Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Joys of the Internet

My laptop got a virus. It is dead. While I wait for the nice computer man to retrieve all of my data so that I can again work, I might as well post my thoughts on food. Or evil virus writers. Or both.

I can't do ANYTHING until I get all my files back. It really sucks. I should probably bake cookies instead. Which I can do now that I have replenished my supply of vanilla extract.

A couple of weeks ago, Hannah as whining and complaining that she wanted chocolate chip cookies. Not a big deal, I can whip 'em out start to finish in thirty minutes. So I started whipping. A couple of years ago, Priscilla and I were planning a bake-a-thon. She showed up at my house with a bag full of supplies and we started to unpack and get to baking. I had asked her to get some vanilla extract for me as I was running low and didn't want to run out while in the middle of the baking. She pulled out two boxes and gasped. "I can't believe I did this" she cried. "I bought us each a bottle of vanilla, but I accidentally bought IMITATION vanilla!" I looked at her, called her a dork and promptly forgave her. We managed to have enough vanilla in my cupboard to get through what we were making, I put the artificial vanilla in the cupboard and promptly forgot about it. Until last week.

I ran out of vanilla while making Christmas cookies and didn't think about buying any more, because I was so sick of cookies and baking that it never occured to me. Now, however, I wanted to whip out some cookies, the weather was awful, and I wasn't going to the store to buy vanilla. How bad could it be? I smelled it. It didn't have the same wonderful perfume that real vanilla has. It smelled kinda weird. Oh well, I'll just use it anyway. Now, before you tell me that it smelled weird because I had kept it too long, let me tell you this: most extracts, vanilla in particular, are like wine: the longer they age, the better they become. Anyway, I proceeded with it even though I had reservations. Well, WHAT A FREAKIN' MISTAKE THAT WAS! Those cookies had the WORST flavor of ANY cookies I have ever made! I tasted them and made a face. Hannah tasted them and tried to hide her disdain. I said, "These cookies are disgusting." She said, "I didn't want to say anything, but, yeah, they kinda are. What did you do to them?" We threw out the imitation vanilla.

Now maybe you use imitation vanilla. Maybe you whine that real vanilla is too expensive. Maybe you just have a completely undeveloped palate. I don't really care. Go ahead and do what you want, but let me tell you this: once you get used to how good REAL ingredients can taste, once your palate learns to discriminate between quality and crap, you will never go back to crap. And you will enjoy your food more. I don't believe in eating anything that doesn't taste good. Do yourself a favor, just go buy some real vanilla extract and see how much better it is. You'll thank me.


Sarah said...

I totally agree. I do cut corners on some things, but not butter or vanilla!! Maybe I should go make some cookies . . . .

Anonymous said...

I just read an interesting Cook's Illustrated article that drew the conclusion (among others) that in a blind taste test, it would be difficult to tell the difference between a good quality imitation vanilla and the real thing -- in cookies. Not so for puddings, etc. I should add.

So, I think you should make two batches of cookies and do a blind taste test before bashing imitation. It's enough cheaper to be worth the experiment, IMHO.

The Mendon Foodie said...

I won't skimp on quality. And I don't believe everything cooks's illustrated says.