Zyliss Herb Mill

Guacamole: It’s that easy

I’m not going to say that “Guacamole is like sex, even when it’s bad, it’s good.” Because it isn’t.  There’s lots of bad guac… but it’s pretty simple overall to make a pretty good guacamole, whether you like it smooth, or full of crunchy bits, rich, spicy…

I like mine pretty simple.  Smooth, spicy, with lots of lime and cilantro. 

For each 1 avocado
juice of 1/2 lime
pinch of salt (more if you’re using it on burgers, tacos, etc. but less if eating it with salted chips)
several sprigs of cilantro
1 chipotle chile in adobo

  1. With a large knife, make a cut from the top to the bottom, going all the way around the pit. Separate the two halves and scoop out the flesh with a large spoon. Removing the pit is a slippery job, I’m not going to recommend any method that could result in loss of fingers.
  2. Mince the chile finely
  3. Mince the cilantro finely
  4. Mix everything together, mashing it until smooth as you like it.

No onion or garlic (they’re in the adobo sauce). No bell pepper (does nothing but add crunch: that’s what the chips are for), no sour cream (you get all your richness from a good avocado). No tomato (add salsa to what you’re eating, separately).

What do you do with the rest of the can of chipotle chiles?  Spread each chile with some adobo on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper, then roll it up and stick it in a freezer bag in the freezer.  They mince pretty well even when frozen.

I mince my cilantro and other sturdy herbs such as oregano in this Zyliss herb mill.  I wouldn’t dare use it for basil.

Zyliss Herb Mill

Sorry, no pics of the finished product — it’s two days old, and pretty green (lime and cilantro each help in their own way), but it’s not that pretty anymore.

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Filling the Fridge – Dressings and Mustards

OK part 2 of the “what would you run out and buy if you had an empty fridge to fill?” exercise.

This time, let’s concentrate on fatty condiments, and mustards. I’ve got an aversion to plain old yellow mustard, can’t stand it on sausages, burgers, etc., but it’s fine as an ingredient. I used to think I despised mayo too, but it turns out what I really hated was miracle whip. Even so, I’m not ever going to be seen putting mayo directly on a sandwich unless it’s mixed with other things… and often, I’m happier with the “other things” without the mayo (chipotle, wasabi, roasted garlic…).

So what’s in my fridge today?

Essentials

  • Hellman’s Mayo. If you’re south of the Mason-Dixon line, Duke’s is your choice, I’m sure.
  • Dijon-style mustard. Mild, smooth, perfect for sauces and vinaigrettes.
  • Dusseldorf/ballpark mustard. Best for sausages, a little spicier than ordinary or dijon mustard.
  • Yellow mustard.  I may use this in a slaw or BBQ rub, but it’s just not for my hot dogs.
  • Sour Cream. Probably my all-time favorite condiment, but right now I’m out (trying to lose weight). Berries to Potatoes, it’s fantastic stuff. It’ll probably be on my tombstone as what killed me.
  • Tahini. I don’t use it all that often, but there’s no substitute when making middle-eastern foods. I swear half the items in Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” use it. I’ve got a jar of Chinese Sesame Paste too, which is pretty close but a little toastier.  I could probably skip that and just use Tahini with some Sesame Oil (which isn’t in the fridge).
  • Plain Greek Yogurt. Like I said with soy sauce, the fewer ingredients, the better. I also have a big tub of Fage Fruyo Vanilla from Costco, but that’s food not condiments.

Important

  • Thousand Island Dressing. Yeah, could make it myself, but for a Reuben sandwich, gotta have it. (Thanks, Cathy, for the homemade sauerkraut)
  • Blue Cheese Dressing. Again, could make it myself, but it makes a good semi-healthy snack as a dip with with raw veggies.
  • Walnut Oil. Some kind of fancy oil should be on your list, for special occasion salads.
  • Chili Oil. If you use commercial, probably doesn’t need refrigeration. I use Gary Wiviott’s recipe with garlic in it, so in the fridge it goes to try to keep the botulism out.
  • Deli (Horseradish) Mustard. Less-used now that I’m stocked in Dusseldorf again.
  • Chinese Mustard. Or keep a few extra packets from carryout, it’s probably not necessary to have a whole jar.
  • Japanese “Kewpie” Mayo. Nice for Japanese-style spicy mayo, some salad dressings. Sweeter and sourer than American mayos.

Bonus

  • French Dressing. Every once in a while you don’t want to make your own salad dressing, and this is what you want. It’s got an orange glow and it’s sweet and just right. Guilty pleasure.
  • Argan Oil.  I think I’ve used this twice.
  • Submarine Sandwich Oil and Vinegar Dressing. I think I bought this for a party.
  • Nam Prik Pao. Essential to make Thai Tom Yam soup, good for a chicken salad too.  I think I’d like to either have this or Rick Bayless’ Chipotle Paste around at all times but it seems extravagant to have both and the Chili Oil.
  • Honey Mustard. Not sure why I bought this when I have honey and dijon around (1:1).
  • Horseradish Sauce. For when I want to replicate that Arby’s experience with real meat.
  • Prepared Horseradish. I buy a new jar every Passover for the gefilte fish (which I can’t stand). I’ve got a couple recipes which use this.
  • Truffle Oil. I can’t remember what I bought it for… probably needs to be thrown out.
  • Miracle Whip. I think son #2 left this when he moved back from his college apartment.
  • Submarine Sandwich Dressing (oil and vinegar). I probably bought this for a party, I’m certain it’s past its expiration date.

