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View Full Version : The food items where quality matters most.


Ethan
01-29-2010, 05:41 PM
Let's talk about food items that show the biggest degree of improvement when you step up in quality to something more authentic, less processed, more local, and generally higher in grade.

I'll start with something that might be obvious: the tomato. I spent most of my life being convinced that I didn't really like tomatoes all that much. I thought they were mealy, slightly sinewy things that were pinkish in color, tasted vaguely metallic, and were usually only used for looks. Then I visited Italy and realized that a good tomato – a really good tomato – is something like an erotic experience. I couldn't believe it. I had no idea that some bread with sliced tomato and a little bit of olive oil could rival the best pizza I had ever tasted in the states. I spent a long time after that being disappointed that I could never find such tomatoes in my neck of the woods. Then I discovered the heirloom tomatoes from my farmer's market, and all was good in the world once more. Also, a few months ago I found these little orange cherry tomatoes there, and I swear they were better than the best cherries I have ever had. So good.

I'd have to struggle to think of a food that drops in quality so steeply when you settle for your standard Safeway/Albertson's fare.

Merus
01-29-2010, 05:43 PM
Definitely strawberries. Supermarket strawberries are much blander than ones fresh off the bush.

Parish
01-29-2010, 05:56 PM
Any kind of seafood. If it's not fresh, it's dreadful.

And yeah, seconded on tomatoes. I've never much liked them, but this summer I had some fresh from my great aunt's garden and they were amazing. Flavorful, great texture, great color, juicy... not like those pale plastic things they serve at restaurants. I came back to SF and, emboldened by my newfound love of tomatoes, had a caprese salad. It was heartbreakingly bland.

SEanEF
01-29-2010, 06:29 PM
I dunno, some seafood freezes pretty well, if done right. I think especially certain types of shellfish. I've had some excellent shrimp that started out frozen. Of course, I've also had some that were tasteless and rubbery.

Dadgum Roi
01-29-2010, 06:46 PM
Definitely seafood. My family did a lot of sport fishing when I was a kid, and the only time we ever ate seafood was when we'd caught it. So I was always eating stuff that was a day old, tops. Most restaurant seafood is garbage.

Tomm Guycot
01-29-2010, 07:18 PM
I will second the tomato thing. I don't know where she bought it, but Bdazzld put tomato on her turkey burger the other night and I followed in kind on a whim... and it was the best tomato.

The best tomato.

Grignr
01-29-2010, 07:28 PM
Definitely tomatoes. I grew up eating awesome tomatoes. My grandfather would grow them in his garden (along with giant ears of corn) and dump all the surplus with my parents. We ate the tomatoes, chilled, sliced, and lightly salted, as a side dish at dinner.

It was a sad day when I went to college and tried supermarket tomatoes.

On the other hand, hot fresh baked bread vs. processed "lasts two weeks" grocery bread is also very, very different.

Mazian
01-29-2010, 07:43 PM
Let's talk about food items that show the biggest degree of improvement when you step up in quality to something more authentic, less processed, more local, and generally higher in grade.

For me, that's got to be the tom...

TOMATOES

...right.

How about liquids? "Cooking wine" is an affront to food, particularly since inexpensive but serviceable wine is so readily available. Even springing for a bottle of Two Three Buck Chuck's a huge improvement.

Years ago, I also decided that life was too short to drink reconstituted orange juice. The fresh stuff jumps up and down wildly in cost based on the whims of the weather in Florida, but that's a small price to pay for delicious.

Dawnswalker
01-29-2010, 09:38 PM
Any kind of seafood. If it's not fresh, it's dreadful.


Definitely seafood. My family did a lot of sport fishing when I was a kid, and the only time we ever ate seafood was when we'd caught it. So I was always eating stuff that was a day old, tops. Most restaurant seafood is garbage.

Quoted for truth.

Seafood (especially lobster) also doesn't reheat very well, so if you want to save time by cooking it the day before, just don't bother.

Sven
01-29-2010, 10:49 PM
Another vote for seafood. You can save lower-quality produce, but poor quality seafood will ruin anything.

