The Cheap-Ass Pantry

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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113 Responses

  1. zic says:

    Popcorn. Great snack. We make it in the wok with a bit of peanut oil, keeps the wok seasoned. If you lid doesn’t have a rim to prevent oil splatter, consider making one (you can keep re-using it if you’ve a place to store it) out of aluminium foil. We purchase it in bulk, organic, at the local food co-op.

    Oatmeal. I love oatmeal; I eat it frequently for breakfast. I use it to make crunchy toppings on muffins and apple crisp. I make oatmeal raisin cookies. You can cook 1/2 cup of oats in a cup of boiling water for two minutes, let it sit covered for another, and have a delicious breakfast ready instantly.

    Powdered buttermilk or powdered milk. I don’t drink it; though I might consider it in an emergency. But I use it for baking a lot. Powdered buttermilk is a real gift; great in homemade bread, in muffins, pancakes, etc. When you’re using it, you can replace the milk in the ingredients with water; less a couple of tablespoons for a full cup.

    Flour: If you want to bake, you need a flour of some sort. Dont’ go for the bleached white flour. I prefer white whole-wheat flour, which is a whole grain milled from white wheat instead of the more familiar red wheat. It’s not as dark in color, doesn’t taste as harsh, but has equal nutritional value. I use it for pie crust, cookies, bread, muffins. I also use whole-grain spelt flour (a cousin to wheat) because we’ve a friend I often cook for who has a wheat allergy. Spelt has less gluten then wheat, so it’s more delicate in cookies, muffins, etc.; and has a very nice, sweet flavor.

    Sugar: sweetener for a cheap pantry deserves some serious consideration, for there are many options. The cheapest is plain white sugar. Brown sugar is nice for adding sweetness to stirfry, for cookies, etc. Honey and/or maple syrup are preferred for beverage sweetening in my house, I use them in small amounts in many savory dishes, as well. And I really like sucanet, which is dehydrated cane juice, similar to raw sugar. I bake a lot, and I use sugar in my baking. but I’ve found I can cut down on the amount of sugar significantly; 1/3 to 1/2 in most recipes; particularly if you’re using spelt flour.

    For baking, you’ll also want baking soda. Baking powder (store in the refrigerator, don’t by a big container unless you use it frequently, it looses it’s oomph, so replace it after a year.) Yeast. I don’t use a lot, I tend to use a levain (a live culture that lives in my refrigerator), but I do use it some; I purchase a bulk pack, give half to friends, and keep the rest in the freezer.

    I like to make pie. I make the best pie crust ever; it’s won many awards. I used to use crisco. I no longer do. I like a butter pie crust, but my sweetie doesn’t. So I need another fat. Good lard is hard to find and very expensive. I’ve settled on an organic palm-oil shortening, it’s solid but not hydrogenated, and has no trans-fats. I typically mix 1/2 butter and 1/2 of this shortening to make a crust. I also do this with cookies; but if I’m going for big flavor, I’ll splurge and go for a luxury — extra-virgin coconut oil.

    My house’s favorite cookie right now, an adaption of the Toll House Cookie:

    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
    1/2 cup extra-virgin coconut oil
    2 eggs
    3/4 cup brown sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 scant teaspoon baking soda
    2 1/2 cups sifted spelt flour or 2 1/2 sifted cups of whole white-wheat flour
    1 pkg. chocolate chips

    Preheat the oven to 280F; if it won’t go that low, set it as low as it will go.
    Cream the butter & coconut oil, add the sugar and cream again. Stir in eggs, vanilla, salt, and baking soda. Stir in the flour (do not use a mixer for this, you’ll develop the gluten in the flour and make your cookies tough) and then the chocolate chips.

    Drop by rounded tablespoons into a baking sheet that’s either lightly greased or lines with parchment paper.

    Bake about 15 to 18 min., until just set but still slightly soft in the very center. You’re using a cool oven to avoid burning the coconut oil, so it will take a bit longer then typical.

    cool on a wire rack.

