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'Speciality' Ingredients...


mdt
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I think my post about JoeH's ice cream might start an interesting topic. Depending on how they are used, what speciality ingredients are really worth the extra money when it comes to making certain dishes. Are we using them because they are truly better or just to show off our 'foodie' knowledge?

Can people determine which ice cream was made with Lewes Dairy cream versus that made with cream bought at Giant in a blind taste test? Should the butter that Don posted about be used for baking or just in dishes where the real butter taste will come through?

In our blind tasting of canned tomatoes those high priced brands did not do so well and the results were pretty close when the sauce contained many ingredients.

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Yes, I believe that you can. But price is not always what determines if an ingredient is better. There are something that may be cheaper, but are better for the purpose of the dish. I find that the more simple the dish, the more the proper ingredients matter. In something like Joe's unbelievably good ice cream, a lesser cream would make it an average ice cream, in puff pastry the wrong butter will ruin it, or when making steamed shrimp, farm raised shrimp will lead to a boring dish, hardly worth the effort to chew.

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Yes, I believe that you can.  But price is not always what determines if an ingredient is better.  There are something that may be cheaper, but are better for the purpose of the dish.  I find that the more simple the dish, the more the proper ingredients matter.  In something like Joe's unbelievably good ice cream, a lesser cream would make it an average ice cream, in puff pastry the wrong butter will ruin it, or when making steamed shrimp, farm raised shrimp will lead to a boring dish, hardly worth the effort to chew.

True, the cost does not always determine the better product.

Still I think we may have a perceived belief that when we use the 'better' product things are better. With seafood I think this is most likely very easy to tell, but with a blind tasting of ice cream or puff pastry would it make that much difference? Obviously the ice cream and puff would need to be eaten with as little enhancement as possible to give a fair test to the product in question. Although if that is not how the items are usually eaten can one really tell that the better ingredient was used?

Hmmm, I will have some time over January break...

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My neighborhood Metro Market sells Shenandoah's pasteurized (NOT ULTRA!!!) by the quart for under $4.00. I use it to make ice cream and when I make my own truffles and other special items. It whips much better than the ultra-pasteurized stuff (which, as you know, has additives in it) and doesn't have that off-taste from stabilizers. For the price, it isn't even as expensive as the doctored-up stuff with the long shelf-life; I just don't often have use for a whole quart of cream. The Horizon Organic heavy cream at WF is really nice, very thick stuff, though more expensive than the Shenandoah.

To really answer your question, though, I would have to say, "It depends." :lol: Since we are getting into the season of cooking special meals and making goodies to give away, I tend to go with the best ingredients I can afford. Those with more sensitive taste buds than mine can probably tell differences in chocolate. I usually buy the Callebaut simply because I don't think the (much) more expensive brands make that much of a difference. It's certainly better than Baker's or (God forbid!) Hershey's.

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We conducted side-by-side taste tests on vanilla ice cream, on batch using all-natural ingredients from the small farm at the local Farmer's Market -- and a Whole Foods Vanilla Bean -- and a batch using ingredients bought at the local bodega. The general consensus among a dozen foodies was that there frankly wasn't much difference. I picked the expensive batch, at least partially on the basis of texture, but a couple of folks preferred the cheap stuff. Of course, my ice cream is so damn good I could probably make a gourmet bowl with Eagle Brand Milk and powdered eggs. :lol:

Actually, the other day I tasted my vanilla against Ben and Jerry's, which some cretinous family member had left in the freezer to taunt me. And, frankly, my ice cream rocked B&J's. But I think it had to do more with the recipe and technique than the extra-virgin, hypo-allergenic cows milk I use and the free-range, hand-coddled, artisanal chickens who provide my eggs. What makes the difference -- I believe -- is that I don't scrimp on egg yolks or promiscuously add sugar, and I have no incentive to whip air into my 'scream to make my quart carton look bigger.

In other words, I suspect that substituting more pricy ingredients up to a certain level make a difference, but that the skill of the cook and the quality of the recipe are far more important.

I'd rather have a good cook cooking a cheap chicken, than a bad cook cooking a great one. (say that five times fast).

