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A love story

Cute, little ramekins are fine, but nothing compares to an old wide-mouth jar

PARIS – Back in the days when peanut butter came in glass jars, my mom declared these the best of all savable jars because they were large, sturdy and reliable.

She used them for storing bacon grease, for orphan buttons, and in the summertime, my

dad filled jars with homegrown cucumbers from his garden with vinegar and dill, and used them for storing nails and screws in the garage, too. I don’t think a jar was ever thrown out in our house.

Along with the Pierce family coffee addiction, I’ve also inherited the love of old jars.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but my boyfriend and I probably go through at least one jar of jam every week or so (he always puts a few big spoonfuls in his yogurt), and I save them all.

I’ve always used them for making vinaigrettes and storing leftovers, from chopped garlic and olive oil to extra pizza sauce, but after seeing one composed salad after another at some of Paris’ trendy to-go lunch spots, each one of them featuring layers of veggies, or grains, or legumes, artfully stuffed into clear plastic cups, I thought about an even more economical and environmentally friendly way to do the same thing: with repurposed old jars.

It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? Instead of going out to buy that perfect ramekin or cute little dish to make that recipe of chocolate mousse or pudding or whatever, just use your old jam jars. I say jam jars, because they’re often fat and squatty, and therefore easy to eat out of, but any old wide-mouth jar will do (some salsa jars are actually great for this).

I now use them for all sorts of things, from making single (and portable) servings of cold salads, like lentil salad with smoked salmon, to stuffing them with plums, cauliflower or chicken (all recipes below) and warming them through, like the mini-casseroles they are.

Pick your jars depending on what you plan to do with them. If you’re using them for stuffing and traveling (jars are great for picnics or lunches), any old jar will do, but if you’re using them to cook in, make sure they’re heat-resistant, as canning jars will be.

Besides the obvious money-saving appeal of using jars, they’re cute … especially the ones that I find at the flea markets in France. I like to think of it as recycling.

Lentil Salad With Smoked Salmon

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, chopped into 1/4-inch cubes

2 cloves garlic

1 stick celery, chopped into 1/4-inch cubes

1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch cubes

1 pound lentils (du Puy if you can find them; small green French lentils if you can’t)

2 bay leaves

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 quart vegetable stock

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 cups cooked quinoa

4 small handfuls arugula

6 ounces smoked salmon, chopped into small pieces

1. Make lentils: Put olive oil, onion and garlic in a large, deep pot, and turn the heat to medium-low. Let this cook until the onions become translucent, 5-10 minutes, then add celery. Let this cook, stirring every now and then, until the celery begins to just slightly soften, about 5 minutes. Now toss in the carrot cubes. Let them cook for about 5 minutes, then add lentils, bay leaves, tomato paste and vegetable stock. You may need to add 2 to 4 cups of water at this point, to make sure you’ve got 4 inches of liquid over the lentils. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Taste lentils for doneness and seasonings. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool and refrigerate.

2. To make your jarred salads, put 1 cup of lentils in the bottom of each of 4 (2-cup) jars, topped with 1 cup of cooked quinoa. Now add a small handful of arugula to each, and ¼ serving of the smoked salmon (1 ½ ounces for each one).

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition analysis per serving: 721 calories, 15 grams fat (17 percent of calories from fat), 58 grams protein, 105 grams carbohydrates, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 39 grams dietary fiber, 543 milligrams sodium.

Crunchy, Cheesy Chipotle Chicken

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 chipotle chilies in adobo, finely chopped

4 cups shredded, cooked chicken (see Cowgirl tip)

1 cup cooked black beans (if using canned, drain and rinse them first)

1 (14.5-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juices

1/4 teaspoon cumin

Pinch of sea salt and pepper

2 cups crushed tortilla chips (or Fritos if you’re not in Paris, where there are no such things)

5 ounces mozzarella cheese

1 chopped avocado, for serving

Big handful fresh cilantro, chopped, for serving

1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving

1. Preheat oven to broil and put 6 (2-cup) jars on a cookie sheet.

2. Drizzle the olive oil into a large skillet and add the onion and garlic. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook till the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chilies, chicken, black beans, tomatoes, cumin, and salt and pepper, and stir till warmed through. Taste for seasonings.

3. Put 1 cup of the chicken mixture in each of the jars and top with about 2 tablespoons of the tortilla chips and just enough cheese to cover. Slide into the oven and cook till the cheese is bubbly, about 10 minutes. Serve right away, with chopped avocado and cilantro on top and lime on the side.

Cowgirl tip: Use leftover chicken or store-bought rotisserie chicken to save time.

Yield: 6 servings

Approximate nutrition analysis per serving: 598 calories, 32 grams fat (47 percent of calories from fat), 27 grams protein, 55 grams carbohydrates, 54 milligrams cholesterol, 8 grams dietary fiber, 651 milligrams sodium.

Ginger-Plum Crumble with Ricotta Crème

24 fat plums, chopped into eighths

1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced (see Cowgirl tip)

1/2 cup sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons ground pistachios, plus more for garnish

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

9 ounces ricotta

Zest of 1 lemon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a cookie sheet with foil.

2. Toss plums with the ginger, sugar and lemon juice and divide among 4 jam jars that’ll hold at least 2 cups’ worth of fruit.

3. Make crumble topping: With your fingers, mix the butter, brown sugar, 3 tablespoons sugar, flour, ground pistachios and cinnamon and sprinkle on top of the plum mixture. Pop into the oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until bubbly.

4. While the crumbles are baking, whisk together the ricotta, lemon zest and 1/3 cup sugar and refrigerate until time to serve.

5. Serve crumbles warm or at room temperature with a big spoonful of ricotta and a sprinkle of crushed pistachios.

Cowgirl tip: Cut away the tough skin and use your garlic press for fresh minced ginger.

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition analysis per serving: 646 calories, 16 grams fat (21 percent of calories from fat), 15 grams protein, 120 grams carbohydrates, 49 milligrams cholesterol, 7 grams dietary fiber, 388 milligrams sodium.

Cauliflower ’N’ Cheese

1 head cauliflower, florets removed

3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and pepper

4 cups cooked grains (you may use barley, brown rice or a mixture)

8 tablespoons shredded Comté or Gruyère cheese

A few fresh chives, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to broil.

2. Put the cauliflower florets on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and drizzle them with olive oil, then lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Slide into the oven. After about 15 minutes, once the florets start to brown, pull them out of the oven and turn them over, so the other side gets brown, too. This will take about 10 more minutes. When browned on both sides, remove florets from the oven and let cool. (I often do this ahead of time.)

3. In a jam jar that’ll hold at least 2 cups, layer 1 cup of grains on the bottom and 1 cup of roasted cauliflower florets on the top. Add 2 tablespoons of cheese on top of each one, then pop into the oven for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is nice and bubbly. Snip fresh chives on top and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition analysis per serving: 397 calories, 16 grams fat (35 percent of calories from fat), 11 grams protein, 54 grams carbohydrates, 13 milligrams cholesterol, 7 grams dietary fiber, 82 milligrams sodium.