Classy Cheating Confessions
You know us ESers are wont to talk a lot of smack about cheating — cutting corners in the kitchen by using pre-made “ingredients” that could just as easily be made from scratch. But even though we love to hate, you know we all do it, too, in our own ways. Whether I’m cooking from scratch or warming up leftovers in the toaster oven, these three pre-made standbys have saved many a meal.
1. Anchovy Paste: I first discovered this sketchy-sounding ingredient in a Gourmet recipe for steak with anchovy garlic butter, which really is already cheating, because you’re basically buttering a g-damn steak. How could that not be delicious? But the anchovy paste — which comes in a little squeeze tube and doesn’t look anything like anchovies — is pretty amazing. It’s basically pureed ‘chovies mixed up with some olive oil, spices, and I’m not really sure what else. It doesn’t taste nearly as strong and fishy as eating one of those little guys whole, but it adds a super-rich, almost creamy element to any dish. When I make a pasta dish that needs to be set off a little bit, I squeeze in a little bit bit of this stuff and it takes it to another level. I know some of you may be grossed out, but trust me, you wouldn’t even know it was in there! It doesn’t have that intense anchovy taste (especially if you use just a touch in a whole dish), but somehow it instantly makes any dish rich and delicious.
2. Truffle Oil: Yeah, yeah, I know. Truffles are more overhyped than sliced bread. But we all know there’s a reason why. And while ES isn’t bringing in enough revenue yet for me to keep a pinch of fresh white truffles in the cabinet at all times, I have been known to fall back on the oily version. I got a tiny bottle of it as a gift a while back and honestly, it’s made me ten times less creative in the kitchen, because any time I get to the end of a dish and don’t think it’s quite there, I just throw in some TO and call it a day. And you know what? It always makes it amazing. Pasta? Potatoes? Breakfast cereal? It’s hard to find something that can’t use a little truffle oil. I think it’s as much the earthy, pungent smell as the taste that sets a dish off. When my little bottle ran off after about a year, I decided not to buy another one, just so that I would be forced to experiment more in the kitchen. But then my mom went and got me another bottle for Christmas. And I’m not mad at all. The most amazing thing is that while it seems ridiculously expensive, it’s really not–because you use literally a drop or two every time, that tiny little $20 bottle is gonna last you a year, and trust me, it will rescue so, so, many meals.
3. Ajvar: I pick up this red pepper spread whenever I spot it at a Middle Eastern or Euro grocery store. It’s basically just roasted red peppers ground up with olive oil, various spices, and sometimes some eggplant too. I suppose I could make this myself, but I’m not convinced it would be a million times better. Any time I find myself preparing a fridge-clearing meal but don’t have any fresh veggies on hand, I reach for the ajvar jar. Boring bowl of polenta? Not with a spoonful of ajvar mixed in. Basic cold cut sandwich? Spread some ajvar on that baby. Cheese quesadilla? Yep, needs ajvar. It’s also possible that I sometimes just sit down and lick this good stuff up with a spoon.
Have classy cheating confessions of your own? What stand-by ingredients do you rely on to save a dish? Feed us back in the comments!