I’m fairly good at not buying Useless Crap. When I do buy something, I put a unreasonable amount of effort into researching everything about it. I didn’t even buy Andouille sausage for Spicy Shrimp and Chicken Creole Jambalaya without reading a bunch of reviews online. (Grocery shopping takes me so long I have to bring snacks.)
On this page, I list the stores, services, books, and tools that I actually DO use, just in case you want to check them out yourself. If you have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments!
Please note, some of these companies happen to offer referrals, but others don’t. This doesn’t influence whether I recommend them or not, but if that type of link was available, I used the type of link that will credit this blog. It’s a great way to help us out at Bring Back Delicious if you choose to do so.
Products and Services
Web Hosting and Blogging
If you search around for which web hosting provider other food bloggers use, you will see a lot of people using see BlueHost. I think it’s highly due to their referral commissions. However, this thorough review compelled me to choose HostGator due to faster page loads, cheap monthly prices, and otherwise equivalent service to BlueHost.
You can lose up to 30% of your traffic with a measly 500 msec delay, so to me, there’s no question about choosing a faster provider.
I was able to buy my domain, set up a WordPress-based website, and import all of my content over from my previous domain all within HostGator‘s interface. You can’t beat that.
For a limited time, use the coupon code 25OFFBBDELICIOUS to get 25% off your order!
I’m using the vFlex WordPress Theme from VibeThemes. It’s free, responsive to your screen size and device, and all configurable from within the WordPress Dashboard. I definitely recommend trying them out.
I definitely like its clean design and tile based homepage. I have a couple small complaints though. I wish the paragraph text and website menu were a slightly larger font and the Subscribe text on the right-hand navigation bar slightly darker for easier reading. However, it’s possible these are configurable through the .php files, so stay tuned!
Shared Online/Mobile Grocery Lists
There’s 3 people and 1 baby in our household, including 2 cooks with eclectic tastes. If we tried to manage our household with a series of notebooks and sticky notes, we would have some serious issues.
We all share 1 editable Google Doc, where we list items by store. That way, if someone happens to pop into a store, they don’t have to dig or call around for updates, or worse, come home empty handed. (DONT. FORGET. DIAPERS!)
It also helps you focus at Target instead of wandering around aimlessly trying to remember what else there was you just ran out of, thereby FORCING you to buy other random things you totally need.
The next morning you realize it was coffee. Not good.
As an added plus, you can access it from anywhere (desktop, phone, tablet), and edit it at the same time as someone else. We always have our phones on us, so there’s no excuse to not updating the list while you’re poking around the pantry looking for snacks. (PS You already ate everything good. There’s. Nothing. Left. Looking again won’t change that.)
Local Grocery Stores
I used to shop primarily at Costco and Ralphs or Vons, the standard neighborhood markets around here. Then someone showed me the light.
The light is called Super King. It’s an “International Market”, which in our area means predominantly Hispanic and Middle Eastern related food. Despite this labeling, it really does have all the staples for most cuisines (plus much much more) and it has AMAZING produce, deli, and meat sections. If you can’t find it here, chances are you shouldn’t be eating it.
Let me extol the virtues of this place. I regularly see limes for 15/$1, cilantro 10/$1, chicken breast $1.99/lb, deli meat $3.50/lb, etc. Those prices are less than half the prices at other stores. Un.real. Check out this week’s weekly ad to see for for yourself.
It’s also a fantastic place to get bags of spices. Regular grocery stores typically overcharge by 5x the price as these stores. There’s better turnaround too so they’re more likely to be fresh when you buy them.
I know there are sketchy markets out there that may tarnish the picture of an international market. Don’t let this discourage you from seeking them out.
It also has the added benefit of inspiring you to work with different products. Lately I’ve been seating goat meat on sale. I’ve never had it and I’m sure it can be amazing. How do you cook it? What goes well with it? So. Many. Things. To. Try.
I shop at Costco for staples such as flour, sugar, large jars of pantry items such as kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes, and spices like black peppercorns.
