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When you cook, what things do you NEVER compromise on?

Be it an ingredient or a cooking technique, are there things that you NEVER comprise on?

For me, it's dumpling skins. They have to hand-rolled. Never will I "settle" for those pre-manufactured, pre-packaged, pre-cut skins found in supermarkets.

I guess it's an "acquired" trait from my mother who always insisted that we roll our own dumpling skins -- be they for dumplings (boiled or steamed), pan-fried dumplings, or even won tons. They all had to homemade.

I still have these calluses on my palms from rocking the rolling pins over little mounds of dough literally thousands of times during each Chinese (Lunar) New Year.

And you? What do you never compromise on?

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  1. Tomatoes. For eating raw, from my back yard or the farmer's market. I'll cook with supermarket tomatoes, but actually, canned are even better for that. I only buy dairy that doesn't have hormones in it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: vickib

      That's great - before I even scrolled down to read the posts, the first things that popped into my mind were tomatoes and dairy! Nothing like a good ole summertime black brandywine tomato! I won't even touch a tomato in the winter.

       
    2. Fat.
      I never go against what a recipie calls for, if it says a pound of full fat butter than dammit, it's going in there!
      If a recipy calls for low fat milk, or something similar, usually I'll go with the recipy, just because I know that it's called for, for a reason this is especially true in baking where full fat or non fat have different properties.

      1. Oil (high quality olive)

        1. Butter. :) Never, ever compromise on that one! Pie crusts are never store bought, although it has taken me a long, long time to (almost) perfect my own. I don't skimp on any dairy either - whether it be cheese, milk, etc. Last but not least, you can never underestimate a good onion.

          7 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              ipsedixit - Onion - You know when you're at a farmer's market or a grocery store that has *really* fresh produce and you see the big onions that are 5x the price of the small, yellow onions... I buy the good onions, no matter the price. :) I love Walla Walla sweets and am spoiled by those being from in-state. Also, I could expand the statement to say I love, if at all possible, to use shallots and will splurge on those sometimes.

              1. re: luvsseattle

                We disagree here. I hate the Walla Walla onions. I hate Vidalia onions. I don't know why people want to go to the trouble to breed and grow onions without flavor or bite but thank goodness those people are such a small minority.

                1. re: inuksuk

                  I hate overly sweet vegetables too. Like the red peppers that have been grown as "sweet." They're sweeter than dessert.

                  1. re: inuksuk

                    I only use Vidalia Onions for raw applications, and they are great for that. If it's going to be cooked, I want a strong onion

              2. re: luvsseattle

                I'm with you, Butter, the best I can find and and good lard from an area farm. Corn meal and grits. I cannot afford Anson Mills Grits every day, that is special occasion stuff, but I can get some from a local farmer and can order Callayway Gardens grits. Quaker and the like will never cross my threshold

                1. re: Candy

                  Butter absolutely. And steel cut oats - never instant (rolled are acceptable when we're pressed for time, but it's a substitution I always regret).

              3. Ditto on tomatoes. I pine for panzanella, gazpacho, and caprese salad all winter and spring, but I refuse to eat those horrible plastic supermarket tomatoes.

                It's almost tomato time in Minnesota, hooray! I plan to stuff myself until late September.

                Anne

                1. Olive Oil. Extra Virgin or bust.

                  I never replace butter with margarine.

                  1. seasonings.

                    herbs: certain ones MUST be fresh. dried cilantro, thyme, parsley, rosemary, etc...ugh, an abomination! nasty little flavorless wood shavings.

                    pepper: always freshly ground/cracked.

                    salt: sea, kosher, fleur de sel, rock, etc. NEVER that awful, metallic table crap.

                    other spices: nutmeg, only freshly grated; cinnamon, saigon; vanilla, whole beans or high-quality madagascar bourbon extract [nielsen-massey].

                    natural sweeteners like agave nectar, raw sugar & stevia. i avoid artificial sweeteners like the plague.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      I have to agree with everything you wrote :-) I grow herbs all summer - saves a lot of money in the market too. Tho I'm not into the stevia. I just stick with the raw sugar, honey, 100% maple syrup. But artificial sweeteners are a sin as far as I'm concerned.

                      1. re: sivyaleah

                        i agree about the sweeteners like sweet and low and nutrasweet they are gross and full of chemicals that do god knows what to our bodies and the flavor of foods/drinks but is splenda ok? My sister-in-law is really into all natural organic lifestyle and she doesn't use splenda only stevia. I myself do not like stevia at all. I think it's actually bitter and weird tasting. My sis admits its an aquired taste and I think it's one I'd rather not aquire. My sis says splenda is bad, or at least she won't use it. My understanding of splenda was that it is natural, no? Maybe not organic but isn't it still just sugar? I thought it was sugar that is somehow changed. i can't remember but i think it's spun around in a machine in a way that it tastes the same but doesn't affect body the same, or at least isn't digested in the same way. I'm sure they do funny things to the sugar to make splenda but i thought it was still all natural and wasn't chemically altered. What do you all think about splenda? do you consider that to be artificial?

