I am a practical and often cheap person when it comes to shopping. Having said that, there are some things you can skimp on, and some things you cannot skimp on. So when I shop, I shop with that in mind.
Restaurant Supply Houses are great for usable, inexpensive things (but not everything)
Goodwill – perfect for cheap dishes, plates, glasses etc. Can also find things such as Le Creuset Pots (really – we have two from there)
Hardware store sales – every month Ace and True Value put out flyers on sales. Buy what is on sale, comparison shop for the rest.
Amazon.com is handy, and can be price competitive.
Knifes – sharp is your friend, junk is not. Forschner is always reliable brand to buy, and among the cheapest. I also like Henkels, others think highly of Wustuf. Henkels make a lot of junk brands (Fine Edge, etc) – do not buy them. Always wash and dry by hand – never the dishwasher.
Knife Sharpening – three options. Accusharp makes a great cheap carbide sharpener. Buy a Chef’s Choice Electric Sharpener. Or just pay a knife guy to do it for you every 6 months. Keep your knives in a wood block.
Don’t ever by La Choy products. Ever
Kikkoman, Knorr, Campbells, Zatarain, Goya, Uncle Bens are reliable brands, although full of salt
Calphalon, All-Clad – always good pans. So is Le Crueset. In general, buy heavy bottom pans – heat evenly, hold heat. Not necessary for your Teflon pan, assuming you never get it too hot and deform the bottom. I always go T-Fal for the teflon pans.
Onions – yellow, white, red, Vidalia (a.k.a. sweet), green. Yellow are the standard cooking onion. Except in Mexico, where it is white onions. Red is a little sweeter, and is often found in salads. Vidalia are a yellow onion, but are almost sweet – good for hamburgers raw. Green onions have a very different taste, and are most often served raw, or sliced and added at the end of cooking. For red, yellow, white, Vidalia, and/or sweet onions, the flatter the root end, the sweeter the onion. The more pointed the root end the sharper or hot the onion is.
Fresh Spinach is very useful – good for salads, but also great added to many rice and pasta dishes – just toss in for the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.
Two ways of thickening sauces – 1) Mix equal amounts of cold water and cornstarch (think 2 tbs each). Wisk into sauce, bring sauce to boil to thicken. Serve. Typically used in Asian dishes. 2) Mix equal amounts of flour and butter (called cutting). When combined, whisk into sauce. Cook long enough to cook out the flour taste (typically a couple of minutes). Used for gravy, white sauces. Also how you make a roux for Cajun foods – you cook it until it turns chocolate brown.
Spices – buy them at Penzeys. Ground keeps its flavor for 6-12 months, whole 2-3 years, so buy appropriately. Salt lasts forever.
Canned Vegie or Chicken stock is your friend. You can use it in place of water, adds lots of flavor. Just remember unless you made it yourself, it has lots of salt, even the low sodium versions.
Beans are good for you. And cheap. If you make them yourself. They are still pretty good in cans, but are full of salt.
Cooking shows are your fun, but not often useful. Useful ones are Alton Brown’s Good Eats (Food Network) and America’s Test Kitchen (PBS). Fun ones are anything with Anthony Bourdain.
Always let Poppa bring the wine.
Always let Kelly buy the coffee – hippie coffee.