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Where do you draw the line ? Things you let slide or things that you can only let be fresh?

I bought fresh water chestnuts today; Mind you I am *totally* happy with canned water chestnuts. Maybe that is so because I never had fresh ones before. But those little things sure look hard to peel and for me hard to get (closest place to get fresh is 60 miles of driving one way) plus I use canned alot, so like the stuff.

But makes me think, I can live, like and maybe love canned water chestnuts. What other somewhat processed foods do I like and use, over obtaining making and using fresh?
Canned tuna
dried pasta
I'd say peanut butter but I hate the stuff

You get the idea. And what do you say?

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  1. What can I say, Barney Butter is ridiculously smooth and the roasted flavor is absolutely perfect. No way I could make almond butter that good with my food processor.

    1 Reply
      1. re: ipsedixit

        Seconded. Unless a recipe needs fresh tomatoes, I'll happily use canned. Cheaper and the quality is better most of the year.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Wow, I seldom use tomatoes so if I can't get good fresh, I get another idea for the meal.
          I wholeheartedly use canned pasta sauce. So my mileage varies alot! :-)

          1. re: Quine

            There are times, many in fact, where I actually prefer canned to fresh (even if the fresh tomatoes are from my garden).

            1. re: ipsedixit

              In winter, best-quality canned can even be used in an interesting and quite tasty BLT, sliced and drained of course.
              And whenever I make salsa with fresh tomatoes, I have to add a can of chopped tomatoes (usually the sort with onion, garlic and jalapenos) to the mix to make it taste "just right."

            2. re: Quine

              Tomatoes -my first thought. I would much rather use a canned ripe tomato than a gassed winter one. My husband drove a produce truck at one time, from L.A. to wherever. The tomatoes and other veggies were picked green and then they were gassed.. Made them red on the outside but certainly not ripe. And the lingering smell of that gas sickens me.

              We grow our tomatoes, I can pasta sauce, salsa ,tomatoes. At the end of the season,before a hard frost or freeze, we strip the vines, wrap each tomato in newspaper or whatever paper available, and store them in a cool place. Each week,sometimes more often, go through the tomatoes and pick out the ripest ones. We managed to have tomatoes until the end of February.They aren't as good as the ones that ripen on the vine but better than anything else available at that time.

              1. re: MellieMag

                MellieMag! So good to see you post, I know you are new to ChowHound!

                Yes, I seldom buy nor use fresh tomatoes during winter, and since I live in New Jersey, I have a high standard for fresh tomatoes.

                Fortunately I also am not a huge tomato user. I pretty much only use them fresh.

                1. re: Quine

                  I have to admit that I've been unhappy with tomatoes in recent years. The hybrids are too mild and it's hard to find a real tomato. As my niece says, I want to salt and eat a tomato that will burn the corners of my mouth. We like old fashioned high acid tomatoes. Rutgers are pretty good,but we like the Jetstars best. The Beefsteaks, all those are too mild. I really hate it when I look in the seed catalogs and they describe tomatoes, onions or garlic as sweet and mild. They are not intended to be sweet and mild. I use a lot of tomatoes, fresh or not. Where we live,we all try to have the first tomato by the 4th of July.

                  1. re: MellieMag

                    Jetstars are my absolute favorite too! Last year, I experimented with half a dozen or so "heirloom" varieties, and while each was fine, not one of them could compare with my beloved jetstar. :)

                    And what I wouldn't give to have tomatoes by the 4th of July - I'm lucky if I get them by the 1st of August. Fortunately, we have a local farmer who has greenhouse tomatoes year-round - they're not sun-ripened, but they're not supermarket tomatoes, either. Maybe once or twice a year, I'll succumb and pick up a basket. Better than nothing.

                    1. re: Krislady

                      Yep, tinned tomatoes for me usually. I buy a particular type of fresh baby plum tomato for salads, which are always really tasty, but otherwise for cooking I buy tinned and/or passata. Usually imported Italian brands, which are easy to get hold of in the UK.

                      On the other hand, I'd never buy an actual pre-made pasta sauce like Ragu or Dolmio.

                      1. re: Isobel_A

                        I *usually* make my own sauce...but I tend to keep a jar of Barilla in the pantry because when it's late and everyone is starving, it's a race to get something on the table before they start in on the table.

                        Barilla is really good...I still prefer homemade, but the Barilla is certainly acceptable.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          Ditto here; with kids and work, I can't always...no, I seldom have the time to make spaghetti sauce from scratch, so I have the stuff in the jar ( I like Prego) and tweak it by quicky sauteeing lots of chopped garlic and some chopped onion in olive oil for 30 seconds, add any ground meat, cook a bit, throw in any fresh tomatoes and/or bell peppers (diced) and/or mushrooms that need to be used (sliced) , Dump in the jar of spaghetti sauce with a handful of dried oregano and Italian seasoning, and simmer. It sounds like a lot, but it's a non-measuring, relatively mindless way to make a dish that everyone likes.

