“Let’s talk spices and ingredients. What are the necessities you have depended on while you work?”
I readily admit that I can be
a bit of an ingredient snob. In the same way that I believe dancing while you’re cooking makes the food taste better, I believe (though prolly a little more backed by science) that the quality of the ingredients makes a difference in the taste and even the effectiveness (healthwise) of the final product.
My spices come from two different sources. About 85% come from Penzeys Spices and the rest (mostly spice blends) come from Spicewalla. I love the purity of both of these companies’ spices. A lot of cheaper spices have additives and preservatives to keep them from sticking together. These “anti-caking” additives actually are made up of things like corn or wheat starch, sugar, and lactose (dairy). Now, I don’t personally have a reaction to any of those ingredients—at least, not in such small quantities—but many people do, and I like to keep it clean! That way I never have to second guess myself when someone asks “is this dairy free?”
I use whole peppercorns ground in my beautiful Zassenhaus pepper grinder to give a nice zing to any dish (alas, I have to avoid it when cooking Charlie due to her sensitive spice meter), and use mostly Maldon sea salt, which I love for its light saltiness and crunch texture (a real boon when use of salt is cut down to almost nothing).
Oh, you thought I was being particular about spices? Well hold on to your bloomers! First, though, let me say that I”m not supremely wealthy now and have (in the not so distant past) been dirt poor ($3-5/week for food and lived out of my car—did you know you can eat instant ramen raw?), so I understand the limitations of budgets. But I also founds, once my food budget expanded a bit, that I spent less on food when I could pay a little more up front for higher quality ingredients.
Think of it like alcohol. Cheap beer or whiskey tastes thin and it’s way too eay to overdrink without noticing that you’ve run through a six pack or a whole bottle. But if you invest a little more money and the same amount of bucks goes further because your mouth is confronted with full flavor, to the point where you want to linger and savor every sip.
Now, for me, ingredients that benefit from that extra financial investment are: vinegars, oils, mustards, salsas (when cooking for Charlie, I make fresh, however) and cheeses. These are places to spend money on my ingredients that will last for many dishes and elevate every last one.
Some brands/ingredients that I’m partial to:
Giusti Vinegar (The oldest balsamic vinegar company in the world!)
O Olive Oil (I love their vinegars, too! I use their Citrus Champagne Vinegar every week.)
Kolossos Olive Oil (Rich and spicy or smooth and silky? Choose one today and another tomorrow.)
Mustard & Co. (If you can find the Black Truffle Mustard, pick up several.)
Salpica Salsa (Especially the Tomato Jalapeno, the Habenero Lime, and the surprisingly delicious Cilantro and Green Olive Salsa Verde.)
Sabor Mexicano (Seriously, I might be in love with their Garlic Salsa.)
Huntsman Cheese (I’d never had one quite like it, and now a cheese board doesn’t feel complete without it.)
Real Parmigiano Reggiano (Check to make sure it’s imported from Italy for the real delicious deal. Especially good for Charlie’s dishes, as just a little packs a full flavor punch.)