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Archive for the ‘condiments’ Category

Everybody I know seems to be dealing with zucchini right now. ‘Tis the season when random surprise gifts show up on your doorstep and where you find yourself googling “what to do with giant zucchini”. It happens like clockwork. You can sauté it, grill it or stuff it. Or you can pickle it.

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I left work not long ago to these fatal words: “Can you do something with this? Take it.” This is exactly how I end up with so much stuff. Both my freezers are packed with things obtained in this manner, not to mention my cupboards and three large plastic totes in my dining room. Oh boy, here we go again. I can never turn down ingredients. It is a blessing and a curse and how I found myself with with two containers of crème frâiche and no plan.

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I don’t know where I first learned of toum, the wonderfully addictive Lebanese garlic sauce and I’ve been wracking my brain the last few days to remember. I thought it might have been David Lebovitz or maybe a Splendid Table podcast. I honestly cannot remember but however it happened, I eventually found myself on the Splendid Table website reading Bonnie Benwick’s recipe from the Washington Post, salivating and wanting to know more. When a post starts “Requirement: Must Love Garlic”, sign me up.

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I like my chili with some heat. In reading a lot of chili powder labels at the grocery store, I noticed that most contain the following: paprika, cumin, cayenne, oregano, salt and garlic and/or onion powders. Though paprika is legitimately a chile, I don’t think of it as a chili powder chile. Is that a legit statement? Who knows but for me, paprika is in paprikash, Spanish tapas dishes and sprinkled on top of twice baked potatoes. I don’t know that I want it making up the bulk of my go-to chili powder. Where are the actual chilies? I’ve always been fascinated by the bags in Hispanic grocery stores – the ancho, the pasilla, the guajillo chilies. Why aren’t those in most chili powders? They’re rather inexpensive so I can’t imagine it’s a cost issue. The only thing I can come up with is that paprika is rather mild so it appeals to a larger audience. Also, with only one chile, it makes for easy production. It also makes it boring, with no complex layering of flavors. Why make it interesting when you don’t have to? BAH.

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Remember, pre-Whole Foods, when there were health food stores? Shops, usually on the small side, that carried unusual things you didn’t see in the regular grocery stores like countless bulk bins of oats, nubby whole wheat flours, nuts and everything “chocolate” was actually made from the always disappointing carob. You were sure to see some tie dye, several pairs of Birkenstocks and a machine that ground peanuts into fresh peanut butter was tucked in a corner. In my younger days, freshly ground nut butters fell squarely into that “good for you” category which was an automatic strike against it’s character (refer back to carob). I never cared much for it and the requisite oil slick on top then but I’ve come to the realization that the Skippy of my youth is no longer my favorite. (Except for peanut butter cookies. Nothing makes a better cookie than creamy Skippy.) These days, I actually seek out these machines and now I even grind my own nut butters. Whoa. I’ve come a long way baby.

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Radishes, butter, sea salt. It’s an absolutely winning combination, as I’ve said before. I’ve been wandering about France for the last few weeks where this is pretty much a staple in home kitchens, chic wine bars, casual bistros and occasionally fancy restaurants. For good reason – it’s delicious. You take a fat radish, preferably the long slender French ones we call “breakfast radishes” in the States, smear some softened good butter onto one side, top with a pinch of sea salt and take a bite. The pungent crunchy radish, the creamy rich butter and hit of salt is unbelievably good. I’ve eaten them no less than 5 times in the last 2 weeks and took great delight in introducing my American friends to them.

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Pickles are a truly wonderful thing and it’s time to think beyond the ubiquitous spears and floppy slices found on bad bar burgers. In Chicago and around the country, they’re currently in the midst of a robust renaissance with all kinds of pickled delights on store shelves and menus touting “housemade pickles” left and right. My refrigerator and pantry shelves, home to all kinds of interesting items, typically have a slew of different types at any given time. Right now, I have no less than eight jars of different pickled things in my fridge and can put together a helluva spread in no time (see above). I’ve taken to pickling everything lately as it’s a great way to preserve too much garden or farmers market bounty and this week I pickled strawberries. Green strawberries. True story.

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