    These are heavenly; worth the splurge of the coconut oil. A jar will last in the pantry indefinitely, and one jar typically makes 4 batches of cookies.)

    /and forgive the turn toward baking, but that’s what I’ve been doing today. Many, many batches of cookies later, I’ll be prepared for the celebrations with friends and family next week.Report

    • Rtod in reply to zic says:


      Both of these comments are AMAZING!!!! Thank you so much!!!!Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to zic says:

      Brown sugar: I get the dark, and use it as a base for steak rubs.

      Don’t ever buy anything but real maple syrup. I go with the dark stuff for that too.Report

      • ktward in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        Yes. Real, 100% maple syrup.

        Also too, I’ve long substituted Organic Turbinado Sugar for both white and brown. But I’m not entirely convinced it’s necessary. I cook a lot, but I don’t bake much. So I don’t actually use sugar all that often, except for my daily cups of green tea and that’s got local honey in it. I’d be happy to defer to serious sugar experts.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        The brown in brown sugar is residual molasses.
        You could sub molasses instead. There are three grades, depending on how dark you want it.
        I always use the blackstrap for brewing. Takes at least 1.5 lbs/5 gal. to have any detectable flavor effect on the finished beer, but less than that sure makes the fermenter smell good.

        Turbinado is the British form of brown sugar, as I understand it.

        Wondering how malt extract would work with a steak rub.Report

        • ktward in reply to Will H. says:

          I don’t know about the UK, but Turbinado’s a pretty common form of sugar in the states. I’m not entirely convinced it’s all that different from good ol’ brown. Their claim to fame, both of them. is that they still possess the natural molasses found in cane sugar before it’s processed. More or less.

          I think Turbinado is, specifically, less processed. Less processing = “better”. But I don’t have a strong opinion on whether or not that’s actually true.Report

          • Will H. in reply to ktward says:

            It’s actually the same amount of processing; something like the different grades of petroleum distillates appearing at various stages of an evaporative column.
            I’m pretty sure turbinado is a lighter grade of brown; less molasses than brown.
            It’s fully fermentable.

            But now you have me questioning.
            It could be demarrara sugar I’m thinking of.Report

            • Alan Scott in reply to Will H. says:

              That natural sugar stuff is nasty. In one of her more insane attempts to cure my childhood depression, she took me to some quack who put me on St. John’s Wort and told her that I was being poisoned by processed foods. So she got rid of all the sugar in the house and replaced it with that.

              It’s not flavorful enough to sub for brown sugar, it’s too flavorful to sub for white sugar, and the thick crystals mean it’s a bitch and a half to dissolve in liquids. I think that’s what made us ditch the whole regimen–It wouldn’t dissolve in my parent’s coffee. Thank god for that at least, otherwise I still might be taking St. John’s Wort.Report

      • zic in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        Fake maple syrup is not maple syrup. Ever. It’s corn syrup flavored with fenugreek.

        That said, it has an affinity to curry; a tablespoon or two in a mild curry is amazing. You can use a mild curry for pumpkin pie spice. The darker, the better; more minerals, and more flavor. Late winter, I go help with the maple sugaring at some friends, and come home about $100 lighter but with five quarts to last us the year. We always bottle my syrup the day we make it, and I only put it through a course filter; it settles, and won’t be as clear. For pancakes, etc. we’ll leave it settled, but for cooking, I shake the bottle and use the dregs of older syrup; with the goal of getting as much of that mineral goodness into the food as possible.

        Tomorrow, I’ll make roasted squash; 1 large or 2 small butternut squash diced into 1″ chunks, roasted in the oven of my wood stove with 1/4 cup of butter, 1/4 cup of the cloudy maple syrup, a tablespoon of a mild-curry, sea salt, and leeks, thinly sliced across the grain, sprinkled throughout. (A regular oven works, too.) Roast them uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has cooked out and the squash is soft, falling apart, and beginning to brown along the edges. Temperature doesn’t much matter, though hotter cooks faster.

        I often throw a squash in with a chicken, roasting it all at 325 for 2 to 2.5 hrs. This is a good chance to try a different kind of chicken seasoning, so I might throw a cinnamon stick, couple of cloves, and chunk of ginger into the cavity with an onion and some celery. Leftovers make an amazing chicken pie, using the carcass for a stock turned into a gravy. Haven’t tried it yet, but I’m planning to experiment with using the squash to make the crust (upper only, I think) like a popover.

        And the suggestion of replacing ‘pumpkin pie spice’ with curry leads to another replacement favorite of mine, Tandoori seasonings. Every year, people across the land make Chex party mix with seasoning salt. Ugh. Try tandoori seasoning, add your own salt. Tandoori’s also excellent on fried potatoes, roasted vegetables, in eggs, sprinkled on oiled cubes of stale bread for making croutons. Any time you’d reach for that jar of red seasoned salt, consider tandoori and sea salt, instead.

        I recommend purchasing curry and tandoori at an Indian spice shop if there’s one near you. They’re very fresh and fragrant; most of what I see for sale in stores, even bulk places with high turnover like Whole Foods, have a rancid smell in comparison. If there’s no Indian spice shop nearby, order on line from a place like Penzy’s; and use them within 3 to 6 months.Report

        • DRS in reply to zic says:

          I know a great trick with maple syrup, if you like French toast: put the maple syrup directly into the egg mixture that you coat the bread with, before it goes on the stove. The syrup flavour permeats the entire bread, it’s not affected adversely by the cooking process and you just put a bit of butter on it before you eat it. Just as good and keeps the kids from drowning the bread in cups of syrup because they want to pour it themselves.Report

        • Will H. in reply to zic says:

          A shot of good Scotch in a pumpkin pie will make the thing come alive.Report

    • North in reply to zic says:

      I propose petitioning Zic to do a detailed guest post on pie crusts. My husband is obsessed with making pies and always ends up wailing in the kitchen in woe over how horribly it is going (I consider the outcomes edible and nice but he always wants to throw it out onto the green roof for the neighbors cat*).

      I revere yeast breads with a passion near religious and am halfway good at them (learned at Nan’s knee) but pastry in general and pie crust in particular is one of those magic uncomprehensible things.

      *This is against our HOA’s rules, also I hate that cat and love pie so I prevent him from doing so.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to North says:

        I would heartily second this. Pie crust doesn’t get enough ink or pixels.

        My wife does… *something* with pie crusts, and whenever people eat pies she has baked, they go on and on about the crust. Before we were married, it never occurred to me to consider the crust of a pie as a thing you could do to varying degrees of deliciousness.Report

      • zic in reply to North says:

        I would be delighted.

        I was also considering one on bread basics.

        And one on shopping/cooking/dining with your nose.Report

        • Russell Saunders in reply to zic says:

          I would be super-thrilled to read all of those.Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to zic says:

          The nose post would be especially awesome. I buy all my fruit using my nose instead of my eyes already.Report

          • zic in reply to Tod Kelly says:


            Next time you’re cooking a soup, stew, or sauce try something. (I usually demonstrate this when making a meatless tomato sauce.)

            Before adding either salt or sugar, smell it.

            How does it smell? Flat? Full-flavored and ready to eat?

            Now, add 1/2 the amount of salt you’d usually add, and smell it again. Flat? Full-flavored and ready to eat?

            And the rest that you’d usually add, and smell again.

            Neither salt nor sugar has an aroma. Go stick you nose in the sea-salt canister, the sugar canister; they simply do not tickle the schnoz. But, and this always seems like a bit of magic to me, they’re presence in food enhances the food; you can smell the difference.Report

    • Miss Mary in reply to zic says:

      Oh good, I have a bunch of whole wheat flour and have been wondering what I should do with it.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Miss Mary says:

        Apple breads or ginger breads can be made with WW flour, I know.Report

        • Miss Mary in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Lots of good ideas. I will have to try them all. I have a lot of flour. Thanks!Report

          • zic in reply to Miss Mary says:

            Do you have room to store some (or even all) in your freezer? It will last longer. Nice water-tight container does the trick. I keep flours I don’t use a lot in the freezer, and scope them out before use, giving them a few minutes at room temp to warm up beforehand.Report

            • Miss Mary in reply to zic says:

              I do, thank you. I will put it in there. My freezer is even more empty than my pantry. I do very little cooking. I was surprised to see how many items I have that Tod listed in the OP. Most of them I don’t know how to use, so I just look at them.Report

              • zic in reply to Miss Mary says:

                Here’s the most basic cookie recipe I know, and it’s a fine one, too!

                Brown Sugar Shortbreads

                Preheat oven to 350F (or 280 if using coconut oil).

                2 sticks of butter; OK to replace half with x-tra virgin coconut oil at room temperature.

                add 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed into the measuring cup. Cream again, really well.

                about 1/4 to 1/2 cup table sugar

                2 1/4 cups flour; you’re whole wheat will work just fine, put some in a bowl, fluff it with a fork, and then pour it into your measuring cup and level with the flat of a spatula or knife.

                Cream the butter (and coconut oil, if using); which means to stir it briskly until it’s light and fluffy. A hand mixer is excellent at this, but a sturdy wooden spoon is the traditional implement. Add the sugar, and cream well again. the longer, the better; but don’t knock yourself out, just make it look light and fluffy. Gently stir in the flour until just incorporated. You want a soft dough that’s tacky but not sticky.

                I use a melon baller for the next step, but a tablespoon will do. Measure out equal sized lumps, a rounded tablespoon melon-ball sized. (The only thing that matters is consistent size.) Gently roll between your palms to form balls, and roll each ball in regular sugar. Place them on a baking sheet, at least 1.5 inches apart.

                Now press them gently to flatten. (This is why they were rolled in sugar; helps keep them from sticking.) You can use the bottom of a glass, one of those ceramic presses, a fork cris-crossed peanut-butter cookie style, or a pecan half (which you want to leave on the cookie, so you’d need pecans, too.)

                Bake for about 7 to 12 minutes, it will depend on the size of the cookies, until the edges are set (it won’t feel like dough, it will feel like cookie,) but the center is still soft.

                Transfer to a wire rack to cool.Report

              • Miss Mary in reply to zic says:

                Thank you! Maybe I’ll make some tonight and let me son have *a* cookie on Christmas. I’m not totally heartless.Report

  2. zic says:

    Coconut Milk – I prefer light.

    Easy to make; and cheaper then canned: shredded unsweetened coconut. About a cup, covered with 2 cups of nearly-boiling water. put in a blender or use an immersion blender for a minute or so. Food processor works too, but it’s messy and hot. Let stand at least 20 min., and then strain for about 12 oz. of coconut milk. A second, lighter milk can be made using the same coconut. When I make coconut curries, I usually make the first batch for the curry, the second as the liquid for cooking the rice (basamati preferred). Would also be good for beverages calling for coconut milk. And it does not have the metallic tang that canned coconut milks sometimes develop.Report

    • George Turner in reply to zic says:

      Speaking of coconut milk, once while trying to find a good salad dressing for my rabbits (like carrot food for babies or some other bunny-safe topping), I tried making ranch style dressing (from the Hidden Valley dry packets) with coconut milk instead mayonaise or sour cream. It couldn’t tell it wasn’t regular ranch dressing! Neither could my friends. It’s bound to be healthier.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to George Turner says:

        Coconut milk is very high in saturated fat (almost its entire fat content), so it might be less healthy than sour cream.Report

        • ktward in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          For sour cream/mayo replacement, Greek yogurt. I have no idea how that would fly with bunnies though.Report

        • zic in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          Coconut oil got an undeserved bad reputation.

          It’s good for you.