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In my estimation, Lewes cream is worth the extra expense (and finding the damn stuff) Because it's pasteurised, but not ultra pasteurised, and that makes a big difference in taste and how it whips. My Whole Foods stocks Trickling Springs dairy products, and the unhomogenized, not ultrapasteurised cream and buttermilk are delicious and worth it too.

With seafood it doesn't always have to be the most expensive but it's always worth seeking out the freshest stuff you can get.

With anything, if you're spotlighting a particular ingredient, like butter, it's worth it to get the best tasting ingredients you can find. If it's spaghetti sauce, it probably isn't life or death to get San Marzano tomatoes, or artisanal oregano.

(RE Barbara's post above - I thought ultrapasteurised milk and cream were just processed for a shorter time at a higher temp, not that it has additives. The processing affects the whip and gives it a "cooked" flavor that I can detect)

Edit: grammatical atrocities

Edited by Heather
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artisanal chickens

Something about that phrase cracks me up. Google it-- only 2 matches! It would make a good name for a band. :lol:

As for specialty ingredients, it obviously matters a great deal how the fancypants vs cheapfuck product is used in a given dish. I think many more blind tastings are in order. May I suggest we begin with bacon?

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My main complaint against Cook's Illustrated is that in their blind tasting of vanilla, the winner was... imitation vanilla. (Sorry, I just threw out all my back issues, so I can't provide the date of the article.)

At about that time, I was on a creme brulee bender. After perfecting the recipe, I made about two dozen for a party. Every one of my guests was astonished at the flavor. No one could figure out what it was, but all agreed that it was wonderfully delicious. About half the guests were not particularly foodies, either - just average-palate people.

It was Tahitian vanilla. Inordinately expensive, but worth it in certain applications (it would be lost in anything chocolate, for example), despite what the yokels at Cook's concluded.

On the other hand, I don't believe I could tell the difference between Nielsen-Massey's Mexican and Madagascar vanillas if my life depended on it.

In recipes where one ingredient takes center stage, the specialty version can make a difference. I love tupelo honey in my tea, but I wouldn't waste it in honey-soy chicken wings. And I only serve guacamole when I can get perfect Haas avocadoes;

if the avocadoes aren't good, there's nothing you can do to make the guac any good. And the difference between Vahlrona chocolate, and Scharffen-Berger, and Baker's is painfully obvious in my chocolate mousse.

Lewes dairy cream does rock the casbah, though. Worth it for whipping ability alone.

As Barbara said, it all depends.

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(RE Barbara's post above - I thought ultrapasteurised milk and cream were just processed for a shorter time at a higher temp, not that it has additives.  The processing affects the whip and gives it a "cooked" flavor that I can detect.

Look at the ingredients label. You will be astonished. From what I understand, and don't take this to the bank, the higher temps cause changes in the structure of the cream so that stabilizers have to be added. If anyone has whipped ultra-pasteurized heavy cream, you probably noticed that it "weeps" and doesn't hold up very well at all. Never mind the "cooked" taste that Heather noticed, or the "chemical" taste that I noticed.

I think the dairy producers decided that the long shelf-life offered by "Ultra" pasteurization was worth the loss in quality for the vast majority of the non-cognoscenti who buy the stuff.

Finding the just plain pasteurized stuff can be difficult if you are out in the 'burbs or ex-burbs and are dependent on the Safeways or Giants. I can't speak for Wal-Mart or Costco.

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In recipes where one ingredient takes center stage, the specialty version can make a difference.  I love tupelo honey in my tea, but I wouldn't waste it in honey-soy chicken wings.  And I only serve guacamole when I can get perfect Haas avocadoes;

if the avocadoes aren't good, there's nothing you can do to make the guac any good.

Yes, exactly. And, after trying to make decent chocolate mousse for years, I turned to Julia (who else?) and her recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The best chocolate mousse EVER--and I used Callebaut.

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In recipes where one ingredient takes center stage, the specialty version can make a difference.

As Barbara said, it all depends.

As a frequent guinea pig at Chez 'pines, I totally agree. It depends, and not necessarily in favor of the premium ingredient...Ms P's numerous experiments with hominy in posole led to the inescapable conclusion that the mass-produced canned article ultimately provides high quality with excellent consistency.

