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~ 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?"

                                            "Terrible!"

                                            bahdum

                                      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:

                                            http://www.bewellbuzz.com/wp-content/...

                                            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
                                                Cheese
                                                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.

                                                  1. re: Njchicaa

                                                    I think of homemade mayo as almost a completely different foodstuff from the storebought kind. I actually like the storebought kind for plenty of things, but there are some situations where only a homemade variety will do.

                                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                                      the college-age son of dear friends visited us a few years ago, so I took him for the requisite tour of Paris.

                                                      I gave him a primer on improving your chances of finding a decent place to eat in Paris, and he proved to be a very apt student -- he chose the place for lunch, and the food was great. (no, I don't remember the name, only vaguely where it was)

                                                      He ate the house-made mayo on his fries, on his steak, then finally on a piece of bread, scooping it out of the cup and finishing every last molecule.

                                                      He asked me after lunch what the awesome sauce was, and thought I was yanking his chain when I said it was mayo. "But I HATE mayo! It makes me gag!" -- I finally made some at home to show him that yes, indeed, homemade mayo is a different thing completely from the jarred stuff...and can be good enough to eat it straight.

                                                  2. Agree with the meat and fish, but there is no way I'd buy precut garlic or onions. I have bought minced ginger in a jar and use it when I don't have fresh. It's not as zingy as fresh, but will do when ginger isn't the main flavor. I've also bought shredded red cabbage and thought it was fine for fish tacos.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: Isolda

                                                      i store fresh, unpeeled ginger in a glass jar in the freezer, then grate it using a microplane. keeps a long time.

                                                      1. re: wonderwoman

                                                        I peel a lot of ginger, slice it thinly, then put it in a glass jar and cover it with dry sherry. Refrigerated, it lasts forever this way. What little flavor the sherry imparts always goes well with whatever I'm making with the ginger.

                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                          i do love dry sherry, so i'll have to try that. although, i might try grated the ginger instead of slicing it.

                                                          the reason i love grating ginger rather than slicing or chopping is that the microplane allows me to get a lot of ginger flavor without having to peel it, and without biting into a piece of ginger, which i hate.

                                                    2. For years (30-plus) I never considered using bottled/minced garlic. However, now that my hands are limited by arthritis I recently gave in and bought a jar of minced garlic from Trader Joes. I'm still finding myself feeling a tad uneasy as I scoop some out for soups, stews etc. but honestly I haven't noticed a huge difference. Just a little reminder that what some young, able-bodied people might consider an "abomination" (hi LauraGrace) is for some of us the best we can do.

                                                      11 Replies
                                                      1. re: lenorelenore

                                                        My mom buys the TJ's garlic for the same reason you do. Yes, I can taste the difference, especially in raw foods, like salad dressing, but I think the main problem is that many people who use the jarred kind use too much of it. It's just too easy to spoon out a massive scoop, as many restaurant cooks do.

                                                        1. re: lenorelenore

                                                          And that's exactly why I said "in my kitchen" -- I'm young(ish) and able to manage the garlic press but pre-prepped foods are a blessing for those like my dear friend with RA who can't manage a garlic press when she's having a flare-up.

                                                          1. re: LauraGrace

                                                            I don't think most fresh garlic users choose to use a press, though, which is much harder to use than other tools I mentioned in response to another poster.

                                                            1. re: mcf

                                                              I use a press- quick, easy and I have a really good one.

                                                          2. re: lenorelenore

                                                            I hear you... but alternatively, there are some chopping tools (slap choppers) or those rolling mincers that most arthritics should be able to use, and if necessary, whole peeled cloves are usually available, too. Just more choices, not arguing with yours.

                                                            1. re: mcf

                                                              Dealing now with early rheumatoid arthritis, and I'm on the lookout for things to make my kitchen life easier. Found some sites w/ adaptive equipment to spare my sore fingers/hands. That said, I just don't like pre-minced garlic. Maybe I buy the wrong brand, but what I've had doesn't have nearly the flavor of fresh. For now, I still bash fresh garlic with the flat of knife. Haven't used my garlic press in years, and now, with the RA, not sure I'd had the ability to use it (just had a heck of a time using my rabbit wine opener, but where there's a will--and I wanted some wine--there's a way!)

                                                              1. re: pine time

                                                                pine time - there's a wine opener out there that's cordless -- and it does work -- a friend of ours just bought one for his mom, whose arthritis gets the better of her some days - and it got her undying affection.

