There is a lot of money being made in the industry of teaching and enabling people to become better cooks. Cookbooks, the Food Network and thousands of tools and gadgets. This isn’t meant as a complaint so much as an observation – there is a lot of excitement around food and so many ways to learn more about cooking and eating than ever before and I think all of that is very exciting.
In a world where one can spend almost $20 for a piece of rubber to peel garlic (and, yes, I own one ) there is a simple must-have in your kitchen – especially if you are from a place which goes through any type of winter.
There was a time (and I still suffer from it on occasion) that I cook with far too many ingredients. We have an exceptionally small kitchen that keeps us from acquiring too many gadgets. A good cutting board, a few knives and my trusty peeler and I’m mostly happy.
Michael Smith (I know I’m quoting a TV chef) changed my cooking for the better with a few simple rules – one of them being that you could through as much of any ingredient that you wish to as long as you had 5 or fewer flavors in the pot. His sage advice came shortly after I had cooked a pasta dish with more than 20 flavors including an almost whole bulb of garlic (I was nervous – one of my first dates and my first time cooking for Dana). I am thankful she thought it was cute (and that she liked garlic) and it wasn’t entirely bad – it was just one large giant overloading pot of a thousand tastes which, in effect, became one. Chef Smith’s understanding was (and is) far greater than mine and I have learned that less is indeed more – the pallet can discern 3 or 4 separate layers of flavor and simplicity can taste deeper than an overwhelming slam dunk of a Heinz 57 mash-up.
Let’s explore this another way – I know what a rum and Coke tastes like and I know it tastes different from a rum and Pepsi. If I mixed rum with Coke, Doctor Pepper, Orange Crush, 7 Up and Ginger Ale I’m not sure I’d know the difference compared to a rum with Pepsi, Doctor Pepper, Orange Crush, 7 Up and Ginger Ale. Perhaps I’ll test this theory out some time – for now I’m willing to trust my best guess. Less can indeed be more.
When you use fewer ingredients, you can use much more of each flavor than you would think possible. When using a small amount of different flavors, be bold and don’t hold back. If your ingredients are fresh and seasonal, all the better – which brings us back to where we started – how to overhaul your cooking for less than $6 a week…
Seasonal eating in Canada can be difficult if trying to eat somewhat local and fresh. Cellar-ed apples, squash and many root vegetables can survive through the winter a long time and preserving certainly cuts into the glut of the cold, dark days of winter but eventually cravings for variety and that “summer fresh” taste that you get in August beacon. Fruit and veg trucked from 2,000 kilometers or more can be hit and miss and moving that far South is a little extreme. What’s a boy to do?
We keep a Tupperware with 3-4 fresh bunches of herbs int he fridge at all times. They last a week or two (we put a damp paper towel in with them) and they are available on a whim. We stock the typical – basil, sage, rosemary, parsley and experiment with whatever you can find – marjoram, oregano and anything we can buy. They are available on a whim and when topping a familiar dish, added at the last minute or used in roasting, they add a divine and earthy fresh touch.
We tend to add leafy herbs (such as basil, oregano or sage) late in cooking (very close to serving) while the more hearty (things that look closer to evergreens such as rosemary and thyme) make good company for roasting or slow cooking soups (of course you can add those at the end as well such as topping roasted beets fresh out of the oven). There are other options of course – frying sage leaves crisp make a great accompaniment to pan fried fish (cook 15 or 20 leaves in a bit of oil or bacon fat for a party of two).
If using herbs as one of very few ingredients, pile them on heavier than you feel comfortable – less ingredients allow you to use more of them. If you don’t have a locker full of fresh leaves in your fridge, explore the local grocery store (many places buy them from local greenhouses though they tend to transport well compared to vegetables which are often shipped unripened).
Let us know your favorites or what you use them for and enjoy fresh food year round!