Posts Tagged ‘pantry cooking’


June is a good time to make raspberry vinegar, June or July, when raspberries are at their berriest.  We get raspberries year round these days, and that makes me happy, but I still like to eat as many of them as I can in June and July.

So you take a clean bottle with a stopper and you push raspberries in till the bottle is almost full.  You want a combination of whole berries, berries pulled in half, and crushed berries — sort of a time-release raspberry spansule.

Then you pour in some decent white wine vinegar.  Don’t you hate it when recipes say things like that?  “Decent white wine vinegar.”  How can you tell whether it’s decent?  Open the bottle, put your thumb over the top, turn the bottle upside down, right the bottle again, and lick your thumb.  Sourness and maybe even a tiny bit of fruitiness?  Decent.  Metal or mildew or dust or rot?  Use it to wash windows.  I can buy decent white wine vinegar at my regular old supermarket; I hope you can too.

At any rate, you then pour in your (decent) white wine vinegar, put the stopper in, and turn the bottle this way and that till there are no air bubbles left in the raspberries.  Treat the bottle as you do an open pickle jar; if you keep opened pickle jars in the refrigerator, keep the raspberry vinegar there too.

At first the mixture will be ridiculously incarnadine, like berry blood on fire.  Then in a while the berries will fade to a very Goth purplish-grey.  Don’t be sad, that means the vinegar is ready to use.

Use for what? 

To revive pale-tasting fruit. 

You can find thousands of recipes that use raspberry vinegar in salad dressings and sauces and stews, but I don’t make any of them.  I save my raspberry vinegar for fruit that needs a boost — for plums that aren’t plummy enough, peaches too far removed from their home in the Central Valley, strawberries that taste more white than red, tomatoes (remember, tomatoes are fruit too) a day too many off the vine.  Lemon juice is tremendous, of course, but raspberry vinegar is subtler.  You never need more than a quarter of a teaspoonful, more often several drops.  (Pure cane sugar also helps.  So does salt, even less salt than raspberry vinegar, just a few grains.)

When the year comes round to June again, I drain the last of my raspberry vinegar into a glass, crushing the faded grey raspberries to extract the last goodness from them, add as much simple syrup as I have vinegar (simple syrup is one part sugar dissolved in one part water), and top the mixture with sparkling water.  This drink is called raspberry shrub, and Mark doesn’t like it, so I have it all to myself.  And then I start in with another year’s worth of raspberry vinegar.


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Writing about dishes made with canned tuna last week, I made myself hungry for one of the recipes in Diane Seed’s The Top 100 Pasta Sauces (10 Speed Press, 1987).  But when I looked at the book I realized that I’ve changed the recipe enough so that what I cook now is really mine, not hers.  Since the original is called alla carrettiere, carter style, I’m going to call my version alla carrello di acquisto, shopping-cart style.

The dish consists of three parts, the fettucine, the sauce, and the crumbs people shake over their portions.  The dish comes together quickly but it dirties a lot of dishes.  In a good cause.

porcini crumbs

Start by making the crumbs.  Crumbs as a topping for pasta are common in the South of Italy, where traditionally people have been too poor to have cheese except on feast days.  These crumbs are a deluxe version that I learned from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home (Hyperion, 2008, our cookbook of the month for December 2008).

ingredients for step …



1. whole-wheat breadcrumbs

1 cup homemade
or store-bought

2. dried porcini mushrooms

1/4 ounce  

1. Toast the breadcrumbs in your toaster oven just as you would your toast (unless you happen to like your toast burnt black).

2. Put the breadcrumbs and the dried porcinis in your food processor and whir them together till the porcinis have turned to mushroom dust mixed in with the breadcrumbs.

3. Put the crumbs into a serving bowl and put the bowl on, not beside, your plate at the dinner table so you don’t forget it.

