My Broke Kitchen

Treat Yo' Self: What Pantry Items to Splurge On and How to Use Them

By • April 9, 2014 • 12 Comments

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Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Gabriella Paiella shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety. 

Today: Go ahead, loosen those purse strings.  



When you're on cooking on a tight budget, you spend a lot of time cutting corners in your kitchen. You pack lunch instead of succumbing to the comfort and ease of Seamless. You lug oats and grains home in bulk, save your stale bread, and use every last scrap you come across. 

Sometimes, though, there are ingredients that you're going to need to spend a little more money on -- either there is no cheap substitute for what you need, or using the inferior version is going to severely impact the quality of your dish. I've rounded up a few investment pieces for your pantry, so go ahead: Treat yo' self.

Miso Paste



Miso paste gives me the most sticker shock whenever I need to restock it. That being said, it has a unique flavor that simply can't be replicated, all while being incredibly versatile. I'm reminded of this every time I use it in anything from soup to vegetable dishes, and even dessert

Coconut Oil 



Coconut oil ain't cheap, but it's a handy fat to have around, especially if you can't or don't eat dairy. For savory dishes, you can use it to impart a sublime flavor to simple roasted vegetables or dress up fresh summer dishes. On the sweet side, it's perfect for a number vegan desserts, from chocolate layer cake to a genius DIY magic shell

Maple Syrup 



Non-pure maple syrup is little more than high fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring -- your pancakes deserve better. Learn more about the real thing here, then use it past weekend breakfasts: It's great for dressing up greens and roasting roots. And in cake, of course.

Parmesan Cheese

 
I'm not saying I don't eat large quantities of Parmesan cheese in one sitting. (Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, or whatever.) But Parmesan should typically last a long time, so buy a higher quality -- for your own good, steer clear of $3 pre-grated stuff; it's barely cheese. Use it to garnish an otherwise bare-bones farro salad or add heft to vegetable soup. Just make sure you store it correctly, so it lasts as long as it should: Learn the proper technique here.

Olive Oil and Vinegar (for finishing) 



You can get away with a lower-quality olive oil if you're just using it for cooking. But if you need some to finish off a recipe -- to drizzle over fresh tomatoes or serve with great crusty bread and fresh mozzarella, for example, keep a nicer quality bottle on reserve. Here's how to shop for the best, and keep it around for a long, long time. Same goes for vinegar -- it's so concentrated that you only need to use a small amount at any given time. Not to mention, the cheaper varities of balsamic tend to just be sweet vinegars with caramel color added. 

Tell us: What are your favorite pantry splurges? 

Jump to Comments (12)

Tags: my broke kitchen, splurges, pantry

Comments (12)

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6 months ago KansasKate

In addition to all the great suggestions already listed...

Nielsen-Massey® vanilla, both liquid AND beans.

L'Arte dell'Olivo® white balsamic vinegar.

Tellicherry black peppercorns.

Sarawak white peppercorns.

Fleur de Sel de Guérande

True Cinnamon: Cinnamomum verum aka Ceylon or Sri Lanka cinnamon. (C. verum is what's used in Europe and what is called "canela" in Mexico.)

Cassia Cinnamon: Cinnamomum burmannii aka Indonesia or Korintje cinnamon OR Cinnamomum loureiroi aka Vietnamese or Saigon cinnamon. (Cassia is what's normally sold in US grocery stores and used in US baked goods.)

Local honey from your farmers' market.

Stringio

6 months ago Tanya Turnie

Add finishing salts and NUT OILS. Toasted sesame. Macadamia. Even avocado and other specialty oils. And special vinegars!

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6 months ago PieceOfLayerCake

Oh....and whole spices.

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6 months ago PieceOfLayerCake

Good salt, for both cooking and finishing. I use Morton's kosher as my workhorse and generally Maldon for finishing. Although I've amassed quite the collection of smoked, grey, flaked, volcanic, briny, etc. varieties that can really add magic to a dish.

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6 months ago simone

A good cheese shop will often offer a discount if you buy real parmesan in quantity, like over a lb, and if not ask them.

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6 months ago Maia Rossini

I have to agree on the eggs. The couple of extra dollars a dozen that I spend on eggs from an actual farm instead of the grocery store makes a HUGE difference to so many of our meals.

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6 months ago Allison Backous Troy

good tomato paste!

Stringio

6 months ago Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Nancy is a food writer, historian, and author of many books, her most recent being The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. She also raises olives and makes oil in Tuscany, providing firsthand experience for her forthcoming book about olive oil.

Splurging on extra-virgin olive oil makes good sense--good economic sense and good health sense. In my kitchen we use a good Greek ev oil for all-purpose cooking and an expensive Tuscan for finishing. The Tuscan gets used slowly, by the tablespoon, the Greek goes into the skillet by the glug.

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6 months ago asia

That's why, when my husband recently boiled down 70+ gallons of sap to make 8 quarts of maple syrup, it felt like money in the bank!!

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7 months ago Erica C. Barnett

Not exactly a splurge (because individually, they're generally cheap), but I usually have about a dozen bottles of hot sauce in the fridge. Also, really good eggs.

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7 months ago Gabriella Paiella

Gabriella is a PR & Audience Development Director at Food52.

I'm with you -- I love me some hot sauce.

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7 months ago Pegeen

Pegeen is a trusted home cook.

Thanks for a great column - so useful.
(But no sherry or madeira? What a difference they can make!)