These days, I’m getting more and more adventurous with my cooking. Not just with what I eat, but with what I buy and how I cook it. This may well stem from recently receiving two cookbooks as presents that are poles apart when it comes to the ingredients required and the skills needed to create the dishes. For the first time ever, leafing through the pages of Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food, I had the glorious thought “My god, I’m just too good for this book”. Conversely, when fellow munchmunch-er Ben produced a copy of Tartine’s patisserie volume, there was a good long pause as I considered the fact I may well need to invest in a confectionary thermometer.
I think I’m moving away from my preferred method of ‘throwing everything into a dish and hoping for the best’ but no matter how many new recipes I try and meals I create, 9 times out of 10, you can be guaranteed that I’ll try and make use of my ‘safety ingredients’.
The French have their mirepoix, the Italians soffritto and the Chinese, yuxiang. I, however, have my safety net of garlic in savoury recipes and vanilla in sweet.
I put garlic in almost everything in varying amounts (from a delicate half-clove to teaspoon upon teaspoon of pungent purée). Even if it doesn’t really go, I don’t care. Every dish has to start somewhere, so why not be with garlic?
My passion for baking means that I have a similar affection for vanilla in all its forms: pods; seeds; extract; and powder. You name it and vanilla will have found its way into my cakes regardless of whether or not it’s strictly needed.
Which brings me to my favourite vanilla-y discovery and the entire purpose of this rambling post: Taylor & Colledge’s vanilla bean paste. Made using 100% natural vanilla beans, I only discovered this pretty little jar of yumminess a few months ago and already it’s become key to my baking. As well as being a super-quick alternative to scraping out vanilla pods, just opening up the pot releases what is – in my view – one of the most delightful smells in the world.
So, these are my go-to ingredients and I absolutely couldn’t live without them. Everyone has an ingredient that they couldn’t live without. So what’s your absolutely favourite ingredient that you must, must use?