You will probably have some crumbs left over.  They keep pretty well in a closed jar out of the sunlight.  Try them as a topping wherever you would ordinarily use grated cheese, on vegetables, for instance.

pasta pot

1. Fill your pasta pot with water, add kosher salt till the water tastes like blood, cover the pot, and put it over a flame.

The pot should be at a full boil by the time you need it in step 6 below.

sauce and fettucine

ingredients for step …



1. dried morel mushrooms

1/2 ounce


2. bacon

2 slices


olive oil

2 Tablespoons


3. fresh mushrooms

1/2 pound

I use chanterelles, but I live in mushroom heaven.  Ordinary button mushrooms or criminis would be fine.

5. garlic

10 medium-sized cloves


6. fettuccine

6 ounces

I make 6 ounces of fettuccine for the two of us, but younger people will, I think, want 8 ounces for two.  The sauce will be enough either way.

7. diced tomatoes with green chiles

half of a 14.5 oz can

I like Muir Glen Fire-Roasted

8. tuna canned in olive oil

half of a 5.5 oz can


9. parsley

a dozen stems


1. Soak the dried morels in plain water.  An easy way to do that is to put them in a microwave-safe bowl with plenty of water and nuke them on high for a minute or two, till they no longer float high on the surface. Then let them stew in their own juices till step 4.

2. Fry the bacon in the olive oil in a large frying pan.  When the bacon has cooked a little, cut it into small bits with a scissors.  (It’s easier to cut it after it has cooked and firmed up than when it’s still all raw and flabby.)

3. Chop the fresh mushrooms up very small (you want mushroom flavor but no mushroom texture) and add them to the frying pan with the bacon bits and olive oil.

4. Drain the soaked morels (save the soaking water for a broth in some other dish) and cut them also very small.  Add them to the frying pan.

5. Chop the garlic into chunks, six or eight chunks per clove, and add them to the frying pan.

6. When the pasta water boils, add the fettuccine, stir it around to keep it from sticking together, and let it boil at a full boil for the time indicated on the package.

7. Add the half-can of diced tomatoes to the frying pan.

8. With a fork or a sharp knife, break the half-can of tuna into tiny pieces but don’t add it to the frying pan yet.

10. Chop the parsley into rough pieces and save the stems aside for a broth or a stew.  Don’t add them to the frying pan yet.

11. When the pasta is cooked through, add it with a small amount (2-3 Tablespoons) of its cooking water to the frying pan, along with the tuna bits and the chopped parsley.  Stir everything up thoroughly and serve from the frying pan or a serving dish.  Remember the crumbs.

MB:  My favorite pasta dish with canned tuna is, of course, the classic tuna noodle casserole that you and I used to make whenever Papa was out of town.  I realize that when most people hear tuna noodle casserole they think of egg noodles with cream of mushroom soup, tuna, and peas, but that’s not what we made.

For us tuna noodle casserole is elbow macaroni with sour cream, tuna, salt, pepper, and thinly sliced green onions.  It’s comfort food to the max and oh lordy is it good.  J doesn’t like sour cream, so I am continuing the tradition of cooking this when Dad’s out of town.

I haven’t made it in quite a long time, but now that I’m thinking about it I’m totally going to make this sometime soon!

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Buddha Hand


I want a job cooking at a grocery store.  Not for the customers, for the staff.  Time after time the cashier asks me as I go through the checkout line, “What’s that?  What do you do with it?”  Or the produce guy asks, “What are you going to do with that?”  I can’t imagine working at a grocery store and not trying every single thing in produce, but obviously most people don’t feel that way.  In my dream job, I’d walk from checkstand to deli counter to dairy, carrying a little bowl or pot and a bunch of plastic spoons.  Rutabaga?  You’ve never had rutabaga?  Here, taste how good it is roasted and served with cream and bacon.  Jicama?  Here, have some jicama slaw with lime juice and crumbled bouillon cubes.  Sounds weird, but I guarantee you’ll like it.  Kohlrabi?  Looks like a space alien, doesn’t it?  But try it steamed and served with home-made mayonnaise.  Good, hm?