          • Russell Saunders in reply to zic says:

            I was going to point the same thing out. We cook with coconut oil all the time, and often will swap it into our baking in place of butter (and ALWAYS if the recipe calls for margarine). It adds a very subtle coconut flavoring to the end result (which we enjoy), and is also far healthier than anyone gives it credit for.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Russell Saunders says:

              Anyone who ever took a basic course in organic chemistry, hell, anyone who understands the definition of calorie or joule, understands the debate about saturated/unsaturated oil has become an asylum run by the lunatics.

              It’s not what you eat so much as how much you eat. Cholesterol (wiggles fingers menacingly) ooh it’s so terrible, we’re told. Here’s a sovereign route to avoiding cholesterol: be a plant. We’re animals, people, and that means cholesterol is how we metabolise pretty much everything, including a host of fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D.

              Yes, high levels of cholesterol make a difference, get checked every few years as you get older. Quit eating so much goddamn red meat and keep your metabolism in good shape. Beyond that, pay no attention to these maniacs who are trying to scare you about Wicked Old Cholesterol. If you need statins, your doctor will tell you. But the sanest route to avoiding cholesterol related problems is to eat reasonable portions and keep your metabolism in good shape by moderate exercise.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well that’s no fun!

                Far more entertaining to agonize over ingredients labels on boxes of breakfast cereal and base major life and dietary decisions based on breathlessly-reported and half-understood regurgitations of press releases on the front page of national newspapers masquerading as “health news.”

                A friend told me a story of his father, who is 98 years old. Dad goes in to see his doctor. Doctor: “What brings you in to see me today?” Dad: “Doctor, I’m worried that my cholesterol levels may be too high.” Doctor: “Get the hell out of my office. You’re 98. Whatever you’re doing, do more of it.”Report

              • That would have been my exact response.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                is to eat reasonable portions

                Maybe we can talk about reasonable limits on speech. Reasonable limits on interracial marriage. Reasonable limits on abortion. Reasonable limits on gender equality.

                If I don’t stand up to “reasonable”, I may find myself in a country that I don’t want to live in.Report

              • Rtod in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah, it’s probably best that people don’t know the health risks of whatever they might choose to eat. They’re too silly and uneducated to know what to do with that information, anyway.

                (I may need a referee’s call here to be sure, but I think I may have just Jaybirded a Jaybirded response. 🙂 )Report

              • zic in reply to Jaybird says:


                Reasonable should be internalized, with, perhaps, some reasonable advice about what — health wise — reasonable actually means; a foodie’s 1st amendment right, and an insured’s wallet interest. Reasonable includes a comprehension of what industrial food is; reasonable discussion of what’s often not food, but food-like substances, and the additions of taste pumpers that unreasonably mislead your future grazing habits.

                I think Apollo had it right, when it comes to defining reasonable: practice all things in moderation, including moderation. People should enjoy food first and foremost; eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. And moderation today will make bingeing tomorrow, surrounded by loved ones, all the finer.

                But this conflating diet discussion with civil rights is silly. You may reasonably have the right to eat yourself to a Bombardini-esque death. But before you implode under your own weight, if I’m sharing your health-care costs, I have a reasonable 1st amendment right to talk about reasonable diet.

                More importantly, your reasonable inflates the free-speech of industrial food manufacturing into something thatReport

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Get fat enough and you’ll have trouble standing up for any reason at all.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    One thing that I was surprised to learn was that a slow cooker could let me spend about 1/2 as much on the various cuts of meat. “Stew meat” can make a fine stew if you let it cook on low for 12 hours first. (It has the added bonus of having all of its prep time the night before… which means that the day of the meal itself has diddly squat for you to do beyond making a salad or something.)Report

    • ktward in reply to Jaybird says:

      Crock pots = awesome. I actually have two of them, each of which I’ve used for nearly 20 years depending upon what/how much I’m making. Stews, chilis, BBQ beef/pork … my gosh, I have books upon books of crockpot recipes.

      Way back when I was a working mom of school-age kids, I would throw whatever it was I was cooking into the crockpot the night before, plop it in the fridge, and first thing in the morning I set it to cook. Voilà! Dinner.

