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August 16, 2015

Basil ricotta bruschetta with pan-burst grapes {vegetarian}

Basil ricotta bruschetta with pan-burst grapes: appetizer or dessert.

Park a giant bowl of fruit salad on the dining table, and my husband Ted and I both go for the cantaloupe and honeydew chunks, and any odd things like kiwi. He'll take the mango; I'll claim the watermelon. And we never fight over the grapes. I could eat grapes all day, every day, in the way one might chomp on peanut M&Ms all day, every day, but cold grapes are not Ted's thing. However, set those grapes in a frying pan over low heat, shake-shake-shake the pan every now and then until the grapes burst and their sweet juices ooze out, and spoon them over some seasoned ricotta cheese, and Ted is there, all in. These warm grapes barely resemble the fresh grapes I eat like candy; they become a grape "sauce" once they've popped open, not as sweet as grape jelly but every bit as spreadable. We've enjoyed these bruschetta as a first course, and as dessert. You can toast the bread, and mix the cheese, ahead of time, and assemble at the last minute when the pan of grapes is ready. Use any variety of seedless grapes, or a mix of red, green and black.

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August 9, 2015

Lobster and avocado salad with tomatoes and basil {gluten-free}

Lobster and avocado salad with tomatoes and fresh basil: a spectacular summer salad.

What kind of friend shows up at your door, unannounced, with a two-pound cooked lobster, plus extra large lobster claws and tail? The very best kind, of course! When Mary appeared with a big plastic bag filled with bright red cooked lobster, whole and parts, I'm sure I squealed with joy, protested half-heartedly (oh, no, I couldn't possibly accept this), and immediately began to fantasize about a salad packed with chunks of sweet lobster meat, avocado, and garden-ripe tomatoes. My husband Ted patiently extricated all of the meat from the lobster shells, while I whipped up a creamy dressing for the salad. I left all of the ingredients in large chunks, the better to taste every bite of the lobster. Mary couldn't join us for lunch, so I used the lobster shells to make a quick stock to stash in her freezer; it will be a luxurious base for New England chowder some time this summer. The recipe makes an indulgently lobster-filled salad; you can reduce the amount of lobster meat if it's very expensive where you live. Buy steamed lobster at your fish market. If you don't live in a place where you can get fresh lobster, try this salad with large shrimp.

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August 5, 2015

Sweet mocha ricotta cream phyllo shells

Sweet mocha ricotta cream phyllo shells, topped with bits of chocolate.

In my house, we're not big on dessert. Cold grapes, frozen blueberries, the occasional ice cream (yes, from the supermarket, or from the very good pizza and ice cream place across the street), a few cookies: that's the extent of our after-dinner sweet treats. Still, on occasion, we want something more, a perfect bite to close out a more formal dinner. As I'm not well versed in the ways of dessert, frozen mini phyllo cups often save the day. On their own, they look fancy -- the little black dress in my freezer -- and you can snazz them up with just about any sweet filling, from berries to custard to gelato. My grandsons and I loved this creamy cheese, yogurt and chocolate filling, which came together with nothing more than a bowl and a whisk. They added their own styling with bits of chopped chocolate on top. I had just a minute or two to snap some photos for you, before the "taste testing" began in earnest. There were no leftovers. Note: you'll want to use whole milk ricotta and low-fat or full-fat Greek yogurt here. The recipe doesn't call for very much of each, and you need the fat to get great "mouth feel".

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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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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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