I have been cooking pretty regularly lately, and I have come to appreciate sauce as the antidote to blandness. Here are three amazing sauces that have made life so much brighter, even if you don't judge the quality of life by the food you eat. I hate to sound so base as to suggest your belly should be your god, but what's the harm in being happy with food?
First, I did some free graphics work for someone living in Italy, and he recently "paid" me with a bottle of Italian balsamic vinegar. Lovely. I followed this simple recipe to liven up some tilapia that was pan-fried in butter and oil for about 2 minutes per side with nothing but salt and pepper to dress it up.
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled
Simmer the vinegar and garlic in a small saucepan until it's like syrup. This doesn't take long, so don't let it burn. Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the butter one tablespoon at a time until it's all blended and smooth and magnificent. I wonder what else this would be great with. Salmon, maybe?
Second, a few weeks ago, we hosted a dinner party for a table full of friends, and one of the appetizers was boiled shrimp dressed with a little olive oil, some lime juice and some salt and pepper. This amazing mint pesto was served on the side:
1 cup tightly packed fresh mint leaves
2 serrano chiles, chopped (I used half a jalapeno instead)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Mix it all up and serve at room temperature. Like I said, amazing.
Finally, as Husband has said, pork is pork and not much to speak of on its own. He might be right, but serve some roasted pork tenderloin or a boring chop with this stuff, and you've got something with real flavor. Add mashed potatoes, and God would eat it.
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons shallots, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste (buy the imported stuff in the tube like toothpaste)
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons rice-wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 1/3 cups chicken or vegetable broth.
In a saucepan, drop in some olive oil. Not too much, just enough for the garlic and shallots. Stir in the garlic and shallots and saute for about a minute until it smells great. Add the tomato paste and cook for another minute. Then stir in the mustard, honey, vinegar, thyme and salt and pepper. Let it simmer for a little bit, and then stir in the broth. Let the whole thing simmer until it turns saucy. I'll confess I didn't bother measuring a single thing with this sauce—feel free to eye it because I don't think you could hurt this at all.
I wonder if you let this simmer until it was really thick if it would be great spread like chutney on a sandwich. What if you spread it on a thick-bread panini with turkey or ham and some great cheese? What if you used white wine as a substitute for some of the broth? What if you whisked in some of the reduced balsamic glaze from the first sauce instead of the rice-wine vinegar? See, it really is all about the sauce, and the more you play with the stuff, the more creative you can get with it and not even bother with a recipe.