The Material Side

If we didn't have to eat, we would all be rich
- Jewish proverb

One of the most important matters to be taken into consideration, when preparing our meals, is the quality of the ingredients. Obviously, if we want our dishes to be wholesome and tasty, we cannot make them from bad materials.
On the other hand, some exotic herbs, high quality oils and especially cheeses,  can be difficult and expensive to obtain. The best, if a little generic, advice to be given here is to scout out the market, keep a sharp eye for sales and price reductions, and to experiment. Does it have to be bad because it's cheap? Not necessarily. The most important thing here is to check everything, because often an inexpensive ingredient will be a nice surprise, but only if it's fresh.
Here are some tips for the beginner foodstuff scout:
  • Vegetables : always touch them to feel how hard (or soft) they are. Carrots, cucumbers and celery roots should be hard and dense, but peppers (capsicum) or tomatoes can be bought ripe and soft or young and tough, depending on Your preferences. Ripe will be more savoury, young will keep longer.
  • Pasta and other grain derivatives : look closely at them. Is the spaghetti thin, light, semi-transparent? Is the rice mixed with other substances, are there any signs of insect presence? Don't buy it then. You can also check the country of origin : China is a good place for rice to come from, but not for cannelloni.
  • Cheeses : cheese lore is a science all on its own. A lot like wine in that respect. If I were to give some basic advice, it would be to smell them : a good camembert should have a strong smell, even somewhat unpleasant. One that does not will very likely have no taste either.
  • Oils : olive and grape seed oils are the ones that I use. Olive oil is one of the best things You can have in the kitchen, but it is quite expensive. If You are tempted by a sale, lift the bottle up to the light, see whether anything is swimming in the oil or are there any solid residues on the bottom since You don't want these. On the other hand, if the oil seems opaque or hazy, there is nothing to be worried about. It only means that it has spent some time in a low temperature and should revert to normal when it warms up.
After some time spent on "scouting", You will gather enough information to be able to shop for your favourite ingredients at reasonable prices. Exchange information with others, pay attention to the places where You got high quality foodstuffs. Do not hesitate to tell the vendors that You are satisfied by their products - this will let them know that they have chosen a good supplier.
As is the case with all knowledge, its accumulation will give You wisdom and increase Your skills.