Now letís briefly consider the world of ingredients. Fresh is everything. Wide repertoire in your knowledge of ingredients makes the difference between the pedestrian and the excellent. Letís face it, we all start off ignorant and we only learn to the extent of our curiosity and the robustness of our environment, which means, among other things, using food markets of many types. If you donít have and use top quality restaurants and a variety of ethnic grocery stores/outdoor markets and high-end supermarkets you canít know the wide world of ingredients or just how good food can taste. If you didnít have the good fortune to grow up in a family of good or great cooks your early life experiences will not have provided useful knowledge for later in life. If you havenít tasted the various cuisines in their native countries, you simply canít know about the wide world of excellent food, for Americanized versions of other cuisines are most often weak approximations of the really great foods served in other countries.
These challenges are not intended as an insult but the implications are undeniable. I cannot personally use that which I do not know. Myopic tunnel vision is the typical result. In ignorance we tend never to learn or to expand our horizons and we can spend our entire lives missing a lot of fantastic eating. That, my friend, is a tragedy. Food, sex, sleep, clothing and shelter are simply the most important physical essentials in life. They all can range from awful to great. Ignore or underplay any of those items and you have wasted an important part of the gift of life.
It is sadly true that some individuals are not blessed with a keen sense of smell or taste. I know of no way to help those people experience or appreciate the finer nuances of great food. Indeed, most of those folks live in a world similar to that of partially blind or deaf people. They are congenitally unable to participate in the world of great food. You will learn quickly who they are when you attempt to eat foods they have prepared or when you serve them your best and get a ho hum response. This book is not intended for those unfortunate people. Their food cabinets and/or pantries and refrigerators/freezers also hold key evidence, which might also be only a sign of ignorance or limited budget for younger people.
Another word or two about ingredients and cooking methods is in order. Marie and I used to visit the very best restaurants in the USA and elsewhere. When any particular dish we ordered was very superior we would share small bites of it while discussing what was used to make it, both in terms of ingredients and cooking methods. With practice you can identify almost any ingredient and make a good guess as to amount required. If you do that and write down your conclusions immediately you can attempt to make the same dish at home.
Of course, Marie with her eidetic memory didnít have to write down anything! Marie was so superb that when she would try to duplicate something great that we had in a restaurant she would always have it perfect by the second attempt. The first attempt is supposed to be close but not necessarily perfect. But you too can make new and excellent dishes by the second attempt. You are not limited to what you can read or watch. You can learn to be creative. Do note, however, that if you donít make any effort to learn about the hundreds of potential ingredients you canít succeed if one or more of them were used in what you try to recreate in your own kitchen.
Finally, I want to share some important facts about acquiring certain ingredients. Supermarket prices are silly for many items. If you have any curiosity at all you will find far better prices for products of equal or better quality elsewhere. That statement is not true for everything but you will be surprised at the difference in price for things you buy directly or for the cost for things you start to make at home. Here are some examples Ö This book contains recipes for almond paste and marshmallow crème. Both products are ridiculously overpriced at the supermarket and they are utterly easy to make at home with higher quality and far lower cost. You will learn later in this recipe book that fools or lazy people buy ice cream at a supermarket, for both quality and cost considerations. Simple items like red food coloring are another example, as are spices. Your little Ĺ to 1 ounce bottle of food coloring costs you anywhere from $3 to $4 or more. I bought McCormick® red food coloring via the Internet (we use it to make food for hummingbirds) and I paid $14 for a pint! We don't buy Confectioners sugar anymore because we make it from regular granulated sugar using our food processor. For making sausage I buy one pound bags of herbs on the Internet at www.nutsonline.com and pay only about $15 each, and I freeze them to keep them fresh. At the supermarket you will pay $4 or more for one ounce or less. Internet purchasing of a lot of food products is the ultimate and economical convenience as the products simply show up at your door. The recipes in this book provide many examples of that truth.
The Asian market I use sells literally dozens of products all of us use very cheaply, including spices, produce, canned goods and also special products like dried peppers of various heat levels that you canít even find in a regular supermarket. Learn to patronize ethnic markets, indoor and outdoor, and you will win. Note, however, the prices at some small farmers markets or roadside stands are absurdly high as they cater to organic or health food nuts and to people too ignorant to realize they are being ripped off. Most of what they sell you can grow at home easily, cheaply and with excellent quality, or purchase in places like Costco® or large farmers markets, cheaply.
I like many people purchase bulk quantities of some foods and other products at Costco®. That type of purchasing can be very economical with no sacrifice of quality Ö you simply have to think ahead and be ready to share the products (and cost) with relatives or friends when the amounts purchased exceed your foreseeable needs. Do note, however, that even Costco® is known for opportunistic pricing, so not everything is a bargain. Be alert and win.
Last, know that use of current technology for product storage, like vacuum sealing, can greatly extend the shelf life and/or freezer or refrigerator life of many products you might not think to buy in quantity. Here is an example. I bought 50 lbs. of raw blanched jumbo peanuts from Wakefield Peanut Company® in Wakefield, VA for only $1 per pound. Even with shipping the cost per pound was only $1.80 (That low price changed in late 2011 to $1.75/lb plus shipping). The nuts were fabulous. I vacuum sealed them in half pound and pound quantities and gave many away as inexpensive gifts that would have cost far more at retail prices, if you could even find nuts of that high quality in your supermarket. Two years later I used the last bag from the food pantry and the nuts were just as fresh as when I received them. If you have trouble believing that then you really need to improve your knowledge. That is not meant as an insult but accurate knowledge is king, and it is your duty to yourself to determine reality to enhance your life. Supermarket chains will not aid you in that endeavor for their profit is their only true consideration. Even the FDA is behind the times.