      Kids are grown and gone now, but I still use the crockpot. Just usually the smaller one.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


      A pressure cooker can work similarly in terms of making use of otherwise difficult meat. I don’t own one because I rarely have the need to use such meats in a shorter period of time and/or make particular dishes with pressure cookers are ideal for BUT if you are looking to stretch your dollar and want to make use of cheaper-but-more-difficult meats, a pressure cooker can also do a world of good.


      I can’t recommend highly enough getting the meat grinding attachment for your stand mixer, presuming you have a stand mixer, which you should.

      You can save a good deal of money on ground beef by grinding your own. And you get a better quality even for the same price. And, if you are into ground chicken or turkey (which I love to use in a bunch of simple dishes that I want to healthily), you can safe a TON of money; ground chicken/turkey runs for $7+/lb by me, where chicken/turkey breasts can be head for half that and ground at home.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        I grew up hearing stories about “that time that the pressure cooker blew up” and maimed an entire neighborhood. We didn’t have one. I, sadly, have internalized the stories and (deep breath) I’ve never used one.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

          My stepdad had one. As I understand them (which is admittedly not particularly well), they are much different now than they were when you or I was a child. They’ll likely maim only you and maybe Maribou. Certainly not the entire neighborhood. And if that remains a fear, move to where TrumWill lives. There your neighbors are so far away not even a nuclear pressure cooker could do them harm.Report

          • North in reply to Kazzy says:

            I’m sick and tired of people sliming nuclear power in these threads! Nuclear power is a significant potential cooking resource and works a heck of a lot better than solar power (ever tried cooking an egg in a dish on your windowsill on a sunny day? Pro tip: it doesn’t work*). Nuclear pressure cookers have caused less deaths per cooked meal than any other pressure cooker except hydro. And yes I know that the Soviets had one blow up and irradiate the Ukraine but that one was built without a containment vessel and how in the hell do you cook without one of those? Oh those zany soviets.

            *And you get a snarky letter from the HOA.Report

  4. Mike Schilling says:

    Any post with a Pratchett reference is ipso facto awesome.Report

  5. Burt Likko says:

    You need flour for more than baking. Flour forms a basic part of most sauces, both your basic white sauce and your basic brown sauce. Use it to coat meats (usually with an egg wash, and some salt and pepper and maybe other herbs) before sautéing them in a little bit to foil, or baking them.Report

  6. Will H. says:

    I usually keep pesto around for when I want to use basil.
    And the oregano from the Mexican section is much different than ordinary oregano. It’s bigger clumps which stay fresher longer with a noticeable taste difference.Report

    • zic in reply to Will H. says:

      I grow basil in the summer; use it fresh from the garden, so that harvesting makes the plants get really bushy.

      Before frost, I harvest it all, and grind it in the food processor with olive oil, then freeze it in ice-cube trays. As soon as it’s frozen, I transfer it to zip-lock sandwich bags (a few per bag) and put all the smaller bags into a bigger freezer bag. I use that in sauces and soups all winter; just plopping a cube into the cooking mass. Maintains good fresh basil flavor, but doesn’t work well in dishes that aren’t cooked or for pesto.Report

    • ktward in reply to Will H. says:

      Pesto, yes! It is the single best reason to grow one’s own basil. There’s hardly a thing that can’t be made better with either pesto or fresh basil.Report

  7. ktward says:

    (I’m supposed to be sending you an email. But in prep for the next few busy days, I’ve spent today being shamefully indulgent in whatever looks like fun and ignoring virtually everything that seems remotely hard. Too bad there isn’t a career path for a Professional Slacker who doesn’t play video games. I’d be dynamite at it.)

    Under the category of Fun!, this post. I’ll be back.Report

    • zic in reply to ktward says:

      Too bad there isn’t a career path for a Professional Slacker who doesn’t play video games. I’d be dynamite at it.

