leftover cranberries, nuts and various packets of frozen veg.

Time for some culinary sleight of hand. Dried fruits and nuts go into smoothies or over breakfast cereal; those frozen packets of veg do make a good stock and oven risotto is actually really easy to make.

The bonus? You’ll have room for the oils and vinegars and fancy salts people gave you for Christmas.

…a bag of barley

Belila (or barley for breakfast)

Barley’s nutty flavour and rich texture makes it ideal for breakfast porridge. Cook a large batch Sunday night and pop in the refrigerator or freezer in single servings. In the morning add milk, some dried fruit, chopped nuts, (pistachios and cherries are a lovely combination) and you’re off. Pot barley takes longer to cook than pearl but it has more fibre. You can also do this with farro if you have a bag of that hanging around in the pantry.

1 c pot barley (also known as Scotch barley)
3 c water
½ t salt

Cook on low heat covered, for about 45 minutes, until the grains are tender, yet still a bit chewy and the water is absorbed.

Makes 6 cups cooked barley.

To make porridge: Place 1 cup cooked barley in a saucepan with 1/2 cup milk or water. Add honey if desired and dried fruit and nuts. Cook for about 15 minutes until the porridge is creamy.

…a tin of rice

Oven Risotto with Kale and Squash

This is the dish to make when you can’t stand around with a glass of wine and stir the risotto. The texture is not quite as unctuous but it’ll do, especially on a busy weeknight.

2 T canola oil
2 shallots, diced
3-4 fresh thyme leaves, chopped fine
1½ c Arborio rice
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
½ c dry white wine
1 medium butternut squash chopped, medium dice (about 4 cups diced), or use diced sweet potato or chunky carrot slices
4 c stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 bunch kale, tough bottom stems removed, cut into bite-sized pieces (or use swiss chard)
1/4 c or so grated Parmigiano or Grana Padano

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat oil over medium-high in a medium Dutch oven. Add shallots and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, until opaque, about 3 minutes. Season. Add wine and cook, stirring, until completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add diced squash and broth and bring to a boil. Stir in kale. Cover and bake until rice is tender and most of liquid is absorbed, about 20-30 minutes. Give it a toss, check for seasoning, stir in some of the grated cheese and pass the rest at the table.

…a packet of dried mushrooms

Mushroom Risotto

1 packet dried porcini mushrooms
5 c water
3 T butter
2 T olive oil
2 T onion chopped very fine
1 c chopped fresh mushrooms (optional)
2 c arborio or canaroli rice
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
½ c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring water and dried mushrooms to a boil in a medium pot. Reduce heat, and simmer gently for 1 hour. Strain stock and chop the mushrooms into a fine dice. Reserve mushrooms. Return stock to the pot and keep warm.

Meanwhile melt 2 T of the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook fresh mushrooms until the liquid is released and they are golden in colour, about 5 minutes. Reserve.

Place the rest of the butter and the oil in a large pot with the onion and sauté over medium-high heat until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and stir quickly to coat each grain. Add ½ cup of broth and stir rice until the liquid is absorbed. Add more broth, ½ cup at a time, always stirring until the stock is absorbed.

When rice has cooked for about 10 minutes, add the reconstituted mushrooms. Keep adding broth and stirring until there is no more left, about 20 minutes. Taste the rice, it should be soft and yielding on the outside with a hint of resistance at the very centre with no starchiness. If not, add a bit of water and continue to stir.

When the rice is done, remove risotto from the heat. Grind some pepper, add a bit of butter and grated parmesan, and toss quickly to coat the grains. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to a platter, top with the fried mushrooms if using and pass the cheese.

Serves 6.

…too many lentils

Red Lentil Peasant Soup with Sizzling Mint Butter

I love lentils. In restaurants. When I attempt to cook them at home, such as placing a nice piece of sablefish on a bed of green lentils or with roast chicken, they come up short. Not enough duck fat perhaps; hence the many boxes and bags of lentils in the pantry. So, back to the chefs — let them figure it out. Love this savoury soup with the flavours of Turkey in every spoonful, and the tender little Puy lentils with Middle Eastern spices.

Adapted from Turquoise, a chef ’s travels in Turkey, by Greg and Lucy Malouf, Chronicle Books.

2 T olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 t ground cumin
1 t hot paprika
1½ t sweet paprika
1 T tomato paste
1 c red lentils, rinsed
quarts chicken stock
½ c fine bulgur or kishke
sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
4 T unsalted butter
½ t dried mint
lemon wedges to serve

Heat the oil over low heat in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir the onion, carrot and garlic in the hot oil; add the cumin, hot paprika and 1 teaspoon of the sweet paprika. Saute for 5-8 minutes, until the vegetables soften.

Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a minute. Add the lentils and chicken stock and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.

When the lentils have broken down and become creamy, add the bulgur. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes.

When ready to serve, ladle the soup into warmed serving bowls. Quickly heat the butter in a small frying pan until it foams, then add the remaining sweet paprika and the dried mint. Swirl the sizzling butter into each bowl of soup and serve with wedges of lemon.

Serves 6-8.

Crushed Puy Lentils with Tahini and Cumin

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. This dish is similar to hummus and equally satisfying.

1 c Puy lentils
2 T unsalted butter
2 T olive oil, plus extra to finish
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 t ground cumin
2 sun-dried tomatoes
1 small bunch coriander leaves, chopped
4 T tahini paste
2 T lemon juice
salt and black pepper
½ small red onion, peeled and sliced very thin
2 eggs, hard-boiled and quartered

Rinse the lentils if necessary, but don’t soak. Bring a medium pan of water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook for 15-20 minutes until completely cooked, drain and set aside.