Being not much of a cook, but willing to put an engineering hat on for a second, let me suggest that the decision process looks something like this:

First, what is the purpose of the ingredient? Choosing tomatos for caprese is rather different than choosing them to pink up your vodka sauce. Is it the heart of the dish, or a contributing player? Does it add flavor, texture, aroma, acidity? How much is used? How much and what kind of processing will it be subjected to?

Second, in the above context, how much individuality is there among the available versions? Are we talking blue cheese, or white sugar? How much variation in flavor? Quality? Consistency? Potency, etc etc?

Third, how discriminating will the audience be? Are you feeding Rockwellians, or 13-year-olds? In a standalone tasting, or after a heavy meal and much abundant booze?

Dave, who prefers Guittard chips in his cookies

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Yes, exactly.  And, after trying to make decent chocolate mousse for years, I turned to Julia (who else?) and her recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The best chocolate mousse EVER--and I used Callebaut.

Heh heh. And I use Julia's recipe from The Way to Cook , with Vahlrona, sometimes Ghirardelli.

I need to try the one in Mastering , stat.

Edited by porcupine
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QUOTE(ol_ironstomach @ Nov 29 2005, 01:02 AM

First, what is the [ :lol:

purpose[/b] of the ingredient?  Choosing tomatos for caprese is rather different than choosing them to pink up your vodka sauce.

This reminds me of a thought experiment I devised once to try to convince a friend of the importance of the right ingredient. And I swear I came up with this years before Ari Weinzweig wrote Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating .

Imagine it's August. You go to your garden and pick a few perfect tomatoes and a handful of basil. You cut them, arrange on a plate along with a fresh mozzarella you picked up at your favorite Mom and Pop Italian deli, drizzle with your favorite EVOO, perhaps your favorite fleur de sel, too, and serve with a baguette your good friend just brought you from Firehook.

Imagine now it's February. You buy hothouse tomatoes at Safeway. You cut them up and plate them with shrink-wrapped low-fat salted mozzarella, also from Safeway, sprinkle with dried basil, Morton's salt, and salad oil. Serve with Wonder bread.

This is what pisses me off about the overuse of the word gourmet . Sometime in the late 1980s, I think, marketing types realized they could sell more by dubbing foods gourmet (like realtors - oops, Realtors - selling homes [abstract noun] instead of houses [concrete noun]). There was a glut of prepared foods like my February monstrosity being marketed as gourmet, when they were really just a ghost of the real thing.

Okay, putting my soapbox away now and heading out for a bubble tea.

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hmmm I agree it depends on the ingrediant. Every year I go on a trek to find real apple cider, not pre processed Ziglers crap. I want fresh...within a couple of days of the press and pure. No pasturization! To me there is a big difference....

I believe that there is now a law that anyone who sells cider must pasteurize it-- there was a spate of deaths ten or fifteen years ago, from people contracting a particularly nasty form of e-coli from unpasteurized cider that had included some apples that had fallen ("drops"), which had come in contact with cow dung. The fruit growers at the Farmer's Market who sell cider don't actually make the stuff. They haul their apples to a cider mill, where they are mixed with fruit from many other growers, pressed, flash pasteurized and bottled. The only way to get unpasteurized cider is to find someone with their own press, who makes cider for their own consumption. It would be illegal for them to sell it. The stuff sold at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market is pretty darn good.

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I had heard that too, but that being said this was labeled unpasteurized. The farm had their own press and I can taste a difference. I take a yearly trip over to the Blue Ridge Parkway and usually find a farm near Sperryville that makes their own cider. The comments I get from the farmers is that the cider must be labeled unpasteurize.

I will say that everything within 40 miles of DC is pasteurized, and I tend to stay away from the farmer's markets to pick up my cider. I equate the risk to that of eating raw oysters several times a year. Yet this is a tradition that may come to a end one day. Perhaps I will have to get my own press.