                          But back to the original post....what I will also use canned/boxed are:
                          tomatoes (for sauces & stews)
                          nut butters
                          jams (in fact, most condiments)
                          sausages and deli meats
                          pineapple (but I sometimes buy fresh ones, too)

                          What I use or make FRESH ONLY:
                          mac & cheese
                          salads including cole slaw
                          cookies, cakes, pies
                          pancakes and french toast
                          chicken, and beef
                          lemon & lime juices (got a tree of each!)

                          Here's what I make when I can, and buy premade/canned when I don't::

                          bread(s) except cornbread
                          ice cream
                          soups and stock

                          Maybe in the future, when I have someone who'll clean up after me like Martha Stewart does, I'll get into making my own cheeses, sausages, soap, and candles, but I don't see that happening soon.

                          1. re: Michelly

                            After a couple of years of making my own bulk sausage, I bought a 'tube' of Jimmy Dean cause it was dirt cheap. Had one breakfast of it and fed the rest to the dogs. I rarely feel that strongly about any food. My $50 grinder attachment has paid for itself many times over in both $$$ and qualilty.

                            1. re: Michelly

                              Here's where I guiltily admit that whilst I wouldn't buy a pre-made pasta sauce, my double standards do allow me to buy pre-made biscuits and cakes! I don't have enough of a sweet tooth to get interested in baking (apart from pies, I like making pies and crumbles).

                              1. re: Isobel_A

                                no need for guilt - baking isn't for everyone...and scratch biscuits require a bit more patience and practice than a simple tomato sauce ;)

                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                  I have no patience for baking at all. Can spend four hours cooking a bolognese, but that's just simmering away for most of it making the house smell nice while I get on with something else!

                            2. re: sunshine842

                              I make pasta sauce in the summer when we have our own tomatoes and herbs,sometimes garlic as well, can it and then I can put a pasta meal together quickly and easily in the winter months.
                              My oregano is greening up.! Bless its little plant heart, it's been with me for a lot of years when other herbs have forsaken me and kicked the bucket.

              2. canned tuna and salmon absolutely have their place in my pantry, but i don't view them as substitutes for fresh fish by any means.

                but i'll gladly - and unapologetically - use canned or frozen beans/legumes when i don't have the time or patience to cook dried ones.

                4 Replies
                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  Yepper yepper, canned beans, for sure.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    Definitely canned beans. I can never plan meals ahead (unless I'm cooking for others) because I am so fickle about what I want to eat on an given day. If I want a meal with beans or chickpeas I have to defer to the canned kind for convenience. And I'm quite happy doing so.

                    1. re: TheHuntress

                      I can go either way on that one. I usually have some beans, all cooked up and in the freezer in two cup portions. I can thaw them just enough in the MW to dump them into a saucepan and heat/thaw the rest of the way. VERY quick. But I often just grab the can of black beans out of the pantry. Like them both.

                    2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Absolutely canned beans! A couple weeks ago, a snooty wine-shop owner snarked me for using canned beans when I asked him what wine he'd serve with the Tuscan beans and kale I was making for dinner, and I just rolled my eyes and said that it'd hardly be a 20-minute meal if I used dried.

                      I make hummus only with dried chickpeas, though. The flavor is totally unbeatable, IMO, and I don't find it as much of an inconvenience since it's not for a meal.

                    3. HAS TO BE FRESH -- Peanut Butter. The jarred stuff just tastes like goop to me, whereas the fresh-ground pb (available in the deli/prepared-foods section of my grocery) tastes like PEANUTS.

                      I never make mashed potatoes from flakes, only fresh, but I do use the flakes to thicken dishes or to bread something.

                      I do use canned beans. Much more convenient than soaking dried beans overnight then putting them on the range all day to stew.

                      1. in recipes, I prefer canned tomatoes.

                        Beans as others have mentioned.

                        Broccoli, brussels sprouts, lima beans -- HAVE to be fresh or I'm not going to eat them. Not even frozen -- FRESH.

                        For salads, sandwiches, and ratatouille, if I can't buy fresh, I leave it out or (for ratatouille) just don't make it -- with fresh tomatoes it's bright and tangy and delicious. With canned tomatoes it's just glorified spaghetti sauce.

