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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 →

When I travel, I love to buy locally-published cookbooks, the ones you'll never find on I hold on to those books forever, and look through them often. Flipping through a circa 1992 book I brought home from Malaysia, I found a page torn out of an issue of New York magazine, also circa 1992. On that page were several recipes; I can't tell you which ones appealed to me nearly 25 years ago, because they all look great now. This chicken, baked or cooked on the grill after marinating overnight in Thai-inspired flavors, caught my eye, because grilling season is just around the corner. When I finally got in the kitchen to cook, however, I decided to bake rather than grill, though I did... Read more →

What goes into a good soup? First, and most important, fearlessness! Open the refrigerator door and look around. Grab some protein (leftover cooked chicken, or sausage or tofu or hamburger meat), last night's vegetables or scraps a heartbeat away from the compost pile, some homemade broth. Root around in the pantry for canned beans, hot peppers, spices. Chop an onion. Toss everything into a pot, let it simmer for a while, and taste. Adjust with more of one ingredient or another. Have faith, because everyone can make great soup. My favorite soups come from countries where the weather is hot, and the food is hotter. In this recipe inspired by dishes I've enjoyed throughout Mexico, black beans, chile peppers, and lime take center stage. If... Read more →

From Ken, in Hawaii: I am trying to duplicate “Jane’s Healthy Kitchen Recipe for Vegan/Paleo Dairy Free Parmesan Cheese" which you freeze into a block and you can then shave or grate like regular Parmesan cheese and have the same taste and texture. The trick is making your own coconut butter as the base from the shredded coconut and the lemon juice, nutritional yeast and vitamin-C gives it the color and that sharp aged taste. I have friends that are Lactose Intolerant, Vegetarians and Vegans so I as a Carnivore am trying to expand my recipe repertoire to be inclusive of my friends' special needs when I cook. [Lydia's notes] I've never cooked with nutritional yeast, so this one's completely new to me. My friends... Read more →

Sweet potatoes can be a tough sell in my house, as I'm the only one who really loves them. (I don't understand...who doesn't crave sweet potato fries with curry sauce, which was a specialty at a few restaurants near our log house in Rhode Island?) However, I don't give up easily, and when I came across a recipe for sweet potato curry, made in the slow cooker, I knew might be a hit with at least one of my resident sweet potato skeptics. I was right. The dish has just enough heat to balance out the sweet. It will keep for two days in the refrigerator, and any leftovers also can be turned into soup with a quick zap from an immersion blender (or potato... Read more →

Is your house Party Central for your family celebrations, or the place where your friends gather to watch football/basketball/hockey playoffs or cheer on your alma mater in a college bowl? If your house is the place to be, these Tex-Mex turkey meatball sliders should be there, too. They're tasty and easy, and can be made far ahead of when you need them. Everyone loves meatballs, and these sliders are no more than that -- giant meatballs packed with your favorite Tex-Mex seasonings (and with sour cream inside). Even with a little bit of cayenne pepper, these are not spicy. However, they are a little bit messy, as the mashed avocado tends to squirt out with the first bite, so be sure to have plenty of... Read more →

From Mary, in Boston: Since having to switch to a gluten- and dairy-free diet a few years ago, I've added a nut grinder to my pantry. It's indispensable for gluten-free baking with nut flours and for making cashew "parmesan cheese". [Lydia's notes] Do you have a nut (and/or spice) grinder in your pantry? I do, but not a nifty dedicated one like this one. I used to use my food processor for grinding nuts, and an old coffee grinder for pulverizing spices. Now I'm tempted to add a small grinder like this one to my pantry. Do you have a separate grinder for nuts and/or spices? How to make vegan parmesan cheese, from Minimalist Baker Make your own almond flour, from Pastry Pal A guide... Read more →