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May 9, 2010

Salsa (Recipe: chicken, black bean, avocado and cheese quesadillas)

Chicken, black bean, avocado and cheese quesadillas

In the house where I grew up, the cuisine spanned two cultures: eastern European Jewish, and Weight Watchers®.

Neither of those cultures embraced salsa, at least not back in the 1960s, so it was decades before I first tasted the condiment that now might, or might not, be more popular than ketchup.

When tomatoes are in season, I make salsa fresca with fresh tomatoes, onions, jalapeño peppers, lime and salt. For most of the year, though, I also keep jars of several types of store bought (cooked) salsa in my pantry: smoky peach, tomatillo and habanero-lime salsas, from Trader Joe's; medium-hot mango salsa from Costco; mild tomato salsa made by Paul Newman (okay, I know he didn't make it, but I like seeing his face on my pantry shelf, and I can buy his salsa in my local market).

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April 1, 2010

Black pepper (Recipe: sun-dried tomato ketchup)

Sun-dried tomato ketchup kicks up any sandwich or burger. 

Last week, my high school reunion came to me.

Two friends from high school days in suburban New Jersey, along with four of their friends from now, made their way to my log house kitchen for a cooking class.

In high school, we never cooked together. In fact, I never cooked at all, except for the few months when I declared myself vegetarian and my mother informed me I could cook my own meals until I "got over it".

The menu, tagine cuisine, featured simple, straightforward, Moroccan dishes based on meat, fish, vegetables and dried fruit. The group remarked on how delicious everything tasted, and the conversation turned to spices. I explained that I replenish my spices once a year, or in the case of some I use all the time, like black pepper and cumin and cinnamon, much more frequently.

"Ah," they said. "That must be why it all tastes so good!"

That, and good juju when old friends get together in the kitchen.

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February 4, 2010

Brown sugar (Recipe: sweet and spicy tomato jam)

Updated from a 2007 post, with new photos, links, and a new printer-friendly recipe.

Tomato jam

We have an elementary school science teacher in the family, so there is no excuse for the ignorance I am about to confess to you.

A few months ago, Ted and I found a jar of hard-as-a-rock brown sugar on the pantry shelves. (This is not the embarrassing part. Well, okay, it is embarrassing, but not from a science point of view.)

How could we get that solid sugar out of the jar? Chip away at it with a knife? Dangerous. Melt it in the microwave? Hot sugar -- very dangerous.

And then I remembered that there was something which, when placed in a jar of hardened sugar, would restore the sugar's moisture and fluffiness.

Eureka! I put a slice of whole wheat bread into the jar, sealed the top, and left it overnight. In the morning, the bread was hard as a rock, but the brown sugar was light and fluffy, completely restored to health.

To me, this was a miracle. How did the moisture pass from the bread to the sugar? Would something else (an apple? a damp paper towel?) do just as well? I can't explain how or why, but I can tell you that the bread really works. (Science teachers and other readers, please help.)

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January 21, 2010

Smoked turkey or chicken sausage, a Pantry Special (Recipe: "chicks in blankets" with mustard dip)

Pantry Specials are great ingredients that find their way into my pantry from time to time, but not all the time. Easy Apps Week, Day Three. 

Chicks in blankets

A sausage is highly seasoned minced meat, stuffed into a casing, cooked or cured. A smoked turkey or chicken sausage, in addition to being all of the above, has the advantage of being lower in fat and calories than a traditional pork sausage, and because of that it's an occasional visitor in my pantry. Though sausages aren't exactly health food because they often have a high sodium and fat content, a single sausage can add a huge flavor punch to beans, pasta, stuffing or soup. When shopping for turkey or chicken sausages, read labels carefully or know your source, if pork-free is your goal; many non-pork sausages are stuffed into pork casings. Turkey or chicken sausages, cooked or uncooked, can be stored in the freezer for months. This is one Pantry Special that's available in your local supermarket.

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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