      You have company, sitting in a chair surfing the web instead of cleaning the dinner dishes.

      /but there are pecan cookies slow-baking in the oven.Report

  8. James Hanley says:

    Maggi seasoning, indispensable for soups. Also sambal oelek, Asian chili paste.

    And, of course, a hot sauce like Tabasco, or whichever variant one prefers. If you can find it, I highly recommend the Belizean brand, Marie Sharps.Report

  9. Nob Akimoto says:

    Mirin, nori and umeboshi are staples for me.

    Also olive oil is one of those things you want to be careful about being too cheap on. There’s so many fakes out there today that it’s worth going a little extra to have the real thing, given that the flavor profile is so substantially different.Report

  10. Kazzy says:

    Ruhlman’s Twenty.

    Then, Ruhlman’s Ratios.

    Simple made easy.

    You’re welcome.Report

    • zic in reply to Kazzy says:

      This suggests a cheep-ass pantry primer on the essential cook book collection.

      ‘Cause everyone’s got to have at least one they consider ‘essential.’ Or two or ten. Or more.Report

  11. ktward says:

    Nob’s right. Don’t go cheap on Olive Oil. First Cold Pressed EVOO is the healthy stuff.

    – The best EVOO actually has a high smoke point so can be used even for grilling. But that stuff is seriously expensive.

    – The EVOO available at your local grocery store almost certainly does not have a high smoke point, so no high temp cooking. But it’s perfectly fine for low temp cooking and dipping and dressings- all a matter of taste. Experiment with the sale stuff, get organic if you can. (Got a Trader Joe’s handy?)

    – For high temp cooking, non-EVOO (especially Light Olive Oil) works well if you’re looking for a hint of flavor. But it’s not remarkably healthier than Canola oil just by virtue of its oliveness. If you need a flavorless but healthy oil, Canola is the way to go.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to ktward says:

      While we are aiming at inexpensive foods for the inexperienced starter cook (think a 19-year-old kid in college with her first apartment) ktward’s rule of thumb is exactly right — if you intend to actually taste the stuff, it’s worth it to spend a little more on the good olive oil.

      For instance, cheap and very tasty salad dressing can be made with mid-range EVOO, relatively inexpensive red wine vinegar, and a little salt and pepper. Makes the weeds taste better and it’s 100% good for you too.

      If you’re frying up a cutlet in a sauté pan (see my comment about flouring a cheap cut of meat above) then canola oil or a light vegetable oil works just as well as VOO or regular OO.

      Tell the difference by holding the bottle up to the light. The greener the oil is, as a general rule, the better. Cheap olive oil looks yellow.Report

  12. ktward says:

    And while I have my oil soapbox handy, I’ll just add this:

    Oils, most especially the healthy kind, can go bad sitting in your pantry. Bad, as in rancid. Decidedly unhealthy.

    If I could offer just one tip, it would be this: learn what good oil smells like. When you first open the bottle, sniff it. If it’s some ilk of olive oil, it should smell, at least marginally, like olives. Some stronger EVOOs smell kind of spicy, but they still smell like olives. Canola oil should have virtually no smell at all. Every time you use that open bottle of oil, you should sniff it first. If it smells different, if it has a “chemical” whiff to it, pitch it.Report

    • Kim in reply to ktward says:

      Rancid oil, unlike other spoiled foods, isn’t too unhealthy. It’s just what happens when oil oxidizes. Trust me, I’ve had gallons of rancid oil.

      Maybe it makes your tummy a bit more upset.

      Won’t kill ya.Report

  13. Vermouth and lemons. (Yes, I know you seem to be steering clear of perishables. But if you’re going to the store every few days, grabbing a few lemons won’t break your bank.)

    Unlike with cocktails, you don’t need to shell out more money for particularly good vermouth. Martini & Rossi dry vermouth (which I would never drink) will no nicely for cooking. Added to soups, roast poultry, sauces, etc, it adds wonderful depth and flavor. Keep it in the fridge, and it will last at least a month.