                        1. re: akbrjg

                          splenda is ABSOLUTELY artificial. anything altered from its natural state is...and that stuff is chemically restructured sugar.

                          it gives me and several people i know WICKED stomach pains.

                          1. re: akbrjg

                            Splenda is a chlorinated sugar - chlorine does really equal 'natural' in terms of sugar.

                            A great idea is agave. It's natural and is a great replacement without the weird taste of stevia (I don't care for stevia at all).

                          2. re: sivyaleah

                            i've only found one tolerable brand/type of stevia...'kal pure stevia extract powder.' all the others are too bitter or off-tasting, but this one i love. i use it as a general sweetener [i.e. in tea, yogurt, etc], and to enhance the sweetness & keep the sugar content down in my baked goods.

                          3. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            I'm with you on those, too. Is there anything more useless than dried parsley or cilantro?

                            And absolutely no artificial sweeteners -- they taste awful and they're pointless. If you're eating so many sweets that using real sugar makes a difference to your overall calorie intake, then you're eating too many sweets. Does saving 15 calories by using sugar in your coffee instead of something in a pink or blue packet really make a difference? Even my diabetic sister would rather eat small amounts of real sugar than artificial sweeteners.

                          4. It's certainly not a hard and fast rule but I find myself saying more and more: why buy it when I can make it myself.

                            Hubby says this is thinking like a geek.

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: krissywats

                              Embrace your geekiness! It isn't necessarily a bad thing.

                              1. re: krissywats

                                I'm with you on this one, krissywats. It's actually the downside of learning more and more in the kitchen - when I know how easy it is to make things, I am less inclined to pay for premade versions, which never taste as good, anyway.

                                I'm currently reading Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", all about a year she and her family spent trying to grow and cook all their own food. She writes, "A lot of human hobbies...are probably rooted in the same human desire to control an entire process of manufacture". I know that the sense of accomplishment is hard to beat - even if it's such a long process I probably won't do it again. Just knowing I DID it... I'm proud of myself.

                                Ingredients I don't compromise on: meat, good quality dried pasta, eating chocolate, coffee, flour, fruit, nuts, eggplant - lots of others! I buy the best I can afford. The bottom line is - your dish can only be as good as your ingredients.

                                1. re: krissywats

                                  Here here! I can't remember the last time I bought a bottled dressing or marinade.

                                  1. re: krissywats

                                    Totally agree so another "geek" here!! When I first saw those crock-pot dinners in a bag, you know, those ones premade with everything right in the bag that you can just throw in your crock pot with no clean up required, I thought to myself, OMG, you can't get much easier than a crock pot...

                                    1. re: geminigirl

                                      I thought that once when I saw "shortbread mix" in a catalog. My recipe for shortbread has exactly four ingredients: butter, sugar, flour and vanilla. The product description for "shortbread mix" said "Just add butter and vanilla." So they wanted to sell me what? A bag of sugar and flour for $8.95 (or whatever it was)! Seriously!

                                      1. re: revsharkie

                                        I agree completely. I saw a similar mix and thought the exact same thing. You can't get much easier than shortcake as long as you have an oven and some basic ingredients!

                                      2. re: geminigirl

                                        I thought the same thing!! Pure laziness, even if you don't like to cook!

                                        1. re: geminigirl

                                          What about oil and vinegar salad dressing in a bottle. Who buys that? How can that be easier (I know they don't care about better if this is even being considered for purcahse)?

                                        2. re: krissywats

                                          Totally agree. In my family, the rule of thumb on restaurants is "Can I make this at home?" If I an, why would I want to pay someone else for it? Actually, the other thing that gets to me is those prepackaged salads. Yeah, like I'm going to pay good money for someone to tear up my lettuce.

                                          1. re: Terrieltr

                                            I won't buy packaged salad mixes either, because all the lettuce (especially in the spring mix) ends up tasting the same.

                                            No dried parsley or cilantro, I always use fresh.

                                            No seasoning packets, garlic powder or onion powder, and I try to find pure chili powder.

                                            No dairy subs or reduced fat cheese. No jarred tomato sauce. No fake maple syrup. That's all I can think of right now.

                                        3. Time. I will not rush through something. I'll make something simpler, something lesser even, rather than do less than my best on something else. In cooking you don't get points for degree of difficulty, only for execution.

                                          1. good quality pots & pans. It's a waste to save a few bucks on a skillet and go on to ruin lots of groceries.

                                            1. Make everything from scratch. Other than stuff like mustard, some mayo, fish sauce, hon-dashi, shoyu--no prepared or packaged foods.

