19 October 2011

Fixing mistakes, con'td.

Today, we'll be talking about a few tweaks that you can make to a dish, to ensure that it comes out tasting perfectly each time. There are those times when you've spent a long time following a recipe to the letter (from a cook that you trust), and the final result seems a little bland, or lacking in brightness, or missing a little something or other. There are things that can be done to round out sharp edges, add sharp edges, or generally tweak your dish to make it work out wonderfully.

Dish seems a little too heavy, even though it's not swimming in fat.
There are times when you'll follow a recipe that seems relatively light, but for whatever reason, the major thing is that you feel is heaviness. This has happened especially in cases of soups, but also in fresh dishes. There was this one salad I made, with a peanut dressing. Perfectly delectable on screen, lovely in theory, but a little plodding and heavy on the tongue. I wanted to eat it, because it was loaded with all manner of good things (grated carrot, grated cabbage, shredded beets, granny smith apples, walnuts, peanut dressing), and lots of fresh herbs (cilantro, scallion, ginger, etc). It had acid in the dressing, so I didn't think that it needed more, but it was definitely lacking something intangible.
I started by adding in the zest of a lime. That started its work. Then, just before eating it, I squeezed on the lime juice, even though the salad already had a bit of acid in. For some reason, that last-minute addition of the fresh lime juice (and I know for a fact that lemon juice/zest will do the same thing) just brightened things up immensely.

You've used tomato from the tin, and the whole thing tastes of tinned tomato.
I've done this more times than I can count, and each time it happens, I swear that I'll never use tinned tomatoes again, and that I'll only use tomatoes when they're in season, and what an idiot I am for trusting something from the bargains section of the dollar store, etc etc. Then I'll see a large #10 tin of tomatoes at the store for like $2, and I'll get tempted, and promptly forget the problem in the first place.
For whatever reason, I've found that using a few drops of vanilla extract in the dish seems to offset that tinny taste. Tomatoes are about the only thing I'll ever buy tinned, so I'm not sure if that trick will work for other tinned veg. Overall, I find tinned veg to be pretty horrible in any case, so I steer clear. I'd sooner buy frozen, if I can help it.

The dish is excellent in every way, except it's too hot spicy (from chiles or pepper).
Traditionally, I'd say that a pinch or two of sugar should sort it out, however, the other day, I learned something new for savoury dishes. A wine reduction (preferably a white), with a bit of miso and nutritional yeast (if those flavours would complement your dish), a hint of coconut milk, and a generous bit of cornstarch seems to do the job just as well as sugar, and doesn't add any unwanted sweetness to your meal.
I made a rice and beans dish at home, which I'd managed to mangle with way too much chile. I could swear up and down that the stuff wasn't the extra hot ground red chiles I buy from the Indian store, but the wimpy ones that I get from the local grocery store (I don't even know why I'd have the wimpy one at home; that stuff is foul). It tasted great, except for the fiery burning that I felt up and down my body.
Instead of adding sugar (because 1. I hate sugar, and 2. I don't keep any in the house, and 3. If my beans tasted sweet, I would be committing acts of violence upon my own person), I decided to use up a bit of white wine I had lying around (there was some leftover Pinot Griggio I had from a party), and reduce it down, because I didn't want the rice & beans to be too watery. Once it reduced by about half, I whisked in a bit of white miso, and nutritional yeast, and turned off the heat. I whisked in a bit of cornstarch dissolved in coconut milk, and turned the heat back up. When the whole thing became like a thickish sauce, I folded it into the rice and beans, and all was right with the world. The heat was nice and controlled, while still perking up in the background, and I didn't have to resort to using sugar.
If you're not a fan of wine, use a bit of water to combine the miso and nutritional yeast, and you'll be fine. I just had some lying around, and wanted to make sure that I cooked out the alcohol (husband doesn't drink) before putting it in the food. I feel like the trick would work with the water, but the wine brings out different flavours that weren't immediately apparent in the first go-around, and helps control the heat in that manner. Also, if I'm strictly honest with myself, the wine does have a bit of natural sweetness. :cough: Hush. We won't discuss it. Yes, you can use apple juice or white grape juice in place of wine.