So when my neighbor M and my produce guy Mike and I ran into one another in front of a display of Buddha hands, I was ready for the consummation of a long-standing dream.  Neither of them had any idea what to do with a Buddha hand, but I did, and I promised them a taste.

Buddha hand, a.k.a. citron, is one of the oddest-looking fruits in the world, and it plays an interesting role in cooking, a citrus fruit whose only useful part is its peel.  That peel is much milder than in any other citrus, so it needn’t be boiled in multiple waters to get rid of its bitterness.  Rather, you just cut it into bite-sized pieces and cook it below the simmer in heavily sugared water till it turns transparent.  You then have both sweetened citron and — better yet — citron syrup with a heavenly fragrance.  (You will wish somebody would make Buddha hand perfume.)

And once you have your citron in citron syrup, here’s what to do with it:

Pep up bland, sweet fruit flavors.  Think citron plus papaya, citron plus persimmon, citron plus supermarket nectarines.

Heighten creaminess.  Think fine-chopped citron plus cream cheese, citron plus crème fraîche, citron plus cottage cheese.

Cut cloying sweetness.  Think citron syrup plus maple syrup, citron syrup plus honey, citron syrup plus agave nectar.

And yes, you can and should also use citron in fruitcakes.  Honest.  I swear.

MB: I hate to admit it, but I’ve never had buddha’s hand either.  I swear I will change that.  Truly.  It sounds fantastic!

One of the reasons I love shopping at my favorite grocery store is because the people there are extraordinarily knowledgeable about food.  The other day I was going through the checkout line with my groceries and the bagger looked at what I was buying and said, “Seafood chowder for dinner tonight?”  100% correct.  I was amazed and oh-so-very impressed.

I would love to work at a grocery store because I love food that much.  I think for most people it’s just a job, so when you find a place or a person for whom that isn’t true, it’s an absolute treasure.

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Sorry if it’s disappointing folks, but around here there’s an awful lot of comfort cooking going on these days.  With the days really transitioning into COLD weather, we’re all feeling the need for some serious comfort.

This was my mise en place for mac n’ cheese with tuna.  Seriously, does it get more comforting than that?

M-C: Barbara-jo McIntosh’s Tin Fish Gourmet: Great Seafood from Cupboard to Table (WestWinds Press, originally Raincoast Books, 1998) has all kinds of yummy canned fish recipes, from Canned Crab and Polenta Bake w/Sun-Dried Tomatoes + Pesto to Canned Tuna + Canned Artichoke Salad.  Not all of the recipes are strictly from the pantry; you’ll need a quick trip to the produce department to make Swiss Chard and Canned Salmon Lasagna or Warm Endive, Potato, & Avocado Salad w/Canned Caviar Dressing.  And many of the recipes are not dead simple, like Creamy Garlic & Canned Clam Chowder or Canned Tuna Fish and Potato Casserole.  But the ingredient lists are mostly short or medium-sized:

short (8 ingredients or fewer) 23 recipes
medium-sized (9-12 ingredients) 35 recipes
long (13 or more ingredients) 14 recipes

And no recipe is longer than two facing pages — love that format.  No photos; the book is decorated handsomely with two-color reproductions of old-fashioned canned fish labels, Helferty’s Fancy Alaska Crab, contents 6 oz., with a grumpy-looking crab; Imperial Red Salmon Imperial Saumon Rouge; Beaver Brand Clams with a trademarked portrait of a beaver that looks more like a chipmunk resting its head on a tree branch.

The only strange thing about the book is that it doesn’t include a recipe for the greatest canned-fish recipe of all time, pasta con sarde.  The plain version is spaghetti, canned sardines, and garlic; fancy versions include, oh, fennel fronds and currants and sundried tomatoes and fried red onions — you get the idea — and usually call for perchiatelli (also called perciatelli), a long fat hollow kind of macaroni.

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