Muddle & Wilde

What sounds like the name of a pair of bumbling, ineffectual British TV detectives is actually a new project by two of the most creative, beautiful women I know — Muddle & Wilde, organic drink mixes “handcrafted in small batches.”

Laura and Moira

Rereading the grammatical structure of that previous sentence, I realized it could be interpreted that my two friends are named Muddle & Wilde. They are not. They are Moira and Laura, two mothers at the elementary school where my daughters go — and are friends with their daughters. And we are friends with Moira and Laura, and so were impressed and excited when we heard about their venture. More

Mexico’s Answer to Parmesan

My friend, Saul, who grew up one of nearly a dozen children without electricity or running water on a farm some 45 minutes from the nearest village in Mexico, once brought me back from a visit with his parents a chunk of cheese his mother had made. Of course it was raw, of course it was artisanal — not in the self-congratulatory way of the contemporary foodie, but in the “what other way is there?” way of the peasant farmer.

"Mr. Chicharron, we're ready for your close up."

“Mr. Chicharron, we’re ready for your close up.”

Not only was it a thoughtful and generous gift — it was delicious, with a grassy freshness pairing with a slightly tart complexity reminiscent of bufala mozzarella, a characteristic more often more evident in raw cheeses. More

Secret Weapon Ingredient #2: Ponzu

Some of my favorite secret-weapon ingredients come from the cuisine of Japan. Ponzu is one such product.

"Japan's Favorite" ponzu

You’ve probably been eating ponzu all along, even if you didn’t know it. It’s the citrussy soy sauce they put on top of certain dishes at the sushi bar. But it has uses far beyond that in your kitchen. More

Pig Heaven

I wrote about lard sometime last summer, and how people (Mexicans aside) tend to freak out about it. Since then I’ve noticed there’s something of a Pork Renaissance under way. People aren’t so scared anymore. Pork shoulder and baby back ribs are being served again. We’ve even got a bacon food truck here in L.A. More

Beyond Balsamic

Sometimes I’ll be cooking at someone’s home, and will ask them for vinegar. And inevitably, they’ll hand me a bottle of balsamic.

Don’t get me wrong, balsamic is a wonderful member of the vinegar family. But it is not the ONLY member of the vinegar family. And it is also not the most adaptable vinegar. It’s really good for when you need balsamic, but not very useful otherwise. At any given time, I have eight to 10 different vinegars in my cupboard. I’m not suggesting you need this many. But having at least a handful will improve not only salads but your cooking, too.

Here is a primer on various vinegars I have in my pantry, what they can be used for, and where to find them. (Including, yes, balsamic…)

The Most Useful Vinegar


Japanese sweetened rice wine vinegar

This is my go-to vinegar for nearly everything. Its light flavor and slight sweetness make it bring out the best in whatever it is flavoring or dressing. You’ll see this often in my recipes. You can find it at most grocery stores, in Japanese markets, at Trader Joe’s or online.

The Most Exotic Vinegars

Chinese black vinegar and dilluted red vinegar

Chinese vinegars are among the most floral and exotic of all. Black vinegar tastes of caramel, spice and tamarind. Red vinegar has one of the most interesting flavors of all, although the main thing I use it for is dim sum pork dumplings. These vinegars can be found in Asian markets or online.

The Funnest Vinegar

Malt vinegar

I’ve awarded this vinegar “funnest” simply because it reminds me of being in a pub and eating fish & chips. And what’s more fun than that!? Widely available at supermarkets.

The Most Expensive Vinegar

Aged balsamic

People will pay you to hang onto your product for a long time before you sell it. This balsamic was aged 25 years, and probably cost a small fortune. (It was a gift, you see.) Like a long-aged wine, it’s flavors are gentle, nuanced and complex. I wouldn’t really recommend this for anyone but the most fervent balsamic devotee, as the average person would be unlikely to tell the difference in a salad. (Myself included.) Buy in Italy, if you must.

The Most Mexican Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar

This is the vinegar I use in any Mexican dishes requiring vinegar. It’s got a nice appley flavor. It’s also great in marinades and sauces for barbecue. Widely available.

The Second Most Useful Vinegar

Red wine vinegar

Your basic red wine vinegar, available everywhere. Great for vinaigrettes and lightly dressed salads such as Cobb salad.

Balsamic Redux

These thickened balsamic products are basically quick and easy versions of a balsamic reduction, which you’ll often find decorating a plate in a fancy Italian joint. (Those little gooey dots all over the plate.) They essentially serve the same decorative function in my cooking that kecap manis (profiled in an earlier post) does. These were a gift someone brought me from Italy, but you can find them online or in fine Italian grocers.

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