Torgo
01-30-2010, 01:01 AM
Fresher is better in all things of course, but more than anything, seafood is the biggie, definitely. I mean, sure, some stuff freezes okay, some of it even acceptable, but if you're looking to fry up an actual chunk of fish, buy it fresh. Even better, buy it whole. Filleting a fish isn't that tough with a sharp boning knife.

Then you crust that sucker, make a nice beurre blanc, and pan fry it. Heaven, pure and simple.

dangerhelvetica
01-30-2010, 09:25 AM
If you actually happen to live near where the fish is caught, though, restaurant fish can be pretty decent.

Pombar
01-30-2010, 09:54 AM
Cheddar. That plasticky crap that passes for cheese in most outlets is absolutely unacceptable. I want crumbly, vintage mature.

Stephen
01-30-2010, 09:57 AM
Peaches. There's a four week period in August and September when the locally grown peaches are ripe, and I gorge myself on their soft, sweet flesh. When peach season is over, I'm done with them until the next year. Supermarket peaches are hard, mealy garbage, because peaches don't ripen unless they're on the tree and ripe peaches are too soft to ship.

Dadgum Roi
01-30-2010, 10:00 AM
If you actually happen to live near where the fish is caught, though, restaurant fish can be pretty decent.

You have to do a lot of work to find somewhere that actually uses local seafood even then.

Ethan
01-30-2010, 10:14 AM
There's a homestyle Chinese place by me that does pretty good steamed fish. It's farmed around the corner. Farmed is obviously not going to be as tasty as wild, but it's damn good, and likely the best you can get this far inland unless you lay down baller money. Same goes for one or two Vietnamese places by me.

Know what is nasty? Fake maple syrup. I know that it's not technically maple syrup, but it's still marketed as maple-flavored surup, and it is so gross.

dangerhelvetica
01-30-2010, 10:31 AM
100% agree with you there. It's also waaaay too sticky.

Ample Vigour
01-30-2010, 11:19 AM
The majority of Americans have never eaten a steak of the proper sort, that being USDA Prime that has been dry-aged for at least four weeks. Back before the dark times, before Select was pushed on us by companies too cheap to properly fatten their cattle before slaughter, this was the default steak for people who cared about their beef. Now it runs you $25 a pound when you can find it.

The aging concentrates the beefy flavor, which develops tastes of butter and hazelnut. Once you've had it, you can never really go back (though a properly fatty ribeye seared over merciless flame until the meat has just begun to reach 105 or so will do in a pinch.)

ajr82
01-30-2010, 03:51 PM
Know what is nasty? Fake maple syrup. I know that it's not technically maple syrup, but it's still marketed as maple-flavored surup, and it is so gross.

That's what I came in here to say. I just can't abide "table syrup". Ugh.

Epithet
01-30-2010, 04:12 PM
Know what is nasty? Fake maple syrup. I know that it's not technically maple syrup, but it's still marketed as maple-flavored surup, and it is so gross.

YES. The difference between genuinely good maple syrup and horrible dyed-brown corn syrup is astounding. Imitation foods in general are pretty bad, but maple syrup is especially horrible.

Grignr
01-30-2010, 05:21 PM
I discovered over Christmas that my father-in-law had turned against high fructose corn syrup, which apparently to him had suddenly appeared in all foods and sodas. I explained "Remember New Coke? That was when they switched, it wasn't recent, more like 1985" but I don't think he believed me.

Mother-in-law complained that their pancake syrup turned out to be mostly HFCS. I said "That's easy, just buy maple syrup." Her reply was "But that doesn't taste as good."

Yep, the in-laws, what fun!

Posaune
01-30-2010, 06:53 PM
I like fake maple syrup.

Grignr
01-30-2010, 07:44 PM
I like fake maple syrup.

Hey, my mom used to skip the fake Log Cabin syrup and go straight for the bottles of Karo syrup for her pancakes. I guess Karo could be the "quality corn syrup" ingredient here.

