Wednesday, October 28, 2009
All the Difference in the World (Your Secret Ingredients)
So many of us these days (myself included) are stretching our food budgets to the limit, trying to save wherever we can. There are tons of websites and resources out there devoted to “feeding your family on a shoestring.” (One of the more valuable websites I've seen is Cook For Good, which helps people develop a healthy, budget-friendly and planet-friendly strategy for feeding a family for about $1.26 per meal. This site has gotten some buzz from Mark Bittman’s blog, if you’re interested in learning more.)
But cheap and healthy eating can become very monotonous. Lots of beans. Lots of homemade yogurt. Lots of homemade bread. Simple recipes are too often missing the special few ingredients that, while adding to the cost of the dish, punch up the flavor or add a richer mouthfeel that makes an otherwise lame-o dish truly satisfying.
A recent example: Last week I bought a very sub-par wedge of Parmesan (I use the name loosely) cheese. I didn’t want to cheap out completely and get the old Kraft-in-a-Can standby, but frankly, I might as well have. It was almost flavorless, with no discernable aroma, no nuttiness, no creaminess, no bite. Just rubbery and bland. In fact, it kind of ruined my homemade tomato sauce. Dammit!! Now I don’t even want to use the half a wedge that’s left, and I should have just spent the extra 3 bucks on a piece of real, well-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Are you feelin’ me out there?
So I want to know: What are the crucial ingredients that give a boost to your home-cooked, shoestring dishes? When is it a bad idea to substitute a more economical ingredient for the real deal called for in the original recipe? Winter is coming, and we all need some fresh ideas to keep us inspired and healthy.
Posted by Alex Harrison at 9:42 AM