To be a better cook/chef/baker starting today, simply begin by purchasing the finest quality ingredients available. That sounds like common sense, but you can't buy good food if you're not sure what it is.When I say purchase good food, I'm suggesting you buy real food. For example, peanut butter that is made straight from peanuts and nothing else added is real food. Too many times the peanut oil is taken out of peanut butter and sold separately and canola oil is added to the peanut butter to a spreadable consistency. For many chefs, that is not peanut butter. Real peanut butter has one ingredient, peanuts. Maple syrup is another great example of buying real food, all natural, and can never be confused with maple-flavored syrup. When you purchase a box of salt, the ingredient list should say salt and nothing else. Adding iodine to salt gives the salt a hot-on-the-tongue taste and adding iodized salt to a beautiful chicken consommé can instantly turn your culinary creation into a cloudy mess.Unsalted sweet cream butter is something to be appreciated. Salt was added to butter for years as a preservative before refrigeration was available. Try tasting sweet cream butter au naturale; it's clean tasting, light and a slight bit naturally sweet.All this leads me to cultured butter, a product made from fresh cream that has been fermented. If you've ever been to a high-end restaurant, you've probably tasted cultured butter served with bread. The taste is so subtle and quite a treat. Cultured butter's taste is slightly acidic, some say tangy and really, more buttery. But the best part it's great for baking. Anything that requires flakiness is a natural fit. Pie dough, croissants, puff pastry, biscuits, all good opportunities to use cultured butter instead of sweet butter because of its low moisture content and unique flavor profile.If you thought butter couldn't get any better, give cultured butter a try. Think of it like this. If you took crème fraîche, which is cultured cream, and you churned it to make butter, you would have cultured butter. If you took crème fraîche and drained it overnight in a cheesecloth, you would have cultured cheese or mascarpone.Cultured butter can be hard to find in the supermarket. If you don't find it locally, try the Vermont Cheese & Butter Company. They offer great cultured butters, sure to please. (www.butterandcheese.net) Tell ‘em I sent you!As you prepare food, you are always building flavors. Know thoroughly what you're adding to that pot or bowl and you just might have an edge on the competition, making you a better cook/chef/baker.
This article appears in the December 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine