Stocking your pantry + Tortilla Soup

To make easy, delicious meals on the cheap and quickly, it is vital to have your pantry stocked with a few key ingredients. These staples are the things which keep for a long time and are versatile in many dishes, like grains and canned foods.

Here is a list of things I always try to keep in the house:

  • Rice (white and/or brown)
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta (various kinds, usually at least one straight pasta and 2 shapes)
  • Bread
  • Eggs

Canned:

  • Tomato sauce, paste
  • Pasta sauce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Corn
  • Green beans
  • Beans (Black, kidney, chickpeas, chili)
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Salsa

One of the best, easiest Crock Pot recipes using cupboard staples I know is Tortilla Soup. It is perfect for a busy day, just open a few cans and throw them in the Crock Pot. You can let it simmer all day, then come home to a hot and filling meal!

Ingredients:
1 can corn
1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can of chicken (optional)
1 jar salsa
1 cup cooked white rice
6 cups water
Literally, just dump all the ingredients in the crock pot. I added some dried onion flakes and oregano too. Then just let it simmer until you’re hungry!This tastes great with some cheddar cheese melted on top. You can also fry up some tortillas and put crisps on top. This does make quite a bit, so be sure to have some people to share with, or freeze individual portions for lunches all week.

Shrimp, broccoli, and carrot fetuccini

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I grew up with this dish, so it holds a special place in my heart and palate. It is so easy, but so perfect together.
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This is one of my absolute favorite quick & easy dishes because the flavors complement each other so well. Shrimp, carrot, & broccoli fettuccine with garlic butter.
You will need:
1/2 pound of noodles (I use plain straight pasta)
2 cups peeled and deveined shrimp
4-5 large carrots
1 1/2 cups broccoli
Butter
Garlic
Salt
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Step 1: Thinly slice the carrots (your choice to peel them or not). In a skillet over medium heat, melt about 2 tbsp. of butter and add the carrot slices. They will need to cook until soft to a fork, about 15 minutes.
This is my friend Aris putting his cut-up carrots into the skillet.
Step 2: While carrots are cooking, bring water to a boil and add the pasta of your choice. Amounts always depend on how many you’re cooking for. For one person, a 1/2 pound should be plenty with some left over.
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Step 3: When the noodles are about done (al dente = soft but not total mush. If thrown at a wall, the noodles should stick. Seriously. Try it.) and the carrots are soft when poked with a fork, add the broccoli to the carrots. Sprinkle on some garlic and salt to taste (or garlic salt, for those who are impatient).
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Step 4: If you have pre-cooked shrimp they are the fastest and the last thing to cook. Throw those in a skillet with about 2 tbsp butter to get nice and pink. When the shrimp is pink and warm throughout, and the broccoli has become tender to a fork, you can put all 3 into one skillet until the pasta is done and drained.
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Step 5: Drain the pasta, and pour the shrimp, carrots and broccoli on top. Add in as much butter, garlic and salt as your palette and stomach can handle, and enjoy!

Planned leftovers and getting creative

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One of the best techniques I know to save money and time on food is to plan your leftovers and get creative. There are so many dishes which are perfect for using up extra food, like casseroles, tacos, stir fry and pasta dishes.

If you have the time to plan a whole week of meals, I recommend it because that way you can make a whole chicken one day, then use it later in the week for soup, sandwiches, salads, and many other dishes. This saves you money by using one item in several meals.

For example, after Easter ham goes on sale becuase stores want to get rid of all the hams that didn’t sell. So I bought a 9-pound ham and cooked it in my crockpot with some brown sugar and pineapple juice. I had sliced ham and mashed potatoes and green beans the first day, and I also saved some cubes and slices in zip-loc bags and the bone and some slices went into the freezer.
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I ate the cubes as a snack, and made ham sandwiches later in the week. The frozen ham bone went into ham and barley soup several weeks later, and the slices I made into ham and scalloped potatoes last night. It is always a good idea to have grains and potatoes around because they are so versatile.
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Depending upon how many people you plan to feed with it, your ingredient amounts will vary. I planned to serve 3 from this.
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Leftover ham and scalloped potatoes:
6 medium potatoes
1 cup flour
2 cups diced ham
1 cup milk
1 cup cheese
Step 1: Thinly slice 6 medium potatoes with skins on and spread in the bottom of a sprayed 9×13 pan.

Step 2: Sprinkle about 1/2 cup to a cup of flour over top, and add about 2 cups diced ham. I added 1 cup of cheddar cheese on top becuase cheese makes everything better! Then pour in 1 cup milk and cover with tin foil.

I also sprinkled some salt and pepper over top before baking, it’s to your own taste preference.

Step 3: Bake at 375 for about 1 hour, or until potatoes are soft but not falling apart.

Assuming you buy a 5-lb bag of potatoes for about $3, and had the ham on hand, the whole meal costs maybe $5 total.3 of us had 2 helpings each, with a small amount left over for someone’s lunch later! Feel free to doctor it up with different cheeses, adding some kind of vegetables, using chicken broth instead of milk… get creative and have fun with the process.

Spice up your life!

 

One of the main things any good cook knows is what a difference a pinch of this or that can make to the overall flavor of a dish. The kinds of spices there are is nearly limitless, especially if you’re willing to drop some serious cash on things like saffron and cardamom.

However, the vast majority of dishes can benefit from a few affordable key spices:

  • garlic (and garlic salt)
  • dried onion
  • salt (sea salt preferably)
  • pepper (white, black, red, whole peppercorn…)
  • Italian seasoning
  • vanilla
That is as basic as a spice rack can get. If you want to spring for a few more, may I suggest:
  • paprika
  • basil
  • chili powder
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • lemon pepper
  • cumin
  • bay leaves
  • cilantro
  • mustard
  • Old Bay
  • Nature’s Seasoning
Also it is always a good idea to have some chicken and beef bouillon, much cheaper than buying stock every time!
For those lucky Bowling Green, OH residents, did you know that Ben Franklins in town sells many of these spices for only 0.99?!
(Thanks to Jason for suggesting I mention this!)
So if your spice cupboard is bare, start stocking up, because the recipes will be starting soon!

And so it begins…

Well, after debating and thinking about starting a blog for quite some time, I have decided to go ahead and do so. No idea what I’m doing, so you will have to learn along with me. I have this idea to try to make a cookbook of some sort with recipes which are very easy and very easy on the wallet. Having been a college student, and still a grad student, I know how strapped for cash we all are. And after talking to several people, I am always amazed at how few of us know how to feed ourselves beyond Ramen noodles and Taco Bell! So my mission is to educate the hard working students of the world (or anyone who has little to no culinary experience and/or cash in their pockets) how to feed yourself… simply and cheaply.

I will update as often as I can, and will include recipes and pictures when I can. If you have recipe suggestions or any questions I would be happy to hear from you! I also welcome any reader to take my recipes and see how reproducible they are. If this cookbook idea goes through, I want to know that my ideas work in the “real world” with real people.

The fusion of food, fun, frugality, and curiosity.