A good bargain is hard to find… or is it? When it comes to our food, it’s not so much about finding a good bargain, but learning how to utilize basic ingredients for dishes that not only fit our budget but taste good at the same time.
If you grew up like me in an Italian house which used the kitchen as the main place to socialize and spend time together, then food is most likely an important part of your life. Food is often an integral part of life for many cultures – not just Italian but from India to Greece to the Caribbean.
Ironically, many times the foods from other countries are simple and cost effective – it seems sometimes in America, we think more means better when in fact the opposite is often true.
Ordering out and making lavish dishes at home is considered a luxury for many who live day to day on a budget – or as I used to say when I first got married, “We have no budget because we have no money!”
Here are 5 food items you should always keep on hand whether you are have a tight budget or just a fixed budget:
All you need is a box of spaghetti, a jar of sauce (or your own if you make your own), water and some Italian cheese. Of course it doesn’t have to be spaghetti, it can be short pasta like Rotini or Farfalle (bow ties), or another kind of long pasta like angel hair or linguini.
Wider pastas are good with cream sauces, hence why you often find Alfredo sauces served over Fettuccini (which is like linguini but a bit wider).
If you don’t have any sauce, you can simply sauté some sliced garlic with about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and mix with your pasta. Add the pasta to the pan that has the garlic and olive oil so the pasta picks up all the good flavor.
The trick to make sure the pasta does not get sticky is to reserve some of the water that was used to boil the pasta. Add some of that water to the pasta in the pan until you get a nice consistency.
Serve with some grated cheese and it’s a gourmet dish that costs just pennies.
Packaged Organic Salads
Although this falls into the category of pre-packaged foods, bagged salads are extremely convenient to have on hand. They don’t cost much and can be served in just minutes. Look for Manager Specials as these are often marked down by as much as a dollar. The only thing you have to remember is to make sure to use the lettuce within the next day or so since Manager Specials are usually on items which are about to expire or have just started to show signs of aging.
A Variety of Canned Beans
Canned beans never sound too exciting but they can really spruce up a dish. With so many bean varieties, you shouldn’t have a problem preparing something given the choices. For example you can make a very easy Mexican wrap by cooking up rice (which is a very inexpensive item), then mixing it with a can of black beans. Add in some cilantro, and if you don’t have cilantro add in some salsa. Place in a tortilla wrap and you’ve got a nice quick snack or lunch.
Canned beans can also be used as an addition to salads or used as a salad themselves. Take a can of rinsed cannellini beans along with a few handfuls of olives and chopped artichoke hearts from a jar, drizzle with some olive oil and you’ve got a wonderful anti-pasto that everyone will be complimenting.
In addition to these food items, here are two more must have staples to be kept on hand:
Regular pure olive oil can be used for frying or for baking – such as a whole chicken. Extra virgin olive oil however holds more flavor and is great for salads, sandwiches and anything where you truly want that olive oil flavor to shine.
Olive oil can be used in cooking to replace butter in some instances. For example, next time you want some fried eggs, try using olive oil in the pan and your eggs will still taste great. Store the olive oil in a cool dark area such as in a cabinet to help extend the shelf life. Once opened, the olive oil begins to lose its flavor after approximately 6 months – and some argue fewer months than that!
If you like to do a lot of cooking, especially soups which are extremely economical and can be used for future meals, onions are your best friend. Onions can be added to just about anything – such as a rice dish or meat dishes such as meatloaf or hamburgers. If you are able to grind your own meat with a meat grinder, add in the chopped onions, salt and pepper and you’ll have the best fresh hamburger from heaven!
With a little foresight and a watchful eye, you will be amazed at what you can do with some of the most basic foods we often take for granted. Learn from other cultures which have mastered the art of simple cooking for decades prior!
About the Author
Article contributed by Liz Krause, of SimpleItalianCooking.com, a website featuring easy Italian recipes and writes about various kitchenware items such as the best economical meat grinders for home use or espresso makers that last or where to find casings for sausage making. She loves to cook when she has time and believes the best recipes are those which are simple!