Something about ingredients, tools & gadgets, conversions, measuring, food… Updated: March 2014
Olive Oil: I use extra vergine olive oil all the time, it is not a super expensive one, rather a mild tasting, medium price Italian one and I know lots of people say, one should not waste liquid gold for cooking. Well, I do have enough bottles standing around and I think it is fine. The liquid gold stuff – a more expensive and assertive oil, most of the time some bottles we bring back from a holiday in France or Italy – gets it’s show in salads or as a finish for a dish. And we like to think we eat healthier this way.
Other oils: Salads see me using preferably nut oils like walnut or hazelnut or occasionally a wonderful deep yellow rape seed oil from Devon. Chili oil is homemade and of course there is sesame oil in the larder.
Vinegars: Looking at the basket in the kitchen, there are a fair number of bottles there. Sherry, champagne, Xeres, cider, elderflower, balsamic, white, red wine, raspberry (still liking it), tarragon, walnut… I like to call it variety.
Spices: I prefer to buy them whole and grate them fresh or grind them in a pestle & mortar. This way I do not have whole coriander and ground coriander seeds flying around and both are getting older and older. Well, of course there are exceptions for things I use on a regular basis or that came in a very pretty tin and somehow it landed in my basket. Happens.
Salt & pepper: I use sea salt, coarse and fine, Fleur de sel for final seasoning and salty caramel and (hand harvested) sel gris from Guérande. There is the odd Halen Môn sea salt around and some nice herb salts from the Provence. Pepper is always freshly ground, white & black.
Vegetables: Preferably organic, from a local farm stand or market (Frankfurt Kleinmarkthalle, the local weekly market) or the turkish grocer.
Meat & game & poultry & fish: Preferably organic or free-range or wild. I will not buy anything that is factory farmed, intensively reared etc. or has more medicine in it than a pharmacy. Most old breeds can not be raised in this monstrous way, grow slower and have a superior taste, too. I do not need to quote all the studies and documentaries about chickens and pigs and scandals. We like to eat meat but we eat less and better. That comes at a price, but it is not a convenience product and should not be looked at it this way. It comes from a living thing and should be treated respectively. People and I think children especially should know what they eat and that food does not grow in plastic containers.
We prefer to buy from proper butchers & fish mongers. This way we know what we get, meat & poultry is properly reared and treated, like it was hung for a proper amount of time (dry-aged is the buzz word now but that has been done for centuries before stuff was vacuum sealed and moisture kept the weight up). There is a person behind the counter who did the work and not some factory worker thousands of miles away, someone who is interested and expert in what he or she does and who is personally responsible if anything is not up to par. Someone who lives and works nearby, keeping traditions and knowledge alive and jobs where you live. Someone who knows your name when you shop there or at least knows your face and who you can have a quick chat with. It may not be the fastest way to shop but certainly the most rewarding.
Eggs: Organic, large or medium.
Trying new things: I am always up for trying things I have not eaten before. I like seafood, mussels, snails, foie-gras (I can accept that this is controversial but one word: geese naturally gorge on food and stuff themselves before the winter to gain extra fat) because I grew up not being afraid of them. And I will continue to try and educate myself and will try things I did not like the first time again and again since I believe that you have to taste stuff more than once to know if you are not so partial to it. Anyone liked coffee, tea, beer, whisky or very dark chocolate for the first time? No, there you go. I might draw the line at some things and am prepared to be ridiculed.
Homemade or self-made: What fun to make things yourself and gather knowledge this way. You can stack the larder or fridge with jams, sausages and pickled things. Bake your own breads, bake Laugenbretzel and bagels, know how cheese is made and make your own yoghurt. Make wine, bacon and ice-cream. Candy fruits and bottle juice. What a delight it is. I am seriously old-fashioned this way and can not get enough of books and programmes about it.
Tools & gadgets: Well, I like them and I enjoy having them. Yesterday I brought out a cast-iron pan for little corn cobs to make cornbread which I have bought years ago while living in America: my husband sighed and said something like, of course we have got one of those. I have two.
Measurements: Most of the times I use scales to weigh ingredients or glas measuring jugs, that’s the way I grew up. For a long time I used my grandmother’s cutlery with its large tablespoons and teaspoons for measuring which worked quite well. Modern cutlery (we changed to a sleek & matte finished one a while ago) does not carry those volumes, therefore I switched to a set of measuring spoons (ranging from 1 tablespoon to 1/8 teaspoon) which I love. Same applies to American cup measurements, there are some recipes that I find easier to make using cups. Of course, it is true that baking is an exact science etc. etc. and this provides an excellent argument against measuring everything by volume since no two cups of flour will way the same. But.. the same applies in their favour since no two cups weigh the same: different ground flours, filling of the cups, humidity etc. etc. affect the volume and subsequent weight equally.
Specialist shops: Thankfully there is an online shop for everything now and most unusual or exotic ingredients, higher welfare or rare breeds, seeds, dried fruits, spices, ‘specialist’ tools & things are obtainable through them. Should I add a list?
To be continued…