What pricey items are worth it?
So there is a thread going on where the question is when is a cheaper version of a product as good or better than the pricey one. Got me thinking about what are items that are more expensive but worth it? Microplane graters for example. Not expensive outright but more than the typical grater, but its unbeatable. You can take a hunk of dried out parmesan cheese and turn it into a cloud of fluffy stuff. There’s my Japanese knife. Cost at least 3x any other knife I own, but the edge on it is amazing. Slices through anything like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Truffles. There is nothing that tastes like truffles (some I know are glad about that as not everyone loves them). If you want the flavor, you have to pay the piper. Scallops and shrimp – I love fresh scallops and wild shrimp and the good ones are always pricey. What else do you pay more for and are happy to do so?
Yup, caviar. I don't mind using the black lumpfish stuff to kick up a baked potato or something, but there are few things more delightful than a proper setup of good caviar and toast or blini. And golly, it's been a long time …
And most of what else has been discussed here, just further proof that most of what we talk about on these boards is simply preaching to the converted. I prefer to think of it as a conversation.
My Kuhn-Rikon garlic press is definitely worth it's price. After years of chopping garlic with a chef's knife, I finally succumbed to America's Test Kitchen's exhortations to ease the task with a garlic press. Originally, I went with their second rated but best value Trudeau press (around $17.00 IIRC). It wasn't that great: not easy to press multiple cloves through at the same time and not that easy to clean. After two years, it fell apart.
Bit the bullet and bought the Kuhn Rikon Epicure for about $34.00 online. It's awesome. Effortless to use and easy to clean. A marvel of good design.
Real "2% oil" cinnamon/cassia (from King Arthur Flour)
Genuine vanilla extract ($20 a bottle but will keep 'til you use it all)
"Zebra" brand Basmati rice
Powdered galingale, less overpowering than ginger
Really, really good imported saffron. Not the cheap stuff! World o' difference.
Bristol sherry, not "cooking sherry," to cook with. Ditto cooking wine. I don't mean extravagantly priced, but if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it!
Tasty bacon -- otherwise why bother?
Organic 2% milk. For some reason the store brands around here have a horrible aftertaste that reminds me of gasoline. I don't know whether it's the milk itself or the plastic bottles they keep it in.
Good brands of flour and rice -- seem less prone to bugs than discount brands.
Halfway good bread, not that horrible white extra-squishy stuff (though the seagulls and squirrels love it).
As for the opposite approach (cheaper better than national), I'm starting to really like certain flavors of Publix sugarfree, fatfree yogurt, especially the Black Forest Cake. I think Winn-Dixie precooked bacon (including the pouches, if they've been stored properly) is better than ANY national brand I've tried. I also depend on "Register's Seasoning Ham," which is so good that if I'm planning on cooking Southern style while travelling, I CARRY SOME WITH ME. :)
Balsamic vinegar - after trying the 18-year aged balsamic at a specialty store, I don't think I can go back to the supermarket stuff again
Farmer's market produce - freshness makes a HUGE difference in taste. I used to dislike certain fruits and veggies until I had the ones from the farmer's market
Milk from local dairy
Fresh bakery bread
Good quality Japanese green tea
Freshly roasted coffee beans
cheeses... I love 'good' cheese, I won't bother spending money on cheap cheese that I just won't enjoy
proscuitto - same here, you can get pre-slied domestic at Wegmans', it doesn't compate to imported prosciutto de parma or san daniele
as the OP said, shirmp and scallops or any wild caught seafood. totally worth the extra $$ to me
as dkenworthy said, local dairy... milk and eggs may cost a bit more, but if I don't think I can really go back to super market stuff
The one thing I really splurge on in my kitchen are the pots. I love love love Le Creuset dutch ovens and have slowly collected a few over the years. Yes, they are ridiculously expensive, but they are so beautiful and work so well that I want to cook in them every single day. They inspire me to try new recipes and get me excited to start cooking. I will usually ask for one as gift for my birthday or Christmas, otherwise I will always try to go to a factory store, ebay, or look for a sale.
Wild Salmon and live Dungeness crab in season. Pastured eggs from my neighbor. Local meat raised humanely. Tortillas from El Molino (Sonoma) where they start with organic dried corn, slake it, and grind it every morning at 11:00. Good wine. Local dairy. Dry farmed potatoes. So many things I am having a hard time listing them.