Sometimes it just takes time and experience to get to the best quality ingredients... I might be able to save you some time and grief with these revelations.....
I had fallen into the habit of buying ground cinnamon or cinnamon sticks from my supermarket. I noticed that I was doubling or even tripling the amount of cinnamon a recipe called for. Then I started reading about the health benefits of cinnamon and noticed the articles always specified true Ceylon Cinnamon. When I searched out true organic cinnamon... I was instantly transported back to the my childhood when Cinnamon and Sugar on toast was a breakfast treat! I could not believe the difference. Real cinnamon may seem expensive but you only need a small amount of the real thing!
The rule of thumb for cooking with wine is to use a wine you would drink. In one of our wine pairing dinners (Classic French Short ribs, Persimmon Winter Salad and Parsnip, Celeriac, Potato Mash with Frizzled Leeks) we made an interesting observation. We paired a Baco Noir, a Grenache Blend, a Syrah and a Barbera d'Asti with the main course. All wines were in the $24-$30 range and had scored above 90 according to various critics. The Baco Noir was the cheapest and had scored lowest of the 4 wines and it was favoured unanimously by our group of 12. The reason-IMHO- I has used a Baco Noir of good but lesser quality in the braising of the short ribs (same producer, Henry of Pelham). The other wines were excellent and also complemented the dish but there was obviously a better marriage when the same varietal was used in the cooking and the tasting. The salad course also resulted in a similar result. The dressing had a small amount of Niagara Riesling Icewine. We tasted 3 different Rieslings with the salad course and the unanimous preferences was Inniskillin Late Autumn Riesling VQA Riesling—LCBO 219543, which matched the sweeter quality of the dressing. The other Rieslings, while excellent, were more herbal and citrus.
The moral of the story- where possible match the varietal and style of wine used in your recipes to the wine you will serve with the course.
Forget the Artificial Vanilla Extract. When Vanilla is the main flavour it deserves to be built from Pure Vanilla or Vanilla beans. The flavour depth is noticeably different with no alcohol or vinegary aspect that the artificial can leave. Even when vanilla is an addition to many other ingredients and flavours it is worth the real thing.
I wish I had understand years ago the value of a real veal stock. I sometimes wondered why I couldn't recreate a delicious restaurant meal at home and why my sauce was always caramel coloured instead of the dark rich GLOSSY sauce from the restaurant. It's the veal stock! It takes a long time to roast the bones, make the stock and then reduce the stock into an actual sauce but it is really hanging-around-time, not hands-on-time. I make a big batch in the winter and freeze it in 2 cup portions. I usually roast the bones and simmer the stock one day, hold it over night (in my garage-which in Canada is colder than my fridge in the winter!). I reduce it the next day to the final stock volume and either use it or freeze it. The natural gelatin from the veal bones and the reduction method result in that dark, delicious, rich, GLOSSY sauce! I now try to avoid flour or other thickening agents whenever possible.
I settled the Butter vs Margarine battle for myself as soon as I was buying my own groceries! I absolutely abhor margarine. I would eat food plain rather than add margarine. But...there are also variations in real butter's quality as well. There are 3 grades of butter in Canada and the US. Butter is graded on flavour, colour, texture and saltiness. The highest level is usually made from sweet cream with salt evenly distributed. The lowest may have more water, less texturally pleasing and is typical used in industrial situations.
Grass fed enters the picture for butter as well. Cows that are pasture fed produce sweeter butter. Did you know Irish Kerrygold is made from grass fed cow milk and the cows have not been given any hormones. Check it out for yourself and see if you can taste the difference.
European butter has less water, more flavour and is generally considered to be higher quality.
And then there is Clarified Butter also known as Ghee. The butter has been simmered to remove the water and in the process the casein and lactose are also removed. Ghee has a nutty flavour, is shelf stable and has a high smoke point making it a great choice for cooking.
Do you have any ingredients you are passionate about? Feel free to share below!