Put the butter and oil in a large sauté pan and place on a medium-high heat. Once the butter melts, add the garlic and cumin, and cook for a minute. Add the tomato, coriander and the cooked lentils. Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then add the tahini, lemon juice, about a 1/4 cup water, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Turn down the heat to medium and cook gently, stirring for a few minutes more until hot and thickened. Roughly mash the lentils with a potato masher so that some are broken up and you get a thick, porridge-like consistency.

Spread the lentil mixture on a platter; run a fork through to make a wavy pattern. Scatter on the sliced onion, the remaining coriander and a drizzle of oil. Serve warm with pita and the hardboiled eggs alongside.

…full of beans

Black Beans and Rice

Cheap and cheerful and delicious.

1 c dried kidne y beans, soaked overnight and drained
6 c water
2 cloves garlic
1¾ c coconut milk
1 T canola olive or bacon drippings
3 green onions, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, chopped, or use jalapeno for less heat
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1½ c long grain rice
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Place beans and garlic in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about 1 to 1½ hours. When beans are tender, stir in coconut milk, green onions, peppers, and thyme, and increase the heat to a boil. Stir in the rice, add some salt and pepper, cover the pot, lower the heat and cook until the rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid. Transfer to a large serving bowl, check seasoning and garnish with more sliced green onions.

Serves 6-8.

Spicy Chickpeas

Better than potato chips! Adjust the spice to suit your palate or even easier, toss with Brad’s BBQ Rub instead

2 large cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained and dried on a kitchen towel
2 T canola oil
1 t smoked paprika
½ t ground cumin
cayenne pepper to taste
kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
zest of one lime
squeeze of fresh lime juice

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Combine all the ingredients but lime juice and zest in a bowl and toss to coat. Season to taste. Place on a parchmentlined baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until crisp, 25 to 35 minutes, shaking the tray occasionally to toss the chickpeas. Remove from the oven, drizzle with juice, place in a serving bowl and toss zest over.

Makes about 2 cups.

…bits of cheese

French Onion Soup

The recipe reads like way more trouble than it actually is. Think leftover cheese, some stock, some onions and an occasional pass by the stovetop. What results is culinary alchemy, rich caramelized onions, melty toasty cheese, all sorts of deliciousness — no wonder this soup is a classic.

My brother-in-law taught me the wisdom of the long and slow caramelization — most recipes call for 45 minutes only. Go the distance, it’s worth it in the end.

A salad and a glass of wine makes this bowl of soup dinner, especially if you’ve been out in the cold.

¼ c butter
¼ c olive oil
1 clove garlic
4 large yellow onions sliced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 c dry sherry* (or dry white wine)
2 t flour
4 c brown stock (if don’t have use chicken or vegetable stock, or water)
6 ½-inch thick slices crusty bread, preferably pain au levain
6 generous slices melty cheese such as Gruyere.
2 T finely-grated grana cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or Pecorino

Melt butter and oil with garlic in a large deep saucepan. Add onions, herbs, take out garlic. Cook slowly over low heat for an hour; add sherry. Cook for another hour, stirring occasionally. The onions will be very soft and a deep golden brown colour. Season. Raise heat to medium; stir in flour and cook for about 5 minutes. Add broth and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes. Check for seasoning.

When ready to serve, toast bread slices on both sides under a broiler and reserve. You want them to be dry, not soft in the middle.

Discard herbs and divide the soup into six oven-safe bowls on a baking sheet. If you have some of those some retro onion soup bowls with the handles, even better. Place a toasted bread slice on top of each, and cover with the cheese slices, then sprinkle with the grated cheese.

Broil until cheese is melted, bubbly, and starting to deepen in colour, about 2 minutes. You could also hit it with a blow-torch (as in creme brulee) if you do that sort of thing. Serves 6.

* Look for Alvear’s Fino Montilla, found in most good wine shops.

…oh right, quinoa

Cheesy Bacon Quinoa Patties

Adapted from a recipe by Sharman Hnatiuk, Passion for Pork in the AFMA cookbook From the Farm.

2 c cooked quinoa* (or 3/4 cup uncooked quinoa with 11/2 cups water)
4 eggs, whisked
5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
½ c mozzarella cheese
3 green onions, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ t sea salt
1 c steamed spinach, chopped
1 c breadcrumbs
3 jalapenos, chopped (optional)
1 t canola oil

In a large bowl, mix together cooked quinoa, bacon, eggs, cheese, green onion, garlic, salt, cooked spinach, and breadcrumbs; add jalapenos if desired. Allow mixture to rest for a few minutes, it should be moist by not runny or too dry. Form patties, using about ? of a cup of the quinoa mixture for each.

Heat oil in a large skillet over mediumlow heat. Fill, but don’t crowd, the pan with patties. Cover the pan and let them cook for 5-8 minutes until browned. Flip and cook the other side for another 5-8 minutes until both sides are nice and brown. Eat warm with salsa.

*To make from scratch: rinse 3/4 cup of quinoa, place in a medium saucepan with 1½ cups of water. Allow to soak for 10 minutes. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook until tender and liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

…leftover tequila

Winter Margaritas

This is the season for citrus — look for juicy Texas Red grapefruit and small, heavy limes chock-full of juice.

½ c blanco tequila
2 T triple sec
¼ c fresh lime juice
½ c fresh grapefruit juice
lime wheels and chile salt for garnish: mix equal amounts of sea salt and ground chile pepper

Combine the tequila, triple sec and juices in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain over ice into chilled rocks glasses rimmed with chili salt. Garnish with lime.