    And the same goes for lemons. A little bit of fresh lemon juice adds a wonderful bit of flavor to countless dishes, heightening the complexity of the taste. And lemon zest is a welcome addition to many baked goods.Report

  14. Shelley says:

    I just discovered quinoa and was proud of myself for finally eating something healthy.

    But now I read that the current craze for it is making it too expensive where it’s grown, where people need to eat it to live.

    So no more quinoa for me, I guess….Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Shelley says:

      Hey!!! Shelley!!!

      I’d had it in my mind to rummage through the comments to get your email address, and here you are!

      We’re doing a Guns In America symposium in early January, and I wanted very much to invite you to contribute a poem, were you so inclined.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Shelley says:

      Also, that’s a bit of discouraging news about the unintended consequences of hipster food.Report

    • North in reply to Shelley says:

      I’d be fascinated to read an article on that. Off the top of one’s head one would assume that if quinoa is becoming so popular and prices are rising that it’d be a problem for people to buy where it normally is eaten (aka where it’s generally grown) then shouldn’t the values of their crops be rocketting up with commesurate buying power and benefit for the quinoa growing natives?

      Could ya hook a gentleman up?Report

  15. Robert Greer says:

    The $12 I spent on a bottle of peanut oil a few months ago was probably the best $12 I’ve ever spent in the kitchen. It gives my East and South Asian dishes a nice earthiness and doesn’t have any distracting fruity flavors like olive oil. It also has a pretty high smoke point and so is relatively easy to cook with.

    Speaking of peanut, a jar of unsalted peanuts can be really useful too. I either put them in my kung pao whole, or chop them up and put them in pad thai or whatever bastardizations of asian noodle dishes I feel like putting together.

    As far as appliance-y things go, I think having a mortar and pestle is vastly underrated. I don’t have one myself, but every time I cook with my friends’, the spices I crush make the dish so much more flavorful. I’ve heard that bruising plant material this way rather than cutting it releases a more complex profile of aromatics. Makes sense to me.Report

  16. damon says:

    I’ve become a big fan of whole spices. Now that it’s xmas time, i’ve been using whole nutmeg and grating it myself. Taste is better and lasts longer vs purchasing pre-ground spices.

    Also, I’m a big fan of growing your own herbs in pots–at least the more hardy types: sage, rosemary, mint, etc. Dry them yourself.Report

  17. Reformed Republican says:

    Thanks for the post.

    Not too surprisingly, as I have started experimenting with recipes, I have already acquired many of these items. I did the three Cheap-Ass Gourmet meals, and they turned out well. I ended up roasting the turkey this year, using some of the knowledge picked up from roasting the chicken, and it turned out awesome. Later, I used the turkey carcass to make a stock, and I combined it with a bunch of vegetables that needed to be consumed to make a vegetable soup.

    Right now, I am trying to cook a new recipe every weekend to learn new things.Report

    • Kim in reply to Reformed Republican says:

      Braise/Stirfry/Roast/Broil/”Bake Bread”/”Bake Quick Bread”/”Marinade”
      Learn techniques. The more basic the recipe, the easier it is to focus on the technique.

      Today’s tip that you didn’t need:
      Pasta does not go into cold water (turns to sludge). 😉Report

    • I cannot begin to tell you how happy it made me to read this.

      And kudos for going whole turkey already! It was years before I got up the nerve to try one.Report

      • Reformed Republican in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        This was a rough year for my mom. Her sister had been in and out of the hospital over the past year. That first week of November, my mom was pretty much living at the hospital to be with her. My sister and I decided to give her a break this year, since she would be worried about how to make sure we all had out Thanksgiving dinner on top of everything else she had to deal with. We ended up splitting the cooking between the two of us (though my mom did a few simple dishes). I think everything I made this year I made for the first time.

        The food turned out well, and Mom got to take it easy. My uncle and cousins ended up coming over for the meal, and Mom spent most of the afternoon bragging about the fact that we did the cooking. It definitely made her day.Report