                                              1. Real whipped cream! I never use Cool Whip or the stuff in the can. Any recipe calling for whipped cream gets heavy cream whipped by me! And, if I can find pasteurized rather than ultra-pasteurized, even better!

                                                1. Salt, butter and heavy cream. I'm not trying to poison my guests (or my husband) who have higher cholesterol or high blood pressure, but I will salt my food generously as I'm cooking, and real butter and real cream are going in that cake/cookie/sauce/whatever.

                                                  1. Flesh.

                                                    I buy either organic/free-range/sustainably caught or raised/wild meat and seafood or I don't buy it at all. This means more vegetarian meals. After reading Fast Food Nation several years ago and subsequently reading more and more about the meat and seafood industry, I only buy meat and seafood where the sellers know something about what I'm buying and can guarantee some appropriate level of environmental and ethical concern. I try to be conscientious about everything else, but a grad student income and not having infinite time prevents me from living my values perfectly. But, I can be a stickler on meat and seafood, so I am.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: slowfoodgrrl

                                                      Good for you - and I agree completely! I can't say I can afford to live according to my food values 100% (otherwise I'd be growing my own organic garden at this point), but my family does try to eat only free-range meat & poultry and wild/responbily-caught or raised fish....I also don't compromise on eggs. I like to get eggs (and meat, when I can) at a local farmer's market where I know the person selling them. We also eat a lot of vegetarian...we're lucky to be people who love tofu, beans, vegetables, etc as well as fish and meat options. We're soy-milk drinkers as well - I just never liked regular milk to drink, though I do use it in cooking when called for.

                                                    2. An excellent, sharp set of knives. Nothing can take the fun out of cooking like a dull knife.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: bards4

                                                        So true! When we travel we always end up cooking for folks, so we always carry at least one large chef's knife (in the checked luggage of course!). We also just bought family a decent chef's knife which we sharpen when we go.

                                                        Tomatoes I will never buy out of season.

                                                      2. Fresh seafood, tomatoes,good dairy products & mayo!

                                                        1. So many have already named many of the same things that I would have. When it comes to my food items and cooking tools somethings there is just no swapping out for.
                                                          But what came to me almost immediately is lettuce. I can't bring myself to use lettuce that's in a bag, and I am so disappointed if I see it at a party or in a restaurant. Clean your lettuce, and prepare it yourself. Sometimes you can get two heads for $1 make your own mix. I don't understand why people buy it. I know its to save time, but really it doesn't take that long and the payoff is sooooo much better. Oh well just my opinion.
                                                          And most produce, nothing in a package, or bag. How old is that stuff? I want to touch it and turn it over, see what its all about.

                                                          Absolutely ONLY butter, no margarine. And, real maple syrup, now that I have had the real deal, I threw out the imposters. Another fun ethnic condiment, and now that I know how to make is Kim Chee, no longer will I buy the stuff in the jars, homemade is SO much better.

                                                          So Ipsedixit, do you have a good recipe/instructions/tips for making your own wrappers?
                                                          I've made pancakes for moo shu pork, but never a wrapper, sure would love to learn!
                                                          I have a pasta machine!! (old kind that you hand feed) might save on calouses!

                                                          10 Replies
                                                          1. re: chef chicklet

                                                            NEVER NEVER NEVER use a pasta machine for dumpling wrappers! :-)

                                                            Must be hand-rolled for that certain je ne sais quoi chewiness to the wrappers.

                                                            The actual ingredients are rather basic, just water and flour, let it rest in a large bowl for about an afternoon covered with a wet rag. Once the dough is ready, knead it for about 10-15 minutes, then break apart small pieces and form them into approx. 1 inch wide balls, flatten with palm, then go at it with rolling pin.

                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                              Thank you. I have a recipe but it doesn't say to let the dough rest that long. SEEEE that's what I'm talkin about! Thats the kind of tips that they leave out in recipes that makes all the difference.

                                                              Ok no pasta machine, I can do this.

                                                            2. re: chef chicklet

                                                              I have always felt intuitively that it would be better to buy and clean my own lettuce, but I have a heck of a time cleaning it (the salad spinners are ridiculously inefficient) and getting it dry, and then it goes bad in a couple of days. Is there a secret I don't know for getting it clean and really dry and keepable?

                                                              1. re: Marsha

                                                                Use a dedicated (to lettuce drying) cotton pillow case: swing the stuff around your head outside.

                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                  I've tried a similar strategy using a clean cotton dishcloth and found that the lettuce no longer drips, but it isn't really dry. Maybe the pillow case is a better instrument; I'll try it. Thanks.

                                                                  1. re: Marsha

                                                                    Fluff the lettuce around and swing around your head; repeat a couple of times. You'll get all the water out.

