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Best of the Hotline: Your Favorite Convenience Foods

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Some questions on the Hotline have staying power, and for good reason -- they cover the questions we ask ourselves time and time again. Join us as we revisit some of the most popular.

Today: Your favorite convenience foods, revealed.

Let’s face facts. We don’t always have the time (the will, the energy) to make every last thing from scratch. We wish we did. As mere mortals, however, we often resort to shortcuts, hoping that no one will notice us in the line at the grocery store.

Over on the Hotline, creamtea asked what your favorite semi-prepared convenience foods are, outing us all. She kicked off the discussion with her own list: shredded carrots, baby carrots, frozen pie crust, frozen peas, frozen blueberries, pizza dough, garlic powder, tubes of biscuits/cinnamon roll dough, and pre-washed butter or baby romaine lettuce. You all took a deep breath and shared your favorites, too:

Bottles and cans, clap your hands

  • Fiveandspice (like so many of you!) admits, “[I keep] jarred or frozen artichoke hearts. I'm an artichoke-peeling disaster show.”
  • SoupAddict can’t live without Pomi brand boxed tomatoes and canned beans, two staples that seemed to find their way onto nearly everyone’s list.
  • Sam1148 likes to go camping with SPAM: "Horrible for you health-wise but easy to pack and fry up instead of bacon.”
  • Calendargirl and melissav keep all sorts of preserved fish: Spanish tuna packed in oil, canned salmon, tinned mackerel, and sardines.
  • Pierino always has a jar of Best Foods mayonnaise on hand, as well as Tabasco and Pepper Plant Original California Hot Sauce.

cranberry sauce

Boxes, baking shortcuts, and sweets

  • Bevi has jellied cranberry sauce and Nutella on hand.
  • Drbabs put in a vote for Swanson's chicken broth, starting a storm of confessions about canned or boxed stock, or, as mrsp specifies, Better than Bouillon.
  • Ophelia says that she likes to have gluten-free baking mixes on hand: "I don't have room to keep four different kinds of flour just for the infrequent baking I do for friends.”
  • Medaglia d’Oro instant espresso was a dark horse winner, with declarations of dedication from boulangereSKKcreamtea, and sdebrango.

Hiding in the freezer 

  • A number of you have freezers stuffed to bursting with frozen peas, peeled pearl onions, edamame, and lifetime supplies of frozen puff pastry.
  • Bonkers4Bacon is never without pie dough, just like mrsp and Niknud.
  • Hobbybaker and sdebrango buy frozen berries.
  • EmmaAlden saves frozen brown rice for a rainy day. 

soba noodles

Sundry confessions

  • Sam1148 likes to doctor up rotisserie chicken. 
  • Garlic&lemon stocks up on corn tortillas from the local tortilleria.
  • Breakbread loves the Ikea food section for stocking up on rösti, salmon paste in a tube, herring, anchovies, chocolate, and lingonberry jams.
  • Luvcookbooks says: “At Asian stores I buy rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves to steam at home, dumpling skins, and kimchi.”

At the end of the day, after a very lively discussion about what actually qualifies as “convenience food,” boulangere put it best: “It's all relative. I can easily buy high-quality pasta, or great ice cream, or bread -- so that's where I'm going to take a shortcut when time is short. Things I enjoy making become chores if I feel compelled to do them, regardless. I don't feel at all bad about not making everything from scratch -- I figure it's about choosing my battles.” 

What are your favorite semi-prepared convenience foods? Tell us in the comments below. 

Tags: Weeknight Cooking, Community, Tips & Techniques, Advice, Hotline, Your Burning Questions