I turn to Trader Joe’s for affordable wine, cheese, and assorted luxury items like chocolate for baking.
Everything else is a pretty much Amazon and local restaurant supply stores including Chef’s Toys / Star Restaurant Equipment, which is great down to earth supply store catering to commercial applications and not to your wallet like some places.
Fun Kitchen Stuff
Why? Because. Also useful for browning meringues, caramelizing creme brûlée, heating the bottom of the KitchenAid bowl if the contents are too cold, scaring little children, you know, the basics. Skip the $50 Fancypants Kitchen Store brulee torch. You might as well try to caramelize your creme brûlée with a match, then take whatever cash you have in your wallet and burn that too.
The cheapest way is to get a basic propane torch kit that you ignite with a simple flint spark lighter, for a grand total of $20.91. It uses a 14.1 oz fuel tank, which will last you forever. Even when you do run out, refills are only $2.97 at Home Depot (at least four times cheaper than refilling your tiny torch’s fuel tank.)
I say spatula, you say spatula. Oh, they’re the same. Or maybe you say scraper. Either way, stop buying crappy ones.
I have two spatulas that I use all the time. One’s a high-heat professional grade plastic spatula that’s durable enough to withstand constant use and runs through the dishwasher. The other one is the same, just longer. You certainly won’t see me with the latest brightly colored Rachael Ray 3-Piece Spoonula Set (I did NOT make that up.)
These spatulas have large surface areas, which make things like mixing cake batter easier and more efficient. It also has a handy groove that makes it easy to scrape off the KitchenAid paddle. Check out the 9.5″ version for regular use and the 13.5″ version for soups, stews, and large recipes.
For little jobs, I use a small versatile offset spatula. There’s no sense in clogging up your kitchen drawers with every spatula variation known to man.
I cannot recommend my KitchenAid enough. In fact, I refused to make my husband cookies until I got one. Mixing by hand was just…not good enough. And ALL WRONG!
I wanted the power of a professional mixer with the convenience of a lift arm and my Professional Series KitchenAid pulls it all off without a hitch. You can find them here in pretty much any color including a striking Empire Red and a sleek Black.
Don’t waste your money with a smaller one. These really aren’t THAT big. In fact, I think the 5 qt size is perfect for home use. Sometimes you need to work smaller amounts for just you or your immediate family, and sometimes you want to whip up mashed potatoes for the whole Thanksgiving day crowd. This size can do both!
If you’re looking for bigger, keep an eye out for larger refurbished ones on Amazon, your local Craigslist page, or local restaurant supply stores.
I use shelf liner for a variety of purposes. One is to line “kitchen crap drawers” and shelves! Crazy, huh?
But really, I use it to keep my darn cutting boards from slip sliding around on the countertop. It makes it a lot easier to cut things when the cutting board isn’t rocking or moving. You’ll probably feel a lot more confident with a kitchen knife after you start using this. I keep a folded up rectangle in my main “kitchen crap drawer” along with my bench scrapers. Two things I always use whenever I cook!
You can get a roll of shelf liner here, which should be plenty to cut out some cutting board rectangles plus have leftover to line some drawers or shelves.
I recommend two types of thermometers. Yes, you need two.
The first one was commended to me at culinary school because it sticks to the oven and has an oven-proof stainless steel probe that you can keep in the oven or in a pot on the stove while it’s cooking. This is super helpful for both roasts and cooking caramel or candy!
You can set a desired temperature and it will let you know when it’s done. It looks a bit funky, but it’s very versitile and cost effective. Think of this one as being stuck on your stove or oven most of the time.
The second is a digital thermometer that fits in your pocket. It goes where you go. The chef coats I used to wear at culinary school and at restaurant kitchens had multiple pockets including some specifically for pens and thermometers. However, it fits just as well in regular pockets at home.
It’s handy to have a cordless one when you’re reaching into the oven or just want to quickly check something. Though I definitely don’t advise it, this thermometer will survive accidental trips to the washing machine. Oops.
