Last week my email was about paring down in tough economic times. I received a lot of encouraging mail back from readers who feel the crunch and stress of the downward spiral of our economy and are hungry for ideas on how to save but still feel prosperous in their kitchens. Jonathon wrote "Connectivity and collaboration will save us." Absolutely. You readers left me with the feeling that as a community, we can make the best of it.
Today I have a few ideas on little extravagances to incorporate into your cooking because while the overlying theme these days may be scrimping, I believe it's also important to have a little treat now and then.
By buying in bulk, you can actually buy just what you need, which is often less than is in a traditional retail package of an ingredient. Think about spices, special flours and grains, and nuts you might not ordinarily think to use because they may be cost-prohibitive.
Sprinkle something special on top of your finished dishes. Fennel pollen comes to mind, and aged hard cheese like Grana Padano and Parmesan. Even a whisper of nice salt makes a huge difference in just about everything you could be serving from roasted vegetables to pastas and rice to meat and fish.
Truffle season is upon us, but I don't know anyone who's investing in fresh truffles right now. If you appreciate an essence of truffle, however, try using truffled salts and oils to finish your savory dishes. There are two companies I like: Da Rosario and La Tourangelle. Yes, it's pricey, but if you're looking for a knock-out fancy-pants finishing oil, this is it.
It may seem obvious, but I'd like to remind you what a difference fresh herbs make. They lend a lively flavor to food that cannot be replicated with dried herbs. Hardy herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme, and more delicate ones like parsley, cilantro and basil all can transform something as simple (and inexpensive) as potatoes with just a spoonful's worth. An alternative to buying fresh herbs is to plant a pot on your windowsill. If you buy herbs to use in a recipe and don't use the whole bundle (who ever does?), freeze them in ice cube trays.
Buy one nice piece of cheese and use it all week across many different dishes. See what Faith is doing this week with some local Feta here.
Dried Porcini Mushrooms give soups, sauces and starchy dishes like risotto and pasta a remarkable flavor without having to use too many. Just a few slices re-hydrated in boiled water for 30 minutes can flavor a dish to serve four.
In the days ahead, we encourage you to try new ways of making your meals special. The economy may sour, but our cooking can stay fresh.