College Kitchen: Shop smart

When to treat yourself and when to get over yourself.

Bruschetta, an Italian appetizer, consists of diced tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olive oil on toasted bread.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Bruschetta, an Italian appetizer, consists of diced tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olive oil on toasted bread.

Alexander Brodsky

Look, saving money is almost universally rad — coupons instantly transform any grade-A nerd into a leather jacket-clad cool kid. However, there are some things worth dropping extra cash on. Knowing what’’s worth splurging on and what’s not is essential to successful home cooking.

 

Things to splurge on

Bread

Bread makes or breaks a sandwich. No matter what you stuff between those two limp sheets of paper you call wheat bread, your sandwich will just taste like a mushy mess. Get yourself something nice and crusty — a bread with real character.

Paired with some butter or olive oil, a solid sourdough works as an appetizer. Toast some slices and use them as buns to class up a hamburger. Make a sub out of a softer baguette. Spoon bruschetta over toasted slices for a fancy hors d’oeuvre (recipe below).

 

Cheese

What you put on your grilled cheese is between you and God. When it comes to a table cheese, though, spending a little extra makes a huge difference.

Putting out American cheese and Ritz crackers in your home is like telling guests, “I do not respect you on a fundamental level.” Creamy brie costs a little more but gives guests the respect they deserve. If you want real fresh-pulled mozzarella for pizza or appetizers, you’’ll need to shell out.

 

Steak

There really is no substitute for a finely marbled hunk of steak. Sure, there are slight variations like flank steak and top sirloin that are delicious in their own right, but they’’re not steak.

If you want a real rib eye, T-bone or New York strip, you’’re going to have to spend. Cooking one yourself rather than eating out will save you some money, though. As long as you’’ve picked out an adequate slab, cooking one up yourself is easy. It’’s simply a matter of getting the center done to your liking.

 

Things to save on

Wine

Don’’t bother cooking with a wine whose name you can’’t pronounce. Whenever you simmer wine, you’’ll end up burning off its distinct flavors and characteristics.

If you peek into the kitchen of the fanciest, Frenchest restaurants around, you won’t see them adding a well-aged vintage to any of their sauces. Instead, they’re using box wine like us peasants.

Even for drinking, there are plenty of box wines that hold their own against their bottled brethren. It’s not all just Franzia. Boxes are cheaper than glass bottles to produce, so you can get better wines for less. But, you may have to deal with some ridicule from uninformed peers.

 

Coffee

Let me run some stats by you: a cup of coffee at Starbucks costs approximately one trillion dollars; a bag of whole beans, which will produce about 200,000 cups, costs $12 . You do the math. Even nicer brands of beans will cost a fraction of coffee shop joe.

Most beans from a grocery store will stack up to your standard coffee shop fare as long as you have a proper machine to brew it.

For the full effect, feel free to keep a Starbucks to-go cup and refill it with your home-brew coffee every morning.

 

Spices

The quality of most spices depends primarily on their freshness. The cheaper, store-brand spices have often been sitting around in warehouses for months and months. Ensuring freshness, however, is not a matter of just buying the top shelf stuff.

Buying spices whole and grinding them yourself guarantees that they won’t be stale. Small bags of unground spices only cost a couple bucks and will last you years. Most supermarkets don’t stock whole spices, though, so you’ll have to look to alternative grocery stores.

 

Bruschetta Recipe

A recipe like bruschetta demands high-quality ingredients. Since there’s little actual cooking involved, the flavors of the components need to shine on their own.

For this dish, Roma tomatoes work better than other varieties due to their solid center. Ideally, bruschetta should have chunks of tomato rather than be a gooey mess.

5 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into ribbons
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 baguette, cut into slices
6 ounces mozzarella, sliced
Salt and pepper

Brush the slices of bread with olive oil and rub with a clove of garlic. On a lightly oiled baking sheet, toast the bread until golden brown in an oven heated to 400 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a touch of salt and pepper. Balsamic vinegar can easily overpower a dish, so be careful to not add any more than you have to.

Place the mozzarella slices on the bread, then spoon the tomato mixture on top. Place in the oven for a minute or two, until the mixture has slightly melted.