I believe that there is now a law that anyone who sells cider must pasteurize it-- there was a spate of deaths ten or fifteen years ago, from people contracting a particularly nasty form of e-coli from unpasteurized cider that had included some apples that had fallen ("drops"), which had come in contact with cow dung. The fruit growers at the Farmer's Market who sell cider don't actually make the stuff. They haul their apples to a cider mill, where they are mixed with fruit from many other growers, pressed, flash pasteurized and bottled. The only way to get unpasteurized cider is to find someone with their own press, who makes cider for their own consumption. It would be illegal for them to sell it. The stuff sold at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market is pretty darn good.

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What is the consensus view on olive oil for cooking -- at what point does "nice" oil become a waste of money?

Depends on the complexity of the dish? If there are a ton of ingredients that will mask the flavor then why bother?

Make some scrambled eggs with good EVOO sometime, its a treat!

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What is the consensus view on olive oil for cooking -- at what point does "nice" oil become a waste of money?

I use Spanish EVO oil for most cooking needs--it has a less grassy, peppery quality than Italian oil. It's almost buttery. They were selling a nice everyday one in a big bottle real cheap at Trader Joe's for a while there, but as with many good things at TJ's, it was discontinued. I get my everyday Spanish OO at the A&H Fish Market in Bethesda. Right now, they are carrying a Hojiblanca oil that I really like, at $7.99 a liter. I have a slightly better grade of Spanish oil that I use for salad and bread dipping. Zoe brand Spanish oil, which is sold at Whole Foods is also a good everyday cooking oil. It's a bit more expensive-- around $10. For hot frying, I sometimes use grapeseed or peanut oil, which have a higher smoke point and more neutral flavor than olive oil.

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Our rule of thumb is that if you're heating the oil, use cheap stuff and if you're using it to finish something, spring for the good stuff. Given the quality of olive oils out there, I'd be hard pressed (ha ha) to drop more than $25/liter, and I've found stuff I loved for less.

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Thanks for the recommendations. I've heard good things about Colavita from multiple places. Is there any place around here that sells it at a reasonable price? It seems excessively marked-up at Safeway.

On a semi-related note, I asked this on the other board months ago but never got a response, perhaps because it was a dumb question -- is there any real benefit in buying one of those olive oil bottles with the spout on top? Wouldn't air get in through the spout and hasten the oil's spoilage?

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Thanks for the recommendations.  I've heard good things about Colavita from multiple places.  Is there any place around here that sells it at a reasonable price?  It seems excessively marked-up at Safeway.

On a semi-related note, I asked this on the other board months ago but never got a response, perhaps because it was a dumb question -- is there any real benefit in buying one of those olive oil bottles with the spout on top?  Wouldn't air get in through the spout and hasten the oil's spoilage?

I will depend on how often you refill the bottle. Using a smaller bottle will mean more frequent refills, minimizing the problem.

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Thanks for the recommendations.  I've heard good things about Colavita from multiple places.  Is there any place around here that sells it at a reasonable price?  It seems excessively marked-up at Safeway.

On a semi-related note, I asked this on the other board months ago but never got a response, perhaps because it was a dumb question -- is there any real benefit in buying one of those olive oil bottles with the spout on top?  Wouldn't air get in through the spout and hasten the oil's spoilage?

The bottle I use has a cork in the neck and a flapper over the spout.

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Thanks for the recommendations. I've heard good things about Colavita from multiple places. Is there any place around here that sells it at a reasonable price? It seems excessively marked-up at Safeway.

Rodman's was selling it for $7.99 a liter a week ago.

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...

canned green chiles - to taste

8 oz. dried hominy

...

Thanks for posting that one...the recipe looks straightforward enough that even a klutz like me might be able to follow it, although I'm going to try two tweaks.

Based on a few of porcupine's explorations of posole, I find that I like canned hominy better in stew-like applications. Maybe it's the softer texture. Conversely, the flavor of a freshly roasted and skinned pepper knows no canned equal.

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Based on a few of porcupine's explorations of posole, I find that I like canned hominy better in stew-like applications. Maybe it's the softer texture. Conversely, the flavor of a freshly roasted and skinned pepper knows no canned equal.
It definitely has a softer texture, but canned hominy absorbs fewer flavors from the other ingredients.

And if you have time to roast and skin peppers, go ahead and use them.

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