                                                                2. re: chef chicklet

                                                                  I'll try this again, I dunk them in a bowl of water, several times, and then one the water is clean without any grains of dirt, I let them drain on their own for about 20 minutes. Then I shake them real well again, and store them in a glass bowl, with paper towels on the bottom,and cove with two on top. Then plastic wrap. The lettuce will stay crisp for a week. Sometimes I prepare it for salads since we eat alot of salad, and they stay crisp too. Never use a knife.

                                                                  1. re: Marsha

                                                                    Wrap the lettuce in 1 or 2 paper towels. I think it absorbs extra moisture and keeps lettuce from going bad too quickly.

                                                                    1. re: Marsha

                                                                      I hate to go really geeky here, but vaccum pack your lettuce. They sell marinating containers on those channels (you know the ones) that have hand pumps. Soak your lettuce for a half hour in two changes of cold water (the longer the duration, the crisper the lettuce becomes). Pull out and set on paper towels, then spin in batches. Once dry put in the vaccum container and suck the air out.

                                                                      My lettuce stays good for a solid week or better.

                                                                      1. re: Marsha

                                                                        Don't wash the whole head at once, just wash leaves as you need them, using any of the techniques already described. And store the remaining lettuce wrapped in paper towels in a sealed ziploc bag. Even without vacuum packing it will easily keep for a week.

                                                                    2. A glass of wine for the chef, and music with enough bounce to make mise en place and clean as you go a snap. Then, the soothing sounds of flailing sharp tensils adds to the percussion. A new box of Band-aids nearby is often useful, as well as a fresh battery for the smoke detector.

                                                                      1. Agree with just about everything here, although I'm not a purist - I've got plenty of dried herbs and spices in my cupboard - and all have a purpose. IMO, it's expensive (and actually a bit over the top) to use only fresh herbs in stews and curries. If it's an omelet, a whitefish or a plated dinner for company? Absolutely, only fresh. Also, in the case of rosemary and oregano I dry my own since I always grow more than I can use.

                                                                        What I didn't see mentioned here was cheese. Never pre-shredded/grated. Always freshly grated and the best quality I can afford for the particular dish being cooked. What a difference.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                          Thank you Panini- I hate that cornstarch covered pre shredded cheese- yuck. What does it take 2 minutes to grate your own? I always sub the full fat kind too, I'm sorry but have you ever eaten low fat chedder- blah- cardboard. I will use the sharpest version tho, and just use a little less in a dish. (but who am I kidding, I eat the extra when grating and waiting!)

                                                                        2. i don't eat peaches, corn or tomatoes out of season or off an airplane.

                                                                          free range everything.

                                                                          real vanilla.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: warrenr

                                                                            Here's a few "convenience" items I would hate to buy or use: Bottled lemon juice..never! Bottle margharita mix. Margarine..awful. Non-diary coffee creamer... Canned ground coffee. Premade pie crusts or premade pie crust dough. Almost anything with corn syrup. American cheese or Velveeta. Spam. Instant mashed potatoes. Bottled cheese sauce. Sweet pickles (just a phobia), canned vegetables like corn and peas. Frozen potatoes.

                                                                            1. re: Rhee

                                                                              Oh, I forgot -- I won't drink coffee unless it's real and caffeinated. If I'm on decaf I'll drink tea instead. And never Lipton. And agree with most of your list -- I don't do instant mashed potatoes or canned veggies.

                                                                          2. my italian in laws even though they have MANY health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, you name it... WILL NOT REDUCE THEIR SALT USAGE! My mother in law adds a few fistfulls of salt to water for pasta and they go through a standard size box (the round ones with spout 26 oz) of salt about every week and a half to two weeks. I am really worried for them. Their food doesn't taste overly salty either? How much sodium is really absorbed into the pasta from the water anyway? Should I be fighting this battle or should I move on to another one? Trust me they're old school and don't like change and although they care a lot about their health, they are unable to make changes to way they cook. So I have other battles I could be fighting and relax about the salt but the High BP scares me? What do you think? Is the 3 fistfulls of salt in their pasta water making a big difference to the amount of sodium intake or is most just going down the drain?

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: akbrjg

                                                                              Well, pasta water DOES need to be salted, I bet most of it goes down the drain. However, it does sound like they are going through a huge amount of salt regularly, all things considered. Unfortunately, not much you can do about this but stand back, watch it happen, and enjoy the pasta. It's hard to get people to change old habits like that.

                                                                            2. Great cheese first of all. Organic milk... it just tastes so different. Good quality peanut or soynut butter. As afar as for cooking, first I would say fresh and high quality vegetables (especially tomatoes) and herbs, they are the foundation of all wonderful dishes. Never be cheap with the oils and never forget fresh onions and garlic...oh the garlic. I would never serve prepackaged tomato sauce on pasta dishes. You will never find margarine or pre-bottled dressings (ugh!) in my fridge or artificial sweetners in my cupboard and never forget wonderful salts and freshly ground black pepper. To those who mentioned the real maple syrup and home made whipped cream...AMEN.