                                                                She's French, living in France, so that opener gets a regular workout - and she's ecstatic to have it.

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  Thanks, Sunshine--there ARE priorities in life, and decent wine is right up there with good bread and chocolate! Neither rain, nor sleet, nor rheumatoid arthritis will keep me from my appointed bottle.

                                                            2. re: lenorelenore

                                                              I think the TJ's jarred garlic tastes a lot closer to fresh than the squat-jarred supermarket brands.
                                                              I had a friend who bought frozen chopped onions. Her ice cubes always tasted of freezer and onions. Pearl onions are a different story - I'm all for them!

                                                              Most standard American condiments not worth making: mustard, mayo, ketchup, pickle relish.
                                                              I made raspberry preserves once and thought Trader Joe's is better.

                                                              Dried fruit - cheaper per pound than making your own if you have to pay for the fruit. Storebought applesauce is cheaper too, but IMO inferior so I make my own.

                                                              Frankurters. Baked beans - I prefer doctoring canned ones to making my own from dried beans although in most other bean dishes, I do use dried. I like canned beans for 3-bean salad, too.
                                                              As far as plain vegetable sides go, the only canned I'll use is corn. I like frozen corn, peas, green beans, and mixed vegetables.

                                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                                Believe me, there is a huge difference in minced garlics. Look for ones that contain only garlic and some sort of acid to keep botulism away.

                                                                Some have all sorts of added ingredients for some stupid reason.

                                                              2. re: lenorelenore

                                                                !! I feel for you, lenore. My Mom's distal phalanges are starting to point in the wrong directions, and I'm sure mine will one day as well. At least she doesn't like garlic!

                                                                Little story: last year, a potluck hostess with questionable manners asked her to bring potato salad for 25 people. After spending the previous day peeling potatoes, chopping onion and celery, peeling and chopping boiled eggs, etc.....she accidentally left it on the counter overnight. Next day, she got to do it all again, except w/ red swollen hands that time. Eventually, I guess they'll get to the point she has to start saying "No".

                                                              3. demi glace
                                                                filo
                                                                chitterlings
                                                                masa
                                                                adobo
                                                                hominy
                                                                escargot
                                                                conch

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                  Agree with this list. I would add Sriracha, soy sauce and Worcestershire.

                                                                  Puff pastry in addition to the phylo.

                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                    Making your own demi glace is SOOOO much cheaper though. Not that I would begrudge others who don't feel up to it, since its a bit of a PITA even using a pressure cooker to make the stock.

                                                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                      agreed, and agreed! demi glace was just literally the first thing that jumped to my mind wrt "time & effort" in the op.

                                                                      ETA: actually, i believe what i actually muttered under my breath was "de-mi-fook-ing-glace"... but regular old demi glace takes a lot of time and effort, too ;-P

                                                                  2. I like the tiny cubed pancetta pieces from Trader Joe's. It's very convenient to have a package or two on hand.

                                                                    1. After tiring out my arm shredding three pounds of cheddar by hand one time, I decided that, for some applications, I'd rather just buy pre-shredded cheese if it's on sale. I feel the same way about taking a shortcut with frozen hash browns to make potato pancakes. Depending on who I am cooking for, how I feel, and how much time/money I have, it's sometimes not worth it to do things completely from scratch.

                                                                      I also think if you only use it once every four months, it's not wrong to buy something like uncooked pizza dough from the bakery department of your local grocery instead of making it from scratch.

                                                                      19 Replies
                                                                      1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                                        FP, I'm with you about shredding cheese. My nails look a lot nicer, too...

                                                                        1. re: Claudette

                                                                          the only caveat on shredded cheese -- it's no problem to buy it shredded if you're going to put it on top of something and melt it.

                                                                          But the voice of experience says that you can't do that for sauces or fondue -- the coating used to keep the shreds from sticking together in the package make an unholy greasy knot out of your cheese.

                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                            Yeah, I don't care for that starchy stuff on the pre-shredded. A great reason to have a food processor.

                                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                                              It's only cornstarch (or some other sort of benign vegetable starch) -- so it's completely harmless, unless you count the damage done to cheese-based dishes. :D

                                                                              but then -- if I'm making a cheese sauce or fondue, it's just as easy to just cut it into cubes. Takes a minute or two longer to melt, but I'm also not standing there grating it, either.

