I have made reference once or twice to doing things on the cheap, but part of the reason it was so inexpensive is because I already had the materials I needed on hand. I know this is not the case for everyone, and therefore if you tried to make what I made, you’d be starting from scratch and the venture would be more expensive than I made it seem. The best way to overcome the problem of an empty pantry is to stock up little by little as you shop. The only reason I have as many spices or baking ingredients as I do is because I have experimented with meals and they’ve accumulated over time. If you are just starting out in cooking, you wouldn’t be in this position. A great place to begin is to make a list of what ingredients you wish you had on hand and slowly shop the sales to cross them off. There is no need for a binge shopping grocery store trip in order to stock up. Budget for a $5 investment towards this in your weekly allowance and that should do the trick.
Here’s some ideas to get you started:
- flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, corn starch, cornmeal, powdered sugar (I’m guessing you already have most of this)
- soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, a variety of vinegars (apple cider, red wine, white wine, rice, balsamic…)
- Any and all spices. This could take a while. Spices are crazy expensive in California. But there are ways around this. Buy the small size unless it’s an ingredient you use A LOT. In my kitchen, chili powder comes in handy often, so I always buy the taller size. Another thing: spices expire! Did you know that? No use in buying bulk for something that may get tossed in a year. Right now Vons is having a sale where if you buy two already discounted spices, the third is free (check the expiration, they could be trying to clear the shelves). I noticed Whole Foods also sells a good selection for $2.99 a piece. That is cheap!
- Freeze some meats. Get the manager’s special even if it’s something you know you aren’t going to cook that week and freeze that baby up! You’ll be glad you did when you’re scrounging for a meal.
- broths, rices, pasta noodles: most of these you can find in the .99 cent range
- peanut butter, mustard(s), ketchup, mayo, lemon and lime juices
- Salts! Maldon is being called for more and more in recipes these days. My local butcher sells it for $7, which is the lowest price I’ve found. $10 on Amazon. Trader Joe’s sells a white truffle salt and oh my word is it good on popcorn. It’s also good to have kosher, sea salt and good old fashioned table salt (for baking). I can understand if this is not a priority in your kitchen… but just some food for thought! 😉
- And my personal favorite and perhaps the most important of all… butter: unsalted and salted!
If you write out your version of this list and give an estimate to the cost of each (subtracting what you already have, of course), you’re probably looking at a $50 investment spread out over a couple of months. But what this price tag gets you is invaluable. The ability to whip something up out of ingredients you already have on hand is creatively fulfilling and saves you a lot in the long run. Hopefully the amount you have to buy to create a meal of your choosing is less and less with each trip. Good luck!