I read somewhere that a notable percentage of people do not taste the food they are cooking while they are doing it. I found that so funny.
Mostly because I am one of those silly people, or at least I used to be.
I could cook from a recipe and do everything right, and if the end result was good I would make a mental note: good recipe. And if the end result was not that great, I could maybe try doing something differently the next time, but that was basically my creative input.
Taste the food while you are cooking! You can adjust and simplify as you go, if you run out of time, some crucial ingredient is missing, or you are simply inspired to try something new.
Only by going after the best taste, you learn to make really good food. That starts with going after the best ingredients, absolutely, but there’s more.
Your job as the cook is to marry the flavors, bring out the best qualities of each ingredient while creating harmony in how they taste together. And above all, your job is to learn to trust your taste. If you think something is too spicy, or too salty, or too bitter, then it is.
Salt and acid enhance the flavor. They bring it out. If your salad tastes bland, make your vinaigrette stronger: more salt and acid, that is, vinegar or lemon juice.
Oil, butter and cream all add balance and body. I rarely cook with cream but I use a lot of olive oil. I realized the other day when taking garbage out, that in my household, we have used ten liters of olive oil since November. Ten liters!
When it comes to strong ingredients and spices, a good rule of thumb is to add half the amount you are about to use, taste, and only after tasting decide if you going to use the other half.
Another helpful habit is to always begin a pot or bowl larger that you think you will need. If you have to think about if a bowl is big enough for mixing a salad or making a cookie dough, nine times out of ten it isn’t.
Okay, this article is beginning to live its own life and turning out longer than I intended. But here is one more good rule for cooking. Shop first, decide what to cook afterwards.
If you want to eat food that is alive, you cannot really decide what to cook until you know what ingredients you will get.
A recipe will tell you to begin by, say, chopping five carrots. But what kind of carrots? You can make a stock or a soup out of large winter carrots, but when you are making a fresh carrot salad, you want to have the crispiest new season carrots.
And, when you have those beautiful spring carrots, you do not want to waste them by cooking them into a soup, at least I know I do not want to.
Or asparagus, that thin green organic asparagus you can now get, I love to just quickly blanch it, it will take three minutes to cook, maybe four, and considering you used enough salt in the cooking water to enhance the flavor, to really open it up, you have a beautiful tasty dish before your eyes in just a couple of minutes. Add some good olive oil on top, finger salt if you like some, and get to eating.
Herbs are getting better as spring approaches. Because basil looked so great, I made this as a ‘welcome home’ pasta for Saku the other night, and while shopping for basil, I grabbed some mint and lemon balm to make tisane.
I fell in love with tisanes in Paris, the French drink them a lot. Tisane is basically tea that you prepare with fragrant fresh herbs, flowers and spices instead of tea leaves. You can use one ingredient only, or make a mix.
Using fresh cold water, rinse several branches of fresh herbs, put them in a teapot, and pour boiling water over them. Let steep for a couple of minutes and serve.
In Italy, when it is really hot, I pick spearmint or peppermint in the garden to make a big pot of tisane. I drink a glass or two while it’s hot, and cool down the rest for later. Writing this, I am drinking mint and lemon balm tisane. It tastes like spring.