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Recommended gourmet foods?


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In the same idea of just trying things - do look at local cooking classes. I know you're not sure you want to learn to cook, but at least around here I am aware of two types of cooking classes - one which is very hands on where you prepare much if not all of the food yourself, with guidance, and one which is kind of more like a live cooking show, in that a chef demonstrates how the food is prepared while the class observes, and then you all eat. The latter seems like it might be a good experience in simply expanding exposure to food and to talking about and thinking about food, which may help in your desire to branch out because you will have better ideas about why you like some things but dislike others. (For example, I am not overly fond of sushi, and one reason is I dislike the texture of nori. If I am talking to someone about new ingredients or a new dish - sushi or otherwise - and I can tell them I don't like the texture of nori, that then tells them something about how likely or unlikely I am to like the new dish if it has anything similar to nori in it. They may even warn me - this element is like nori, but you should try it anyway because even if you eat around that part, it is very good.)

In addition, such a demonstration cooking class will more than likely be full of people who are willing to talk about food with you, who may have knowledge of the local food "scene" that will help steer you to new things you might enjoy, and since you will have access to the chef, you will be able to ask any questions you might have about why something was prepared in a specific way, or about a taste in the final dish you can't identify, etc. So it may be quite useful for you even if you don't actually learn how to cook anything yourself.

I don't know your area at all, but another thing to look for might be a restaurant that offers some kind of seasonal or daily menu changes that are more than just "stuff we ordered too much of and want to sell before it goes bad."

For example, in Pittsburgh we have an Italian place called Lidia's and one if the items on the menu is a three pasta arrangement where the actual pastas of the day change depending on what is seasonal, what looked good from the suppliers, etc. Quite often when we go there we end up getting the three pastas because it is an easy way to sample a wider variety of pasta dishes and it is very rare that any of them are actually BAD even if something might not be a flavor profile you enjoy. It helps that I think they use the three pastas to rotate in some things that may not be popular enough for the regular menu, meaning you also get to try things that you might only otherwise get in someone's home kitchen because it isn't appealing to enough clientele to put it on a regular menu. I'm not saying you have to search out Lidia's specifically, just that if you can find places in your area that have those kinds of specials - seasonal or less mass market appealing than what they'd put on a regular menu - it's an opportunity to expand your eating experiences and develop more knowledge about what you like and dislike. (In addition, if you become a regular at such a place, unless they have high staff turnover, often the waitstaff will become helpful in suggesting if you might like something new or not, once they have an idea of the things you've had in the past and enjoyed or disliked. Just make sure you tip well.)

On the more adventurous side, which may be too much for you, my dad (who would laugh to be called a foodie but does enjoy trying lots of different tasty things) has frequently had good luck at ethnic places just by asking if there is anything that isn't on the menu that they would make for themselves, or for regulars. This does tend to result in dishes that are perhaps a little intimidating to mainstream western expectations, but he enjoys that and it works out pretty well for him. (I think it helps to have a good tolerance for spice, though, since sometimes things won't be on the menu because they are spicier than the local population of restaurant goers would tolerate.)

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Chef Ferran Adrià once said here "Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster." That said, I think one could probably identify a Northern-US list of "gourmet" ingredients/foods to try. It might look something like this:

 

  • Foie Gras
  • Caviar
  • Lobster
  • Dry-aged Prime steak
  • Wagyu beef
  • Black truffles
  • White truffles
  • Ramps
  • Champagne
  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Cronuts (hah!)

I'd suggest that here at eG the list turns out a bit differently (which is why we've had trouble helping you), and is probably best summed up something like this: look at the foods you eat every day and ask "is there a better version of this?" For example, if you eat omelets, try making one with eggs from chickens that are pastured. If you like BLTs, try making one with a high-end bacon and heirloom tomatoes. Etc. 

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Chef Ferran Adrià once said here "Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster." That said, I think one could probably identify a Northern-US list of "gourmet" ingredients/foods to try. It might look something like this:

 

  • Foie Gras
  • Caviar [...]

I've gotta question the caviar recommendation.  Now that Caspian caviar isn't available, the replacement options are a shadow of the past glory.  Caspian sturgeon eggs are a special thing... too bad they've been so overfished.  The best fish-eggy thing I've had in recent years has been trout roe, and its availability is quite limited.

Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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I've gotta question the caviar recommendation.  Now that Caspian caviar isn't available, the replacement options are a shadow of the past glory.  Caspian sturgeon eggs are a special thing... too bad they've been so overfished.  The best fish-eggy thing I've had in recent years has been trout roe, and its availability is quite limited.

 

While true, I still believe that a list such as what the OP appears to be seeking would be incomplete without sturgeon roe. I personally love salmon roe, which is quite easy to come by, but I don't think it would make a list of "top gourmet foods." I'm imagining the list as it might appear on BuzzFeed or The Food Network.

 

Oh Chris. Cronuts??

