I was reading the most recent issue of Everyday Food recently (a magazine I absolutely loved seven years ago, but that I’ve felt like has really declined in recent years. . . each issue seems to have more and more weird recipes), and it had a little section called “Are They Worth It?”
It went through five items and discussed whether or not it was worth the time, money, and flavor to buy store-prepped versions or whether to just do it yourself.
I was more amused than I should have been by it because of the five items, four of them are ones I use frequently (the one I don’t is a stir-fry mix because I can’t actually stand stir-fry), and in all four cases, I went exactly the opposite way they did.
First, they said you should buy chicken broth because it takes too much planning ahead to make your own. I haven’t bought chicken broth in a couple of years because it’s so ludicrously cheap and easy to make yourself and I just basically stuff my entire freezer full of yogurt containers full of it. No mechanically separated chicken parts and trans-fat for me, thank you.
Then they said you should peel your own garlic because the flavor is so much better. Frankly, the only time I use fresh garlic is when it comes in my CSA box. Other than that, I am all about the giant bottle of pre-minced garlic. I do not enjoy trying to mince a slippery piece of garlic into a bazillion tiny pieces and I really do not enjoy having hands that smell of garlic for the next four days. Plus it is extremely cheap to buy a huge huge thing of it and it lasts forever (one time Ralphie called when we were coming over for dinner and asked us to bring some garlic because she was out and on the way over, Bart noticed that our jar had expired two years earlier. Still tasted fine (are you getting the impression that I don’t really care about expiration dates? You are not wrong)).
Breadcrumbs? They said to buy it, I say “Twenty seconds in the food processor and I have breadcrumbs made with homemade bread that I can stick in the freezer for the next fifty years.” I mean, really? Bread crumbs take no effort whatsoever. And I am lazy.
And then. . . .lemon juice. When we first were married, I was convinced that real lemons were the only way to go (and I know for a fact that it was because of Everyday Food that I was sure of this). After a couple of months, Bart suggested that it was possible to buy a bottle of lemon juice. And then, the clincher. “My mom uses bottled lemon juice.” Well. If Bart’s mom, who is a ridiculously high-level cook and also loves lemons, can use bottled lemon juice, I could too. And when I went to buy some and saw how cheap it was (far far cheaper than buying actual lemons), I never looked back. I only buy lemons if I’m making a recipe that absolutely requires zest. Other than that? A giant bottle of cheap happiness.
Apparently I’m lazy in all the wrong ways. Oh well, Everyday Food never has to know.
I feel the same way about garlic, lemon juice and bread crumbs. I do buy chicken broth tho. I'm not sure how I'd fit anything else into my freezer.
Jennifer Lee says
I agree with you on all points. Except that I do enjoy stir fry but I have never purchased a bagged mix. I suspect the stir fry meals we eat, though, are less "bagged mix"-ish and more "whatever my husband wants to throw in the pan"-ish.
My boyfriend Sebas swears by real lemons while I go for bottled lemon juice. So we compromise–when he comes over and I'm cooking with lemon, I buy real ones. The rest of the time, I use bottled juice. I don't really taste the difference.
Although I do use garlic cloves. Probably because you can't buy preminced garlic here, only powdered. (And that difference I do taste.) So two seconds with a garlic press and I'm done. (Sebas minces it, but I am liable to cut off fingers if I try that, so the garlic press is my best bet.)
And that's probably more than you wanted to know about my kitchen habits..
I have seriously limited freezer space and envy anyone who has room to freeze anything more than a tray of ice cubes and two tupperwares of leftovers. Sigh.
Have you read (or heard of) the book "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter?" It talks about the things that are economically worth it to make (bread) and the ones that aren't (butter) and includes recipes for anything she tries. I just started it this weekend, but it has your name ALL over it. 🙂
It is SO funny to me that you posted about this. I also read that article and immediately thought of your blog post on the things you make vs. buy. I really agree that they got it wrong in that article!
