Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tightwad Tidbit: When Cheap isn't Less Expensive

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. Harriet Van Horne

I made Chili con Carne this weekend. I really love some spicy food and happily cooked up the beans and meat, chopped peppers and onions, added tomatoes ... and then the all important chili powder.

That particular chili powder was a life-changing spice for me. You see, being a tightwad, I tend to look for things that are least expensive... so, you'll find me shopping at places like The Christmas Tree Shop for my spices. At least, you would have until the chili powder event.

Here's what happened: My MIL took a cruise down to the Caribbean somewhere and when she came home, she brought me a gift -- a cute little basket with tiny baggies of various spices. I received ginger, cumin, three kinds of cinnamon, a whole nutmeg (with a tiny little grater), and chili powder. I thanked her and set it aside for an unbelievably long time, until one day I needed chili powder and didn't have any! I remembered the gift, opened the baggie and put in the amount called for in the recipe.

When I sat down to eat, the stuff was so spicy it was all but inedible. How can this be? I followed the directions! It's an old family recipe (tamale pie... yum) that I've made dozens of times.

And then, it occurred to me: I used really good, top quality, fresh chili powder. And because of that I needed to use less--far, far less-- than the recipe called for.

As a result, it's actually cheaper for me to buy good spices than to buy the cheap, old, flavorless ones at The Dollar Store.

So, folks: splurge! There are several places online to buy decent spices, or go to your gourmet shops in person. But, be warned, once you've used good spices, you'll never want to go back. They taste better, smell better and ARE better. So, though you may cringe at the initial cost (I know I did), it's worth every penny (and IMHO, cheaper in the long run).

Just remember... you're going to have to get used to using less. AND, you're going to need a crash course in spices because not all cinnamon (or pepper, or chili powder) is created equal. Who knew?

Where's your favorite place to get spices?


You Are Cumin

You are warm, unique, and pretty dominant.

It's also pretty likely that you smoke or like fire.

You are energetic and intense. You definitely stimulate people.

Hmmm... I don't smoke and have a dread fear of dying in a fire, so that part isn't right. Maybe the rest, though. Hmmm...



Dru said...

You are so right about good spices. I get some of my spices form Watkins, Whole Foods and gourmet shops.

You Are Garlic

Of all the spice types, you are the most universally loved.

You get along with pretty much everyone, and you leave a lasting impression.

You adapt yourself well to situations. You can fit in or stand out, depending on what you're called on to do.

More or less accurate except for standing out, I try to blend in.

Have a good Tuesday.

MomJane said...

I am not sure this fits me. I would like for part of it to be true, but oh well.

You Are Basil

You are quite popular and loved by post people.
You have a mild temperament, but your style is definitely distinctive.
You are sweet, attractive, and you often smell good.

Melissa said...

Yep, spices are worthy of splurges. Some of the best chili powder I've had has been from New Mexico. And it ranges in hotness from just giving it a taste to burning!

Anonymous said...

You Are Cayenne Pepper

You are very over the top and a bit overwhelming.
You have a fiery personality, and you can give anyone a good jolt.
You can easily take things up a couple notches, no matter what crowd you're running with.

I think I'll take it!

Brandy said...

Whole Foods is a good place around my area to buy spices.
You are Basil: You are quite popular and loved by post people.
You have a mild temperament, but your style is definitely distinctive.
You are sweet, attractive, and you often smell good.

I kind of like it. *G*

Have a great day!

Amy said...

One of my cooking indulgences is Funghi al Porcini Bouillon from Italy. My bestest IRL friend is Italian and every time she goes back home, she buys me a dozen boxes (you can't get it in the US), and if I run out between trips, her mother will mail it to me, at my expense. It's a complete indulgence, and I use it sparingly, but the boys know if I'm using the Bouillon, it's a special meal. They've loved EVERY meal I've used it in.

The other biggie for me is saffron, which I buy from an Indian import store, but it's not inexpensive, either.

There are some things you just don't want to skimp on.

groovyoldlady said...

You Are Oregano

You have are charming, funny, witty, and smart.
You love to party - and people love to party with you.
You are always friendly and warm. You are able to help people get along.

Yep...that's pretty much moi!

I NEVER buy prepackaged spices. I buy good spices a little bit at a time from a local bulk dealer. My eldest daughter also brings me groovy spices from all over the world. I still need to use the ones she brought me from Seychelles. I have some lovely cumin seeds, cury, chili, tumeric and pepper from there. All my vanilla comes from Haiti. The only other vanilla I'll even touch is the fabulous clear vanilla from Mexico. The two taste totally different and they'e both wonderful!

The Queen of Fifty Cents said...

I second buying in bulk, which is something of a misnomer, since you actually buy smallish amounts at a time that you can use within a few months. Natural food stores are likely places to find bulk spices. Once you've paid less than a dollar for a bag of bay leaves you'll be hooked! It's a good idea to put the date on the container too, to encourage you to freshen your stock periodically.

Turns out I'm cilantro...who knew?!