(Why yes, I did grow up in the South.)

FOLLOWUP: Log Cabin's web site proclaims "Now with real sugar, NO high fructose corn syrup!" so fake maple syrup lovers, consume away!

Chu
01-30-2010, 08:32 PM
I use what's labeled as "Cake Syrup" here because it's either that or pay 8 dollars more for an even smaller, glass bottle of maple syrup. Good thing I have low standards, I guess.

Loon_X01
01-30-2010, 09:14 PM
Mercifully, I don't eat many dishes with cucumbers as a strong component. Mainly because I just cannot eat cucumbers that are not home-grown. I have yet to come across a vegetable or fruit that has such a gap in taste between store-bought and home-grown. Or maybe I've been spoiled rotten in my youth.

ravinoff
01-30-2010, 09:18 PM
Regarding fish:

Fresh fish bought in a coastal area very soon after it was caught > fish flash-frozen on the boat immediately after it was caught > fresh fish shipped to cities on/near coasts > normal frozen fish

EDIT: the difference between flash-freezing and normal freezing is that flash freezing involves extremely low temperatures to freeze the fish very quickly. The quicker something is frozen the smaller the ice crystals within it are, the smaller the ice crystals the less tissue damage occurs.

Ethan
01-30-2010, 11:52 PM
Log Cabin's web site proclaims "Now with real sugar, NO high fructose corn syrup!"

This is a pretty funny trend. For decades, the ability to use HFCS was an economic boon for the food industry. Then things suddenly reversed, and now the ability to deny using HFCS is an advertising boon. It's master jiu-jitsu on the part of big agribusiness.

There's really no definitive information showing that HFCS is worse for your health than refined cane sugar. It's not that HFCS is okay for you; it's that both of them are completely terrible for you. People have been misled into thinking that their miracle path to avoiding weight gain and lowering their chance of diabetes is to simply cut HFCS out of their diet, so they are just switching to other processed products that use other types of refined sugar and not reducing their risk of anything. And they're willing to pay a premium for this, because they thought this is what Michael Pollan told them to do. They're basically reading the headlines and skipping the articles.

I mean, I'm all for replacing HFCS with cane sugar, but that's for political and socioeconomic reasons, not personal health reasons. The healthy thing to do is to just avoid all these processed sweeteners altogether. When one of these big beverage companies releases a "Super Throwback" line of drinks that's lightly sweetened with raw cane crystals and flavored with herbs and fruit oils, then we'll talk.

So, to bring it back to relevancy, the argument against HFCS-based "maple" syrup is not about the safety of any particular ingredient. It's not even really about health. It's about taste. Pure maple syrup is complex and delicious. Life is short. Why settle for less?

Another item that fits the theme of the thread: grapes. I got some seeded concord grapes from my local farmer's market over the summer, and all other grapes were instantly ruined forever.

Epithet
01-31-2010, 09:36 AM
So, to bring it back to relevancy, the argument against HFCS-based "maple" syrup is not about the safety of any particular ingredient. It's not even really about health. It's about taste. Pure maple syrup is complex and delicious. Life is short. Why settle for less?

Yeah, pretty much. It's not the corn syrup that gets me, even though I think I can detect a difference between corn syrup and cane sugar, but the weird flavoring in the substitute stuff.

Chu
02-01-2010, 01:33 AM
I just wanted to say that peanut cream is not the same as peanut butter! Sometimes the other two JETs who live and work here will slip up and say peanut butter when they mean peanut cream. When I correct them, they'll just say that they're pretty much the same.

They're not! Aaaaaaaa

shivam
02-01-2010, 01:45 AM
peanut cream is so bad that i had my folks mail me real peanut butter from the states. Also, i found the stores in tokyo that sold foreign goods, and bought jiffy myself.

(there's a market in the mall at the tokyo disney train stop that carries import foods. they also have real chilli peppers!)

Brickroad
02-01-2010, 01:57 AM
This is going to sound weird amidst the long list of fresh fruits and such, but: instant mac & cheese. If you get the good name brand kind it's a real treat. If you get some cheap knock-off you might as well lick it up off the floor.

