Thursday, April 1, 2010

Basic Ingredients

So now you are armed with your slow cooker, George Foreman grill, and olive oil pourer thing (plus various other kitchen tools and utensils.) How are you going to stock your fridge, freezer, and pantry? I'll tell you about some staples I have that will save you time and money!

1) Big Bags 'O Frozen Chicken and Fish

By all means, buy fresh if you have the time and money to do so. However, I have found that buying giant bags of frozen meat at Costco and/or Kroger is a fantastic way to assure you are never lacking for an entree, and you save TONS of money buying in bulk. I like the ones with individual vacuum packed portions to make defrosting easier.

Personally, I buy boneless skinless chicken breasts because that has the least amount of fat, and tilapia fillets because they are tasty and inexpensive. Consider these lean proteins the basic canvas upon which you can paint a wide variety of recipes (wasn't that poetic?). Just remember to take a piece out of the freezer to defrost before you head out for the day!

2) Bottled Marinades

Our pantry seriously doubles as a Kroger marinade warehouse. These marinades come in a wide variety of flavors, are low calorie, uber cheap, and super easy to use. Since the first ingredient tends to be high fructose corn syrup, you might wanna consider making and bottling batches of your own marinades, but these guys are fantastic for a quick fix.

Between the frozen meat, the marinades, and your Foreman grill, I could end this blog right there. That's really all you need to make a tasty main dish in no time at all, and with far less nasty sodium and calories than frozen dinners. Consider that trinity your starter program if you are trying to wean yourself off Lean Cuisines and into the world of cooking!

However, if you want to prepare yourself for some of my upcoming recipes, consider stocking up on some of these basic pantry essentials. These are just some of my faves, but this list is obviously not comprehensive:

  • Minced garlic. You can get a giant tub of it from Costco and it lasts forever. This is great to add some delicious fresh flavor to your cooking without having to deal with peeling and chopping garlic yourself.
  • Onions and potatoes. These are fantastic pantry staples cause they last super long, as opposed to a lot of other fresh produce. Personally, I am a big fan of the Kroger microwaveable baked potatoes cause I love potatoes but don't have the time to scrub them and bake them.
  • Canned diced tomatoes. These come in all different varieties (I love fire-roasted and Italian style) and are easy and healthy to add to various recipes.
  • Canned beans. Way easier than dried beans. Just make sure to drain and rinse them to get off all that nasty, sodium-filled goop. Super healthy, but beware the wise old adage "the more you eat, the more you toot...."
  • Pasta. Duh. And no, Ramen noodles do not count. If you can stomach the taste of whole wheat pasta, it is the healthiest. However, I don't like the taste of chewy wood chips, so I buy regular pasta. You can make it healthier by getting the Ronzoni Smart Taste stuff with added calcium, or the tri-color varieties that look pretty and have a whole serving of vegetables in them.
  • Low sodium chicken broth. This is useful for making soups, sauces, and even adding great flavor to plain ole rice (use it instead of water when cooking the rice!)
  • Jars of pasta sauce. Not only are these great quick fixes for pasta, but can also be added to a number of other recipes for a tomatoey kick.
  • Bread crumbs. These last forever and are great for binding burgers and adding texture and flavor to recipes. I like the Italian seasoned ones!
  • Olive oil. Buy this in bulk cause you will be using it a lot! It is super healthy for you and is great for sauteeing.
  • Wine: it's not just for dranking. Wine lends fantastic flavor to sauces and marinades, and I always have extra cheap bottles of red and white laying around. Chefs say you shouldn't cook with a wine you wouldn't want to drink, but if you are like me and enjoy a great game of slap the bag with Franzia, feel free to cook with it! I know I have.
  • Spices. I know they can be expensive, but they last super long and are a calorie free way to add tons of flavor and variety to your cooking. My favorites are Italian seasoning, minced onions, garlic salt, garlic powder, lemon pepper, thyme, rosemary, cumin, curry powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaves, and others. But feel free to experiment!
Like I said, this list is far from comprehensive. If you want a more detailed list to fully stock an empty pantry, this list is pretty good.

Happy shopping! And feel free to comment with your pantry must-haves!


  1. Spices are like magic pixie dust. We discovered their versatility last year while slightly intoxicated and making scrambled eggs. Delicious.

    Also, you've got me hooked now. Keep it coming.

  2. I want to add a spice to your list. I could not live without my paprika. It makes something as simple as scrambled eggs a little more exciting.

  3. Clearly scrambled eggs are staple in the diet of drunk college students and post grads. Delish.

    Minced garlic is awesome, and as for spices I really like the ones you can grind yourself (even if they're a bit pricier) like sea salt or an Italian Herb Grinder. I also love fresh oregano. A little Italian seasoning can go a long way in making that $2 shitty frozen pizza redeemable.

  4. So true! As far as the fresh oregano, I actually grow some on my windowsill. I'll definitely post an entry at some point about the glory of the window herb garden....

  5. Good. I'm about to start one this weekend actually, cilantro, chives, oregano and one more that I forget.

    Also, I'm excited for some fish recipes. I want to start eating more fish, but I tend to not like the frozen kind, and I am afraid of buying fresh because I won't know how/want to to prep it.