I know it's all uncool, and serious cooks make their own pasta sauces and curry pastes; and do all their own meat & veg prep from fresh; and blend their own spice mixes from whole spices; and all that sort of thing. But I'm quite a sucker for a nice looking sauce being sold at a market stall. Or a good name on a product in a supermarket. Sometimes this works really well; sometimes it's just OK and a useful time-saver. And sometimes you just want to tip it in the garbage and pretend it never happened.
On the "works really well" scale:
1) Frozen baby peas. Shelling fresh peas is one of those jobs that you need to do in company, or at least with the radio or TV on. I was reminded of this recently when I bought a kilo of peas in the pod from the market. Shelling peas isn't unpleasant work, but compared to the ease of just chucking some frozen peas in the microwave, it's ridiculously laborious. And the frozen ones are more reliable. I was sampling as I shelled (of course) and while some were beautifully sweet, some were insect attacked, and some were mealy and tasteless.
2) Tubs of Thai curry pastes. Honestly, many Thai people use these too. On the advice of a Thai chef, I usually buy Maesri or Mae Ploy brands. Find them in most Asian grocers.
3) Crankypants Adobo marinade. Yum! It doesn't seem to be listed on their website, so I hope they haven't discontinued it. Find them at the Kingston Sunday markets, and the Handmade markets.
4) Herbie's spice and herb blends. He knows what he's doing. Find them at Cooking Coordinates, Manuka Fine Foods and many other places.
5) Ameet's Homestyle curry sauces. I bought a jar of Kashmiri Masala from a lovely young Indian woman with a thick plait of dark hair down her back, at the Growers' Market last week. I fondly imagine that it's her mother or grandmother's recipe, but anyway, it's a small Australian company. There's so artificial colours or preservatives, and it was very delicious. I used some Galloway chuck steak in it.
Less successful things follow.
Reasonable for rush hour:
On the "it's OK" level of the scale, there's a lot of things. Some good examples from the supermarket include:
* Patak's Indian curry pastes
* Some of the Paul Newman and Five Brothers jarred pasta sauces
* Some of the San Remo and Latina refrigerated pasta sauces - the plainer tomato ones, mainly.
* frozen "oven chips", spinach and green beans - but only if the beans are for a longer cooking time, they won't be crisp. In a veggie curry, for example.
Got very close to tipping in the garbage
Foodlover's macadamia satay sauce - to my taste, it is thin and harsh, and the nut flavour seemed artificial, like in those flavoured coffees. But I added lots of peanut butter and lime juice and chilli, and it turned out OK. Hmm, but now I think of it, so would water.
Ainsley Harriot's "citrus kick" couscous - this seemed to be very heavy on citric acid and dried onion in flavour. Not nice at all. If I hadn't had a lot of chilli to cover it up, I might have tipped it out. I never bought it again, and won't now try any others in his range.
Actually tipped in the garbage:
This almost never happens, as I'm against waste. I'll still eat food that isn't very good. It's got to be seriously dire to go uneaten into the bin. That usually means badly burned, or gone off, or well past its use-by date. But one product made it to the bin: Jamie Oliver's tomato and chilli pasta sauce. This tasted to me like tinned tomato soup with a dash of tabasco. And I had such lovely ham and olives waiting to be to put in it that I couldn't bear to spoil them. An ordinary tin of tomatoes was a much better choice.