Kishi
02-01-2010, 01:58 AM
We're talking Kraft, right?

Brickroad
02-01-2010, 01:59 AM
Damn skippy. They do it right and nobody else does.

Torgo
02-01-2010, 02:01 AM
Kraft Man & Cheese sounds so good right now. Stoffer's will do in a pinch, but I haven't had Kraft in probably four or five years.

And on earth is peanut cream? Do I even want to know? It even sounds terrible.

shivam
02-01-2010, 02:02 AM
i actually prefer Amy's Organic Mac and Cheese. the cheese they use not only tastes better, but is more amenable to adding fun stuff to.

Kishi
02-01-2010, 02:04 AM
Kraft is very amenable to adding sliced hot dogs to it.

Chu
02-01-2010, 04:19 AM
Kraft Man & Cheese sounds so good right now. Stoffer's will do in a pinch, but I haven't had Kraft in probably four or five years.

And on earth is peanut cream? Do I even want to know? It even sounds terrible.

Here's some peanut cream, despite what the URL says. (http://www.meggomyeggo.com/inabox/2006/05/19/peanut-butter/) I think peanut cream is edible but it's just not anywhere near the same as peanut butter. Luckily I'm pretty sure I can get some at a grocery store about a 10 minute bike ride from here-- I just get all indignant when I have to pay twice as much for it as I would in the states. I know it's because it's just not as widely eaten in Japan, but... sigh.

NevznachaY
02-01-2010, 08:12 AM
Mayonnaise. Just make some - it's that easy.

dangerhelvetica
02-01-2010, 10:03 AM
Here's some peanut cream, despite what the URL says. (http://www.meggomyeggo.com/inabox/2006/05/19/peanut-butter/) I think peanut cream is edible but it's just not anywhere near the same as peanut butter. Luckily I'm pretty sure I can get some at a grocery store about a 10 minute bike ride from here-- I just get all indignant when I have to pay twice as much for it as I would in the states. I know it's because it's just not as widely eaten in Japan, but... sigh.

So this raises the question, is there peanut milk?

ArugulaZ
02-01-2010, 10:14 AM
Booze. Alcohol is hard enough to drink as it is... you don't need low quality liquor making it even more difficult to stomach. I had a bottle of scotch and a bottle of rum that I had to pour down the sink because they were just impossible to consume without prompting a violent gag reflex. They may as well have been fermented ipecac.

Ample Vigour
02-01-2010, 12:02 PM
Booze. Alcohol is hard enough to drink as it is... you don't need low quality liquor making it even more difficult to stomach. I had a bottle of scotch and a bottle of rum that I had to pour down the sink because they were just impossible to consume without prompting a violent gag reflex. They may as well have been fermented ipecac.

Well liquor is why they invented 7up. Now get mixing.

Chu
02-02-2010, 01:44 AM
So this raises the question, is there peanut milk?

Apparently! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peanut_milk)

Sven
02-02-2010, 01:28 PM
i actually prefer Amy's Organic Mac and Cheese. the cheese they use not only tastes better, but is more amenable to adding fun stuff to.

President's Choice White Cheddar > All.

There is no Canadian who will disagree with this answer.

Ghost from Spelunker
02-02-2010, 03:15 PM
What if you just boiled a bag of macaroni and put a block of cheese on it to melt?

Ethan
02-02-2010, 03:17 PM
It will solidify as soon as it's cooled slightly.

Sven
02-02-2010, 03:24 PM
It will solidify as soon as it's cooled slightly.

Truth.

Hand-made macaroni is best served by a cheese bechemel (melt butter, add flour, toast in pan, add milk, add cheese), but, at that point, it's easier to just make the stuff out of the box and supplement it with some cheese of your own if you want the extra flavour. NOTE - that's not a roux. A roux is just the butter and flour part, before you whisk in the milk.

