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Feb 18, 2007 11:30 AM

Which things are okay to cheap out on?

I know, I know: there's no substitute for the best ingredients. Sometimes, though, I have to sacrifice in some areas to afford other high quality ingredients. What, if anything, is fine to buy generic?

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    1. re: jbyoga

      Noooo ... NOT lard. Generic lard is full of junk. If you want to cheap out on lard then go to a Mexican grocery store and get the fresh rendered lard.

      Which brings up the subject of shopping in ... I WAS going to say ethnic ... Asian or Mexican markets on the cheap. Most everything is so much less expensive and better quality than the supermarkets. Also lots of it doesn't have preservatives.

      I can buy a stack of tortillas ... flour, lime, water ... for 60 cents at my local Mexican market or spend over $2 for half that size at a supermarket ... and the supermarket version is filled with preservatives. For $2 I bought a very good 2 pound loaf of sliced white bread from a local panadria. It was dense, yeasty and ... again ... chemical free. Japanese bakeries make good, inexpensive white bread.

      Point to a fish swimming in a tank at a large Asian market ... not only is it fresher ... it is often half the price of the fish that has been dead who knows how many days at a supermarket. The fish counter will also filet the fissh for you too.

      If you have a Grocery Outlet near you, while you have to watch for expiration dates, the prices are rock bottom ... there's a surprising selection of organic canned goods ... for cents, if not pennies ... and there is a significant discount on wine ... good wine.

      What type of ingrediants are you looking for?

      I'd say eggs. Despite reports to the contrary on the SF, I just cant taste the difference between a $5 buck carton of eggs and a 99 cent carton. The big difference is freshness ... and if the egg is an ingrediant rather than the star of the dish ... who knows.

      As to coffee, you might try some Latino coffees. They are one dimensisonal for the most part, but milld and a bag will cost about $3.

      1. re: rworange

        I agree with your point about the Asian and Hispanic markets - good deals and fresh produce. Unfortunately, most of my life was spent far away from such marvelous places (heck, one place I lived for three years it was over a two-hour drive to the nearest mini-mart, to say nothing of the three plus hours to a grocery store!), and I still know lots of folks who don't have access to the "we're not chains" stores.

        1. re: rworange

          I partially disagree about eggs. I got incredibly spoiled when 2 colleagues would sell their free-range back-yard chicken eggs for $1.50/dozen. They were incredible: shockingly yellow yolks, intense eggy flavor. That said, I can't tell the difference in taste between store-brand eggs and organic, cage-free eggs that have been in the dairy section of the supermarket.

          I cheap out on pasta, sugar, granola bars, Penzey's spices (hey! they are cheaper than grocery stores if you can get there). I get produce whenever possible at asian or hispanic grocery stores. 25 cents for a stalk of lemongrass they charge a dollar for at S&S is a great deal.

          1. re: thinks too much

            I agree about the eggs not being something to buy cheaply. When I buy them from a local farmer's cooperative that's carried in one supermarket, or directly from the farm, I can definitely see a difference. These eggs don't hard boil well, they are so fresh. The yolks sit high, and are bright yellow. So many times, I've bought supermarket brand eggs that are dated fresh, but don't hold a candle to the local eggs. The local ones cost about twice as much, and are completely worth the expense.

            I also disagree that flour is something to buy cheaply if you bake. Oftentimes, the cheaper brands don't regulate their protein content well, and will perform irregularly. Buy brands that are consistent on sale, and freeze the flour, if you must have it cheaply.

          2. re: rworange

            on the eggs...
            even though i cannot taste the difference, i prefer to know that the conditions of the animal were under were healthy, so it produces a better, less stressed product.

            course that's just me. and definitely not meant to sound judgemental.

            1. re: lollya

              I agree about the eggs - I am a recent convert to buying cage free eggs. For me, it's not about the taste (I can't taste the difference between these eggs and the regular supermarket eggs. I buy them for the same reasons ad the poster above, with the addition that the chickens have not been fed any hormones or anti-biotics.

              Trust me, as much as I'd like to remove these substances from our diet completely I can't always afford to. But eggs are one affordable way I can help reduce my family's exposure to this stuff.

              1. re: flourgirl

                I buy organic, cage free eggs. I do taste the difference and love them. They are a brighter yellow yolk and the mix up easier for scrambled eggs too. Yum!

