What Are Your Cooking Compromises?

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Last week I admitted to using Parmesan from a can, and there were shocked murmurs. I know, I know - it is shocking. It got me thinking, though, about the cooking compromises each of us are willing to make.

While I am willing to satisfy my Parmesan addiction with bottled flakes when I run out of the real thing, I draw my personal line at commercial pasta sauces. I can't remember the last time I used one. Also, I absolutely will not use a boxed cake mix, since making a cake from scratch is just too easy. And yet, I've been known to crack open a can of Betty Crocker fudge frosting now and then. A friend does just the opposite: she'll use a cake mix, but always makes her own frosting.

This is part of cooking at home on a budget in a fast-paced world. While we work to resist the marketing machine that tells us to stop cooking altogether and just pop a frozen dinner in the microwave, there is a realistic limit to how much we each can do on any given night. Part of becoming a consistent cook, for me, has been learning where to pick my battles and how to spend my time so that cooking every night becomes accessible and creatively rewarding - as opposed to long and daunting. I find great pleasure in learning how to make more pantry staples from scratch, but there are some nights when I am just going to open that can of curry paste instead of reaching for the spices.

There are certain compromises we're each willing to make for reasons of budget, health, or time - and others that will never seem worth it. As we head into this busy season of late nights and holiday shopping, what are yours? Got a good kitchen shortcut or product tip to pass along?

And on the flip side, what shortcuts will you never, ever take? (Or admit to taking, at least...)