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Mar 4, 2012 10:01 AM

~ What are ingredients that are best to buy (semi)-prepared rather than whole to save time and effort ~

Some examples that are better to buy:
* minced garlic
* minced onions
* pre-cut meat
* fish fillets

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  1. I've heard that canned pumpkin and tomato paste are usually worth buying / not worth preparing from scratch, though, given how much I like pumpkin, I'd probably consider toting home a kabocha, roasting it, and adding my own spices instead of tasting 'generic Christmas.' I can't fathom making my own tomato paste, though -- it seems like too much energy spent to evaporate off all that water, and something that can be done more efficiently in an operation of scale.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Harmy

      Yes to both.

      One summer when our 20+ tomato plants yielded a larger-than-usual bumper crop, my folks made tomato "paste" -- really just sauce reduced as far as possible before it started to stick and burn, and that "pre-sticking" stage was probably not close to half as concentrated as store-bought.

      1. re: Harmy

        I never make tomato paste but will use canned pumpkin depending on what I am making. I this area we put longneck pumpkin in pies so I will do that from scratch but my pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I prefer the can.

        1. re: melpy

          UMMMM....choc chip pumpkin cookies?! Recipe please.

          1. re: melpy

            I completely agree with those who say tomato paste! Canned pumpkin isn't readily available where I live. So I have no option. But if it was available I'd probably go with that too in baked goods. For soup I like fresh.

          2. re: Harmy

            You need to buy pumpkin purée, not pumpkin pie filling. With the purée you can add your own spices. I have done the from fresh pumpkin thing, and it was DEFINITELY not worth the effort :)

            1. re: CanadaGirl

              I don't have the option of buying canned pumpkin -- but I just hack fresh into pieces and toss it in the oven for an hour or so -- no effort at all and the dry heat brings out wonderful flavors.

              When it's cool, 2 minutes with a stick blender and I have puree with not a lot more effort than opening a can.

            2. re: Harmy

              Canned pumpkin isn't flavored. I think you're thinking of canned pumpkin pie filling. Canned pumpkin is great for soups.

              1. re: LisaPA

                Your post is interesting timing...had some extra canned pumpkin, so as a test, took a few scoops of my spiced dal (lentils) and added a few spoons of pumpkin--wonderful!

            3. I can't stand the taste of preminced garlic or onion, especially garlic. It doesn't take long at all to do from scratch and the skunk smell isn't there. That's about the last place I'd cut corners.

              29 Replies
              1. re: EWSflash

                me, too -- although pearl onions are a slam-dunk to buy frozen -- not skunky, not bitter, and I don't have to stand there peeling the damned things.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    But kind of blah and slimy. Have you tried dumping the onions in boiling water for 30 seconds? MUCH easier to peel.

                    1. re: sr44

                      I've never been disappointed with frozen pearl onions -- no blah, no slimy.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          I use them, too, since Ina Garten recommends them for beef burgundy... never any slime or mushiness, even, or I wouldn't use them. That sounds like a brand quality or a storage problem.

                          1. re: mcf

                            I used to use frozen onions, having memories of my mother and aunt crying while they peeled holiday onions. Then I tried fresh ones, boiling them briefly, and haven't gone back. Much better flavor and texture.

                            1. re: sr44

                              I tried the frozen ones out of frustration and never went back because I couldn't taste a difference in my bourgignonne.

                    2. re: EWSflash

                      Agreed. Preminced garlic is an abomination in my kitchen. Dreadful.

                      1. re: LauraGrace

                        Same here. Tried it once as I could not find garlic and would never, ever do it again. I would rather make an entirely different dish than use preminced.

                        Would not buy pre-minced onions, either.

                        1. re: LauraGrace

                          Ditto. I was surprised to see it on the OP's list. A friend of mine recomended I try it years ago and I was shocked by the disgusting "off" flavor. I wouldn't be surprised if something in a jar just wasn't as fresh or as strong, but this stuff has something EXTRA....and it's extra bad. don't know if it's the preservatives, or just something that happens to garlic when it sits. I was further surprised that my friend couldn't taste how nasty it was. Theory: either there are some brands better than others, or maybe some people are sensitive what ever flavor compounds the jared stuff gives off.

                          I cheat sometimes w/ chicken or beef stock, pre-washed baby spinach, chopped/cooked/frozen spinach, hot cocoa mix.

                          1. re: LauraGrace

                            I don't like the flavor of preminced garlic. But worse, I've read that it goes bad really fast. And who can use that much garlic fast?

                            1. re: LauraGrace

                              I have to agree about the chopped garlic that comes in jars, however I love the Dorot frozen minced garlic cubes that Trader Joe's sells. It doesn't have the weird flavors of the jarred stuff and it's so convenient. I always have a few packages in my freezer.

                              1. re: gmm

                                Another vote in favor of the Dorot frozen garlic cubes - also their frozen minced ginger cubes, & some of the other herb cubes they make. Fresh is obviously best (I would never use Dorot garlic in an aglio e olio, frex), but esp. when I'm just tossing them into a soup or stew the cubes are a great convenience, and much better than jarred or dried.

