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1. The Cheese That Adds Another Layer of Flavor
You know grated Parmesan makes pretty much any pasta dish taste a zillion times better, but even if you're not making carbs for dinner, it's smart to toss a container of the "King of Cheeses," as it's known in the dairy industry, into your grocery cart. A few spoonfuls add just enough salty tang to salads, and, when mixed with bread crumbs, make a terrific crust for oven-fried chicken. Parmesan's super powers don't end there, though. Whisk a few tablespoons of the cheese with a beaten egg and swirl it into a simmering minestrone, Italian wedding or even chicken soup; the egg will cook in the hot soup, and the mixture will add texture and a savory heft.

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2. The Protein in an Unassuming Can
When we're focused on getting in and getting out of the supermarket, we often head to the perimeter, picking up fresh vegetables, meat and milk. But we need to make a note to take a quick detour down the canned-goods aisle to stock up on a true workhorse (and a cheap one, at that): cannellini beans. They'll help turn penne and veggies into a substantial meal; they also can come to the rescue for a spur-of-the-moment party dip (puree the beans with garlic, herbs and olive oil; and then add some of the liquid that's left in the can until it's the consistency you like).

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3. The Unsung Hero of the Spice Rack
Garlic may always be on your list, but there is a catch: The pungent cloves generally need to be chopped and cooked before you add them to whatever you're making. Garlic salt, though, needs no prep work and is an insanely easy way to add some oomph to bland foods. It's a mixture of dried, ground garlic, salt and an anti-caking agent such as calcium silicate, and is great on everything from broccoli to burgers. A small canister will definitely get you through a few months of cooking, so think to buy it when you're also stocking up on another once-a-season product, such as flour or regular salt.

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4. The Flavor-Enhancing Fruit
After "salt and pepper to taste," "finish with a squirt of lemon juice " may be the most useful cooking advice ever. The acidity doesn't make foods taste overly lemony; rather, it brightens the flavor of just about any food, from grilled shrimp to chicken stew. There are tons more reasons to always, always throw a lemon or two in your shopping cart, though. Here are just two: Blending the zest with garlic, parsley, Parmesan and pine nuts gives you a zippy topping for green beans or other vegetables. Also: Spaghetti with lemon zest, lemon juice and herbs is a dish Oprah depends on when her fridge is looking bare.

Next: The biggest mistakes women make when grocery shopping


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