 

:blink:  :raz:  :laugh: 

 

Hey, it's not my list, it's just a list.  :smile:

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Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Chef Ferran Adrià once said here "Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster." That said, I think one could probably identify a Northern-US list of "gourmet" ingredients/foods to try. It might look something like this:

 

  • Foie Gras
  • Caviar
  • Lobster
  • Dry-aged Prime steak
  • Wagyu beef
  • Black truffles
  • White truffles
  • Ramps
  • Champagne
  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Cronuts (hah!)

I'd suggest that here at eG the list turns out a bit differently (which is why we've had trouble helping you), and is probably best summed up something like this: look at the foods you eat every day and ask "is there a better version of this?" For example, if you eat omelets, try making one with eggs from chickens that are pastured. If you like BLTs, try making one with a high-end bacon and heirloom tomatoes. Etc. 

 

I had never heard of ramps.  Thanks for the tip.

 

I had never heard of cronuts either.  I can't tell if you've made this suggestion in earnest or in jest.

 

I've gotta question the caviar recommendation.  Now that Caspian caviar isn't available, the replacement options are a shadow of the past glory.  Caspian sturgeon eggs are a special thing... too bad they've been so overfished.  The best fish-eggy thing I've had in recent years has been trout roe, and its availability is quite limited.

 

So Black Sea caviar isn't nearly as good as Capian caviar?  That's disappointing to hear.

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Chef Ferran Adrià once said here "Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster." That said, I think one could probably identify a Northern-US list of "gourmet" ingredients/foods to try. It might look something like this:

 

  • Foie Gras
  • Caviar
  • Lobster
  • Dry-aged Prime steak
  • Wagyu beef
  • Black truffles
  • White truffles
  • Ramps
  • Champagne
  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Cronuts (hah!)
I'd suggest that here at eG the list turns out a bit differently (which is why we've had trouble helping you), and is probably best summed up something like this: look at the foods you eat every day and ask "is there a better version of this?" For example, if you eat omelets, try making one with eggs from chickens that are pastured. If you like BLTs, try making one with a high-end bacon and heirloom tomatoes. Etc.

The point about eggs is a good one - it can be incredibly eye opening to try eggs from different sources and see how much the flavor can vary. (And I mean still all chicken eggs, without even branching out into duck, goose, etc.) Just keep in mind if you are doing that you want to go with a simple preparation so you aren't adding stronger flavors that might hide some of the differences. If I get really good eggs, for example, I usually just do something very simple like soft boil or poach them, served with other delicate flavors (mild bread for toast rather than a strong rye, etc.)

In that vein, there are some dishes that IMO aren't worth bothering with if the ingredients aren't right. If you've had a caprese salad (tomato, mozzarella, basil, and maybe a slight drizzle of balsamic and some salt and pepper) and your reaction was "meh" then I strongly question if the proper ingredients were used. It is just not a dish that works if you don't have good creamy fresh mozzarella, bright fresh basil, and perfectly ripe tomatoes. It isn't usually BAD with blah ingredients, it's just utterly unexciting and uninspiring and boring. There are other dishes like that also - so even when you are ordering food out, try to be aware of the season. Even with international shipping, you are extremely unlikely to get something like a properly fresh ripe tomato in the US northeast in the middle of winter. (Heck, even stuff that can be shipped in - a lot of it will suffer in flavor because they have to select varieties that travel well, and those are not necessarily the ones that taste best. So if it is a dish that depends on certain ingredients being really good to work, and it isn't the time of year for those things, you are more likely to be disappointed. Save your money and order something that uses ingredients more seasonally appropriate.)

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I won't address the issue of top ten food lists, because frankly I would rather have a perfect peach than many of the items on those lists. But about caviar, since some have commented on it:

 

My parents used to buy good quality Russian caviar once a year on New Year's Eve and saw fit to share it with me and my brother. That was 40 plus years ago and I still remember how yummy it was. They preferred it washed down with vodka, not champagne. My mother really loved caviar, not that she had it very often. When the SF Ferry Building first opened there was a company called California Caviar with a booth there and they served up several varieties of sustainable caviar, both domestic and foreign. When my mother came for a visit we took her across the bay and she flipped for their flight of caviar. Some of them were really good. CC is still in business, although not at the Ferry Bldg. Visit their website; it's educational and you can order on line. That is if you haven't already blown your budget.

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I had never heard of ramps.  Thanks for the tip.

 

I had never heard of cronuts either.  I can't tell if you've made this suggestion in earnest or in jest.

Probably was made in jest; it would require you to get to NYC at an ungodly hour and get in line; waiting in line is our City's unofficial sport, didn't you know? :wink:

Ramps are only available in the spring for about 8 weeks, but well worth it after months of root vegetables.

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I had never heard of cronuts either...