                        Fruit? Has to fresh. I'll eat canned or frozen fruit if I have to, but I'd never choose it. (only exception is frozen fruit in the wintertime, but I make jam out of THAT, so it's still not for eating as is)

                        Bread? Prefer fresh if there's any way.

                        Krispy Kreme? If the light ain't on and they're not hot enough to melt the icing, I'm out.

                        1. As others have noted, sometimes not-fresh is better than fresh (e.g., canned San Marzano tomatoes in the winter). And sometimes not-fresh is simply different than fresh (e.g., jarred tuna in olive oil). But if the heart of the question is when do I knowingly use inferior quality ingredients for convenience, here are some examples:

                          Tortillas. Too hard/time consuming.
                          Coconut milk and coconut cream. Ditto.
                          Chicken broth/stock. I feel ashamed about this one.

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: sushigirlie

                            Corn tortillas are dead easy and quick to make with a tortilla press, but flour? Ugh. I really should just make a massive batch some weekend (like, a hundred) and freeze them in Foodsaver bags, because they are a ridiculous PITA. Not hard, just fussy.

                            I don't know *anyone* who makes coconut milk or cream. How would one even go about it?

                            1. re: LauraGrace

                              I don't know *anyone* who makes coconut milk or cream. How would one even go about it?
                              soak shredded or ground meat in warm water, whizz in the blender or FP to form a thick paste, then strain/press through *doubled* cheesecloth or a permeable cloth (to prevent any solids from getting through) and collect the liquid.

                              the solid : liquid ratio is what differentiates cream from milk. use about 4:1 coconut to water for cream, or equal parts coconut & water for milk.

                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                I think your cream and milk ratios are backwards.

                                One thing I've noticed is that people have different ideas about what constitute "coconut milk" and "coconut cream." To some people, coconut cream is the white, semi-solid layer of fat that forms on top of the strained liquid, and coconut milk is the liquid that remains when that layer is removed. To others, coconut cream includes a little bit of the liquid, and coconut milk is basically just diluted coconut cream.

                                1. re: sushigirlie

                                  I think your cream and milk ratios are backwards.
                                  nope. 4 parts coconut to 1 part water for cream, or 1 part coconut to 1 part water for milk.

                              2. re: LauraGrace

                                I've made it from dried coconut before. I guess it wasn't that much of a challenge. But I have a debilitating fear of working with fresh coconuts.

                                1. re: LauraGrace

                                  Odd about the tortillas. I've had the exact opposite experience. My husband and I can and do make really good flour tortillas, but ever attempt we've made at corn tortillas has been an abject failure. We've only tried corn using maseca, though. I suspect if we made a trip to a molino to buy fresh masa, we might have more success.

                                  1. re: agoodbite

                                    I've only ever used maseca. The trick is to line the press with quart-size zip-top bag, with the zip-top and the sides cut open. My press is cheap cast aluminum and the masa sticks to it like crazy, but the zip-top bag makes quick work of the whole process.

                                    1. re: LauraGrace

                                      I know about the zip-lock bag trick, but I think our proportions are off. Do you follow the recipe on the maseca bag? We have the same press. Maybe we're heating the comal too much or not enough? Husband's mother's (from northern Mexico)recipe is of the this-much-of this, little-bit-of that variety.

                                      I'm ready for any tips you have. Thanks!

                                      1. re: agoodbite

                                        I do follow the maseca proportions, but just like with any recipe that's primarily flour, you have to tweak it to make sure it's not too moist or too dry. I find that in the winter I have to add a bit more water than the recipe calls for, and I ALWAYS add a little oil or bacon grease to keep them pliable -- maybe a tablespoon or two per batch. I aim for it to look like play-doh -- i.e. not crumbly, not too soft -- and I let it rest for an hour or so before pressing to get thoroughly moist.

                                2. re: sushigirlie

                                  re chicken stock, i try to split the difference. for the veggie puree soups -- carrot, squash, sweet potato -- i use better than bouillon. save the homemade for a chicken vegetable or chicken noodle.

                                  1. re: wonderwoman

                                    I'm rather miserly with my stock also. If something has a lot of flavor going on, I'll opt for the canned.

                                3. frozen peas
                                  Trader Joe's frozen roasted corn
                                  frozen spinach
                                  canned beans, esp. chickpeas
                                  canned tomatoes, as mentioned above

                                  1. I must always have fresh herbs on hand except for oregano which is best dried. Same goes for lemon and lime juice as opposed to the stuff in containers. Will not let those slide!

                                    However, I will use some frozen vegetables when fresh is unavailable.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: chefathome

                                      I think with herbs there's a place for both. I use dried basil, for example, in long cook sauces like bolognese. For a quick tomato sauce, though, I'd just throw in some torn leaves a minute or so before the sauce was done.