            2. re: rworange

              I'm definitely with you on lard. I buy mine from the pig farmer. Clean freshly rendered lard and the flavor is so superior. I also shop our local iinternational stores produce is less expensive and in my town comes in fresh on Thursdays many thibngs are much less wxpensive than at the big chains.

              1. re: rworange

                Absolutely agree with you about the eggs, rworange. If two eggs are going into the brownies, they won't be from a $5 dozen of "special" eggs. If I need the yolks to stand up really high and pretty on some fried eggs for a company brunch, I'll get very fresh eggs at the poultry man and they still won't cost $5.
                How come nobody's caught on yet that the color of the yolk isn't related to whether chickens run around loose? It's the chicken feed. Even the yolks of free range chickens vary in color throughout the year and in different sections of the country. Caged hens could be fed different feeds to produce the same deep gold color but that's not as widely acceptable to the average American consumer. They could also be green but nobody likes Green Eggs and Ham.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  Who pays $5 for a dozen eggs? Somebody's getting ripped off. I pay $2 for local eggs, $1.50 on sale. I live outside a metropolitan area in the Midwest Are you all living on the East or West coast cities paying these outrageous prices for local eggs? I don't get that.

                  1. re: amyzan

                    In my neighborhood in downtown Washington, DC., prices are all over the place. In the egg case at Safeway, a dozen conventional large have been running $1.99, on sale for $.99. Cage-free organics are $3.99. At the nearby food market, good quality eggs are steady at $1.35, slightly higher for brown eggs. On the weekend, the farmers offer them for $2.50/organic, $2.00/conventional but fresher than all of the above. There's a Whole Foods a few miles away where socially-conscious cage-free, etc. eggs are $4.00 and above
                    So, the answer to your question must be that there are people paying these prices.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      Local eggs here (roadside with the chickens running around under your feet: just leave the cash in the coffee can) are $2.50 doz. At the grocery store they average $1.69. Remember when at Eastertime they used to give eggs away free!!!??? And not that long ago. I've been told that because of the PETA demands, all chickens in the US must be humanely raised now and they had to build them little "Chicken Condos" to live in; so the egg producers have to charge more for the end product ( but the same person also told me that since the price of meat is sky high, they figured they should make some more money too). Eggs averaged 8 cents a piece for years, now they're 10 cents wholesale. People are compaining but haven't stopped buying.

                      1. re: coll

                        A lot of us would buy our eggs like that - if we didn't live in downtown Kansas City or such where chickens don't run loose. Now it's the grocery store for the majority of us.
                        The biggest change since I was a kid is that prices and the eggs themselves don't vary seasonally any longer. Chickens naturally didn't lay heavily during the winter so short supply meant higher prices until Spring which coincided with a price drop around Easter. Just in time for egg dyeing.
                        My kids and I always used small eggs until I discovered that there was a USDA grade called Pee Wee, smaller than small, bigger than quail eggs and the cutest things you ever saw. They made the best Easter eggs ever - once I talked the poultry vendor into ordering them for us. They are the eggs laid by very young chickens, sort of practice eggs. Chickens lay larger eggs as they age.
                        I had a poultry man years ago who sometimes had cartons of double-yolks and sold duck eggs too. Duck eggs are fabulous for baking.

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          In the spring, she has lots of those tiny eggs. All different colors too, mixed in the carton. Last spring some of them were light blue, and the yolks were blue too which weirded me out. I was thinking maybe she stole them from a robin's nest. I ate them anyway. You're right, another bigger (organic too) place I go has cartons with all double yolks, what a treat! And duck eggs are pretty easy to find here, but they're really too big, haven't figured out what to do with them exactly, not so great fried.

                          1. re: coll

                            There are lots of breeds of chickens but only 3 major groups. The Asian ones lay brown eggs, the European ones lay white eggs, and the Andean (Auracana) lay the colored eggs, usually shades of blue. There aren't any nutritional differences anomg them.
                            The double yolkers are mistakes and some people consider them bad luck. My kids thought they were a special treat so we sunny-side-upped those a lot. The chickens are just ovulating faster than the shells are forming.
                            Duck eggs have a very strong taste, much richer than chicken eggs. I didn't care for them as egg-eggs either but they were great for rich desserts. Like I needed that. Pound cakes. Custards. Flans. Not for a delicate cookie but something where you want depth and fullness.
                            Yolk color in eggs is determined by what the chicken eats. Beta carotene is the biggest influence. Marigold petals will yield a bright gold. Red peppers, red yolks. Even green and black yolks are possible but is that desirable? I have no idea what causes blue yolks. Perdue Chickens feeds a special mix to make their chickens have a very yellow skin which they feature in their marketing but that's a different topic.
                            All boils down to - ta da! - you are what you eat. The other thing that determines yolk color is the age of the egg. It fades as it gets older.

