10 Flavorful Foods Worth Splurging On
I get it, you're trying to be frugal with your grocery budget. I feel your pain; I've been trying to shrink my grocery budget by reducing food waste, shopping according to the "Dirty Dozen, Clean Fifteen" list, and buying filling but inexpensive staples like beans and seasonal squash. But although I'm trying to keep grocery costs down, there are a few flavorful foods I will often splurge on. It's worth it to spend a little more to get top-quality versions of these flavor-boosters, because they add so much additional flavor to the rest of your food. (See also: Cheap Ways to Add Big Flavor)
A little grated parmesan on a salad or on pasta can elevate the dish to a whole new level of deliciousness. That's why it's worth splurging on a parmigiano-reggiano or grana padano that has that really deep, funky, cheesy flavor. Add just a little quality parmesan and olive oil to a bowl of plain pasta, and you've got a flavorful dish, whereas with cheaper parmesan, you can grate a whole mountain onto your dish (or worse, shake it out of a can) and just taste the salt.
Parmesan lasts a long time, so a little bit goes a long way. You can even use the dry rind when you've finished the cheese — just throw the rind into a soup or stew to add an extra depth of flavor (remove it before serving). (See also: 5 Easy Homemade Cheeses)
2. Tomato Paste
A squirt of tomato paste adds umami — that dark, complex, savory flavor — to almost any dish. I like to buy the tomato paste that comes in a squeeze tube, although it tends to be a little more expensive. This way, I can add just a little bit to a variety of dishes (stews, sautes, sauces) and save the rest for later.
3. Balsamic Vinegar
The difference between a $3 bottle of balsamic vinegar and a quality aged, estate-produced balsamic vinegar is like night and day. The latter is syrupy, mellow, slightly sweet, and complex — perfect for dipping strawberries into or drizzling over a grilled chicken and fig pizza. Varieties imported from Modena have the most famous pedigree, but any vinegar that has been aged several years from a reputable source is likely to be good, and sometimes costs just a few dollars more than the standard grocery store bottle. Use the cheap balsamic for cooking and perhaps even salads, and save the good stuff for dipping and drizzling.
4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A fruity extra-virgin olive oil isn't just a cooking oil, it's a condiment in its own right. Try it drizzled on avocado toasts with flaky sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper, or tossed with roasted vegetables. If you're splurging on the good stuff, save it for dressing and drizzling, not for cooking, which alters the flavor.
5. Herbs and Spices
For the best bang for your buck, buy good quality dried herbs and spices instead of fresh (Penzey's is a good place to start). They will add so much flavor to your cooking, and they last a long time. Once you have good quality herbs, you'll never go back to the cheap but flavorless powdery stuff. Fresh herbs are great too, if you can afford them (and if you use them all before they wilt) — better yet, grow them yourself to have them on hand anytime you need them. (See also: Foods You Can Grow in Your Home)
Having a good coffee at home that you love to drink will ultimately save you money by preventing you from spending a small fortune at the coffee shop. For best results, invest in a coffee-bean grinder that will give you the freshest-tasting coffee. (See also: Top 5 Coffee Grinders)
Chocolate is one of those little luxuries I will always splurge on. One or two squares of a high quality dark chocolate is enough to satisfy me (the flavor is more intense, and I limit myself because of the price). It's a much healthier way to indulge, rather than to gorge yourself on bars of mediocre chocolate, which are filled with sugar, carnauba wax, and other unpronounceable ingredients.
I often buy the cheapest butter at Trader Joe's, especially if I'm doing a lot of baking and I know I'll be going through a lot. But on the few times that I splurge on deliciously creamy, European grass-fed butter (like Kerrygold), my scones turn out tender and rich, my cookies are sweet and decadent, and my icings are creamier and fluffier. When spread on a toasted English muffin, a good quality butter needs no other adornment. Go ahead and splurge once in a while, especially if you're primarily using the butter for spreading.
You may think it's hard to justify spending $4-5 dollars on a dozen free-range eggs when you can get a regular dozen for $1.50. However, the added nutrients and (more importantly) the richness of flavor make quality eggs a worthwhile purchase. Chickens that are allowed to forage and eat insects, seeds, and grass (rather than just corn and soy) lay eggs with bright orange yolks that just taste, well, eggier. I often save my free-range eggs for frying, boiling, and scrambling, and cut costs by using regular eggs for baking.
Try roasting a bunch of asparagus and topping it with a poached free-range egg. Let the rich, silky, creamy yolk run down over the asparagus as you eat it. It's positively decadent.
10. Greek Yogurt
Greek or Balkan-style yogurt is strained to remove some of the water content, making it thicker and higher in protein. I find that most Greek yogurt brands also taste better than their non-Greek counterparts — they have fewer artificial flavorings, are much creamier, and have that tangy taste that many non-Greek yogurts lack.
For the best bang for your buck (and the healthiest), buy plain Greek yogurt and flavor it with fresh fruit and honey. Add some to a smoothie to pump up the protein content, or eat it with cereal. Greek yogurt can even be used in savory dishes: slathered on Tandoori-spiced chicken, or as a stand-in for sour cream in a dip or on a taco.
What foods do you like to splurge on? Share with us!