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May 31, 2015

West African chicken mafé (chicken stew in peanut sauce) {gluten-free}

West African chicken and peanut stew: gluten-free, dairy-free, party-easy!

Ever since sixth grade, when I used my required year-long project to learn all about Ghana -- history, culture, geography, show and tell, and lots of book reports -- I've longed to travel to that part of the world. Recently, while flipping through one of my favorite mail-order catalogs, I spied a jar of West African maffé sauce. As I read more about it, I realized it was simply a shortcut sauce to use as a base for chicken mafé (yes, different spelling, but the same thing), a rich, thick stew combining peanuts (or peanut butter), tomato and a few spices you already have in your pantry. With coconut milk as the foundation, West African chicken stew is a perfectly rich and thick dish that happens to be both gluten-free and dairy-free. One jalapeño pepper, with the seeds and ribs removed, provides just the right amount of heat without overwhelming the peanut flavor; although the cayenne pepper really adds to the flavor of the chicken, you can cut the amount in half, or omit it. Serve the stew over rice, and it's a feast in a bowl, great for entertaining but easy enough for everyday.

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May 27, 2015

Canadian cheese, potato and bacon soup {gluten-free}

Use Canadian Oka cheese, or fontina, in this creamy potato and bacon soup.

My (Canadian) husband Ted often remarks that I don't include enough Canadian recipes in my cooking repertoire. He's not wrong. The truth is that I've never really been able to define Canadian cooking. We've enjoyed classic French-influenced food in Montreal; smoked oolichans in British Columbia; Chinese and Greek food in Toronto; lobster cooked every which way on Prince Edward Island. Is one cuisine more Canadian than the others? Still, when I create recipes for Ted that bring together Canadian flavors, I gravitate toward the trifecta of Yukon Gold potatoes, bacon, and cheese. This soup marries all three. If you can find Oka, a mild semi-firm cheese from Southern Ontario, please use it here. Easier to come by at my local cheese shop, Fontal, an Italian cheese, makes a sublime substitute, as will Danish Fontina, which is readily available here in almost any supermarket. If ever there were comfort food in a bowl, this creamy smooth cheese, potato and bacon soup is it, and you don't have to be Canadian to fall in love with it.

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May 6, 2015

Quick and easy creamy tomato soup {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Quick and easy creamy tomato soup, the perfect mate for a grilled cheese sandwich.

In the years after World War II, tomato soup served with grilled cheese sandwiches became a popular school cafeteria menu combination that carried over into home kitchens everywhere. Here's the most plausible explanation I've found for why this happened: institutional food service (including school cafeterias) paired grilled cheese with tomato soup to meet the minimum school lunch requirements for sufficient Vitamin C (from the tomatoes) and protein (from the cheese). As canned soups became more available and economical, and processed cheese extended its shelf life, soup and sandwiches were a practical choice for many school systems. Today there's only one reason we eat grilled cheese and tomato soup -- because it's still the best comfort food combination around. Of course, you can fancy up the cheese and bread in your sandwich, but at the end of the day, nothing beats a basic creamy tomato soup. When it's this easy to make soup from scratch, there's no reason to default to canned soup. By the way, both of my grandsons are dunkers, just as my school friends and I used to be, and this soup makes for great dunking of melty grilled cheese sandwiches.

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May 3, 2015

Spanish chicken with saffron and green olives {gluten-free}

Spanish chicken with olives, an easy party dish with real wow!

Whenever my parents entertained, my mother served one of her party dishes, a short list of easy-to-cook chicken (always chicken) dinners with a wow factor. She never made those dishes for everyday dinners, only for parties. I'm not sure why, but that's how she rolled. Mother would have added this Spanish chicken to the party list, because it's really easy on the cook (though it looks complicated), and it's beautiful on the plate. I want you to enjoy it on a weeknight, for lunch, for no particular occasion, or even on a picnic. The wow factor comes from a pinch of saffron, and some smoked paprika (pimentón), which is much easier to find these days, even in the grocery store. Smoked paprika comes in several degrees of heat; dulce (sweet, with no heat) is the most common, but if you can find picante (hot), that's the one I like to use here. This is not a hot and spicy recipe, and I know that, even if you think you don't like hot food, you'll miss the slight bit of hot paprika if it's not there. If you can't find picante, use regular smoked paprika and add the tiniest pinch of cayenne. Put this dish on your party list, and on your everyday list, too.

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April 29, 2015

Slow cooker beef brisket with pomegranate molasses gravy

Slow cooker beef brisket with pomegranate molasses gravy takes just a few minutes to prep. [ThePerfectPantry.com]

Cousin Martin came to visit last week, and I made our grandmother's brisket for him. If you've heard that I never met a brisket recipe I didn't love, you heard right, and while I've made brisket the same way my grandmother did for most of my life, lately I've been branching out, too. I've tried sweet, and spicy, Tex-Mex and BBQ and shredded. A bottle of Lebanese pomegranate molasses in the pantry inspired this latest slow cooker recipe, and when I went looking online, I found several versions to use as a starting point. Pomegranate molasses brings a tangy sweet-sour flavor to the meat, and mint leaves added at the end offer an unexpected -- and delightful -- change from the usual heavier seasonings. I use my new favorite technique of cutting the meat into four pieces and browning all of the edges before slow cooking with the remaining ingredients; this has the added advantage of producing pieces that are just the right length for sandwiches. You can cook the brisket in one whole piece, for a finished dish that's a bit less, well... edgy. Look for pomegranate molasses at Middle Eastern markets, or online.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my tiny kitchen in Boston's South End, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives. Thanks so much for visiting.

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