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June 22, 2010

Bacon, a Pantry Special (Recipe: asparagus, cheese and bacon pizza on a pita)

Asparagus cheese and bacon pizza

In the 12th Century, a small church in England promised a side of bacon to any married man who could swear he had not argued with his wife for a year and a day. A husband who could "bring home the bacon" was highly prized! My husband Ted (also highly prized) loves bacon, and -- true confession -- occasionally I eat bacon, too. Not ham, not proscuitto, not pork chops or any other part of the pig, but I do eat real bacon, the stuff Europeans call streaky bacon, the most ubiquitous bacon sold in the United States. Like many foods, bacon was created as a way to preserve meat in the days before refrigeration. Bacon is cured, brined meat prepared from the belly, back or sides of pork (and from other animals, too, such as duck and wild boar). It's often smoked in large slabs, sometimes with a dry rub. Bacon (especially the fat) lends a smoky, salty flavor to soups and stews. These days, low-sodium and extra-lean versions are easy to find in most supermarkets, and artisanal bacon often shows up at farmers markets.

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May 20, 2010

Oregano (Recipe: grilled lamb, souvlaki style) {gluten-free}

Grilled lamb, souvlaki style. 

Last Spring I planted two types of oregano, Greek and Italian, in my herb garden.

One lived through the winter. One didn't.

Before I tell you which one survived, I want to be clear that this is not a political commentary, nor is it a reflection on which cuisine reigns supreme.

It's not even a matter of taste, as both have strong, unique flavor. (Use any type of fresh oregano sparingly; it's surprisingly potent.)

No, it's just Mother Nature, or the quirks of my herb garden, that enabled the Italian oregano to survive where the Greek oregano could not.

That's the great thing about gardening, though; there's always next year! I'm off to the herbary now for another Greek oregano plant.

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February 21, 2010

Dry bread crumbs (Recipe: Cubano quesadillas)

Cubano quesadilla

TRUE CONFESSION: My pantry harbors its share of convenience foods.

I don't mean pre-fab dinners that get zapped in the microwave.

I mean pantry ingredients that keep for months in the pantry and make my cooking faster, like curry powder, chili powder, tomatoes in a box, beans in a can, harissa in a tube, Sriracha, Ro*Tel, and dry bread crumbs.

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March 5, 2009

Garam masala (Recipe: tandoori-spiced grilled lamb) {gluten-free}

Tandoori lamb

What happens when a good-for-nothing handsome hunk like Mac finds himself in possession of an empty flat and access to three gorgeous air hostesses, Priti, Sweety and Puja?

I have no idea, but you will, if you settle in with Garam Masala, a three-hour, Bollywood movie extravaganza. Indian movies that combine song and dance, love triangles, drama, comedy, and daredevil thrills are called masala movies, because, like masalas — spice blends — they are a mixture of many things.

Visit one hundred kitchens in India, and you'll find one hundred different versions of garam masala, the spice mixture at the heart of northern Indian and Pakistani cooking.

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February 3, 2009

Grains of paradise, a Pantry Special (Recipe: tagine of lamb with apricots) {gluten-free}

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


On a recent search for new pantry ingredients with food blogging friend TW Barritt of Culinary Types, I acquired this tin of grains of paradise -- so unfamiliar to me that I had to look it up on my phone in the middle of the store.

Popular in West African cuisine and indigenous to that part of the world, grains of paradise (also called Melegueta or alligator pepper) got its name in a medieval marketing ploy: spice traders looking for a way to inflate the price claimed that the seeds grew only in Eden, and had to be collected as they floated down the rivers out of paradise. Spices were popular in those days, but true pepper was expensive; grains of paradise was a cheaper substitute (ironically, today pepper is inexpensive, while grains of paradise is not cheap at all). The spice was widely used in England until King George III, fearing it was being used in beer and wine production, banned it.

Grains of paradise tastes pungent and fruity, a bit like pepper crossed with cardamom. A frequent component of the spice blend ras el hanout, it works well with eggplant, potatoes, lamb and poultry, squash, tomatoes, and other root vegetables. Purchased in seed form, it must be ground or crushed right before use, and is best added towards the end of the cooking time.

Is this Pantry Special new to you?

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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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