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.
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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 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.
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.
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?
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).