                                                                              (got rid of the food processor years ago because I never used it - and haven't missed it once)

                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                I know the cornstarch isn't harmful - I just don't want it on my cheese or in my cheese dishes. There is texture issue with cornstarch that can mess up a dish.

                                                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                                                  Interesting. My experience is that the corn starch actually serves to make the sauces smoother, especially in fondues, which usually call for some cornstarch anyway.

                                                                                  1. re: acgold7

                                                                                    @Sandylc - yes, that's what I mean -- if you're just sprinkling cheddar cheese over a casserole, or shredded mozzarella over lasagna, it's no big deal -- the texture issues don't really manifest... but a sauce or fondue? Ugh.

                                                                                    @AC -- Tried it several times, and threw the fondue out every time -- it tasted amazing, but it was a knotty, greasy mess. (for those who don't know -- when the starch seizes as a part of the thickening process, they literally squeeze the oil out of the cheese -- and it's as nasty as it sounds)

                                                                                    Might be interesting to try it and leave the extra cornstarch out, but I've had enough nasty fondue to last me a lifetime, so that'll be me grating the Gruyere while you try it.

                                                                                    1. re: acgold7

                                                                                      Cornstarch can cause a chalky texture.

                                                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                                                        Sure, if you use too much and don't cook it properly, but that's the opposite of clumping and separating.

                                                                                        We must be doing something differently in how we make sauces and fondues, as I've never experienced this. Quite the opposite.

                                                                                        1. re: acgold7

                                                                                          Sorry for the misunderstanding....not necessarily talking about sauces/fondues....

                                                                                          And as far as the chalky texture, I meant mouthfeel.....cornstarch as an ingredient in anything will cause a chalkiness in the mouth - I avoid cookie recipes that include cornstarch and powdered sugar in the dough.

                                                                                          1. re: sandylc

                                                                                            I'm sure a lot of it varies with different producers and different brands across the world, too.

                                                                                            Sandy, I believe what you're saying you feel -- but I've never heard anyone say that cornstarch (in reasonable quantities, of course) had a discernible mouthfeel.

                                                                                    2. re: sandylc

                                                                                      Not sure that makes sense to me, unless they put something strange in shredded cheese where you are from.

                                                                                      Usually if I want the cheese shredded I just ask the cheese shop to shred it for me or I shred it at home with a food processor.

                                                                                      But, having said that, you need to add corn starch to fondu for it not to separate and to make mac & cheese I start with a roux (ie, a starch) to make it creamy.

                                                                                      1. re: LaPerlaMia

                                                                                        if I asked my local cheese shop to shred cheese for me (other than Emmental or Gruyere), they'd reach across the counter and smack me into next week....most cheese here is eaten NOT grated, so it's somewhat understandable.

                                                                                        There's too much cornstarch on pre-shredded cheese to make successful fondue, in my experience -- it just clumps into a disgusting-looking ball swimming in a pot of grease.

                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                          If you want to make fondu they certainly will grate it for you. Why on earth your local shop would smack you though is rather strange. Maybe you should go to a non-violent one. Although, I hope you're not asking them to grate the runny cheeses. ;)

                                                                                          I still don't see how the corn starch makes it clump up when you are making fondu. Maybe you could share how you are doing this & how much corn starch you are actually putting in. It's the cornstarch actually that keeps it from turning into a greasy mess. Maybe you're not putting enough in.

                                                                                          1. re: LaPerlaMia

                                                                                            i think Sunshine is in france. i could see french cheesemongers being pretty serious about all things fromage ;-P

                                                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                              Soupkitten gets in one shot. They would grate YOU for asking them to grate anything but the emmental or gruyere. Trust me.

                                                                                              It's TOO MUCH cornstarch. It seizes, just like putting TOO MUCH cornstarch in any sauce.

                                                                                              and technically, it's not the cornstarch that keeps it from being a greasy mess -- that's why you add a little bit of alcohol to weaken the protein chains of the heated cheese.

                                                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                I've live in France, Belgium and Switzerland. I've never noticed too much cornstarch in pre-packaged grated cheese. But I don't make it a habit of buying pre-grated cheese so maybe I just never noticed.

                                                                                                Adding just alcohol without the starch will give you a big gloppy mess. Now that I'm thinking about it, your probably not using enough liquid if your cheese is seizing up right out of the package. That is why I asked HOW are you making your fondu.