                                                                              1. I am surprised that no one said eggs--I will not bother baking with regular, store bought eggs. I need my free range,farm fresh eggs from happy chickens that I can personally see running around when I go to buy my eggs. Also, I feel the same way about sweet corn as people feel about tomatoes-it has got to be fresh and local. Ditto for the tomatoes

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: fryrose

                                                                                  same here on the eggs..and I want organic milk. I only use freshly ground pepper and kosher salt..and I always use fresh citrus. I buy all my produce at the local farmers market and I grow most of the herbs I use. I make my own mayo and salad dressings.

                                                                                  1. re: melly

                                                                                    Hey wait a minute!!! That's MY reply. LOL Everything's the same here except I Used to make my own mayo. There is much to be said for shopping local producers of meats & fish, fruit & vegetables, cheeses etc....especially buying organic. These are items I Never compromise on.

                                                                                  2. re: fryrose

                                                                                    I agree re: eggs. We are lucky to get ours from someone with a small egg farm in the neighboring town. But their smooth texture, deep yellow color....never going back to store-bought eggs.

                                                                                    Also, cheese, milk, yogurt.

                                                                                  3. I thought I was the only one with an out of season tomato issue. The only tomatoes I will eat year round are the little grape tomatoes.

                                                                                    Butter has to be Lurpak. Danish roots.

                                                                                    Also, fruit is an issue with me. I am sorry but the Chilean fruit we get here in the winter tastes awful to me.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: rHairing

                                                                                      fruit is a big issue with me too. I don't like most fruit that comes from the large supermarkets, excluding Whole Foods. I tried recently because I was there with friends and the produce I bought tasted like nothing.
                                                                                      i don't buy food from south america, except a once or twice yearly mango. i don't buy anything that comes from outside of the immediate area when it's in season here. i'm a poor student, but i don't buy meat that's not organic and fish that's not wild. of course dried pasta -don't buy anything except dececco. and tomatoes, they must be grown in italy, they just taste much better.
                                                                                      oh, I haven't seen this yet - I absolutely cannot comrpomise on bread. I cannot survive on that stuff with hcfs in it, especially when they claim to be "whole grain." my blood sugar gets all out of wack if I don't have a good loaf bread from a bakery ( or the ciabatta from wholefoods, not bad if you toast it.)

                                                                                    2. I really do not compromise on anything when I am cooking. I am a firm believer the success of a recipe is made up of three things 1) the quality of ingredients, 2) The correct equipment, & 3) the skill of the cook.

                                                                                      With the above said, I tend to go way overboard on certain items such as prime beef, fresh fish, and shellfish.

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: swsidejim

                                                                                        "I tend to go way overboard on certain items such as prime beef, fresh fish, and shellfish."
                                                                                        are you sure? :) those sound like things of which the producer really matters.

                                                                                        1. re: fara

                                                                                          overboard price wise, where a recipie may not call for prime beef, etc.

                                                                                          I also tend to eat alot of King Crab, walleye, lake perch, and other expensive items.

                                                                                      2. I don't compromise on anything, and my grocery bill reflects that, unfortunately. Everything is the best quality within reason because I work full time and when i cook every night I don't want to waste my time on substandard food. Fresh herbs and tomatoes in the greenhouse always and never imitation "quick" foods manufactured by Kraft or Nestle.

                                                                                        1. In general, I'm a bit of a food snob, but there are several things I insist on:

                                                                                          Coffee: Beans should be fair trade and purchased from a local outlet. Starbucks makes enough money as it is.... they don't need mine. I also refuse to pay $4.50 for a latte when I can make my own for a fraction of that.

                                                                                          Pie Crusts: Store bought is heavy and dry. Ew. I make my own - hell, what's an extra 5 minutes, especially when it means the pie is edible?

                                                                                          Yogurt: Full fat or not at all. Also, the ingredient list should essentially include nothing more than milk products and bacterial culture. If it has gelatin or corn starch, it doesn't go in my cart.

                                                                                          Cream Cheese: Philly cheese tastes like plastic. Only the real (fresh, unprocessed, sans preservatives) goes.

                                                                                          Seasonal Veggies/Fruits: Yes, it's cheaper at the supermarket - but was picked unripe and travelled thousands of miles from Chile or California or Mexico. So I'll continue to buy what I can at the local famer's market, because I believe in supporting local small business.
                                                                                          Besides, i like to chat with the person who grew my food. It makes it taste better.

                                                                                          10 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: tartiflette

                                                                                            I never "bland down" or "thinsy down" recipes to suit individual quirks. If something is to be sauteed in butter, that's what it is sauteed in, not low-cholesterol vegetable oil. Four ounces of heavy cream means just that, not four ounces of 2% yoghurt, and a teaspoon of chopped Scotch Bonnet peppers is just that, too.

