I am someone who stands among the canned beans at the grocery store, searching for the cheapest can. I mean, they are canned beans — they are all cheap! And yet, if I can get one that's a few cents less than the others, I feel like I've won. It definitely drives my fiancé (and probably anyone else around me at the store) nuts.
Being as frugal as I am, you wouldn't think I splurge on high-end food items — but I actually do. You see, there are a few things that, to me, are absolutely worth the extra cost because they make the average meal feel fancy. And eating should feel fancy sometimes.
Forget truffle oil since usually that truffle flavor inside is from chemicals and tastes pretty darn awful, in my honest opinion. Truffle salt, however, is simply good salt mixed with little bits of real truffle, infusing the salt with its earthy, savory flavor. A small 3.5-ounce jar can cost you about $15, but it's a whole lot cheaper than whole truffles, and just a pinch is all you need to catch the earthy, funky truffle flavor you're after. Sprinkle a touch on soup, roast chicken, popcorn, grilled vegetables, eggs, or even just on good bread with butter.
Make this: Truffled Corn Soup
I grew up in a butter-free household, sadly, and I am still recovering from it. I brought back bricks of salted butter from France and ate them all myself in less time than I care to admit. Now my fridge isn't complete without Kerrygold, my current butter crush. European butter has been churned longer to achieve a higher percentage of butterfat and is either fermented (or cultures are added) to give it a slightly tangy taste. It's richer, softer, and overall more decadent. These days you can find brands like Kerrygold and Pulgra in almost every grocery store, including Trader Joe's. I love the salted variety spread on toast, but when baking something where you really want to taste the butter, like pie crust, go for unsalted.
Good Olive Oil
While I have a big bottle of decent olive oil that I use to cook with every night, I have a smaller, more expensive bottle of very high-quality olive oil that I use for finishing. I believe it makes all the difference — it adds richness and that wonderful grassy, peppery flavor to things as simple as salads and soups. I even drizzle it over vanilla ice cream for a surprising dessert. Again, you only need a little to capture its rich flavor, so a fancy bottle will last you quite some time.
Read more: The One Olive Oil Your Pantry Is Missing
Fancy Balsamic Vinegar
Take a peek at the ingredients in the bottle of balsamic vinegar that's in your pantry right now and you might be surprised to see things like "caramel color" noted. This is added to imposter balsamic to give it the rich color that's only truly achieved by aging grape must — pressed grapes along with their juice, skin, seeds, and stems — for a minimum of 12 years in wood barrels. The sweet and mellow tartness of true balsamic is incomparable to the fake stuff — it has notes of fig, cherry, chocolate, and molasses. Today, the traditional process is only done in the towns of Reggio Emilia and Modena, Italy, so look for bottles with either place on the label. The real stuff is so good that it should be drizzled over summer tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, ice cream, and chunks of Parmesan cheese.
Read more: Aged to Perfection: Balsamic Vinegar
I don't have oysters in my kitchen all the time, but every now and then, when I am looking to really start off a special meal with a bang, I'll pick up a handful. It feels fancy and festive and it's a whole lot more fun enjoying them at home than during the $1 oyster special at the local bar. I still don't feel completely confident in my shucking skills, so my favorite way to enjoy them is to grill them whole — the shell will loosen as soon as the oysters are grilled and you can simply pull off the top shell.
Any biggies we missed? Tell us what cliché fancy foods you love in the comments!