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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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April 6, 2010

Miso, a Pantry Special (Recipe: ginger-maple-miso salad dressing) {vegan, gluten-free}

Miso salad 

When I think about miso, I remember steaming bowls of soup at Japanese railway stations, an indescribably delicious ginger-miso salad dressing at a Japanese restaurant closer to home, and the first time I tasted miso-glazed cod, just a few years ago. Somehow, the words fermented soybean paste don't conjure up those same memories, though miso is nothing more than that: soybeans (or barley or rice) fermented with salt and kojikin, a type of fungus. (Oh, that doesn't make it sound better, does it?) Used as a seasoning and a soup base, miso comes in different colors (white, yellow, red), mild-flavored or stronger, slightly salty to very salty. You'll find it in the refrigerated aisle of Asian groceries and some supermarkets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Regular grocery stores in my area don't stock miso, so it isn't a permanent resident in my pantry. When I do have some, it's a wonderful treat. And because it's fermented, miso will stay fresh in my refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to one year.

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March 7, 2010

Instant espresso powder, a Pantry Special (Recipe: espresso-nut cookies)

Espresso nut cookies

I grew up in a family of addicted coffee drinkers. Instant coffee ruled, because we could make it instantly, with the boiling-water attachment on the sink. For all the coffee we drank, and we drank a lot, we never graduated to good, strong, brewed coffee, and we never made espresso. In my own house, we brew, but from time to time I buy instant espresso powder for baking. The flavor is more intense than coffee, and the powder blends easily into the dry ingredients in cookies and cakes. If you have an espresso machine that grinds the beans before you brew -- or if you use espresso pods in a single-cup machine -- you can save the used espresso, let it dry, and process in a food processor to make your own espresso powder. A bit added to brownies will highlight the chocolate flavor.

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January 21, 2010

Smoked turkey or chicken sausage, a Pantry Special (Recipe: "chicks in blankets" with mustard dip)

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

Chicks in blankets

A sausage is highly seasoned minced meat, stuffed into a casing, cooked or cured. A smoked turkey or chicken sausage, in addition to being all of the above, has the advantage of being lower in fat and calories than a traditional pork sausage, and because of that it's an occasional visitor in my pantry. Though sausages aren't exactly health food because they often have a high sodium and fat content, a single sausage can add a huge flavor punch to beans, pasta, stuffing or soup. When shopping for turkey or chicken sausages, read labels carefully or know your source, if pork-free is your goal; many non-pork sausages are stuffed into pork casings. Turkey or chicken sausages, cooked or uncooked, can be stored in the freezer for months. This is one Pantry Special that's available in your local supermarket.

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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