Only Fresh?

Chili and tomato sauce are things that I make from time to time, always using fresh tomatoes in my non-recipes. That is, until several weeks ago, when I had a bunch of fresh cilantro to be used but couldn’t find good tomatoes for less than a fortune. So I bought cheap canned tomatoes instead. The huge cans were on sale, so I got quite a lot of tomatoes. As it turned out, far more than were necessary.
First, I made chili. I used two large cans of tomatoes, not realizing how much that threw off my usual ratio. I seasoned until it smelled good. In the end, that wasn’t enough. Not only did I have more left over than ever before, it was not quite as good as usual. I still ate it.

A bit later on, I finally made tomato sauce. I only used one can this time (I think). In went the usual olive oil, and after simmering them long enough to have sauce rather than whole peeled tomato soup, all the usual seasonings joined the party. I tried it and found that it came out very nice. It tasted just like tomato sauce …

But not my tomato sauce.

The difference was notable. When you use fresh ingredients, the resulting flavors of the dish are–there’s no better word for it–fresh. (I realize I’ve now used this word a lot in this post, and I usually try to avoid that, but it’s the only word that really gets my point across.)

Perhaps it was the extra ingredients in the canned tomatoes: salt and added preservatives. That’s the first hint that it not only will taste different, but will not be as good for you. I do add salt to tomato sauce, but not very much. As a result, what I make is typically far healthier than any store-bought kind (large quantities of olive oil included).

While the canned tomatoes definitely saved me money, I have long been a believer in spending more for better quality, within reason. At times it’s a necessary sacrifice, and I’ll admit I’ve had more ramen dinners than I ever really wanted, but in general, the difference between fresh and pre-packaged items are worth it. Tomatoes can be a bit of a problem in winter, though, because they aren’t in season. However, it clearly depends where you go. Everything is always more expensive at Whole Foods and some of the local artisan co-op type places (City Feed, I love your coffee, but I cannot afford your groceries), but I got ten pretty nice roma tomatoes for $2 at Johnny D’s in Brighton Center yesterday. Knowing where to find the deals is key.

I’m not even a fan of frozen vegetables, for the most part. In some recipes they work just fine, and they’re certainly going to save you money, but I can’t help noticing a deficiency in flavor and crispness. Do a simple test: take some frozen broccoli and some fresh broccoli and cook them exactly the same way, for the same amount of time, and then compare them. If you come back and tell me you didn’t notice a difference, I’m not going to believe you. It matters.

I do buy frozen vegetables at times. Here’s another problem, though: I’m far less likely to use them than fresh ones. Knowing my food will actually go bad is a greater incentive to eat it. Seeing all the colors and options set out before me, rather than a collection of white bags with pictures of produce on them, gives me a much better sense of the food that’s available to me. Not to mention that some of the things I like to do with vegetables, like salads and sandwich toppings, are not possible with the frozen variety. Hell, I have a bag of frozen corn that seemed like a good idea at the time, but has been sitting in my freezer for at least two months now. I’m not a huge fan of corn, but I was going to make some kind of chowder-casserole concoction that never came about.

Anyway. Although it seems like buying frozen and canned food items is just a good way to save money, it doesn’t work for me, because I’ll leave them sitting for substantial lengths of time in favor of going out for a burrito or something. If I buy fresh produce, I feel much more compelled and in fact excited to eat it. So really, which option is more budget-friendly?

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Posted on February 21, 2014, in Blog, Food and Drink, Life and Style, Non-recipes and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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