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From Julia, in Cambridge, MA: If you can believe it, Sweet Smoked Spanish Paprika is new to my pantry in the last 10 years. I had always thought of paprika as just a bland spice added primarily for color. A few years ago, while visiting a friend, he served fried okra with a smoked paprika mayo dip -- it was a revelation; especially since the dip consisted of only smoked paprika and mayo. Since then, I've used it in deviled eggs (total game changer) and also Yotam Ottolenghi's Chicken Sofrito (from the cookbook Jerusalem). I'm out of my favorite brand, but have 3 other kinds of smoked paprika in the pantry which I need to go through. [Note: the photo above is mine, and the... Read more →

For a few years, I shared lots of soup recipes on my second blog, called Soup Chick. (Although I stopped publishing recipes there in 2014, you can still access those recipes online.) Many of those soups never found their way here, to The Perfect Pantry, and I pretty much forgot about most of them. One day, Susan, a devoted reader of both blogs, reminded me of all the good slurpiness on the Soup Chick site, and she suggested I bring some of it here to share with you. This chowder, thick and oh-so-spicy, is one of my favorites. The smoky heat comes from chipotle peppers tempered a bit by the cream. If hot and spicy isn't the way you roll, you can cut the amount... Read more →

First published in 2012, this updated collection of great asparagus recipes now includes recipes from the past four years that are more than worthy of a place on any "best of" list. Once upon a time, I had a friend named Mary who ate only the tips of asparagus. I've always been more of a stem gal, so we were the perfect dinner companions. I thought our friendship might last forever, but as things turned out, asparagus preferences weren't enough to keep us together. Just as well, actually, as I've come to love every bit of the asparagus, and now I'd be reluctant to behead all of my spears for the sake of friendship. Asparagus season here in New England lasts for only six or... Read more →

From Clara, in Westford, Massachusetts: The enclosed picture means that I have expanded my cooking repertoire in the last 10 years to include Thai, or at least Thai style or influenced, dishes. [Lydia's Notes] I've expanded my repertoire of Thai-inspired dishes in the past 10 years, too, so coconut milk is a must-have in my pantry. I've also learned that there's so much more to cook with coconut milk, and I've just scratched the surface. In addition to Thai curries (my favorite), coconut milk forms the base for curries of all cuisines, from India to South Africa. It makes great soups, and you can even bake with it. Do you have coconut milk in your pantry? How do you use it? Here are some recipe... Read more →

I know what you're thinking: how can this be barbecue chicken without the drippy brown barbecue sauce? Trust me. This chicken "drips" with all of the sweet, salty, smoky flavors of barbecue, without drowning in sauce, and that makes it perfect for tacos and burritos and quesadillas. Add your own favorite salsa on top, to make this spicy or not. Adapted from my slow cooker barbecue beef brisket recipe, this version, which my grandkids stuffed in burritos, passed the kid-friendly test with flying colors (i.e., they asked for seconds!). I cut down on both sugar and spice, but left all of the things nice: a little hint of adobo sauce from the chipotle, and some chili powder for rich flavor. If you're making this for... Read more →

Potatoes and artichokes don't often go hand in hand, though you might find them side by side. In a composed salad, like a Salade Nicoise, neat lines of artichoke hearts would nestle up to neat slices of potato, tomato, green beans, hard-cooked eggs, and more. This potato and artichoke salad is the opposite of composed. What would that be -- chaotic, or disorganized, or discombobulated? Whatever you call it, the combination of potatoes and artichokes balances texture with taste. If you prefer, use tart Kalamata olives. The pine nuts keep it Mediterranean, and balsamic vinaigrette brings everything together. If you have fresh basil in your garden this summer, add a few torn leaves to the dish. This salad would be perfect alongside roast or grilled... Read more →

From Connie, in Rhode Island: There's a lovely little olive oil/balsamic vinegar tasting shop, Olive del Mondo, on Hope Street in Providence, diagonally across from Seven Stars Bakery. They have a wonderful selection and a knowledgeable, friendly staff. Here you see Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, with white truffle oil on the left, and Tuscan Herb olive oil. My favorite, my special treat, is front and center: Lavender Balsamic. Heavenly. Especially on sliced fresh strawberries. [Lydia's note] Okay, Connie, you got me. Lavender balsamic?! Until I get a bottle for my own pantry, I can only imagine how amazing this tastes and smells. I love the idea of drizzling it on strawberries. Readers, do you have this in your pantry? How do you use it? Here are... Read more →