I heart food
Part of learning to live on a budget is learning to spend money in the right places. The "right places" might differ from person to person. For me, and I think for most graduate students in NYC, this spending the money to make a number of cheap meals a week and budgeting to eat in restaurants a few times a month. Even the lowest end food is pretty amazing here. You wouldn't want to live here and miss it.
With that balance in mind, I post the occasional $5 and $10 meals for 2-4 people on this blog. Part of making low cost meals is gradually building a pantry and fridge with basic goods.
It occurred to me that my list of must haves might be useful for anyone cooking $5-10 meals for the first time.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Good for everything but deep frying. I prefer Greek, as I use Olive Oil in a lot of cold dishes
A little indulgence I keep for Asian recipes
Basalmic, White Wine, Red Wine, Rice and White Vinegar
I use the first three of these vinegars in salad dressings, sauces and marinades. I use white vinegar for candy making.
For Asian recipes and sometimes as a replacement for salt
A small luxury for Asian recipes
Tomato paste, Tomato sauce, Diced plummed Tomatoes (all canned)
I keep these stocked in the winter time for sauces, soups and stews where the featured ingredient is not tomato.
Black Olive Paste/Tapenade
Used for pasta sauces, sandwiches and entertaining
For baking, sweetening tea...stealing the occasional spoonful. I love clover honey, but I try to get wildflower (allegedly better for the bees).
For all kinds of bakey goodness
Anchovies in Oil
I used these in dressings and pasta sauces..the occasional homemade pizza
I try to get free range organic, cash permitting
Skim milk and greek yogurt
Drinking, baking and dressings
For Asian and Western soups and marinades
Red and White wine and beer
For cooking and entertaining
Bulgarian Feta, Sheep milk and Argentinian Reggiato cheese
For salads, snacks and pasta dishes. The flavours vary and these particular cheeses are very, very cheap. I usually only have one around at a time.
Butter (salted, unless a recipe really requires unsalted)
Baking, baking, baking
Brown, Basmatic and Sushi Rice
For sides, main courses and - sushi, of course
For protein rich salads and stuffing
Dry whole wheat penne and spaghetti
I often make fresh pasta, but some recipes really are better with dry pasta. Some of the top restaurants in NYC use dry pasta for some of their dishes...so if it is good enough for them...
White Unbleached Bread Flour
For cookies, bread and biscuits
White Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
For cakes. If I make a chiffon or angel food cake, I might pick up a few cups of pastry flour
White, Confectioners and Brown Sugar
For baking, coffee...top of oatmeal
Baking Soda and Baking Powder
For cookies and cakes
Cream of Tartar
I keep this around because I make candy and it is a good binding agent.
ALL KINDS OF BAKING!! I usually have dutch processed kicking around, though apparently alkaline processed powder can be found easily now.
Oatmeal (traditional, not quick oats)
For breakfast and baking
It is so much most cost effective to brew my own (50 cups for $14, versus $1.50 a cup at Starbucks). I have a soft spot for Dean and Deluca House Blend, but recently I've been getting the considerably cheaper Zabar's House Blend.
I accumulated these spices over the first 6 months of setting up shop in my own apartment in NYC. They get cycled out about once a year. The ones with a star beside them are the ones I bought on the first grocery trip - starter spices, I guess.
* Ground Cinnamon (occasionally cinnamon sticks)
* Nutmeg (at the moment, ground)
* Coriander (ground and whole)
* Cumin (ground and whole)
Star Anise (a luxury)
Ginger (ground and occasionally fresh)
Green Cardamon (ground - whole when I can find it cheap)
* Red Chili peppers (ground, whole and flakes)
* Cayenne pepper
Kosher Salt (and sometimes sea salt)
* Bay Leaves
Curry Powder (make my own)
Dry Cranberries (on occasion)
Basic Fruit and Veg
(This is the basic stuff always in my fridge. I supplement every week with various berries and cool veg when it is in season or on sale. I'm on a kick about white nectarines at the moment).
Bulbs of garlic
Basil or Cilantro or Tarragon or Thyme or Dill
Onions (Vidalla or purple)
Leafy greens - spinach, kale, red lettuce, mesclun mix and the like
Chicken and Vegetable stock
made during the winter from my scrap chicken bones and ends of various vegetables
Bananas (and other fruit on the verge)
Luxury Items that come and go
(We buy meats opportunistically)
Soda stream flavour mixes
All sorts of fantastic but seasonal fruit and veg - like figs, pomegranites, rhubarb, fava beans
Prosciutto, panchetta and cured meats of the like
Marscapone, various fancy cheeses
Pita Bread, Wasa crackers of Finn Crisps - most bread products
Green and Red Curry Paste (for Thai dishes)
Fish Sauce (for Thai dishes)
Fenugreek seeds (for Indian cooking)
Sweetened condensed and evaporated milk (for holiday baking)
Anything else? What do you keep on hand