                                                                                            On the other hand, I try to be, shall we say, realistic. If I am making some Southern European dish of peasant origin, I am sure that the Southern European peasant who originated it did not refuse to cook until he got absolutely extra virgin olive oil, and so, neither will I. The harshness of the non-virgin oil (what should we call it? "streetwalker oil" or perhaps "Puttanesca"??) probably comes closer to the taste of the original.

                                                                                            Incidentally, I agree about buying local produce, when possible. However, the place where I live (Ontario) is not exactly brimming with orange groves, banana trees, and the like. So, for lack of anything better, Viva Chile y Mexico tambien!

                                                                                            1. re: ekammin

                                                                                              Agreed re: oranges and bananas. I guess I should've said seasonal AND regional, as I'm from Ontario as well. :) Same goes for produce in winter, as there really isn't much that grows around here once the frost arrives and while I do like root vegetables plenty, they do get tiresome after a while.

                                                                                            2. re: tartiflette

                                                                                              Given your chowhound handle, do you have a good recipe for tartiflette?

                                                                                              In Los Angeles, where I am at, can't seem to get a decent tartiflette anywhere.

                                                                                              Thanks.

                                                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                I believe that this may be what you're looking for? (it's not mine, but I've used it before with great success)
                                                                                                http://www.toomanychefsdev.com/archiv...

                                                                                                The trick is using a good quality cheese. Oh, and make sure your doctor puts you on Lipitor immediately after to deal with the effects of that much saturated fat pounding into your body all at once. :) Mmmm... cheese AND bacon AND cream AND butter.

                                                                                              2. re: tartiflette

                                                                                                Ew- I tried the reduced fat yogurt b'cuz of calories and YUCK. Well duh to me- the ingredients include...asparteme. Nasty artificial sweetener. Thank you I will take the extra calories and take the stairs at work.

                                                                                                1. re: jme1beachbum

                                                                                                  Stonyfield Farms low-fat and nonfat yogurts don't have any artificial sweeteners.

                                                                                                  1. re: JennS

                                                                                                    Very true - I like these a lot, if I'm not having Fage and doctoring it up on my own. The Maple Vanilla is particularly good!

                                                                                                    1. re: JennS

                                                                                                      Yup and Brown Cow All Natural low fat don't either and those whole grains on the bottom....great!

                                                                                                2. Another vote for Extra Virgin Olive Oil -- really good stuff. I've searched high and low, and so far, I always come back to Frantoia.

                                                                                                  1. I agree with so many things on this board! But the one thing for me that I absolutely, under no circumstances can EVER compromise on is MUSHROOMS!! Fresh ONLY. Canned are pure tire rubber, in my opinion!

                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: wicked noodle

                                                                                                      Frankly anything canned is gross. Not to mention all the sodium and preservatives. With the exception of mandarin oranges for my salad. Guess there is always an exception.

                                                                                                      1. re: jme1beachbum

                                                                                                        Actually Goya canned black beans are pretty good.

                                                                                                        1. re: BobB

                                                                                                          Second on the Goya Black Beans - a can of those with a splash of sherry and a tablespoon of minced onion got me through some rough times when I couldn't afford to splurge on much else. (Even today, I find most legumes are OK from a can for side dishes or a quick soup - but not an all day simmer).

                                                                                                          1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                                                            Yeah- I guess thats true. I make a mean black bean mexican pizza and use the canned stuff- but I rinse them well. The dried ones take planning, simmer, soak overnight, etc. I stand corrected

                                                                                                          2. re: jme1beachbum

                                                                                                            Many chefs use canned tomatoes for sauces. There are several really good brands of canned diced, crushed, sauced, pastes...

                                                                                                        2. Along with most of the other things said, butter, fresh ground pepper. The one I do not compromise on is salad dressing. ALWAYS homemade, never bottled crap.

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: phneale

                                                                                                            Another thing I forgot, olives. Those little black pitted slices you get in cans (sometimes marked "Imported from Spain" - should read "Deported from Spain") might be good for sink faucet washers, not much else. Utterly without flavour.I'll take a nice brine or oil cured one with a pit any day.

                                                                                                            I don't really think canned mushrooms are tire rubber. Equipped with small magnets, they could be used to hold shopping lists to your refrigerator door.

                                                                                                          2. I'll play, too.
                                                                                                            Mashed potatoes- Why are so many people hesitant to make their own? It is so easy.
                                                                                                            Stuffing- My MIL, who is a lovely person BTW, uses Stove Top! I make cornbread from scratch and go from there.
                                                                                                            Low fat cheeses and salad dressings- Why bother? I'd rather do without
                                                                                                            Ice cream- Although there are some nice premium brands in stores, I am more likely to make my own. We don't seem to have any great local ice cream stores in Austin (nope, I don't care too much for Amy's)

                                                                                                            1. Since I'm more of a baker than a cook - I always buy the absolute best ingredients that I can get my hands on - butter, vanilla, chocolate, nuts, eggs. it's amazing how good a basic brownie or chocolate chip cookie tastes when made with high quality ingredients.

