Ref! We Need to Make a Substitution!

by Jeff Berkowitz on May 25, 2010 · 0 comments

in Tips & Tricks

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One of my coworkers and I were having a conversation the other day about beet recipes. I love beets with raspberry vinegar. They certainly go well with many other flavors and as Greg from “Sippitysup” pointed out beets go especially well with sour flavors. My favorite to date is raspberry vinegar so I use it in a lot of beet recipes. My coworker suggested that a lot of people might not make a recipe if there were too many odd or specialty ingredients in it and that raspberry vinegar is definitely a specialty ingredient. I understand…even though every good supermarket has dozens of different vinegars and they all have raspberry vinegar I keep forgetting that most people go right past the vinegar section and don’t give it a second thought. I have to confess…my wife has to constantly say, “Jeff, come on… we have a lot to do today…you can’t spend the whole day in front of the vinegars and memorize every label”. I usually spend at least 5 minutes just looking at all of the different specialty oils and vinegars, I guess that is just my little tick…My mother even had to ask me where to get a few key ingredients that I had put into a recipe that she did not know where to get.

Most people are on a budget and we are no exception. Believe me…I could spend a fortune on just oil, vinegar and spices and you can’t even make a meal out of just those. So I have learned, with my wife’s help, to look and don’t touch. That does present an interesting question; what do I do if I don’t have an ingredient called for in a recipe? Further, what if my budget does not allow for the extravagance of several different vinegars let say? The answer is surprisingly simple…no its not don’t make that recipe…it is use what you have. The recipes are suggestions, one way of doing things that happens to work well. They are not written in stone and are definitely not the only way to make a great dish. One of the reasons I am writing this blog is to take the fear out of cooking. If you can grasp the concept of the recipe you can make a great dish even without every single ingredient. Make a substitution. Don’t be afraid…people have been cooking well for a long time before these recipes came into being. We are living at a great time and in a great place. The best products from around the world are here now for us to purchase at a whim. Vinegar is a great example…

There are so many great vinegars at an average supermarket that it boggles the imagination and is impossible to decide what to buy. How many different vinegars do we need? The answer is: while acid ingredients are essential for great cuisine even I don’t need too many vinegars to get by. First…let’s look (figuratively) in my cupboard and discuss what I have, then I will tell you what I need. I think you will understand that I do have a little problem when it comes to vinegar, I have a small collection: white vinegar (I clean the coffee pot with it and not much more), red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar and 12 year old balsamic vinegar (very different from each other and used for different things), sherry vinegar, port vinegar, raspberry vinegar (obviously), rice wine vinegar, coconut vinegar and finally…cider vinegar. I use the cider vinegar the most and it is the best quality I can find; raw, unfiltered, organic…the flavor is magnificent and it is great to cook with. The rest of the vinegars are important and great in their own right but I could do without them…if I had to. The 12 year old balsamic is the only one that is expensive and they all really do have their own character which adds a lot to each dish they are in. In addition to the vinegar I always have some kind of citrus fruit, the fresh kind not the bottled kind. So if pressed…I would choose the cider vinegar and lemons or limes. With cider vinegar and a citrus fruit I feel confident that my food would not suffer and you should not be afraid to substitute any of the acids for one another. Sure the outcome will be slightly different, but it will be good.

I did mention that the aged Balsamic vinegar is different. The “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena” you see in the store in pint or larger bottles is really nothing more than sweetened wine vinegar, it is nothing like the real aged Balsamic vinegar that is thick, rich and so flavorful you can taste the passage of time itself in it. This vinegar should be drizzled on fruit or vegetables in tiny droplets and savored unmolested by too many other things…you should not make vinaigrette from it!

Vinegar is a basic and essential component of many recipes. Acids, whether they come from wine, citrus fruit or vinegar are the backbone of most sauces and can brighten a good dish making it fantastic. Vinegars, even good ones,  range in price from very inexpensive to a king’s ransom range; but you don’t have to spend a fortune to stock your kitchen with a sufficient variety to keep things interesting. At some point I will be writing a list of the basic food ingredients and cooking utensils needed to supply a “well stocked” kitchen and post that as a tab on the Navigation Bar, but until then take this tip: don’t be afraid to try a recipe because you don’t have every ingredient as listed. Make a reasonable substitution and if you have questions…PLEASE ASK ME, I would love to hear from you.

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