The basics of cooking and ingredients

Unless otherwise stated, there are some ingredients that i include that take for granted, when actually, I feel that maybe I should be a little more specific.   Here is a list, that I will update from time to time.

Remember sometimes I will deviate myself from these rules, and will try to remember to be specific about this in the recipes.  

Tinned tomatoes - I used Maltese or Italian, and use "polpa" or chopped tomatoes.  Sometimes I use peeled whole tomatoes in tins, when I want the sauce to have lots of tomato chunks.  I squeeze them in my hand before adding them to the dish in this case. 

Fresh tomatoes:  Use only when in season (late Spring to early Autumn), when brilliantly red inside and out, yet still quite firm.  it's fine to use them for cooking when they've gone a little soft, but only if they are also brilliantly red.  For cooking, when not in season, it's MUCH better to use tinned tomatoes rather than sub-standard fresh ones.  

Olive oil - Extra virgin olive oil.  I use supermarket brands for cooking, and the more expensive, tastier and fresher stuff on salads and when using it raw.  I generally like to have a fresh, spicy green one for salads, and a more golden, subtle one for dipping.  Sometimes i go all crazy and mix them up!  But it really depends.
There's one made in Mdina that I'm crazy about, Paneolio is a decent supermarket one to get too, and we also import a huge amount every November directly from Puglia, from a farmer friend of my surrogate Italian family, who makes some of the best oil I've ever had the pleasure to taste.   Recently have also discovered Liquid Gold which is organic Extra virgin oil from Greece - it's definitely a great all rounder!  I've started using this for everything recently!
Update: If you have olives growing in your garden (which many Maltese people do), you can take them to be pressed.  This makes delicious, thick, almost creamy green olive oil.  So lovely!

Ready made Pasta sauce - you will never find this in any of my recipes.  The amount of effort it takes to open a ready made pasta is only slightly less than adding some garlic, basil and seasoning to a tin of tomatoes.  And it's double the price.  I just don't understand why you would choose the one filled with thickeners, preservatives, soy/wheat/corn derivatives etc.

Minced Meat:  ALWAYS from the butcher, NEVER from a packet. The butcher will be happy to mince it on the spot, or you can choose from his ready minced product.  He can also mince some bacon into it, or make a mix of pork and beef, I would always highly recommend buying it from your butcher, even if it's the butcher in the supermarket.  Butchery is a dying art, support your local butcher!

Meat in general: Depending on which  country I'm in, the meat I choose is different.  I eat much more lamb and beef in Australia, much more pork in Malta.  Why?  Price, taste and quality. In no particular order. I like to choose a cut of meat according on how I'm going to prepare it.  I highly recommend people do their research, and listen to recommendations.  Get friendly with your butcher, it will be a win win situation for you.  Also remember, a cheaper cut of meat is not necessarily worse, just that it might need more tender loving care.  It's all good to slap a fillet steak on a BBQ for a few minutes, but after you take the time to prepare it, the deliciousness of a slow cooked pork belly (so much cheaper than most cuts of meat!!) is sublime!
I like to dry the meat on an uncovered plate for a day or two before using.  And I like it to be at room temperature when I start cooking it, especially if it's to be served rare.

Lemon:  Always fresh lemon juice.  If in Malta, specifically always Maltese lemons.  My general rule is that if it doesn't look so pretty, it probably tastes fantastic.  There is nothing quite a Maltese lemon when using for zest, and the bonus is that nearly everyone knows someone who has a lemon tree.  trust me, a knobbly funny looking Maltese lemon is really superior in taste to those perfect waxed Sicilian lemons you get at the stoopermarket. Also, because they are waxed, they are not suited for using the zest.  I use fresh lemons in place of lemon essence in recipes (just add some zest to the juice) with no problems, in fact, to the contrary!
If out of Malta, please use Organic or home-grown lemons with no pesticides.

Salad leaves:  I don't really like lettuce all that much, so I choose to use the more tender and tasty leaves like rocket, spinach, Swiss chard, lamb' lettuce (aka mache, or valeriana)... radicchio is probably the closest i get to lettuce. A notable exception is when serving spring rolls or south east Asian style meat balls.  Then it's iceberg all the way, used as a serving cup to catch the dipping sauce :)  I also have developed a liking to oak leaf/curly leaf/radicchio lettuce from my local farmers' market. 

Pepper - freshly ground from a pepper mill.  Black unless otherwise stated.

Salt - rough Mediterranean sea salt.  used in a grinder if I need it to be fine, or straight to the pot in rock form in sauces etc.  I have a special liking for Fleur de Sel, this fancy grey salt from France.  But more for the texture than anything, the taste is very similar to any naturally collected sea salt. 

Butter - French ideally, Danish/German is fine too.  I like the "whiter" butters, so Irish/English/New Zealand butter is not really my choice.

Feta: Dodoni, made from mostly ewe's milk with a touch of goat's milk.  Not the Danish stuff unless what I want is creamy saltiness. 

Eggs: Free-range or Organic eggs, without exception. If you're in Malta, please feel free to contact me for suppliers, as I've searched the isle high and low for these :)

Basil - Always fresh. If you are buying it, you can freeze the leftover leaves once you've removed them from the stalks, washed and dried them well.  When not available, I'd rather use dried herbes de provence, or oregano.  Dried basil just doesn't cut it.

Garlic - fresh!  and I chop not crush, unless otherwise specified.  I find that it tastes more sour when crushed.  When cooking it, do it on a very low heat, and do not allow to brown at all.  Makes it bitter when you brown it.  At Springtime, I use the tiny immature bulbs in the same way one would use Spring Onions.

Coffee:  Freshly ground, ideally organic and/or fairtrade.  Never instant.  I have adapted any recipe that required instant coffee to use fresh coffee and it's only ever made things better.