                                    2. OK:
                                      canned tomatoes
                                      frozen peas
                                      frozen corn if it's going in something else, like cornbread

                                      bottled lemon or lime juice
                                      jarred spaghetti sauce
                                      box cakes

                                      Almost never:
                                      canned beans, unless I'm making last-minute chili and can wash all that ook and smell off. I know they're both *called* beans, but they're two completely different foods, if you're me.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Jay F

                                        minute maid makes a frozen lemon juice sans preservatives that's actually pretty good. i keep some in the freezer for those times when i either don't have a lemon, or the lemons i've had (for who knows how long) have turned into a science experiment. while i find fresh lemons stay fresh longer stored in a glass jar in the fridge, sometimes i lose track of how long they've been in there, and the minute maid is a more than acceptable substitute.

                                      2. oh yes...fresh asparagus I will inhale until I fall over.

                                        Canned asparagus is a creation of the antiChrist.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          I am SO with you on that! I can make a total meal on fresh asparagus, day in and day out.

                                          Canned is another thing, it;s weird and sometimes I like that weird, the same way I like canned potatoes. Those days must be when I am in my universe that has pink sparky skies. :-)

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            Amen! I bought two and a half pounds of big fat gorgeous asparagus today... mmm... can't wait to eat it...

                                            1. re: LauraGrace


                                              In fact the wimper I made reading your post, had my cats running to see what goodie I just found. Great visual.

                                            2. re: sunshine842

                                              I wish there was a like button. Tinned asparagus is indeed revolting, loses all the delicacy of the flavour and the silky crunch of the texture. Asparagus is one of the things I miss about NZ - huge bunches of it for 70c. In the UK it's always expensive and the season is sooo short.

                                            3. Once I realized how little difference there is in taste or texture using frozen pearl onions instead of fresh in any highly-flavored, long-cooking dish like Beef Bourguignon, I never looked back. No more peeling with the blanch-pinch-curse method.

                                              4 Replies
                                                1. re: mandycat

                                                  " . . . blanch-pinch-curse method." Love it.

                                                  I just bought my first bag of frozen pearls this year . . . and I am free of that chore, and am no longer tempted to make my T-day creamed five onion gratin into a four onion gratin.

                                                  1. re: mandycat

                                                    I do find a difference, are you able to brown and get some caramelization on the frozen onions? When I tried they seemed to just want to hang onto the water. And if you can, how? I'd love to toss that duty too, its a pain.

                                                    1. re: chef chicklet

                                                      I know I started to answer this question. Apparently I never finished. No, the frozen onions don't caramelize. In something like a beef stew with browned meat, red wine and garlic all going on at once, you won't taste the difference. In something more subtly flavored you might miss the browned onions.

                                                  2. Things that can only be fresh for me,
                                                    Fresh spinach only - no frozen or canned for me
                                                    Mostly fresh vegetables - frozen corn and canned tomatoes, and beans are okay too.
                                                    I can' t get into prepared rices, the ones in a bag or minute type cooking fresh rice is the best
                                                    Pasta dry or fresh (Trader Joe's butternut squash ravioli, pretty tasty)
                                                    I love homemade jams, I refuse to pay $8 for a small jar of good boutique jam when it's so easy to make.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: chef chicklet

                                                      I only use frozen spinach in lasagna (mixed with the ricotta)or in dip...for those, the softer texture is actually better, and darned if I'm going to spend that much time washing and trimming just to puree it into something where the flavor plays second fiddle anyway.

                                                    2. Realised that I never actually replied to the original post!

                                                      More than happy with:
                                                      dried pasta
                                                      tinned tomatoes
                                                      cakes/biscuits (don't have a sweet tooth or enjoy baking)
                                                      jams/pickles etc
                                                      Tinned tuna
                                                      Tinned corn
                                                      Frozen peas
                                                      Sausages (but nice ones - I like the specialist ones from Waitrose)

                                                      OK with:
                                                      pureed garlic/ginger/chilli
                                                      Frozen spinach
                                                      Frozen summer berries (for smoothies)
                                                      Good quality pesto (I'll only buy it if it's EVOO, pine nuts rather than cashews, proper parmesan etc)
                                                      hummous (I prefer to make it but I'll buy nice stuff sometimes)

                                                      any other frozen veg (I bought frozen brussels once - bleurg! Never again!)
                                                      pre-made pasta sauces
                                                      pre-made mashed potatoes etc
                                                      pancakes/waffles (I can make them, they don't count as baking!)
                                                      scones, fruit or cheese - somehow don't come under the OK like the rest of the cake and biscuit world
                                                      Potato salad, coleslaw etc