Sure, you can follow a recipe and whip up something elaborate when you want to show off. But you don’t do that every day. We don't do that every day. Nobody does that every day.
We all look at what in the stores on the way home, or check out the sagging vegetables in the crisper and improvise. That's what professional chefs do, too – when they don't order take-out. But professional chefs and other food-obsessed folk have some stuff in their pantries that you might not.
Here are 10 things that you can keep around the house to make those dinners you whip up on the fly seem more like restaurant dishes.
Sometimes you find things on the Internet; other times, things find you.
Poking around online last night, I wasn't even thinking about food – which, granted, is fairly unusual for me. Somehow, I managed to surf my way over a list of products still made in the USA, mostly clothes and accessories.
I was vaguely hoping to find myself a new duffel bag, something old-school and sturdy. But there, at the bottom of the page – below Johnson Woolen Mills of Johnson, Vermont, and Utility Canvas of Gardiner, New York – was, remarkably, a listing for a "Steam Cheese Burger Chest – Meriden, Connecticut."
1. Xanthan gum
Sure the word "xanthan" sounds a little ominous, and yes, the stuff is made from the bacteria that cause black rot on broccoli plants. But xanthan gum is a pretty benign substance. When the bacteria (called Xanthomonas campestris, if you're a scientist) is mixed with corn sugar, it produces a tasteless, colorless goop that can be used as a thickener. It keeps ice cream from crystallizing and is what gives gluten-free bread its spongy texture. Some people may be allergic to it, but it's pretty much as harmless as you can get.
Steven Stern, a former fact checker and a full time food fiend, is here to complicate things help.
Q: What's up with that green plastic leaf thing that comes with my sushi? Am I supposed to do something with it?
A: You mean you don't eat yours?
Just kidding. Those leaves are definitely not edible. They're called baran (sometimes spelled haran), and they're mostly used for decoration. Presentation is really important in Japanese food, even when you're dealing with cheap supermarket sushi. The plastic leaves also serve as dividers in a bento box (a single-portion lunch combo container), keeping your eel nigiri away from your tuna rolls.