 

They're super-rich pastries, deep-fried croissant dough with pastry cream filling and flavored glazes. Very trendy, very hyped (overhyped?). I haven't tried the authentic cronut in NYC, only one of the good knockoffs in the Bay Area. (List of knockoff bakeries: http://www.thrillist.com/eat/san-francisco/your-ultimate-cronut-knockoff-rundown )

 

I tried the one at Beth's in Mill Valley, and I wasn't even looking for cronuts at the time. I was in Mill Valley for an event, and decided to kill time by checking out the bakery. When I saw croissant doughnuts filled with pastry cream in the bakery case, I realized what I was looking at. :laugh: The pastries are outrageously decadent, and worth trying once. Myself, I can think of other pastries I'd rather spend the calories on. :smile:

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  • 3 weeks later...

Regarding eggs and cheese....

 

The suggestion regarding eggs is a particularly good one (disclosure: I happen to be obsessing a bit about the poached variety just now). Find yourself a couple Farmers' Markets some weekend and buy fresh eggs from a couple of different vendors. Talk to them about how their chickens are kept, what they eat, etc. Take notes.

 

Then go home and cook them simply - poached or soft cooked - any form of frying adds the complication of the oil you're using. Take notes regarding weight, cooking time, temperature, etc.

 

Look at the eggs. Taste the eggs. Compare them to each other and to your usual eggs. Take more notes.

 

Incidentally, while you're at those markets, find a creamery that produces several types of cheese. Buy 2 or 3 kinds based on the same milk. Don't put them in your refrigerator. Repeat the egg experiment, taking notes. Always challenge yourself a little.

 

In case you haven't noticed the note taking thing is important (the particular product less so). Do this sort of thing every week (really). And read. Take the suggestions above seriously. If there's a cuisine you're particularly interested in someone here will certainly have advice on where to begin. Search out interesting blogs. Many of the members here have theirs listed in the signatures. And be sure to spend a rainy weekend broswing the archives here.

 

I'm lucky enough to have the Reading Terminal Market about 5 minutes out of my way home after work. I stop in probably twice a week (for fresh Mozz and seafood) plus weekend runs to various Farmers' Markets. Once you get out of the supermarket mindset you'll begin to see so many possibilites you'll never have to ask a question like this again.

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Chris Hennes
>...try making one with eggs from chickens that are pastured.

 

quiet1
>...it can be incredibly eye opening to try eggs from different sources and see how much the flavor can vary.

 

William Colsher
>Look at the eggs. Taste the eggs. Compare them to each other and to your usual eggs.

 

You know, I'm very surprised to hear this, because I saw a show on the Food Network that said that, to the surprise of their "experts", chicken eggs from widely different sources all tended to taste the same.  But on your say-so, I'll try eggs from different sources.

 

cdh
>The best fish-eggy thing I've had in recent years has been trout roe...

 

I hadn't thought of that.  I believe I'll try it.  Thanks for the tip.

 

Katie Meadow
 

>I won't address the issue of top ten food lists, because frankly I would rather have a perfect peach than many of the items on those lists.

 

Actually, those best tasting thing I ever ate in my life was an orange I split with two of my brothers, because at the time (many years ago) we were hiking over a series of five mountain peaks in a freezing rain, maintaining a very fast pace to get out of the rain before we got hypothermia, and we had nothing else to eat that day.

 

William Colsher
>Once you get out of the supermarket mindset you'll begin to see so many possibilites you'll never have to ask a question like this again.

 

I'm sorry if my question sounded stupid to you...

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I saw a show on the Food Network that said that, to the surprise of their "experts", chicken eggs from widely different sources all tended to taste the same

 

There's a similar test from 2010 over at Serious Eats: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/08/what-are-the-best-eggs-cage-free-organic-omega-3s-grocery-store-brand-the-food-lab.html

 

There seem to me to be two methodological flaws with that test: 1) the eggs are scrambled in butter and salted and 2) there was no attempt to quantify the differences in feed except to mention that Misty and Logan supplemented their diet with bugs and worms - I suspect the pets mostly ate a commercial feed mix not too different from what factory chickens get. And that seems to be confirmed by this article, also from 2010: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/01/AR2010060100792.html?sid=ST2010060101402

 

There's also no mention of breed, but that becomes a more complicated question since you'd also have to control for diet.

 

As I mentioned, I've been obsessing over poached eggs, partially because the ones we'd been buying at the supermarket don't have much flavor at all.

Edited by William Colsher (log)
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Yes, but their methodology was fundamentally flawed, IMHO.

 

Well, you could be right.

 

I don't eat a lot of eggs, but I've noticed that sometimes eggs don't taste as good to me as at other times.  I had thought that maybe I just go through "phases" with eggs, but who knows, maybe it's the eggs themselves.  They've all been just regular supermarket eggs though; it never occurred to me to try eggs from different sources.

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I had thought that maybe I just go through "phases"

 

We all do. Temperature (of ourselves, the air, and of course the food), level of hydration, prescription or OTC drugs, other recently eaten foods (Google Szechwan Button), texture, slight illnesses one doesn't otherwise notice, emotional state... darn near everything affects how we perceive flavors.

 

There are several recipes in the elBulli 2005-2011 books in which an ingredient is cooked at different temperatures or presented in different textures that exploit some of these ideas.

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