                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: cookie monster

                                                                                                                I'm with you cookie monster. Good butter, real vanilla and good chocolate chips can elevate a cookie to dessert status.

                                                                                                                1. re: cookie monster

                                                                                                                  What no slice and bake cookies for you? Or brownies from a box. The extra time to make "real" pastries and goodies is soooo worth it! Especially if you use the top of the line vanillas and chocolate. Cookiemonster how do you like Ghiardella choc? Its good for supermarket, altho I usually get italian kind from Williams Sonoma.

                                                                                                                2. Tahitian vanilla. I find it to be the most fragrant, delicious vanilla and I've tried them all.

                                                                                                                  1. Garlic! My husband was following a recipe for a marinade that called for garlic powder. I wouldn't let him buy it.

                                                                                                                    Lemon juice (no plastic lemons in my kitchen)

                                                                                                                    1. I can't afford to be too picky about our food... we don't worry about buying 'organic' etc. but I do have some standards!
                                                                                                                      Cool Whip will NEVER EVER EVER be seen in my house... nor will anything with an artificial sweetener in it (unless somebody brings it here for their own consumption, or I'm baking for a diabetic...). If you want 'coffee whitener' you'll have to go some place else. And my bread must NOT have sugar in it (and especially not HFCS!) Bread is not meant to be sweet... the more natural the ingredients list on my bread, the better.

                                                                                                                      7 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: Kajikit

                                                                                                                        I have not yet figured out just why HFCS is necessary in bread. I don't put it in mine when I make it, and it's plenty sweet enough, thank you very much.

                                                                                                                        1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                          A yeast bread recipe will ask for some kind of sweetener - honey, sugar, molasses - in small quantities. Yeast is a fungus and needs energy to grow and sugar serves this purpose - i'm guessing the companies that make bread wanted to cut corners (around the same time they put it in every other thing as well) and started using a substitute.

                                                                                                                          1. re: krissywats

                                                                                                                            No HFCS or artificial sweeteners in anything I buy, even if it means shopping around. I am lucky in that I have a lot of natural markets around, so this actually isn't so bad.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Jeters

                                                                                                                              No, me either - I was an 'odd man out' on this board for a long time for complaining about HFCS in everything in this country (starting back several years ago). I was only replying as to the need for sweetener in a yeast bread.

                                                                                                                            2. re: krissywats

                                                                                                                              I don't put sugar in my breads or sweetners of any kind. i don't have a problem with it raising.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Candy

                                                                                                                                I think it might have something to do with the cheap quality of the ingredients, like the wheat flour, the companies use vs. what the home cook uses. maybe their bread would taste gross and bitter without the sweetners. or it could be another ingredient, like the preservatives that would cause the bread to taste bad without sweetener.
                                                                                                                                all the more reason NOT to buy packaged bread with HCFS.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Candy

                                                                                                                                  Interesting. Well regardless, that is the purpose it serves is for the growth of yeast. Almost every recipe I use has sugar or honey in it. Loads of starters use sugar to grow the yeast too.

                                                                                                                                  The question was about why they put in HFCS, the point being that it's probably to make the yeast grow.

                                                                                                                          2. Salad dressing - NEVER store bought.

                                                                                                                            Whole milk - stop processing my food, I can manage portions instead.

                                                                                                                            Fresh basil - it is always better if I walk outside and clip it and use it.

                                                                                                                            Sausage - almost always homemade.

                                                                                                                            1. Fresh herbs and spices only (unless there is a specific reason why a recipe calls for it)- this includes garlic, onion, and especially basil. Organic dairy only, including eggs. Yogurt must not contain corn starch or any other extraneous filler, ditto for ice cream. I never ever use artificial sweeteners of any kind, or buy or eat or drink any products that contain them, this is a serious obsession of mine which I know a lot of people do not share, but what can I say? I will not eat prepared pasta sauces, or anything else pre-cooked and mass-produced, for that matter, from a jar. I will prepare sauces from canned tomatoes, and I will eat certain beans from a can, but that's about it for canned foods. I grew up eating corn and peas from a can, and what a difference it made when my mother switched to flash frozen. And, finally, there is no question that I am using extra virgin olive oil from Italy or France in my cooking, save for the occasional "American" dish that I learned to prepare (pan fry, usually) with corn, or the rare "old country" items that call for peanut oil. Oh, and only the best real vanilla extract. I could go on, but I think I had better stop here!

                                                                                                                              1. butter, vanilla, fresh garlic and onions, (as opposed to powder), fresh basil & cilantro, sugar (no artificial sweetener or HFCS), high quality meat, fresh in season fruits and veggies, good chocolate, ice cream, pita bread (must come from local middle eastern bakeries, not from supermarket), cream, raw milk parmesano-reggiano from Whole Foods, EVOO

                                                                                                                                I think that's about everything we eat!