Haha! I actually do the opposite of you on all of these! Except for the lemon juice, because seriously, who has time to juice lemons? I do hate mincing garlic, but I do think it changes the flavor. As for the breadcrumbs and homemade chicken broth – I'm lazy, don't have a food processor or even a decent blender, and have zero freezer space. I'd love to make my own chicken broth but alas, there is no room.
I love this. I love the minced bottled garlic. Best invention ever. 🙂
I use bottled lemon juice because I am highly skeptical of the quality of whole lemons that I can find here in the plains. I don't remember the last time I made something that required finely ground breadcrumbs, but when I make meatballs I just tear up some of whatever bread I most recently made and call it good. Garlic I use whole cloves and chop it, and chicken stock is homemade when I roast a chicken and bought when I am chickenless.
Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto (everything except the stir-fry…I love it!) AND, I also pay little attention to expiration dates, when Ashley comes to visit she's horrified at what is in my fridge and starts tossing things.
I do NOT understand buying bread crumbs if you own a food processor. Seriously people. I also buy minced garlic in a jar. I like fresh garlic, and I have a decent garlic press, but it's still a pain compared to how cheap a jar of minced garlic is. And also I sometimes like to sneak a tiny bit of minced garlic from the jar. No, it is not a pregnancy thing. I've always liked it. I also buy lemon and lime juice.
I buy the Mexican bouillon powder for chicken and beef broth. It's pretty salty but also pretty cheap. I rarely have the whatnots to make broth since I hardly ever buy bone-in chicken. Also my freezer is full of other foods, though I'm not 100% sure what those other foods are.
And we would starve several days a month if it weren't for stir fry.
I just picked up my HUGE HUGE jar of minced garlic as a matter of fact.
Who says magazines are always right?
Kayla @ Freckles in April says
Ha! We are opposites! My chicken broth doesn't turn out well (tastes watery, not chickeny), I just use my garlic press on my garlic cloves, and we have a lemon tree in the yard.
I can't tell you the last time I used breadcrumbs for something, though.
Are we related? LOL
I also use a garlic press and will never cook with jarred garlic again.
Breadcrumbs–we *never* have leftover bread with which to make bread crumbs. So I would have to buy bread to then process into crumbs. I'm picky about bread (and hate making my own) and it's pricey. So I buy bread crumbs. Also, no food processor. We have space issues.
I make chicken stock when we have a leftover carcass, but rather than buying canned broth, I use bouillon granules or chicken base, which is MUCH more flavorful than canned broth.
Ha! I loved this! And while I have been a staunch Real Garlic supporter for years, I am recently coming around to the idea of buying pre-peeled or pre-minced garlic. It is sooooooo much easier! (I HATE peeling garlic. Sticky! Papery! Ick!)
I'm a garlic and lemon sob (oh and the garlic smell? just run your fingers along any stainless steel surface for 2 seconds and away it goes), but am with you on the bread crumbs. Deb from Smitten Kitchen calls the store-bought stuff "sawdust." Well-said.
I also find it ironic that there was a giant Shabby Apple ad on the bottom of this post in my Google Reader. 🙂
Angela Noelle says
Our lemon tree determines a point of difference here, but I think crushed garlic is convenience that cannot be poo-pooed.
Chicken broth is easy… for those who can be in their home for however long it takes to make chicken broth. Which, granted is probably MOST people… but not I. Which is why I have like, 17 chicken carcasses in my freezer. It's like the elephant graveyard in there….
I am so a garlic snob. I can taste the difference, and I love garlic so much I don't mind smelly hands 🙂 I mean, jarred garlic is okaaaay, my mom uses it, but I can tell the difference enough to stick to the annoying peel and mince game…
And finally, whenever I have a recipe that calls for breadcrumbs, I just omit. I mean, unless you are making some kind of fried patty-thing, they are never STRUCTURALLY necessary… who needs crunch?? Not I.
This is so fascinating to me. I have to ditto the others who are garlic snobs – fresh is just SO much better in my opinion (and with a press, I rarely get any on my hands, and if I do, I just wash with soap right away and there's no leftover smell). I also think fresh lemons make a difference, but they're generally dang expensive. So I compromise by having a bottle on hand for recipes where it doesn't make as much of a difference, but use fresh for when it needs to shine.