Filling the Fridge – Salt and Umami

One of the things that got me thinking I need to do this blog is the thought, “What would you run out and buy first if your fridge and pantry were somehow lost?”
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  • Perhaps, like Felix Unger, I would need to move in with an old friend (unlikely, Sue+Joel=Forever).
  • Perhaps you’re a recent graduate just moving into your first apartment
  • Perhaps there was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!

The answer, of course, is condiments.

(Darn, perhaps the title of this blog should have been “The Condimentor”)

The actual picture of my refrigerator door to the right is almost completely condiments.  The butter compartment has butter, margarine and a (ahem) spare piece of cooked bacon; the bottom shelf has two spirits (an old bottle of Lillet, and a bottle of Eiswein).  The shelves of the fridge have even more, although right now there’s a lot of space taken up by produce and leftovers, and other jars of things that have been accused of being condiments but are really ingredients. I’ll be dividing these into EssentialImportant, and Bonus sets. Essentials are things that get used frequently enough that you had better have them on hand.  Important ones are useful enough to have, but there may be a substitute or you may not use frequently enough to justify stocking it up.  Bonus items are ones I just happen to have.

So today, let’s think about some of the categories of what you should fill your fridge with, starting with salty and umami.  Interestingly, they seem to be a single category, as the seriously umami-laden sauces and such are usually salty. If you don’t know what umami is, you’re probably reading the wrong blog, but go to Wikipedia.  I’ll wait until you come back.

Essentials:

  • Heinz Ketchup. Umami? Yes sir, tomatoes are full of it. Salty, definitely. I don’t typically salt french fries if I’ve got ketchup around. It’s a cure for a pale, wan burger. I may mention it again under salty and sour, because Ketchup is the most flavor packed food out there (I’m guessing #2 is Skippy Peanut Butter, but it’s short on sour). Why Heinz? It’s the only one that’s just right.
  • Soy Sauce. Maybe my palate is busted when it comes to salty, but I can’t tell the difference between light and dark soy. I only stock one, a big bottle of Kikkoman (sometimes I get the Organic version, sometimes I’m cheap). Get one with the fewest ingredients possible: soy beans, salt, water.

Important:

  • Fish Sauce. Right now, it’s Three Crabs, LTHForum has a whole thread on recommendations for fish sauce. If you don’t cook southeast asian food, it’s less likely you’ll need this. This is usually more of an ingredient than used as a condiment on its own, except for the occasional Pho.
  • Anchovies. I keep a tube of anchovy paste: it’s the least economical way to store, but it keeps forever and is convenient.  I also have some salt-packed ones in the freezer. No, they don’t go on pizza, but they enhance braises, and are essential for a Caesar Salad — either whole fillets on the top or as an element of the dressing.
  • Worcestershire Sauce. A quick jolt of this can be used to improve beef or pork, some salad dressings.
  • Miso paste belongs on this list, but it’s more of an ingredient — I’ve never just plain added it to a dish, although Momofuku mixes it with butter for things like corn on the cob.
  • Olives.  Usually several varieties reside in the fridge. Chopping some up make a quick pasta dish, green ones go into Shrimp Veracruz, and they go on almost every salad.

Note that the first three items above are not vegetarian. That’s only a worry for me when I’m cooking for a group, but it’s something to remember.

Bonus:

  • Oyster Sauce. Again more of an ingredient, I never use it by itself. Again, not vegetarian.
  • XO Sauce. Sort of a thicker, spicier version of Oyster Sauce, even less vegetarian (usually has cured pork products).
  • Shrimp Paste. Even less of a condiment, this has the concentrated funk and umami of fish sauce.  I only use a couple teaspoons of this a year.
  • Tomato Paste. Again, a squeeze tube is wildly expensive compared to a can, but for some reason, wasting 2/3 of a 99-cent can bothers me more than buying a $5 squeeze tube with a smaller quantity.
  • Capers. These have a flavor I put somewhere between mustard and formaldehyde… but are quite appealing in small quantities in sauces.  The Jerusalem cookbook has an amazing caper and leek sauce for fish.
  • Steak Sauce. There’s a bottle of A1 on the bottom shelf, but I can’t think of the last time it was used.
  • Chili Sauce. Needed it for a recipe… I don’t use it much. Can substitute ketchup in many cases, although it’s preferred for making some barbecue and cocktail sauces.

That’s enough for now.  A few of the salty items also fall under sweet (thick soy/kecap manis) or spicy (Cholula, Tabasco, etc.), but I’ll put them on a different list.