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A note to readers: For the next several months, a bit of medical mischief (new hips! new knees!) will knock me off my feet. To get ready, I've been cooking up a storm, and I have a summer's worth of brand new recipes to share with you. Though I might not be in the kitchen or scouring local markets for new pantry ingredients, and blog posts might not always reach you on their usual days, I'll be here, responding to comments, answering questions, and working on ebooks. (Truth? I'll probably be reading legal thrillers and binge-watching Modern Family, and maybe Mad Men, again.) To make sure you never miss a recipe, use the box at right to sign up for free email updates.

July 8, 2015

Chayote squash, avocado and strawberry salsa {vegan, gluten-free}

Mild chayote squash, avocado and strawberry team up in an unusual salsa fresca!

After fifteen years at the log house, which was surrounded by goat farms but miles from a grocery store, it's nice to be back in the city. Within blocks of our house, we have an Asian supermarket, a Middle Eastern market, a fromagerie, a fish market, and a Whole Foods. A few blocks farther afield, Tropical Foods Market offers all the goodness of the Caribbean, with plenty of specialty ingredients for the African and Latino populations that live in the community as well. Among the items that were hard to find in Rhode Island, chayote squash is one of my favorites, and I now have multiple sources, including my regular grocery store. Chayote, a light green squash that looks like someone punched in the bottom end, always needs to be cooked before eating; it's more firm than zucchini, closer to a patty pan squash, and you can swap zucchini or patty pan squash in most recipes that call for chayote. Here I've paired the mild-flavored squash with creamy avocado and tangy strawberry, in an unusual fresh salsa that tastes great with fish or grilled chicken. You can cook the chayote ahead and refrigerate it, but don't put the salsa together until an hour or so before you're ready to serve; the salt will draw liquid out of the fruit and vegetables, and make it a bit watery if it sits around.

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July 5, 2015

Smoky egg salad lettuce boats with caramelized onions {vegetarian}

Smoky egg salad lettuce boats, a picnic-perfect twist on the classic.

When it comes to egg salad, I'm a straight-up gal. Hard-boiled eggs, really good mayonnaise, black pepper, and nothing more. Oh, occasionally I'll toss in a bit of celery. Perfection. And yet... sometimes, I have to cut loose, and when I do, I turn to my spice rack and pantry for inspiration. The combination of eggs and caramelized onions takes me back to childhood, when my grandmother used to combine the two with chopped liver for the classic Jewish appetizer. I think if she'd had smoked paprika on hand (I'm sure she never heard of it), she might have added a pinch of that as well, because I love how just the tiniest bit of smoky pepper plays off the sweet onions. Depending on whether you like your egg salad with a kick, use mild or hot smoked paprika (it also comes in a bittersweet variety, which is midway between the two on the heat scale). If lettuce boats aren't your thing, stuff this egg salad into a pita or crusty roll, or fold it into a tortilla wrap. You can make all of the components a few hours (or days) ahead, and assemble at the last minute, so it's great for picnics.

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July 4, 2015

Smoked paprika: like or dislike?

Pimentonagridulce

Welcome to Like or Dislike, where you get to share how you really feel about ingredients from the pantry, ingredients I'm thinking about adding to my pantry, other seasonal foods, and favorite cooking gear. The things you like are sure to find their way to the recipes here on The Perfect Pantry, so do tell.

Do you remember, or do you still use, liquid smoke? I never liked it or added it to my barbecue sauces, or meatless soups or stews, and some of my recipes tasted a bit bland without that smoky flavor. Then I discovered smoked paprika, a wonderful spice from a particular region of Spain, which gives just the smoky kick I love. Ten years ago, it was a specialty store item, but these days you can find smoked paprika in the spice section of most supermarkets. Paired with cumin, another smoky spice, it bumps up the flavor of everything from chili to scrambled eggs. Use the hot smoked paprika when you want a bit of a jolt; use sweet when you want a gentle smoky note, or bittersweet when you just can't decide. I keep all on hand at all times, because you never know.

Smoked paprika: like or dislike?

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June 28, 2015

Spicy eggplant caponata toasts {vegetarian}

Slightly spicy eggplant caponata makes a great topping for toast. Picnic perfect!

After living for 15 years in the log house in the woods, my husband Ted and I returned to our full-time home in Boston's South End to discover that restaurants, cafés, and food markets have grown up all around us. On our corner, the store that used to sell cigarettes and lottery tickets now boasts a huge wine cellar. My old greengrocer's storefront has morphed into a fromagerie. A below-ground space that once housed a men's gambling club now peddles pastries and organic salads. I love all of the changes, especially one that brought a tapas restaurant to the arts center across the street. The eggplant caponata, served as a warm tapa in the restaurant, makes a fine topping for toasts with some melted cheese; use something mild, like fontal or fontina, or something with a bit more bite, like manchego. Fresh mozzarella would work, too. The vinegary eggplant caponata has the slightest bit of a kick from red pepper flakes, which you could omit, though of course I'd urge you not to do that. Make this a few hours, or a few days, ahead. It would be perfect for a picnic.

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June 27, 2015

Dijon mustard: like or dislike?

Greypoupon

Welcome to Like or Dislike, where you get to share how you really feel about ingredients from the pantry, ingredients I'm thinking about adding to my pantry, other seasonal foods, and favorite cooking gear. The things you like are sure to find their way to the recipes here on The Perfect Pantry, so do tell.

In the house where I grew up, all mustard was yellow. Day-glo yellow, bright enough to spot a hot dog in a ballpark at midnight. I didn't know there was a whole world of mustard waiting for me. In my own house, the mustard of choice is Dijon. Yes, it's great on hot dogs, but it's also the secret, slightly sharp and tangy ingredient in my beef stews and marinara sauces, and I like to add a bit to mayonnaise-based chicken and pasta salads. Dijon also helps to emulsify my basic balsamic vinaigrette dressing. There are always two jars of Dijon, one grainy and one smooth, in the refrigerator. Remember the old TV commercial? Pardon me -- do you have any Grey Poupon?

Dijon mustard: like or dislike?

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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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