It was a beautiful spring. Whoever said “Paris is always Paris and Berlin is never Berlin!” was absolutely correct. I spent roughly fifteen days in Berlin for my conference and a series of dance performance. There were numerous encounters with the locals at restaurants. One thing about travelling solo is, you get enough space for personal discoveries and interaction.
I travelled to Berlin all alone and was staying with a very close friend of mine. This gave me enough freedom to explore Berlin, on my own. During this time I once went for a dinner with a beautiful Croatian girl, whom I had met in the subway to a serene restaurant in Schoenberg (excuse my spelling). After roughly 3 sips of wine from her side and 1 big gallop of beer we realised the basic thing we had in common was our interest for culinary arts and our ideas about food. I wasn’t surprised to believe why we clicked so well.
I had ordered a delicious scallop entrée with some spinach salad, which was out of the world. What enticed me was not only the flavor but also the presentation and the freshness of the scallops..
This got us down to a conversation about how people in pretext for cooking easy food often tend to neglect or miss freshness of the food. How the world is slowly changing into the world of preservatives. Now a days, we hardly ever use fresh tomatoes because we all know how easy canned tomatoes have made our lives. What people don’t understand is in the longer run, this could be harmful for our system. Not to forget, not getting the ‘real’ nutrients. I am sure you all agree that the nutrients possessed by fresh tomatoes are irreplaceable by canned tomatoes to a great extent ? After that conversation, I made sure that when I would come back to India, I would write about how important it is to know the products/ingredients that we use everyday and how having the freshest of the products can make that magical difference in your food.
Take mashed potatoes. There’s very few ingredients. But if you have good plump potatoes, terrific butter, fromage blanc, sea salt, and freshly cracked white pepper, you really can’t go wrong. Indeed, one of the non-secrets of good cooking is to BUY good and fresh ingredients. You don’t need me to explain why freshly made mashed potatoes tastes better than those goofy flakes from the box, right ?
After reading “How To Eat” by Nigella Lawson, it all brought me down to this –
1. Use Good Wine : We all drink the most expensive wines during dining, but what we don’t do is, use good quality wine when we cook. It is equally important to use best quality cooking wine for your meats in order to make that dish taste from good to great. When it comes to cooking, don’t worry about price, buy and use what tastes good.
2. Upgrade your Oil and Vinegar : Once again, stop using refined oil or mustard oil just because it is cheap and easy. Cooking is very easy, trust me. But we HAVE to take up pain to get the best ingredients. TV shows like Rachel Allen, Nigella Lawson, Kylie Kwong etc an epitome of easy cooking but have you noticed one thing, is that they NEVER compromise on their ingredients. Good cooking not always means good skills. It majorly means good and fresh products. So switch to good company Olive Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Sunflower Oil, Rice Vinegar oil etc. I would say the exact same for your vinegar.
3. There is a difference between Bittersweet, Semisweet, Dark and Milk chocolate : What is even more difficult to believe is that people find all these terms ambiguous and they put even the slightest of the attention to good quality chocolates ! How much will it cost you to buy big bars of Hershey’s or Godiva chocolates for cooking/baking purposes ? When a recipe mentions explicitly Bittersweet or Semisweet, please pay attention to that detail. And for heaven’s sake, please do not ever substitute cocoa powder with Nesquick or chocolate sauce with Nutella. That’s the worst torture you could put your dish through. Trust me, good chocolates, don’t cost that much. So, please invest well in them.
4. Herbs : I have often heard people say use fresh herbs, not dried as they have more flavor in them. This is a big myth. Fresh herbs have different components and dried have different offer to the dish. It depends on which flavor do you need. Often, for garnishing purposes you require fresh herbs always. However, this ain’t a golden rule – it totally depends on what flavor am I looking for. And please friends, dried herbs are NOT an alternative to fresh herbs. If buying gets expensive, I am sure having a tiny weeny kitchen garden sounds like a good antidote?
5. Just Butter it away : Butter is fundamental in good cooking. When you fry a steak, you should always fry it in butter (with a little oil added to stop the butter burning). Butter adds flavor to anything, and can also be used as a thickener (see sauce below). Do not use margarine, do not use semi-soft butter. Always cook with unsalted butter (then you can decide exactly how much salt you want the dish to have). If you really want to improve boiled or steamed vegetables, undercook them, then add them to a pan with a big knob of butter and finish the cooking over a high heat. Add salt, pepper, and chopped parsley. Even add butter to your pasta boiling instead of Olive Oil. It works as a better moisturizer element with water than oil.
Hence, it is time you stop substituting good ingredients with cheap ones. Because in the end, it’s the taste matters not always the ease.
Hope it helped.