This, that and the other…

Smiling eggs make better brownies.

I could get with this…or I could get with that… (You’re envisioning the Kia Soul Hamster Rap commercial, aren’t you?) Basically, this sums up my thoughts on my pantry and fridge contents last night as I faced making dinner. We’re finally getting some rain here, and I was happy to stay in and make a meal. But, what to make? I had no real plan, and I had bits of this and bits of that for ingredients. When in doubt, make a salad and some pasta!

Simple salad, composed.

I love simply composed salads made of peppery greens, some sweet or tart fruit, savory nuts, very good cheese and a homemade, but quick, balsamic vinaigrette. My fridge contained arugula, a granny smith apple and some leftover herbed goat cheese, and I had some chopped walnuts, too. After arranging the greens artfully on a plate, I topped them with the sliced apple, a sprinkle of crumbled goat cheese and walnuts (some dried cranberries or cherries would have been good, too, but didn’t have those on hand). Then I whisked together equal parts of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, added a bit of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and some crushed dried herbs (I like Herbes de Provence or Tarragon, but use your favorite)…shake it, drizzle it, and voila! This is a flavorful and healthy salad, and a cinch to make.

A nice, rich sauce, avec fume.

On to the pasta. What’s in the pantry? Whole wheat penne, a can of whole stewed plum tomatoes, some concentrated tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes in oil and some red onion. And in the fridge…some leftover uncooked ground chuck from slider-making, and some fresh basil and oregano from the garden, plus some more of the above mentioned herbed goat cheese. This combo reminded me of some of the flavors from an old fashioned recipe which makes a lasagna-like hamburger meat dish called “That Casserole,” so I’ve decided to call this “That Pasta,” and you’ll find the recipe here. I browned the beef while bringing a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Then I drained off the fat from the cooked meat with a slotted spoon and set the beef aside in a small bowl lined with paper towels. Next, pour or wipe out any remaining fat from the pan used to cook the meat, and to the same pan add some extra virgin olive oil and the onions, cooking them until they are soft and starting to lightly brown. Add the can of tomatoes and their juice to the onions, and break up the tomatoes with a spoon. Then add the tomato paste, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, chopped oregano, salt and pepper and let this cook down for about 15 minutes.

Pasta fini!

Time for cooking the dry pasta. Add it to boiling and salted water, and let it cook for 13 minutes or until al dente according to the package directions, while you finish the sauce.

Pour the cooked ground beef into the sauce, then add the crumbled goat cheese and stir until it melts. Add the basil and stir well. Taste and adjust the seasonings with a bit more salt and pepper, if needed. Drain the cooked pasta, then add it into the sauce. Stir well to evenly coat the pasta. Now you’ve got a rich and tomato-y sauced pasta, sweet from the sun-dried, creamy and slightly tart from the goat cheese, savory from the herbs and onion and hearty with the meat. Serve with a little Parmesan cheese if you have some. Yum…little kids and big kids alike will love this!

Melted butter and chocolate, what better start to a dessert can you have?

Hmmm, now for the “other,” meaning dessert. I still had some walnuts not used in the salad, some unsweetened baking chocolate in the pantry, and butter, sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla. Sounds like brownies to me!

These brownies are dry and cakey on top, but moist and fudgy in the center and so easy to make. In fact, I’ve been making them since I was about 8 years old. Just melt the 1/2 stick of butter and 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate together in a small pan, stirring frequently and don’t let it burn. Take it off the heat. Stirring between each addition, add 1 cup sugar, a pinch of salt, two eggs, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup chopped nuts and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Butter a 9″ square pan, cut wax paper to fit the bottom and butter the paper, too.

A lot of chocolate love.

Pour the brownie batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the brownies are firm, dry and cracked on top, but not burned on the edges. Remove from the oven, run a table knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the brownies, then invert them onto a cooling rack. Remove the wax paper carefully and allow them to cool completely before cutting into 16 pieces. I dare you to only eat one!

A fantastic meal, and all from cleaning out my fridge and pantry. By crossing over my available ingredients to make the salad, pasta and the brownies, they all go together amazingly well. What a simple feast and a very satisfying way to use what you got. Hey, what’s your favorite “clean out the fridge or pantry” meal? Please share!


5 thoughts on “This, that and the other…

    • I do indeed, Carol. I like to use them in chili recipes and in salsas, and in a Mediterranean dip recipe of mine…anytime I want a more pronounced smoky taste, and when the other ingredients can stand up to that. I also use them in spaghetti sauce when I make it with sausage and in vegetarian lasagna for an extra depth of flavor. They’re great and I’ve got a can of them waiting in the pantry for me right now!


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