If you’re hanging out in the ChooseFI community, chances are you love to save money. One of those ways you probably choose to do so is by cooking at home. And while it’s good to be frugal and save money, are some ingredients that even the frugal cook shouldn’t skimp on.
Let’s look at five quality ingredients, from spices to eggs to oils, that take your food from good to great. Because if you’re going to eat at home, why not make it amazing?
1. Spices And Fresh Herbs
Quality spices can take your meal to the next level. The add flavor and taste that make or break a dish.
Remember that spices aren’t supposed to have a long shelf life; they lose their flavor after a few months. Rather than waste money on whole jars of spices that eventually lose their flavor because you only needed them for that one recipe six months ago, try buying them in small amounts from the bulk section of a store.
Whole Foods, health food stores, and ethnic grocery stores are all good places to buy spices in the amount you need, not by the jar, so you can purchase only the amount you need.
Good spices don’t have to be expensive if you know where to buy them.
The sales staff at an ethnic grocery store can also give you great suggestions and explain how to use the spices in the correct way. So if you are planning to make an Indian curry, rather than buying a jar of generic curry powder at the supermarket, head over to the Indian or Southeast Asian grocery store in your area.
Fresh herbs add brightness to any dish. Whole Foods has lots of great fresh herbs at great prices. And ethnic groceries also carry a good variety, usually cheaper than a regular supermarket. You might even come across something you’ve never seen before, so go ahead and experiment.
2. Olive Oil
Good quality olive oil adds tons of flavor to any dish. When I make vegetable soups or any dish where I need to saute veggies first, I add good oil for depth of flavor. It doesn’t have to be expensive or one of those super fancy varieties you see at some specialty stores.
My two favorites are organic extra virgin olive oil from BJ’s and extra virgin olive oil from Aldi. Both are fragrant, aromatic, and have a slightly peppery taste. And, if you have good quality oil on hand, you don’t need to buy salad dressing.
Dress your salad with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon to bring out the brightness of the other ingredients. Or mix together some olive oil, white wine vinegar, and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard for an easy and delicious salad dressing.
Wasabi can be used in place of Dijon mustard for a spicier take on the old staple. Once you try that, you won’t want to go back to the bottled stuff.
3. Real Maple Syrup
This is not a cheap ingredient, but it is so worth it. That stuff in the big plastic bottle next to the pancake mix at the grocery store is not a real thing. It’s just sugar with artificial flavors. There are lots of places in the U.S. that produce their own maple syrup; it’s not just a Vermont thing. I live in Ohio and we have delicious local maple syrup.
Because the good stuff packs so much flavor, you don’t need much. It pairs wonderfully when mixed with plain yogurt and some berries and nuts. You control the amount of sugar in your yogurt and you know you are eating the real stuff.
Big containers of yogurt are usually less expensive, too, so get a large one and use your own toppings. When used in recipes that call for real maple syrup, you don’t need a lot since a small amount adds tons of flavor.
Check out farmers markets in your area for local maple syrup. Wholesale clubs have good prices on maple syrup, too, if you don’t have the local stuff.
Remember, though, that once opened, it has to be refrigerated.
When your doctor said you need more good fats in your diet, she didn’t mean a big jar of salted Planters peanuts. She probably meant whole roasted, dry roasted, or raw nuts. Because if you read the ingredient list carefully, you’ll notice that most roasted nuts have added oil. Not exactly great for the health-conscious.
I prefer to buy raw nuts and roast them myself. It’s the healthiest option, it’s simple to do, and it saves me money.
Wholesale clubs sell good quality nuts at affordable prices. There are also a few websites that sell great products at very reasonable prices. My three favorites are Nuts.com, Oh!Nuts.com, and Vitacost. All have a huge selection, great prices, and fast and free shipping.
The nuts will fare better if kept refrigerated. I always stock up on this healthy snack, and nuts are usually cheaper when bought in bulk.
5. Cocoa Powder
If you like to bake, adding good quality cocoa powder to brownies, chocolate cakes and cookies will change the taste and texture of your baked goods. High-quality cocoa powder will add more complex, bitter-taste notes and produce a smoother flavor.
You don’t need a lot of it either as most recipes call for 1/3-1/2 cup, so it should last a while. Often, it’s easier to find good cocoa powder online than at the grocery store. Valrhona and Droste Cacao are both excellent brands. Ghiradelli is more widely available and is also a great option.
Yes, the humble egg. This might be controversial and very un-frugal of me, but I buy local, free-range brown eggs that cost twice as much as generic eggs at a big grocery store. Some people might say an egg’s an egg, and all have the same amount of protein and other nutrients. And this is, of course, correct but the taste is not the same.
When you can get them, farmers market eggs are the best. Most likely, the hens laid them that morning and when you make an omelette with these more expensive eggs, it tastes divine.
I still buy the cheaper eggs for baking, because I can’t tell the difference, but if I am making scrambled eggs, an omelette, or one of my favorite egg recipes, nothing but the brown free-range eggs will do.
By spending more on a few quality ingredients, we can make better, healthier meals that taste amazing and save money in the long-run. Comparing prices and shopping online had never been easier, so find your favorites and don’t forget to use a shopping portal.
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