I think one of the most important things you can do in your cooking is taste test. Taste test, taste test, taste test! I think you would be amazed at the difference that one change in ingredient will make in your cooking! Even the type of water you are using affects your cooking and baking so much. If you cook a lot of Italian (as I do), I’d start first-thing with canned tomatoes. Yes, that simple can that costs about $.89, but could change your cooking world forever from “caca, me no likey” to “Yummy!” My very favorite and simplest tomato sauce is only one can of diced tomatoes (or crushed, depending on what I’m making), a little olive oil, and three cloves of garlic. Mmm. However, as I have well-learned, the brand of tomatoes I’m using can really make or break that sauce!
For tomatoes themselves, it really has to do with the acidity. If you have been taught (or taught yourself to put food away [can]), then you understand the importance of acidity level in food preservation. Foods in a can/jar from the grocery store are no differently-processed than how you or I have been taught to do it at home. Prepare your product, make sure you have enough acid, and boil away to preserve on the shelf. The key point is the acidity level. There is a minimum level needed, to allow for proper preservation, but the amount of acidity from there is completely at the discretion of the company.
My personal favorite canned tomatoes are Red Gold, or Red Pack on the other side of the Mississippi. (Isn’t it odd that names of the same food change on various sides of The River or The Rockies? Such as Hellman’s Mayo and Best Foods–yep, same thing!) Until I began trying Red Gold, I would faithfully use Muir Glen tomatoes (also sold under the Trader Joe’s label) because I had thought they were the best. Unfortunately, hubby was always complaining how much he didn’t like the sauce—which I thought was the best thing on earth! After a great deal of experimentation trying to convince him it was the best thing even, I realized it was the tomatoes. Sure enough, I tried the same sauce with my Red Gold, and now the sauce is a happy staple in our home. What gives? Come to find out, Muir Glen packs their tomatoes in a much higher acidity liquid than other tomatoes, which isn’t a bad thing. You, perhaps, may prefer a higher acidic tomato. Of course, a pinch of sugar can help offset the higher acidity, too.
Besides acidity, there are a few other factors to take into account when tasting tomatoes: firmness, size, texture, etc. The way that companies cut their tomatoes, how long they wait between harvest and processing, size of tomato pieces, etc. all make a huge difference in how they taste. So, shell out an extra $.89 at the grocery store and branch out a little next time…maybe you’ll find that the cheaper brand of diced tomatoes if your favorite.
This is just about tomatoes…but, the same is said for oils, salts, beans, pasta, etc, etc. Truly, it’s about everything in your kitchen you’ve been buying. They’re all very easy to taste test, and not too expensive. Just start with one item at a time and cook a usual dish, but in two portions, one with each of the different ingredients. See what you think! You may find that you’ve been paying more than you need for a product that wasn’t your favorite to begin with. And with these rising food costs…wouldn’t that be great??
Simple Tomato Sauce
- Heat Olive Oil in traditional 12″ pan until shiny and runny (before smoking point) over medium heat.
- Add minced garlic and stir with wooden spoon until it smells great (sorry, about 30 seconds—your nose will know).
- Immediately add yummy diced tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt; stir to blend flavors together. Set to simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Taste test—add more salt as needed, or if too acidic, add a pinch of sugar.
- Add 2 Tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs (if you only have dried herbs, use 1 1/2 teaspoons and add at beginning, with the tomatoes).
- Enjoy! Sharing optional.