Sunday, February 10, 2013

Quality ingredients for quality cooking

I was recently asked by a friend about some of the ingredients I use in my cooking. She asked me if I use store-brands or if there are brand names I swear by or if any of that really matters. Of course, the answer to that is not simple at all. The ingredients I use are based largely on what my budget is at this point in my life. I can't afford to go to Dean and Deluca and drop $20 on a pound of strawberries. Not that we have a Dean and Deluca in my neck of the woods, but hopefully that gets the point across. I buy products that are on sale, I buy store brands for many things because they really are just as good as the brand name. I shop at places like Aldi and Trader Joe's (owned by the same company, by the way) because they offer great products for reasonable prices. And with the constantly rising or fluctuating costs of food these days, these stores have become invaluable to me and my family.

I try to buy organic produce when I can. I pay attention to labels and I am very conscious of what I'm going to feed my family. We've cut out most processed goods and we try to eat as cleanly as possible (though the occasional M&M or Reese's Pieces never hurt anyone!). But like I said, we're on a budget. And a budget doesn't always allow for the best of the best. There are, however, some ingredients that I refuse to skimp on. The first 3 items that come to mind are:

Flour- I use King Aurthur All Purpose flour. It is a staple in my pantry. It has never failed me. I will use Pilsbury as a back up, but I will always choose King Authur first. The grain is grown in the US, it is a decent and fair company, and nothing else measures up to the quality of their product in my opinion. For cake flour, I use Swan's Down. I use it, again, because not much else measures up to that. Plus it's an old, tried and true company that's been around for more than 100 years. They must be doing something right. My grandmothers use/used Swan's Down, my mother uses it, and now so do I.

Butter- So...I mostly* use a store-brand, unsalted butter. But this is listed here because I use butter as opposed to margarine, which is much cheaper. Whether or not margarine is one molecule away from being plastic is true, I still will not put something with that many unpronounceable ingredients into my cooking. It's just...icky. That's right. Icky is a technical term. Deal with it.
*I buy Land O'Lakes or Plugra, which are my favorite brands, if I can get them at the same price or slightly cheaper than the store-brand if they're on sale. It's rare but it happens.

Bacon- As a friend of mine just found out this morning, buying cheap bacon will leave you feeling cheated and sad. It can look amazing, but if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Many store brands or cheap/off-brands are injected with brine or water. So the bacon looks great, but shrinks down to a third of the size it started out as after it's been cooked. Kinda like Shrinky Dinks. If you are lucky enough to have a local butcher, awesome! Support your local economy and get a great quality product even if you have to pay a little more. We aren't that lucky. So I like Wright brand bacon. I buy it almost exclusively. They provide a tasty, reliable product still at a reasonable price.

Of course, this list could go on and on. There are a lot of products that I enjoy and prefer over most others. But those three are something you will find in my kitchen no matter what. If the zombie apocalypse does happen, those 3 things will be in my emergency kit (since my emergency kit includes a battery operated refrigeration unit of some kind and a dutch oven).

What about you? What products or brands do you prefer over any other?

***I am not being paid to promote the brands listed in this post in any way, shape, or form. I am explaining my preferences and personal experiences with these brands and do not benefit from you clicking any of the hyperlinks.***


  1. Ever since I was a kid and my mom switched us from margarine to butter, I refused to go back. Jared tends to get unsalted, which drives me crazy, but hey, he cooks more.

    I completely agree on the bacon front. There are a few processed foods we still eat, but when it comes to brands that we keep with, Jared doesn't like to get any kind of yellow rice that isn't Mahatma. Delicious.

  2. Kraft Deluxe American Cheese (not the singles). Yes, I know it's "a processed cheese food" but it is an American staple. I have tried at least a dozen other different name and store brands over the years and all have fallen short. I also have had more than a handful of children walk up to their mothers and announce that "Ms. Kelly's Grilled Cheese Sandwiches are better than yours." All those awkward moments can't be wrong :)


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