A recent visit to my husband Ted's home town of Montreal, Quebec, reminded me how much Ted loves maple syrup in all forms (cookies, candies, and straight from the jug). In the house where I grew up, maple syrup was an occasional treat; we were allowed to drizzle it on pancakes or waffles (always frozen, never homemade), and that's it. Ted takes a broader view, coating everything from matzoh brei to ice cream with maple syrup. I consider it a pantry ingredient, one I love to use in savory dishes in place of sugar or honey. Here in Rhode Island, we have a couple of friends who tap their own trees every Spring, and boil the sap to make syrup. It's a labor of love, as it takes forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
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When I first wrote about vanilla extract here on The Perfect Pantry, I called vanilla and chocolate the culinary Romeo and Juliet, because you almost never see a recipe for chocolate that doesn't also include a little bit of vanilla to enhance the flavor. In the past few years, I've learned to appreciate the flavor of vanilla on its own. Well, almost... I love vanilla ice cream, but I love it more when it's packed with chocolate chips, or Oreo cookies, or topped with hot fudge sauce.
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Would you like to travel around the world? I do it all the time -- in my kitchen. While some ingredients are synonymous with a single cuisine (wasabi, chutney, hoisin sauce), cumin takes center stage in foods from many countries: Mexican bean pots, Indian curries, my favorite Malaysian noodles, and good old American barbecue sauce.
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The phrase "a little goes a long way" describes sesame oil perfectly. Too much in a dish, and you notice it. Not enough, and you notice that, too. Just the right amount, a small amount, adds a heavenly, nutty, musky undertone to Asian stir-fry and sauces, and it's a key ingredient in my favorite all-purpose works-with-any-leftovers seasoning: three parts low-sodium soy sauce; two parts oyster sauce; and one part sesame oil.
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If you were to show up at my kitchen door and conduct a surprise inspection, you'd always find at least one half-full jar of capers in the rack in the refrigerator door. I don't use capers often, but when I do, they add just exactly the right lemony, salty, bright flowery taste, and nothing else can take their place.
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