                            The very best egg is the very freshest egg. You are best off buying from a local farmer at a farmers' market or a vendor buying straight from a producer. The egg at a supermarket, even Whole Foods, or a premium brand at another store, has been through a distribution chain that guarantees that it is at least a week or more away from the chicken that laid it.
                            Most people in the US have never had fresh eggs so they have no basis for comparison.

                            1. re: MakingSense

                              A very nice complete eggcyclopedia -- thank you for all the information.

                      2. re: MakingSense

                        Wow, I guess living in the Midwest does have a few advantages. I wonder if it's freight or if the market in these areas supports these kind of prices?

                        My brother, who lives in CA, is aghast at the prices we pay for fresh produce at groceries here October-May. I guess the lower prices for perishables like milk and eggs and meat make up for paying $2.00 for an avocado.

                  2. re: rworange

                    On the flip side of the eggs RW. I eat Eggland's and tried to bring home and cook the Costco brand. Mrs Jfood had NO IDEA about the switch and when I made her breakfastthe next morning she looked at me and said "where did you get these egss. They taste different."

                    Maybe for baking but eggs au natural need to be high quality.

                2. Dried split peas (I just made a split pea and ham soup this morning - cheap ones worked out fine!)

                  1. Lots of Chowhounds will probably disagree, but I think that for cooking (as opposed to salads and table uses), I buy pretty basic olive oil (although it has to be extra virgin). I don't think I can tell the difference if I use it for sauteeing zucchini or making pasta sauce.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Judith

                      I agree, Judith. Actually, really really good extra virgin olive oil is sometimes kinda gross to sautee with -- it's too invasively green tasting

                      Don't consider that cheaping out though -- that's the right product for the right application.

                    2. I buy a lot of Whole Foods store brand "365" and have found them to be just fine, Olive Oil, spices, canned beans, tomato sauces and canned tomatoes, OJ, whole wheat pasta, peanut butter, salad dressing,coffee beans...all perfectly good..and makes it affordable to shop there every few days..

                      1. We all have to find our own way on this one. I'd be happy to drink boxed wine but DW won't stand for it.
                        Generic coffee? No way!
                        The bulk aisle is my favorite part of the Whole Foods market - beans, rice, flour, oatmeal, etc.
                        I stock up when I see Prince pasta on sale because I can't tell how the imported stuff is better.
                        Who needs fancy salt or sugar?
                        Grade B maple syrup is tastier, I say.
                        Many of the "365" products are fine but their olive oil is strictly for cooking.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: atheorist

                          I agree with grade b maple syrup...I've had a hard time finding it lately. Any suggestions?

                          1. re: pesto

                            I agree with the grade B maple syrup also. It's all I buy. It's deeper flavor is especially appreciated when used in baked goods. I buy Spring Tree which is always available at all our local supermarkets, Shop-Rite in particular. (I'm located in central NJ)

                            1. re: flourgirl

                              Thanks, I can't seem to find it in my supermarket or health food stores(Boston area). The brand name will help me track it down or request a special order.

                              1. re: pesto

                                I but grade B at Trader Joe's, in a wine bottle shaped glass continer

                            2. re: pesto

                              All of a sudden I can't find it either. Maybe it's the last of last year's batch, and everyone knows about the B being better? There should be new stuff arriving soon I hope.

                              1. re: coll

                                I agree with Grade B maple syrup and so do our friends who live in Vermont. We always order ours - we use a lot of it and I buy a half-gallon from Morse Farm in Vermont - They have a web site It's really good stuff.

                                  1. re: coll

                                    If you have a TJMaxx or Marshalls, they sell Maple syrup, jams, coffee, etc, cheaper. I buy a lot of the gourmet foods for nearly half the price.

                                  2. re: pesto

                                    If you've got a Trader Joe's nearby, they carry a nice cheap tasty grade B syrup.

                                    1. re: chompy

                                      I got maple syrup at Trader Joes last time and was dismayed to see it was grade A when I got home.

                                      1. re: coll

                                        TJ's offers both grade-A and -B syrups. You just have to read the labels, as it should be clearly marked on all products. I like the grade-B syrup in the tall, clear glass bottle, with a screw cap. I believe it's from Canada.