There are some ingredients that I’m flexible on like jarred garlic instead of fresh garlic for every day meals. A post today on The Kitchn about 5 ingredients you shouldn’t skimp on got me thinking about which ingredients I’m not flexible about. I’m flexible about many foods, you have to be when you’re on a budget and when you’re cooking for a family every day. I did realize, though, that there are some foods that I will not skimp on.

  1. Balsamic Vinegar – After treating myself to a bottle of DiBruno Bros. 'Gold' Barrel Aged Balsamic Vinegar one day, I became a convert. This vinegar takes a simple Caprese salad to another level and when sprinkled on a flat bread pizza of beef, blue cheese, and caramelized onions it brings it all together like nothing else can. I still keep a bottle of less expensive balsamic vinegar in the pantry for when it’s needed to make marinades, but for drizzling on foods, I’ll never skimp on balsamic again. Fortunately, a little of the good stuff goes a long way.
  2. Ground Beef – I refuse to make a burger at home without grass-fed ground beef from a source I trust. Since I started to buy ground beef from a local source, the few times I’ve bought supermarket ground beef, even if it’s been organic, I’ve been so disappointed. There’s just something about the beef that comes from cows that have been allowed to eat what cows are supposed to eat that makes a better burger.
  3. Coffee – This was on the list from the Kitchn, and I whole-heartedly agree. Good coffee is imperative. A bad cup of coffee can start the day off poorly. I always choose coffee that has been grown and harvested in a fair, sustainable manner. Some of my favorites that are excellent (at least for my taste buds), yet reasonably priced, are Weaver’s Organic, Lacas Fair Trade Organic Mexican, and my newly-discovered Green Mountain Fair Trade Three Continent Blend.
  4. Parmesan Cheese – I grew up with the shaker cheese that was kept in the pantry and brought out only to shake on top of spaghetti. When I discovered real Parmesan cheese, I couldn’t believe how good it was. I always keep good, fresh Parmesan in the refrigerator to grate as needed. It makes a huge difference. And, I don’t waste any of it. I use the Paremsan rinds to flavor soups, stocks, infuse oil and more.
  5. Gin – I’m fairly flexible with the wine I drink. I’ve found many $10 bottles that aren’t going to wow a wine aficionado but are perfectly acceptable to me to open up for every day drinking, but when it comes to gin, I need the good stuff. I refuse to drink a martini or a gimlet that tastes like its been made with dirt. My favorite is Bluecoat American Gin that’s distilled with organic botanicals. 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

5 ingredients I won't skimp on
Tight budgets and home cooking every day make flexibility with ingredients a must, but there are some ingredients I refuse to accept an inferior version of.