Not that you shouldn't know how to make a bechemel, since it's vital to making everything from soufflés to interesting variants on lasagna.

shivam
02-02-2010, 03:54 PM
i love making mac by hand, with a highly modded bechamel sauce. but that's a different thread.

Mr. Sensible
02-02-2010, 04:07 PM
Someone already mentioned this, but it cannot be overstated that fresh-baked bread can fundamentally improve almost any meal. Cheap out on everything else at the grocery store if you want, but go for the good stuff in the bakery aisle. Or, y'know, get a bread machine.

R^2
02-03-2010, 10:57 AM
Did someone already mention that? Because I just started baking my own bread and one of my friends has stopped buying supermarket bread as a result.

(This is good because I need the money.)

jeditanuki
02-03-2010, 12:39 PM
Rice!

Pombar
02-03-2010, 01:19 PM
Tomato Ketchup. If it isn't Heinz, it isn't worth using.

NevznachaY
02-03-2010, 01:39 PM
Ketchup is gross, period.

Mr. Sensible
02-03-2010, 02:37 PM
I will fight you.

But yeah, my old roommate used to buy Hunt's ketchup just to be a douche because he knew I hated it. Heinz fo' lyfe.

Balrog
02-03-2010, 02:41 PM
Y'all don't have no love for Del Monte?

Posaune
02-03-2010, 04:06 PM
Tomato Ketchup. If it isn't Heinz, it isn't worth using.

This right here. Other ketchups are just too sweet.

demonkoala
02-03-2010, 05:56 PM
Man, you guys saying tomatoes and fish are so so right.
But cucumbers are super crucial for me too. Most cucumbers taste terrible, but I can't do much about that.

I'm sure there is a metric ton of things I can list, since food quality kind of means a lot for me, but I just felt like I ought to mention cucumbers.

Red Hedgehog
02-08-2010, 11:55 PM
You have to do a lot of work to find somewhere that actually uses local seafood even then.

Seriously? Maybe it's just a New York thing. Seems everywhere around here likes to use local seafood.

But yes, seafood. Summering in a fishing village for years has made me realize how people can not like seafood - they've never had it fresh.

Sheana
02-09-2010, 12:38 AM
Sometimes people are just bad at preparing it. I once had shrimp in Savannah that was local, being as it was close to the coast and on an ocean-fed river to boot, and it was terrible. Another seafood joint that was right on a lake was astoundingly mediocre.

Dadgum Roi
02-09-2010, 04:11 AM
Seriously? Maybe it's just a New York thing. Seems everywhere around here likes to use local seafood.


I would guess that they are really stretching the definition of local.

ajr82
02-09-2010, 08:02 AM
Also, blueberries. Wild blueberries are incredible, tiny morsels of pure deliciousness. Supermarket blueberries are just big, tasteless lumps of nothing.

Red Hedgehog
02-09-2010, 01:26 PM
I would guess that they are really stretching the definition of local.

Mostly they mean Long Island. Though there are actually two or three fishing villages in NYC itself.

Dadgum Roi
02-09-2010, 01:33 PM
Mostly they mean Long Island. Though there are actually two or three fishing villages in NYC itself.

There's actually something to catch despite the huge population and pollution from the port?

Anyway, to elaborate a bit on what I said earlier: coastal areas tend to also be tourist areas, and many/most restaurants in tourist areas tend to be of the sort that is aimed at shoving a lot of crappy, unauthentic food down the gullet of people who don't know any better. I remember when seafood places on the Outer Banks started calling dolphin "mahi mahi" for the benefit of the Yankees back in the 80s. You would never in a million years get these people to eat good, local fish like spot or croaker or sea mullet.

Also, the locavore trend is still a lot bigger in large cities than elsewhere. I know of numerous local places who use local produce/seafood/etc. and don't advertise it. Some are even embarrassed about using stuff out of so-and-so's garden.

Rosewood
02-17-2010, 11:06 AM
Desserts. It's gotten to the point that I have trouble stomaching anything that isn't homemade, because the packaged stuff tastes so strongly of food coloring and/or whatever chemicals they use to keep it "fresh."