Serious cooks - what convenience foods do you think are worth it?

I try to avoid conveninence foods if I can - I don’t really want the preservatives and things, not to mention they’re more expensive, and some of them are downright silly. When I found out what’s in pancake mix (that I had all of it in the pantry anyway) I sort of swore off most of them. Some things really are worthwhile, though.

As for what a “convenience food” is, I wouldn’t call frozen peas or canned tomatoes (the good ones, the Muir Glen ones) to be convenience, but canned beans are sort of on the borderline and canned soup is way over it.

I nominate 5 minute couscous. Granted, I’ve never had the kind of couscous made by good Moroccan women who slave over it and fluff it with their hands and such, but I think the 5 minute kind is awfully good (certainly a lot better than, say, Minute Rice.)

What else do you use?

Great question. I nominate good shredded cheese. Until recently, I used to shred my own cheese using my food processor pretty much exclusively. I find it difficult to get to the good cheese shops as of late, so quality shredded cheese is something I use a lot now.

I stopped making homemade tapioca pudding. The packaged kind actually tastes better, and it’s easier.

What’s “good” shredded cheese? You mean the stuff in the dairy section? Got a particular brand? I always feel like a loser when I buy shredded cheese - I mostly just get it for Mexican, for some reason.

By “packaged” tapioca, I mean the dry mix in a box to which you add milk and cook, not the icky canned stuff or the little plastic cups from Kraft that are full of semen and fish eggs, or whatever they put in there.

Bagged salad
Shredded carrots
Dried pasta
Canned stock

Bottled egg whites. I buy the organic free-range homeopathic hippie egg whites from Whole Paycheck. It’s just much easier for me than cracking the shell and tossing the yolk.

Pre-grated frozen coconut, and the ginger and garlic paste at the Indian market for recipes. Not worth it to grate & shred & mince it myself although I do have both garlic and ginger, fresh, on hand. I try to find the pastes that don’t have too many preservatives in them, or I whine and my parents will make me herbal pastes I keep in the freezer in little ice cube trays.

Filleted fish-my parents are always trying to teach me how to buy the whole ones with crazy eyes in Chinatown and chop them up but I’m a child of convenience and buy mine pre-filleted, pre-cut.

I know this is heresy but the brownies out of the box taste better to me than home-made brownies about 87.6% of the time.

I agree about the brownies. Don’t tell anybody.

I think you’re seriously hardcore if you even begin to think of filleted fish as a convenience food. :slight_smile:

I don’t enjoy mincing garlic, so I buy jars of pre-minced garlic. It keeps well in the fridge, and it tastes better than the dry stuff.

It’s not available in my area, but I’ve heard that jarred Roux is the bees-knees. It’s pretty much just flour cooked in oil, but a dark chocolate roux can take 40 minutes of stirring…or a twist and scoup of what you need out of the jar.

Further, if the gumbo isn’t thick enough, you can get just a little bit more if you need it.

When I lived in Louisiana, the hard core Cajun’s I knew would begrudgingly admit that jarred Roux would do in a pinch.

I don’t really have any thing to add, except perhaps that single serving things are useful sometimes. For example, single serving fruit cups work for my children, whereas opening a bigger (and cheaper) can might go to waste.


Canned stock or the stuff in the boxes. I know, it’s a pale comparison to the real stuff but sometimes I just don’t have time to spend a day making and freezing stock.

Of course, lately I’ve scored - my friend’s restaurant went out of business, which I’m really really sad about, but when he showed up with a TON of frozen glace I just about died and went to heaven. Doesn’t help when I need chicken stock, but I can add water to glace and use it for beef stock whenever needed.

And yes, I have that much glace. I can use it for stock instead of hording it greedily for saucemaking and such.

What else? I think a lot depends on what you consider “convenient.” I have no problem shredding cheese, for example, and the pre-shredded stuff in the bags around here is not very good quality.

I’ll use lettuce-in-bags, but I don’t like it. I don’t like how it’s cut, and I don’t like the lettuce mix.

‘Instant’ couscous and polenta - I have no time for that much stirring.
Stock powder
Dried pasta and gnocchi - only make these myself on lazy weekends.
Tomato sugo/passata - a much more tasty base for pasta sauces than tinned tomatoes
Tinned beans, tomatoes, tuna and corn
Mayo, jams, chutneys and indian/thai spice pastes

I wouldn’t ever do convenience coffee, cheese or potato - I’d rather go without.

Ditto on the chopped garlic.


canned tomatoes (sadly, I have no garden)

shredded sharp cheddar cheese

the Mahatra or Zaratan brand Red beans & Rice is just too tasty and convenient for me to learn to make my own, I guess the terrorists have won.

sliced pepperoni

bottled nut brown ale, I long to home-brew but haven’t the time right now.

Tubs of kimchi. Keeps for a month or more in the fridge (although it tastes progressively funkier over time). Good as a cold side dish or snack. Good warmed in the microwave to accompany a piece of fish/ chicken/ pork/ beef with rice. Good mixed in with other ingredients in a stir fry.

Tubes of polenta: slice and grill, or add a little liquid and get soft polenta.

You should listen to your parents. Fresh fish shouldn’t have cloudy eyes. If it’s pre-filleted, you’ll never know and have to trust your fish monger (and your nose). While I don’t buy my fish in Chinatown, I prefer when I can get a whole fish and let the fish monger prepare it.

I was always told that the dark roux have no thickening power, which is why you need okra or file.

You minced garlic in a jar people have heard of the garlic press, right? I got the one Cook’s Illustrated suggested and it cleans easily (my mother’s doesn’t) and I find it a lot easier in recipe that say “Mince 3 cloves” not to have to guess out of a jar. I find it basically just as easy as the jar and tastier. YMMV, of course.

Less thickening power, the darker it gets. You trade thickening for flavor.

Hang on a second. You mean there’s a couscous that doesn’t cook up in five minutes?

Every couscous I’ve ever made – whether it came in a box or out of a bulk bin – was 1) boil water; 2) stir in couscous (with salt and olive oil, if desired); 3) turn off heat. Couscous is ready in five minutes.