                                                                                                1. re: LaPerlaMia

                                                                                                  It's pre-shredded cheese in the US that has cornstarch. How much? no way to tell.

                                                                                                  My fondue recipe came from colleagues in Switzerland, and came out perfectly every time I **didn't** use pre-shredded cheese.

                                                                                                  I'm really tired of talking about this.

                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                    No one said "pre-shredded cheese" was required for fondu.
                                                                                                    But, yes. Let's talk about something else as something seems to be lost in translation. ;-)

                                                                            2. pre-cut/sliced/cubed meats from my neighborhood butcher; a great time saver, especially when I remember to call ahead! I would cook much less often if I had to dissect my own primal cuts each time.
                                                                              also,
                                                                              vegetable broth, for small amounts in a recipe
                                                                              tomato paste
                                                                              diced squash if I need a large quantity

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: KarenDW

                                                                                I totally agree about the meat KarenDW.

                                                                              2. The only thing I can really think of is unripe jackfruit. I prefer to let the guys at the market cut it up for me as it is a bit messy.

                                                                                1. Pre-cut veggies for veggie trays.
                                                                                  Totino's pizza. I dress them up with what I like.
                                                                                  Sweetened condensed milk.

                                                                                  1. while I do make my own stock at times, i always have "better than bouillon" on hand for quick soups and broths and to amp up the flavor for certain dishes without having to reduce the liquid on the stove top.

                                                                                    1. phyllo, for me, is worth buying rather than making. Also, pancake mix, since I normally don't have a great deal of time in the AM.

                                                                                      1. I will occasionally buy garlic and ginger pastes (the refrigerated purees that come in a tube, NOT the horrible minced stuff in a jar), but only when I'm making a large amount of curry and don't want to spend an hour breaking down a ton of ingredients. And the flavor is better if you go ahead and freeze the extra rather than just having a tube hanging out in the fridge for weeks or months (ew).

                                                                                        Other than that, I tend to only buy things that are truly too labor- or equipment-intensive for me to make - ground meat, rolled pasta, beer, tomato paste, that sort of thing.

                                                                                        1. Enchilada sauce. I tried making my own once, and it was a disaster. So I buy Hatch's.

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: bitchincook

                                                                                            I buy Hatch or a similar brand and doctor it up.

                                                                                          2. I usually buy by fish already prepped but I know how to do it and will do it if the price and freshness is right.
                                                                                            All of my veggies comes in their natural form and I grow many of them in the summer.

                                                                                            I have made hot sauce and other condiments but I purchase many of them in the prepared form.
                                                                                            I make pickles and kraut in the fall but those are usually purchased in their prepared form.
                                                                                            I have made cheese and sausage in the past but I usually purchase the finished form unless it is a special occasion.

                                                                                            1. Fish stock and chicken stock, demi-glace and Trader Joe's frozen roasted corn. I'm sure there are others, but these come to mind.

                                                                                              1. Pre-peeled fava beans and chestnuts. I can get both at the local market, and it saves so much time and, in the case of chestnuts, sore fingers.

                                                                                                Pre chopped onion and garlic I don't use, but I will occasionally buy shredded ginger, because it's hard to get is so finely and neatly shredded. Pre-cut meat - it depends a bit on the price difference. Shopping at the market I can get it custom cut as long as I can explain/mime what I want, and they will grind pork for me if I want a particular fat mix.

                                                                                                BTW, I got one of these (http://www.amazon.com/Chefn-Rolling-C...) for Christmas one year, and it works surprisingly well for chopping a lot of garlic without straining the hands, for people with arthritis problems.

                                                                                                I find the quality of pre-shredded cheese so dire that it's only worth getting if they don't have anything else. But the cheese selection at the nearby grocery store is so abysmal that sometimes the choices is between processed cheese slices and pre-shredded cheddar/mozza blend, with no other options.

                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                                                  Do you have a microplane? That's what I use for ginger; you get a nice, pulpy texture.

                                                                                                  1. re: LeoLioness

                                                                                                    The shredded ginger is very, very finely julienned rather than pulped. If you want to use a lot, it's really finicky and time consuming, and the grocery store has packages of pretty fresh shredded stuff.

