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Desperately Seeking Season [Nov. 22nd, 2011|06:19 pm]

This has not been the best of days. It's two days before Thanksgiving, and I took the car in this morning for what was supposed to be a simple alignment. Turns out that instead we have a litany of repairs that add up to...well, our Christmas present will be a working car! We can put a bow on it and everything!

Additionally, we aren't going to get it back until tomorrow afternoon. They hope. This is really bad, because not only haven't we done our Thanksgiving dinner grocery shopping, we have guests for dinner tonight and tomorrow night, meals for which I was going to go shopping this afternoon.

This is even more bad because we're a little on the "Old Mother Hubbard" side in the kitchen this week. Ferrett was out of town with the car over the weekend, and no shopping got done before he left because I was immersed in work stuff. What we had left for protein was three chicken breasts and some frozen ground turkey.

If things go drastically wrong, tomorrow night's guests will get meatloaf, but looking through the cupboard I decided I could make Thai curry for tonight's.

Now, this is a known favorite of mine, but has to be adapted when Ferrett is around since he doesn't eat peppers. He doesn't really care for water chestnuts, either, but I decided that he would just have to live with those. I had some sweet potatoes, which I julienned, and onions, and some fresh basil. Once I stirred it all together with the curry paste, the coconut milk, and the fish sauce, it was...okay. The sweet potato made it sweeter than usual, so it had to be adjusted for a little more heat, but everything else was individually all right. But I wasn't happy. My tongue was not excited.

The flavor wasn't bad, it was just kind of...flat. I stood over the pot, stirring and frowning. It didn't need more salt, and black pepper is not the right flavor profile for this dish. What was it missing?

Well, it was missing the bell peppers, but that taste was out of the question. I thought to myself, besides their our flavor, though, what do bell peppers bring to this dish?

Then I realized: acidity! I reached in the fridge for lime, and squeezed a couple teaspoons of juice into the pot. (None of this "try in a spoon and see if it works" business; I commit!) Sure enough, that brightened the flavor right up and made the whole dish "pop."

It's a lesson I need to remember: sometimes what's needed is to increase the umami profile of a dish, not just to pursue more of what's already there. The proper balance of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty really does make a difference, and it's too easy to fall back on just salting something more instead of actually paying attention to what's happening on my tongue. I need to keep working on that.

But hopefully not by making meatloaf tomorrow.

Crossposting from Dreamwidth now. Sigh. If LJ won't let you comment, you can comment here: http://zoethe.dreamwidth.org/785251.html?mode=reply:

From: anonymousalex
2011-11-22 11:26 pm (UTC)
I totally did not see how this post was going to end. I expected more of a desperately searching for ways to feed and entertain the guests, not desperately searching for a flavor profile.

Good luck with the car, and remember, your guests are coming over primarily for your company, and only secondarily for the food. They'll understand. (Or if not, you should be charging more.)

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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2011-11-23 12:26 am (UTC)
me too!
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[User Picture]From: roaming
2011-11-22 11:44 pm (UTC)
Can you order online and have them deliver? Our local Stop and Shop does that with "Peapod" delivery. Don't know what's in your area, but hopefully someone might?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-23 12:08 am (UTC)
I have to look into that. Thanks for the thought!
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[User Picture]From: mplsindygirl
2011-11-23 02:10 am (UTC)
The lime juice idea is a lifesaver for me. Literally, since I'm deathly allergic to bell peppers (and eggplant and mango). SO glad you posted about your discovery :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-23 05:07 am (UTC)
How sad for you. I have a lot of environmental allergies, but my food allergies are blessedly limited. And it was one of the best curries I've ever made!
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[User Picture]From: longtimegone
2011-11-23 03:04 am (UTC)
I HATE bell peppers. I've experimented a bit with lime, but it didn't actually occur to me to use it as a full on substitute. :)) Thanks for bumping my brain in the right direction!

Hope the car woes are solved soon. :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-23 05:18 am (UTC)
The lime made an amazing difference. I'm definitely going to keep it in mind myself! And thanks.
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[User Picture]From: fallconsmate
2011-11-23 04:49 am (UTC)
you know, i ran into this problem today, too. but in a sweet dish rather than savory!

i make cranberry sauce, so that i can have some (diabetic friendly. normally i use the little crazy artificial sweetener packets, but i had some stevia-in-the-raw that i was NOT crazed about that i needed to use up, and went for that instead. (easy recipe....cook the cranberries with a little water till they pop, add sweetener.) but the stevia doesnt *taste* the same, it has a bitterness that nutrasweet doesnt. so i reached for lime juice, and THAT did it. threw in some chopped pecans, too, just for something different. and you're right, the acidity absolutely balanced out the bitterness and the different sweetening power.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-23 05:22 am (UTC)
It's like a miracle food! That's really great.

I'm unimpressed with stevia.
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[User Picture]From: merle_
2011-11-23 05:01 am (UTC)
I heartily agree with the thanks from people above with bell pepper allergies. I don't have one, but habitate with someone who does, and have been weaned off of them to the the point where they taste bad to me. Okay cooked in the sauce (and for Thai that seems essential) but not actually eaten, much like dried Szechuan chilis that come in Chinese food. So, kudos!

(and there's nothing wrong with not having meat protein in a dish...)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-23 05:24 am (UTC)
In theory, there's nothing wrong with not having meat protein in a dish. But in practice, it frequently ends up feeling like a bunch of side dishes and no main course, particularly when you haven't really planned for a protein substitute.
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[User Picture]From: blessed_oak
2011-11-23 11:35 am (UTC)
If I were one of your guests, and came in a car, I'd consider it part of the fun to go shopping with you today.

Anyway, this is why you're such a better cook than me -- I'd never be able to suss out the flavors like that. When a dish "needs something" I never know what!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-23 02:45 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, the guests aren't arriving until dinner time, which means that grocery shopping for Thanksgiving can't happen with them until about 6pm, and that's a time I'm not looking forward to being in the grocery store!

I'm still learning, believe me! One of the reasons I write these things down is to reinforce them in my own brain.
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[User Picture]From: kathrynrose
2011-11-23 11:53 am (UTC)
Hugs to you!

You are awesome. :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-23 02:46 pm (UTC)
Hugs to you, too!
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[User Picture]From: roniliquidity
2011-11-23 03:00 pm (UTC)
We usually go food shopping on Wednesday night and I realized we can NOT do that this week. Coincidentally, I'm making meatloaf tonight but on purpose.

Do you have a bike basket, or a little wagon? If it's a nice day you could pick up a few staples. Calling a cab isn't ideal, but it shouldn't be too much. Friends that are stay at home parents that you could barter with a night of babysitting?

Also thanks for the suggestion of sweet potatoes in curry idea, it had never occurred to me to add it.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-23 04:22 pm (UTC)
It's pouring rain, so the biking idea is out. We do have friends coming this evening who have offered to take us to the store, so we will get to buy groceries.

The sweet potatoes are really very good in curry. I like them cut thin so that they cook thoroughly.
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[User Picture]From: jennythe_reader
2011-11-23 06:30 pm (UTC)
I had a similar experience recently.

I'd made a crock-pot beef stew, and came home from work to discover that it was so bitter it was almost inedible. My first idea was an apple, and adding one did help. What finally saved it was a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-23 07:41 pm (UTC)
Acids are kind of amazing like that.
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[User Picture]From: ivorywitch
2011-11-24 05:01 am (UTC)
I keep Apple Cider Vinegar on hand for such occasions. Allergic to limes I am...yes, really. Strawberries and mushrooms too.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-24 03:06 pm (UTC)
Vinegar will also do the trick, true. Bummer about your allergies!
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