I was sent a copy of Michael Symon's latest cookbook, Live To Cook, by a PR firm. I know he's an Iron Chef and he's from Cleveland, but I've never seen him on the show and I just don't know that much about him. Michael Ruhlman speaks fondly of him on his blog and that counts for a lot, so I started reading his cookbook with interest.
I flipped open right to page 23 where I was immediately confronted with the heading, "Five Things You Should Never Buy." Symon lists:
- boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- lean turkey bacon
- butter substitutes
- beef tenderloin/filet mignon
- peeled, chopped garlic
I decided I like this guy.
I prefer bone-in chicken thighs to chicken breasts any day. I couldn't imagine making spaghetti carbonara with turkey bacon instead of guanciale or pancetta. Filets are tender but flavorless, New York strips are beefy but chewy. Ribeyes, however, are perfect, and Symon agrees. Peeled, chopped garlic? That stuff in a jar? Doesn't even taste like garlic to me.
Except that now that I've been doing Weight Watchers since the beginning of the year (30 pounds gone), I've been substituting my beloved thighs for breasts. If you pound them out and marinate the hell out of them, they're not bad. They're not chicken thighs, but they aren't bad.
When we do eat red meat, we've been eating leaner cuts of beef. I still can't bring myself to grill anything but ribeyes and when we have them it's a treat. I do cook leaner cuts of beef--in the Crock-Pot or Dutch oven, because they benefit from long, slow cooking.
And chopped garlic in jar? So not good. But the peeled fresh garlic that is sold in bulk in the produce section of Korean markets is a revelation. And Koreans should know. We use a ton of garlic, and that garlic is sold in bulk to make preparing kimchi (among other things) easier. Michael Symon: get thee to a Korean market. You'll see.
But Symon's list got me to thinking--what are some other things you should never buy? Never might be too strong a word, but if I given a choice, I avoid:
- Kosher salt—I think it tastes weird. Metallic. Bitter. I much prefer sea salt, Hawaiian (what I grew up on) and Maldon, my new favorite. I love the jaggedy flakes.
- Pre-ground pepper. Nothing takes the place of fresh ground.
- Canola oil. Canola isn't a plant, it is a made up word. (Canada + oil.) That freaks me out a little. It's genetically modified rapeseed oil. I use olive oil for everything. Even frying. I know what an olive is.
- Jarred spaghetti sauce. It is so easy to make your own.
- Tilapia. I don't know why but this fish grosses me out, and not just because it's a fresh, warm water fish (I'm an icy-cold ocean fish girl), but because it reminds me of the koi pond at my mom's house. Add catfish and farmed salmon to the list for that matter. /shudder
- And speaking of fish, water-packed tuna is something that never makes its way into my grocery cart. If I buy tuna it's packed in oil, olive oil, preferably.
- Whole-wheat pasta. I have tried. Really I have tried to like whole wheat pasta, but I can't help it. It's gritty and paste-y and just plain awful-tasting. The Italian part of me says semolina or nothing. I get my whole grains in other, tastier ways: brown rice, whole wheat cous cous, and whole grain bread.
- Red delicious apples. Mealy, and with that thick, bitter skin? Blerf. There are so many better kinds of apples.
- That blue yogurt that comes in a tube.