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August 24, 2010

Vanilla powder, a Pantry Special (Recipe: cinnamon and vanilla challah French toast)

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

Cinnamon and vanilla challah French toast 

Vanilla powder (also known as ground vanilla), a very recent arrival in my pantry courtesy of Cousin Martin's eclipse-watching trip to Tahiti, takes the bean out of vanilla beans. It's made by grinding whole dried vanilla beans into a powder. No fuss, no muss, no leftover slit vanilla pods (after all, how many of those can you stick in the sugar jar?). You get pure vanilla flavor without the additional alcohol in extracts, and, unlike extracts, the powder can be added directly to warm liquids and the flavor will not dilute. Best of all, you still can see the little flecks of vanilla in your dish. Be careful when purchasing, as some vanilla powders (including some popular brands) also contain sugar; read the label to be sure you are getting 100% pure vanilla powder. When baking, add vanilla powder with the dry ingredients. If your recipe calls for one teaspoon of vanilla extract, substitute one-half teaspoon of vanilla powder and add one more teaspoon of liquid (milk, buttermilk, etc.) to the wet ingredients.

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August 10, 2010

Curry powder (Recipe: stir-fried curried beef with tomatoes and peas)

Stir fried curried beef with tomatoes and peas 

When someone mentions curry powder, I think of Indian food.

Don't you?

We need to think again.

Most Indian cooks create their own curry-powder-like blends, portioning out their favorite spices from a masala dabba, adjusting the balance to the needs of a particular recipe. There's no one "curry powder" in Indian cooking. The curry powder we buy -- the "convenience" blend from the supermarket or spice merchant -- has no place in most Indian kitchens.

Many cuisines incorporate the component flavors of curry powder into their own dishes; Indian spices traveled with merchant ships to the Caribbean, Europe, South Pacific, Japan and China. And eventually they made their way to my own kitchen, where both sweet and hot curry powders have a place on the spice rack.

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August 5, 2010

Red pepper flakes (Recipe: stir-fried corn and red pepper with ginger and garlic) {vegan, gluten-free}

Stir fried corn and red pepper with ginger

On my spice rack, two pint-size mason jars filled with red pepper flakes sit side by side on a shelf.

One jar contains mild flakes, the other hot. They look identical, so I'm glad I remembered to label the top of the jars!

Red pepper flakes are a staple here in Pizza World (also known as Rhode Island, the most Italian state in the country), where a shaker jar sits on the table of every pizzeria.

In my kitchen, they're a staple, too, thanks to their long shelf life. And while I have many types of hot sauce and chili pastes in the pantry, red pepper flakes contribute heat, and only heat, without adding vinegar and salt where you don't want them.

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July 25, 2010

Japanese seven-spice powder, a Pantry Special (Recipe: chicken yakitori)

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

Yakitori

You've probably heard of Chinese five-spice powder, a pungent blend of star anise, clove, fennel, cinnamon and Szechuan peppercorns. The Japanese have gone one -- no, two spices -- better, with shichimi togarashi, or Japanese seven-spice powder. Also known as shichi, it's one of the most popular table condiments, trendy in Japan and now gaining popularity in the West, where small bowls of it sit on restaurant tables next to the soy sauce. Used to add both heat and flavor to soup, noodles and rice, Japanese seven-spice combines orange or tangerine peel, black and white sesame seeds, cayenne, ground ginger, Szechuan pepper and nori. Sometimes the blend contains poppy seeds or hemp seeds, but the basic seven spices remain pretty much the same. The bite of citrus with the kick of red pepper, Szechuan pepper and ginger hits the back of your tongue with a bright, full flavor, like a very fresh but much more interesting black pepper.

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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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