So, I had a long, hard deliberation about what I could talk about for the letter I. I asked for suggestions and to be honest, there wasn’t many forthcoming. This could be down to the fact that the letter I is limited in the cooking department.
‘Iceberg’ lettuce (usable - but not a favourite)
Ink Squid (ok but, again, not a favourite)
Icing Sugar (Not sure if it's technically an I?)
. . . or even Irish Stout (maybe a bit dubious for I)
However, two occurrences happening almost simultaneously lead me to my choice for this letter. Firstly, a suggestion came in from an old University friend. This was then followed by a day in the kitchen making cakes, that made me realise how his suggestion was even more poignant.
In my A-Z of ingredients, I feel that “I” should represent the Ingredients themselves. Specifically, the importance of using the best ingredients when and where you can. It is easy, in this money conscious day and age, to want to buy the cheapest ingredients. Now in some cases, this will make little difference to the finished product. Take the example of a cucumber. To me there is little to no difference between a 39p cucumber and a 99p cucumber when you are blending it up and using the juice. However, let me take you back to my cake making adventure.
My brief was to make 2 Victoria Sponge Cakes. They had to be of equal size, so I chose to make 2 separate mixes rather than making a single mix and splitting it in half. Off I went to shop for ingredients. Where I brought two different types of butter. One was an expensive named brand and the other was the supermarket’s own brand. I’m not sure quite what possessed me to do this, but I feel it may have been some kind of subliminal fate casting its spell over me!
In the interest of fairness, I should point out that both makes of butter were treated in exactly the same manner. Both went into the same bag, both were out of the fridge the same period of time and both were diced and place into the bowl for the same period of time. So one wasn’t treated more favourably than the other.
The recipe I followed for the Victoria sponge required mixing together equal amounts of butter and sugar until they become light and fluffy. In the case of the more expensive butter, this was exactly what happened. It whipped up perfectly, eggs and flour were added and the mix was smooth, light and ‘cake like’. This is where things got interesting. I proceeded with the same method for the second cake with the cheaper butter. Rather than becoming light and fluffy, the butter split (or as some may call it, curdled). Now this mixture can still be baked and eaten, but the result is nowhere near as light as when it is made with a perfect batter.
So, I did some research on the reasons this may have happened. The most commonly accepted explanation is that the temperature of the ingredients were wrong. However, knowing that I did exactly the same for each cake, that doesn’t give me any answers. The only difference was the butter used. I looked at what they contained and saw there was a slight difference between them. Therefore, this led me to thinking about other ingredients. Why does cost make a difference?
Chickens are a classic example. Have you ever wondered why it cost less than 3 pounds for a chicken? Isn’t is a little odd that it costs so little for something that has been grown, killed, processed, packed and transported? There must be a reason that it’s so cheap – and quite possibly tasteless. Compare that to a free range, organically reared chicken. The price is definitely more, but the end result and flavour is so much greater. If you choose to cook a chicken dish with the latter, you will clearly notice the difference.
In my Honey blog, I referenced Manuka Honey. At one point, more of it was sold in a year than was actually produced. This was allegedly because certain countries were selling regular Honey and Sugar mix with a Manuka Honey label on it. Why, when we produce so much of something in this country, do we feel the need to import from these less than auspicious countries who are out to make a fast buck? Check the labels of what you buy. Be wary of imported goods and ask yourself why would it need to come from there?
Also, ask yourself why something is so cheap? I recently shopped with my daughter for Peanut Butter. I was horrified at what I discovered. Peanut Butter should be simply Peanuts and sometimes salt. I found makes of Peanut Butter with 8-10 ingredients on them. There is no reason for this, other than filling out a product with cheap ingredients, and perhaps giving it a slightly longer shelf life.
I don’t want to sit here and say that everyone should use organic, free range and extremely expensive ingredients in their cooking. I don’t believe that should be the case. But I do believe that we should think about where our ingredients are coming from and not buy products from afar that we can buy locally for near enough the same price. I believe that when you cook, spending a little bit extra on better ingredients can make the difference between a good dish and an excellent dish.
For my final thought, I will leave you with the ingredient - crab. We live on the doorstep of some of the best Crab available in the country. Restaurants in London pay to bring up Portland Crab, such is the quality of it. Compare that to a tin of Crab meat imported from abroad. There can be no contest when it comes to an ingredient like that.
Again, as is always the case, I feel I could talk for hours and hours about this subject. I could give a million examples. But again, time (and internet space), is limited.
Take stock, next time you go shopping. Have a look at what you buy and maybe spend a few extra pennies on that better quality ingredient.
Thanks for taking the time to read this again. I decided against pictures in this one as I couldn’t decide on what would be best for this one. The next blog is on the letter “J”. I was wondering if Jellied Eel was an ingredient or not? But whatever it is, I will have a few photos for you (and a bit more humour)