                                                                                                2. I agree with most of the items listed here. I sympathize with those who have trouble mincing garlic, but so far I mince my garlic rather than buy jarred. One pre prepared food I use a lot of is Mario's Real Crumbled Bacon pieces. I use these in several sorts of things. I also like to use BelGioioso shredded Parm. I don't cook high Italian, so preshredded parm works fine for the likes of us. I also use a lot of Swanson's reduced fat chicken broth, even though I make some broth myself. I also use canned tomatoes in moderation, and the occasional pre made tortilla or wrap, and store bought dried pasta, and shelled nuts.

                                                                                                  I never buy pre made salad dressing, baking mixes of any sort, kit dinners, juice of any sort, stuffing mix, croutons, pre cut fruit or veggies.

                                                                                                  1. For me there is one thing that is worth the extra expense: pre-peeled and chopped butternut squash. I really hate prepping this vegetable and I'm happy to pay the extra money so I don't have to do it.

                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: woodleyparkhound

                                                                                                      I bought a tub of cubed sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are kinda messy to peel steamed, and impossible to peel when raw. These were wonderful. I froze a sheet pan of them and then baggied them.

                                                                                                      1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                        I find a Y peeler to be very effective on sweet potatoes while raw.

                                                                                                        1. re: melpy

                                                                                                          Straight peeler vs Y-peeler..... I wonder if I have done a poll on that. If not, I think we should

                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                            This is pretty good:
                                                                                                            Gear Review: Straight Peelers
                                                                                                            "Y" Peeler vs Swivel peeler vs lanacashire peeler

                                                                                                            http://thegearnerd.blogspot.com/2009/...

                                                                                                        1. What are Sandra Lee's ("Semi-Homemade Cooking") favorite semi-prepared ingredients?

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                            :Rimshot:

                                                                                                            (Searches for like feature. )

                                                                                                            1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                              > What are Sandra Lee's favorite semi-prepared ingredients?

                                                                                                              I figured someone would say... _everything_

                                                                                                              1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                can't believe nobody has said vodka yet...

                                                                                                              2. Minced Garlic - never - I just keep a lot of garlic on hand and mince it as necessary.

                                                                                                                Onions - never actually heard of minced onions being sold.

                                                                                                                pre-cut meat - often but recently I have been trying to do that myself along with fish to improve my skills - figure it is hard just because I don't know what I am doing, but if I never try - I won't learn. The last chicken I did myself was actually easy (still a little rough looking).

                                                                                                                I will buy tomato paste (and actually tomatoes since sourcing fresh ones are difficult) - actually never thought about making tomato paste :o

                                                                                                                Stock - Almost always I make my own stock and then break it into many 2 cup vacuum seal bags - and freeze enough to use as needed - better than the cubes. I do the same with pho broth -- I will buy a large amount of bones and make large batches (bought a monster sized stock pot). Only problem is my current freezer space is a little small (only have room for ice cubes after it is filled up with stock.

                                                                                                                Just looked in the fridge and cannot see much in there I would think of making for myself (white soy sauce (light thai soy sauce), dark soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, fish sauce, seasoning sauce (would not know how to make it -- or have the room to do so.

                                                                                                                I do have american mustard - I still like having it available for knackers or sausages. It is a guilty pleasure - loved going down to St. Lawrence Market and having peameal bacon sandwiches with the mustard......

                                                                                                                1. I am going to read through all this and update this onto a ranking in a new post. In case certain replies weren't sufficient, or a food item doesn't have a clear answer, I'll post this topic on other boards, 20+ other boards. Feel free to take your vote!

                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                  1. re: designparadise

                                                                                                                    I think it would be far better if you were to keep your ranking here on this thread.

                                                                                                                    If you post this topic on 20+ other boards, you'll be running a high risk of being flagged, having all of those posts taken down, and possibly banned.

                                                                                                                  2. i have to get this done, im pretty sure ill be able to review it next weekedn

                                                                                                                    Cast your vote(s)!

                                                                                                                    1. Coleslaw mix. And in the interest of time, canned beans of all kinds except green beans and wax beans.

                                                                                                                      1. I usually mince onions and garlic fresh but I have to say I've been using the Trader Joes mirepoix lately and it's great. No carrot peeling, no celery waste, and no off flavors that I've noticed.

                                                                                                                        1. trader joes frozen prepared organic brown rice.
                                                                                                                          nuke it for less than a minute and it comes out perfectly every time.
                                                                                                                          pour out the exact amount you need each time so there is no waste.