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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Quality Counts

Frugal Kitchens 101
When it comes to frugal cooking food quality is very important. Lower quality foods are often high is sodium, sugar and preservatives as well as being lower in nutritional value. Buying quality foods does not mean you have to break the bank either. Quality foods can be quite inexpensive. I want to stress that inexpensive doesn't mean cheap when it comes to foods. Inexpensive quality foods can easily be purchased whereas cheap foods are seldom quality foods.  Focus on buying foods with the highest nutritional value for your food dollars.  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 will focus on choosing quality foods to help you get the best value for your food dollars.

  • buy locally - This is an excellent way of ensuring you are getting quality produce that has not spent a vast amount of time traveling from the farmer to your table. Local produce is fresher and higher in nutrients than imported produce. Imported produce is often picked when it is under ripe so they are not at their peak of nutritional value and they continue to lose nutrients as soon as they are picked.
  • buy in season - The best example of quality is comparing a store bought in season tomato to one that is a hot house off season tomato. Hands down the in season tomato has more flavour, more nutrients and is less expensive. The only tomato that will beat a store bought in season tomato is a home grown one picked moments before use. Be aware of the produce seasonal trends in your area then plan your menus with this in mind.
  • preserve your own - Preserving in season, locally grown foods makes good frugal sense and it allows you to avoid the problems and concerns associated with commercially canned, frozen and dried foods.
  • fresh produce - When buying produce look for firm, fresh, ripe produce free from bruising that will cause the produce to spoil faster.  Avoid buy under ripe, over ripe produce or produce with any signs of spoilage.   Smell the produce and avoid any produce with an off smell.
  • brand name vs store brand - In most cases the quality of the brand name may be just slightly higher than the store brand.  Many food processing plants process both brand and store brands with the higher quality produce going to the brand name and seconds (eg. smaller size) going to the store brands.  However, this is not always the case so this becomes a trial and error thing.  The problem is if you try a store brand and no one will eat it then both food and money are wasted.  When it comes to store brands it is best to buy a small amount (eg. one can), try it first and then if it meets your requirements buy more.
  • cooking - The frugal approach for a large variety of produce is to serve raw.  This ensures no nutrients are lost through the cooking process giving you the best value for your food dollar.  When cooking choose a method such as steaming or baking rather than boiling which leaches nutrients out of the vegetables.
  • meats - There is a myth that ground beef is a good bargain but in my experience it isn't.  In terms of price it may be but there is also a greater surface area that leads to flavour loss, quicker spoilage and contamination (eg. E. coli).  A meat grinder is quite inexpensive and can be used for grinding a wide variety of meats and used for making sausage.  Grinding your own meat allows you to trim as much fat as desired.  The important thing is you are getting a fresher, higher quality ground meat which is reflected in the taste of the cooked meat.
  • cheeses - Cheeses bring up two quality issues both centred on flavour.  Commercially shredded cheese is not a good value for your food dollar on several levels.  In terms of quality the greater surface area means flavour loss so you end up using more to try and make up for flavour loss.  It is cheaper to buy a block of quality cheese (not store brand) and shred it your self in the amount you will use for that particular dish.  That way you get the best flavour and can get away with using a bit less.  My experience has been that store brand brick cheeses while often on sale are sadly lacking in flavour.  If you go with a quality cheese from a cheese factory it will cost slight more but again you can use less so in the end you save money.  The exception is cream cheese must meet a certain criteria (eg. same quality) so quite often there is no noticeable difference between store brand and brand name.
  • bread products - If you have the option either make your own bread products or buy them from a bakery.  These are higher quality breads that are not full of a lot of excess fats, sugars and preservatives.  Of growing concern is the impact of high fructose corn syrup something is often found in packaged breads.   Making grocery stores now offer fresh baked breads without all the preservatives and homemade bread products eliminates both high fructose corn syrup and preservatives while giving you a high quality product often cheaper than packaged breads.

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