Among the superstars in my kitchen larder, there are items for which I’d rather go without than switch to a substitute:
#1 on the list is Hellman’s Light Mayonnaise. I’ve been using this for so long I cannot fathom the taste of full-fat mayonnaise. But it didn’t take long to train the taste buds – this low fat version is so rich and creamy, like Hellman’s Real, that I miss nothing in flavor and certainly not in added calories. At just 35 calories per Tbsp, 30 from fat, this product is the bomb. Fat free mayonnaise is an abomination, no matter whose label is on the jar, and other ‘lite’ versions either have more calories or simply taste a bit off.
#2, and just as indispensable, is Daisy Light sour cream. Just about every other light sour cream brand, except from some over-the-top pricey organics – are laden with additives such as corn starch and guar gum to replicate the mouth-feel of their full-fat counterparts. Not this Daisy – ingredients are simply cultured cream, skim milk, and Vitamin A palmitate. Like it’s Hellman’s Light counterpart, this product looks and tastes to me like the full-fat version.
#3 Breakstone’s 2% milkfat low fat cottage cheese. Been eating this brand since childhood, when I fell in love with its pleasantly tangy curds. Alone as a mid-day snack, schmeered on toast, or as a side to a lunch plate of cut fruit, no other brand compares.
#4 Redwood Hill Farm goat milk yogurt, naturally much lower in fat than full-fat cow’s milk yogurt and, while not a concern for me, well-tolerated by those with a lactose issue – as are other goat milk products. The only acceptable substitute is Trader Joe’s goat milk yogurt, which is private-labeled for them by the people at Redwood. I use this in any recipe calling for yogurt, and often enjoy it plain or with a hint of maple syrup or honey as a snack.
#5 Trader Joe’s Garden Patch Juice, either Low Sodium or Regular. Forget about V-8 – if you enjoy a richly flavored vegetable juice with lots of body, this is the drink for you. Private-labeled for TJ’s by Knudsen’s, makers of Very Veggie, at a fraction of the cost, which just makes it taste that much better. Delicious by itself, but also the perfect base for a Bloody Mary. Stay away from the Mr. & Mrs. T, loaded with sodium. Just add your own tabasco, horseradish, Worcestershire, lemon or lime juice, and celery salt. And vodka, of course.
#6 Speaking of horseradish, unless you’re out on the back porch grating your own horseradish root, this is the killer for hots. Stays pretty powerful too, after opening, provided you screw the cap on tightly. We’ve tried Gold’s and found it too wimpy. However, there’a also a brand called Atomic which is supposedly favored by restaurants and sold online…might give it the taste test someday. For a while, TJ’s had a knock-me-dead horseradish in their refrigerated section, but like so many items that they regard as slow movers, it was discontinued a few years ago.
#7 Bubbie’s Kosher Dills are the only pickles I’ve ever tasted that remind me of the ones my nana used to make. They are aptly name for Bubbie. The brine is so cloudy and garlicky you have to shake the jar to disperse it all before plucking out one of the crisp little pickles. You can even save the brine and throw some cabbage in there as my nana used to do with her leftover pickle juice – in just a day or so, pickled cabbage.
#8 Locatelli Pecorino Romano, widely considered the world’s finest grating cheese – I use it exclusively in lieu of Parmesan, and grate it as needed in the Vitamix. It takes mere seconds. Only $8.99/lb at BJ’s versus $10.99 for the same amount already grated. Besides the cost savings, I prefer grating my own and saving some of the chunk to add cheese shavings to a dish – easy e nough with a vegetable peeler.
#9 Genova solid light tuna in olive oil. I buy it by the case from Amazon, but sometimes find it at Hannaford’s for about the same price per can – $1.79. I’ve written before about the sawdust that passes for tuna packed in water, serving only as a medium for copious amounts of mayonnaise. Despite it’s shrinking size, now at 5 ounces, this little can is a meal in itself over a bed of greens, onion and tomato. You can drain the oil off or dress your greens with it before sprinkling with a bit of white balsamic or lemon juice.
#10 Amy’s Organic Chunky Tomato Bisque. You’d never know you were eating canned soup. Thick and chunky with bits of tomato, not in the least acidic, mildly sweet. The first time I tasted this I sent the Amy’s people a fan email and got a thank you note with about $17 in coupons – a few for entire items such as “any frozen item” (pizza!). The best accompaniment on this planet to a grilled cheese sandwich.
#11 Cape Cod potato chips, 40% less fat. Yes, I probably eat more of them knowing they’re lower in fat. But the crunch factor is simply perfect, and now that they’re making flavored varieties in the less-fat format, they’ve stolen my heart away from their rival in my kitchen cabinet, TJ’s Less Guilt chips.
#12 San Marzano tomatoes – worth the extra expense versus any other “Italian style” plum tomatoes, regardless of what you’re cooking with them. Never mushy, these plump beauties are sweeter and more tomato-ey than anything else other than perhaps your own home-grown variety. I look for them on sale and stock up.
#13 Trader Joe’s Organic Supersweet Corn, the only frozen corn for me, the basis of a corn bisque I make every year for Thanksgiving. Incredibly naturally sweet and golden. A few years ago I forgot to stock up before Thanksgiving and found they were sold out. Having to search every supermarket in a 10-mile radius for a reasonable substitute, I settled on something else and will never make that mistake again. There’s always a 1 lb bag in the freezer.
#14 Olivia’s Organic Spring Mix, always stay fresh up to the best-buy date and beyond, and almost never turns soggy or wilty unless mishandled at the store. If and when that happens, a refund is unquestioningly given. A better blend of greens than most packaged spring mix that are comprised largely of baby romaine and oak leaf lettuces. I tried Stop & Shop’s clamshell packaged spring mix and had to return it for refund four times due to mushiness. Look for a package without much condensation inside, and a generous amount of raddichio and frisee. Keep the inside lid dry and the greens will stay crisp.
#15 Ducktrap Smoked Trout filets. We often enjoy these with Sunday brunch, alongside a plate of bagels with smoked salmon and scallion cream cheese. It also makes a delicious spread when processed with cream cheese and seasonings. And it’s one of the three fish ingredients in my version of gefilte fish, along with fresh cod and salmon (see blog post dated 3/7/15)