As an aspiring home chef, I am always on the lookout for new ingredients to put an exotic spin on the dishes I create in my kitchen. I am fond of experimenting and looking through unconventional sources to create that perfect dish.
I’m lucky enough to have married a former professional chef, so I’ve learned a little from him over the years we’ve been together. However, I am mostly a self-taught cook whose influences were my grandparents, as they taught me that food is more than just something to eat.
I like to frequent my local Chinese supermarket because of all the new and interesting ingredients they offer. If you’re wondering where to find some of the ingredients you see on cooking shows, chances are, you’ll find them there or at other specialty stores.
My love of good food has helped me to carve my own path to new and exiting flavors, and I want to share some of my tips with you:
1. Buy spices in bulk
I have found that even the bags of spices I’ve bought at the grocery stores became costly, and being on a budget, I’ve found that buying in bulk is far more economical.
Because I do most of the cooking and entertaining in my household, I’ve started to create my own spice blends. This alone has slashed my weekly grocery budget by 25% because I’ve stopped buying the pre-made spice blends ($4.00 for a tiny bottle of mixed spices?), which can add up.
Also, since you’re putting your own spin on spice blends, every dish you make will be unique to you.
2. Experiment with shabu shabu and other cuts of meat
I’m blessed to have two Chinese supermarkets in my end of town, so I am not limited to the traditional cuts of local meat.
One cut that I love using, especially when it comes to stir fry dishes, is shabu shabu. If you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant that serves sukiyaki or teriyaki beef, you’ll have noticed how shredded the meat looks.
Shabu shabu is thinly sliced meat that is very versatile. You can use it in stroganoffs, hot sandwiches and even on top of your favorite pizzas. So far, I have only found this cut with beef, pork and lamb.
It’s priced similarly to the regular cuts of meat you usually buy. So, while you spend 8-10 dollars on a pack of pork chops or a cheap blade steak, you can get a container of beef or pork shabu shabu for the same price.
I highly recommend shabu shabu because it cooks quickly and marinates easily. If you don’t mind a bit of marbling in your meat, this is the cut for you.
3. Farmers’ markets are a goldmine of non-processed food
With all the talk and controversy surrounding GMO products, it’s no wonder you’re paying so much for produce at the supermarket.
Not only are you paying for a product imported from another country, you are supporting the use of GMOs when your local farmers’ market sells some of the same things at a more reasonable price, hormone and pesticide free.
I’ve found that when you buy fruits and vegetables from your local farmer, it tastes a lot better and is more satisfying. So what if it doesn’t have a long shelf life.
It’s a way to get us to waste less and use more. Plus, what’s more satisfying than helping your local farmers?
4. Cook your favorite recipes instead of going out to eat all the time
Do you have a favorite dish that you always order? Why not try to make it yourself?
I know…it sounds daunting. But, in reality, cooking is no harder a task than doing your laundry.
It’s a common misconception that cooking even the most complicated dishes is hard to do. If you look up the recipes on sites like AllRecipes.com, not only do they give you step-by-step instructions and a handy ingredient list, but some recipes even have how-to videos to help you on your way.
You may think you are paying more to create this dish that you always have in a restaurant, but you are really paying less. Eating out is expensive and can be quite costly if you do it often.
However, if you look up the recipe and add in the ingredients to your weekly grocery list, it won’t make that much of a change. Plus, you can always take money out of your entertainment budget and add it to your grocery budget if you need extra cash to pay for groceries. This will go a long way.
Also, by cooking at home, you know what ingredients you are putting in. It is a known fact that a lot of restaurants, especially chain restaurants, get their food from supply chains (like Gordon Food Services and Sysco) rather than local stores.
So, how do they know what really goes into the food? It could be highly processed food they are passing off as something else. At least, if you make a dish yourself, you can feel safe in knowing what you are putting in your mouth.
There are many benefits associated with making your own food, and these outweigh any benefits you might have from going to a restaurant. Now that is a satisfying thought.
5. Let your spouse and/or children help you cook
One thing that brought my husband and I together was a love of good food. Before we met and got married, I thought I already had an expanded palate, but he showed me new and interesting things that opened my mind further in ways I thought weren’t possible.
Growing up, I always helped my parents and grandparents cook. Not only was it fun, but it created a strong bond. Nowadays, I try to incorporate that with my daughter.
She is five years old, but there are age appropriate things she does, such as getting ingredients and helping me measure. It’s much better than simply having her watch.
It’s my firm belief that cooking with family is the most satisfying way of all to make a meal. Not only does it make cooking less of a complicated task, but it reduces preparation time.
The best part, though, is the happy memories you will create. By working as a team, you and your family can master even the most complicated of recipes.