Cookbooks and Guides
Saying I have a lot of cookbooks is an understatement. Saying I want more cookbooks is also an understatement. There are many cookbooks that just circulate the same old material. However, there are a few truly groundbreaking, informative, and useful cookbooks and guides. I’ll list them here:
The Flavor Bible
Sometimes you can’t find a certain ingredient for your recipe. And by sometimes, I mean pretty much every week. You need something though, but you aren’t quite sure what will go with everything else. Enter: The Flavor Bible.
Quite honestly, this is the most frequently used book in my collection. Hands down. (The Flavor Bible is now available on Kindle so you can download it to your phone or tablet using the free Kindle app. Sweet!)
Say you have a chicken lemongrass soup that calls for fresh ginger. However, your local market didn’t have fresh ginger this week. *Sad trombone* Don’t worry, dinner and your aspirations of becoming an awesome cook tonight are not ruined.
This book is basically an alphabetical list of ingredients. Under each ingredient is a list of ingredients that go well with it. The ingredients that go BEST with it are listed in bold to make them easier to find.
A quick comparison of the ingredients listed on both the Lemongrass and Chicken pages yields ginger (which you couldn’t find) but also chili pepper, coconut milk, and cilantro! Suddenly you have a few other options and you retain your kitchen cred.
This book is also very helpful for constructing recipes just by what flavors go together. The world is your oyster.
On Food and Cooking
If you’ve ever wondered whether adding salt or oil to boiling water really matters when you’re cooking pasta, or wondered when you’re supposed to use unsalted vs salted butter, On Food and Cooking is the book for you. I fully believe to be a better cook, you should understand the how’s and why’s of cooking. This book is organized by topic, i.e. starch, butter, etc, as opposed to organized into chapters. However, I find this makes it easier to find exactly what you’re looking for.
It goes into just enough detail to give a full explanation, but not so much it feels like a textbook.
Go on, dispel those cooking myths. With science.
The Professional Chef / Professional Pastry Chef
The Professional Chef by The Culinary Institute of America is an exhaustive 1,232 page cooking textbook that presents a cooking technique first, followed by recipes as examples. It does a good job of covering most cuisines in an approachable way.
The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry, 4th Edition by Bo Frieberg is the pastry equivalent of the Professional Chef. Again over 1,000 pages, it provides guidance that no other baking cookbook can really touch: petit fours to breads, mousses to sorbets, etc. It contains over 650 recipes and many diagrams that does an excellent job of walking you through the recipe and conveying how the process works.
The Advanced Professional Pastry Chef is the next step in the series, covering advanced techniques such as sugar work, wedding cakes, and chocolate work. I’d like to see more food blogs dive into this level of professionalism with their work. It goes into the details you really need to know to achieve mastery of art.
The Go-To Book on Sauces
Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making, 3rd Edition is an authoritative textbook like book on sauces. Most of the time, the sauce takes second stage to the main recipe, but an amazing sauce can pull together a whole meal. To make the perfect sauce, James Peterson feels you need to know the history behind it. So take the time to read up and prepare so you may become an sauce artist.
Sometimes you want to know what charmoula is, how to carve a saddle of lamb, or maybe where ragouts originated and want a couple recipes, Larousse Gastronomique is there for you. The self proclaimed “World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia” is a thorough 1,216 pages with recipes scattered throughout. It was initially published in 1938, but this encyclopedia is always kept up to date and even covers molecular gastronomy.
Julia Child once said if she were to own one book, it would be this one. Anthony Bourdain, Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, and Jacques Pépin all agree.
The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
If you’re looking for an all around cookbook, The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook is my top recommendation. It has over 2,000 ingredients in 928 pages, but they were still able to fit in a lot of helpful details like things to look out for, tips on finding the best scallops, etc that will help ensure your dish is successful.
If your recipe came out wrong because of a small mistake, it makes you wonder why they didn’t warn you in the recipe! Well, it takes time and experience to learn those things and time and patience to document them. Cooks Illustrated definitely benefited from this approach and so will you. Many people I know say they’ve never had a bad recipe out of this cookbook. That claim is hard to beat!