                                                                                                                                1. My order of preference for produce is:

                                                                                                                                  local and organic
                                                                                                                                  local and conventional
                                                                                                                                  non-local and organic
                                                                                                                                  non-local and conventional

                                                                                                                                  We don't have great local and organic produce year round, unfortunately (unlike those lucky Californians), so I have to make compromises.

                                                                                                                                  There are some herbs that I have to use fresh (parsley, cilantro, basil, mint). And garlic powder and onion powder are not allowed in the kitchen.

                                                                                                                                  I only buy organic milk (and am trying to buy more and more organic meats as well).

                                                                                                                                  I actually will cook with regular olive oil, but for all other uses it has to be EVOO.

                                                                                                                                  1. I definitely do not compromise on the following:

                                                                                                                                    Real Butter
                                                                                                                                    Real Cane Sugar (especially the one that has not been over processed to a gleaming white...you use less and actually smells like sugar)
                                                                                                                                    Real Maple Syrup
                                                                                                                                    Real Sea Salt

                                                                                                                                    I'm pretty much in agreement with everyone here regarding our food purchasing philosophy. Once something has been too adulterated or processed, its fake and can't possibly be good for you.

                                                                                                                                    1. Tomato Sauce!!

                                                                                                                                      Id be embarrased if I didnt make my own with crushed tomatoes combined with whatever concoction I decide on for that week's batch. Never ever buy it from a jar or from olive garden, both are like eating sugared ketchup. That is one thing that is completely unacceptable, if you dont want to stick to it and make your own sauce you just dont care.

                                                                                                                                      1. I try to buy the best quality ingredients I can find. We buy very little "pre-made foods" - jams, vinegars, cheese, peanut butter, cured meats, pasta, some chutneys, mustards, puff pastry dough come to mind as the "pre made" things that we buy. I always buy organic/free range eggs and dairy products, and always use unsalted butter. Often, but not always, buy organic meats.

                                                                                                                                        I think this is, in part, why I cannot for the life of me understand what people find appealing about TJ's.

                                                                                                                                        Edit - I do have two confessions though - the Canola Mayonnaise at WFs. I do make my own as well, but it is handy to have around. Also, I've never made fresh pasta, and sometimes buy ravioli.

                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                                          ah, MMRuth, I respect your opinion and now have heard what I've suspected all along about TJ's! I have never been in one, but have wondered how the opening in my town this fall would affect my life and my relationship with WF's. I think WF is akin to an area of worship, where I don't mind giving away a good percentage of my salary, so I'm very skeptical of TJ's. I have heard they sell mostly prepared foods and pre-packaged produce.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: fara

                                                                                                                                            I think of the produce at TJ's as being mostly a convenience -- although they do have some organic produce now. I think the people who are disappointed with TJ's are the people who are expecting it to be Whole Foods -- it's not. It's not even supposed to be a full-range supermarket. It carries what it carries -- a rather idiosyncratic product mix. Generally what it does carry is better and/or less expensive that it would be other places.

                                                                                                                                            But speaking of organics, TJ's has great organic dairy products, including milk, yogurt, butter and sour cream. Many of their other product lines have organic options as well. And a whole lot cheaper than Whole Foods.

                                                                                                                                        2. How about balsamic vinegar? My wife won't let me buy the really good stuff (i.e. a bottle that costs 100 dollars), but is there a limit to how "low" one should go?

                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: ewallace001

                                                                                                                                            I don't usually get balsamic thats aged less than 5-7 years. Currently have a 10 year aged bottle and its very good. However- when its for cooking instead of finishing and salad dressings a little lower quality won't hurt.

                                                                                                                                            Extra virgin olive oil- italian or french made def, good ol USA doesnt requlate theirs the same.

                                                                                                                                            High quality dairy, cheese, yogurt, butter, sour cream, full fat, even cream cheese.

                                                                                                                                            Produce, I love fresh herbs, but have a black thumb (i once killed a cactus) so I buy mine from the farmers market.

                                                                                                                                            I wish I could say tomato sauce, buuut I cheat and but jarred kind and fix it up a bit. I like Newmans own and Classico. My mom would kill me if she knew, she's a "the sauce isnt as good as normal, I only cooked it 4 hours instead of 8 type."

                                                                                                                                            Desserts- homemade, from scratch. You will not see a box of brownie mix in my cabinet. Top quality vanilla and choc a must.

                                                                                                                                            Last but not least- Macaroni and cheese! One of the best meals ever must have the best ingredients! Its worth it! One of my faves:

                                                                                                                                            http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...

                                                                                                                                            1. re: jme1beachbum

                                                                                                                                              The other day, my wife said she would save money by buying Log Cabin pancake syrup. I told her that if she did that, I would eat the pancakes dry. She then purchased some 100% Quebec maple syrup.