                            2. re: EWSflash

                              Me too. I didn't actually realise you could buy preminced garlic or onion until a few years ago. I've always wondered who actually buys it.

                              1. re: TheHuntress

                                My best friend buys the garlic because she doesn't want her hands to smell.

                                1. re: melpy

                                  there are far too many ways to get rid of the garlic smell than there are ways to salvage a dish ruined by the acrid taste of jarred garlic.

                                  The easiest and cheapest? Take a metal spoon -- rub it on your fingers under running water - just like you'd rub your hands with a bar of soap. Costs nothing, and it works.

                                  Other folks rub their wet hands on the stainless faucet or the stainless sink -- I have absolutely no idea why, but wet stainless absolutely removes the smell.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Any stainless steel will do, I use my chef's knife, right after chopping the garlic. Or a bowl or spoon. Works every time. Magic!

                                    1. re: mcf

                                      I couldn't possibly use a chef's knife - the bloodshed wouldn't be worth it.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        Well, it certainly is prudent to use the top edge and not the blade. I thought that went without saying. :-) No rubbing required, just contact under running water.

                                        1. re: mcf

                                          I have very good knives that I keep murderously sharp. Not only am I not going to risk the blood loss, but it's also a good way to ding the blade against the faucet, the sink, or something else.

                                          It's far, far easier to just pick up a spoon or rub my hands on the faucet -- it's right there, it probably could use a quick rinse, and it has no sharp edges that need protecting or that anyone needs protection from.

                                    2. re: sunshine842

                                      I shared this tidbit with her because it us what I do but she is rather hard headed.

                                    3. re: melpy

                                      Well there you go. Preminced onions and garlic don't do big business over here, I've only seen it a couple of times in the supermarket, but it did make me wonder. I also noted further up with someone saying about arthritic hands and not being able to chop anymore.

                                      1. re: melpy

                                        "My best friend buys the garlic because she doesn't want her hands to smell."

                                        I use my nose for smelling, not my hands. :-)

                                          1. re: sandylc

                                            "My dog's got no nose."

                                            "How does he smell?"



                                      2. re: EWSflash

                                        when I need larger amounts (i.e., 1/2 lb or more) of minced garlic, I buy the preminced sort. Soaking/rinsing in cold water for a few minutes will improve the flavor.

                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                          Agreed, especially with the garlic it is not even the same type of thing.

                                          1. re: EWSflash

                                            I don't like the pre-minced (jarred) garlic either. I do admit to having bought "frozen" blend of onions and peppers before however.

                                          2. I agree that many food items are better bought as semi-prepared. I suppose these days pre-cut meat and fish fillets are the norm, but I don't agree with minced garlic and minced onions . The thing is that pre-cut meat does not taste any worse than cutting the meat by yourself. It is just more expensive. Minced garlic, onion, ginger .... lose some of their orignal flavor after awhile and acquire different flavor as well, so it may work on some applications, but it may not work on others.

                                            I think turmeric should be bought pre-ground, because grinding it on yourself will be very tough:


                                            I also like to buy certain sauce as opposed making them on my own. Sometime it is just so time consuming.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              On September 12, 2001, I decided to spend the day cooking. I was living in NYC, work was closed, and I figured cooking would be healing and calming. I made a detailed shopping list (because I knew that otherwise I would be too deranged by sadness and anxiety to shop in an organized way), and one of the things on my shopping list was fresh ginger. In some ways, being in the supermarket made me feel worse. No trucks were coming into the city to make deliveries, and the shelves were messy and full of empty spaces. One of the missing items was fresh ginger. As a substitute, for the first time in my life, I bought a jar of pre-minced ginger. It was actually a pretty good product, and I was pleased by what a decent substitute it was for fresh ginger. At the time, I thought, "Hey, I should buy this again." Every now and then I notice pre-minced ginger on the shelf, but to me, the jar radiates memories of grief. So I've never bought it since. Also, fresh ginger actually is better.

                                              And I should mention that once I got home from the supermarket, cooking really was healing and calming.

                                              1. re: Pumpkinseed

                                                Yes, I think I still remember what happens that day and what exactly I was doing while I found out the news.

                                                Cooking is indeed healing and calming. Of course, many other activities also provide this as well.

                                            2. Never garlic or onions, especially not garlic! I buy pre shredded slaw for home made cole slaw, and pre butchered meat, but that's about it.

                                              1. Peanut butter
                                                Mayo (if Duke's -- I won't vouch for other brands ;)
                                                Canned pumpkin and tomato paste as mentioned above
                                                Thai curry pastes
                                                Sauces/condiments/etc. -- especially of a fermented or long-cooked variety (fermented black bean sauce, miso, ketchup, sri racha and other hot sauces, mustard, etc., etc.). I've made some of those things, but I generally use the prepared versions because they're both convenient and delicious.
                                                Of course, things like olive oil and butter are "prepared" foods, or at least semi-prepared, though we scarcely think of them as such, as well as evaporated or condensed milk, dried herbs and spices, bacon, flour, vinegar, sugar, cofee...

                                                Garlic and onions, ginger, fresh chilies and salad dressing are things not worth buying pre-prepped, IMO, because they'll never be as good.