I also rarely use breadcrumbs (but would make them if I did), and generally make homemade veggie broth or just use water (limited freezer space, I hate you).
My husband and I are hugely into fresh garlic, and use it in a lot of meals, so I have to join forces with the other garlic snobs. We used to use that same minced garlic, but I honestly do notice a big difference in flavor with the fresh. If you're interested in giving fresh garlic a second chance (and doesn't it deserve one?), we bought my mother-in-law a rub-away bar to use after handling garlic and onions, and apparently it works quite well: http://www.amazon.com/Amco-8402-Rub-Away-Bar/dp/B000F8JUJY/ref=pd_sim_hg_1.
Lady Susan says
Fresh garlic really does taste different although I understand the allure of the bottled.
Besides the ease/cost factor of chicken broth, there is a huge health difference between homemade broth and store bought. You get all the minerals and nutrients from the bones in homemade stock that is missing from store bought. That being said, I will occasionally buy some broth (no extra additives) to have on hand when we run out.
For lemon juice, I have both on hand. I use real lemons when the lemon flavor is the main flavor of a dish. If not, I use the bottled for convenience. I have also recently made the switch to the organic lemon juice that doesn't have any other ingredients. You can taste the difference. But by then it is cheaper just to juice your own lemons.
I don't bother with bread crumbs, even when I could eat them. 😉
Ha ha ha! I could not disagree with you more on the lemon (mostly because I need the zest in most of my lemon-friendly recipes), garlic, and chicken stock. Our lives are so different.
Deanna H says
Could you post on how you make your own chicken broth and breadcrumbs? It would be helpful to get instructions and maybe pictures too. Thanks!
Janssen has probably already replied, but here is the method I always use: http://www.imperfecthomemaking.com/2012/04/easiest-homemade-chicken-broth-in.html
I am totally with you on the Chicken broth and bread crumbs. I hate store bought, and making my own is SO easy. We just save scraps of veggies and chicken bones when we roast one in a baggie in the freezer, and when we get enough, whip up a batch of broth.
However, I am totally NOT with you on the garlic and lemon juice. That jarred garlic just seems so slimy and weird to me. It doesn't taste at all the same as fresh to me. I'm also not huge on the garlic press. My trick for fresh garlic is to smack the cloves hard with the flat side of my knife. This smooshes the clove so the skin comes right off, and it also doesn't slip around when you try to cut it. Also, super-sharp knives are ESSENTIAL for safely cutting fresh garlic. And that bottled lemon juice tastes so bitter and chemical-y to me. The only time I use it is for canning tomatoes, where the acid percentage is super-important (fresh lemons don't have a consistent level of acidity, especially if you get a lot of Meyer Lemons from neighborhood trees, like I do)
I have to say I agree with Everyday Food on all of the above. I do want to start making chicken stock, however, because I feel like we're always out of it.
(p.s. totally agree that Everyday Food has gone WAY downhill as of late.)
I've never made my own breadcrumbs. Do you let the bread get stale first?
I don't use chicken stock too often but if I do buy it, I buy organic so it doesn't have all of that grossness in it. But I'd say I buy it maybe twice a year. As for garlic, I do love fresh, but I've always never tried the jars and I'm definitely curious now! I've used both fresh lemons and bottled lemon juice. I think bottled is totally fine for a dessert but I like fresh for fish.
One super helpful tip for garlic or any other scent on your hands-fish, onions, stinky things…if you have a knife, or any other certain small-ish kitchen item that is stainless steel, if you hold it in your hands as you rinse cold water over them and kind of just hold the metal and move it around like you were washing your hands, it neutralizes the scent. I don't know why, it just does. I got this tip from my brother who used to sell knives. (and I apologize if I used sell wrong. I can do most grammar things just fine but sell and sale seem to trip me up way more often than I'd like to admit!)
Haha, love this post! I think actual garlic tastes better than bottled, but not ENOUGH better to make it worth it! *clink* (the sound of me toasting your bottle of garlic with mine). 🙂