10 Things Every Broke Ass Chef Should Have on Hand At All Times
Having these 10 essentials on hand will make you feel like a gourmet, even in a studio apartment
Bulbs of fresh garlic – Garlic is fairly inexpensive to buy and its uses are almost endless. It can last 2-3 months when kept in a cool, dry place in your kitchen, so you don’t need to buy it too often. Just about any worthwhile dish calls for garlic, so it’s good to have it on hand. You can successfully season steak or chicken using just garlic and herbs. Garlic is also good for the heart, so you can never feel bad about eating too much.
Bacon – Keep a package of bacon in your fridge all the time. Because everything is better when it is made with bacon. Not only can you have it with breakfast, but it is also good to chop and sauté with corn, wrapped around asparagus and baked, on burgers and sandwiches, in pasta carbonara, and my personal favorite, sautéed with chopped onion and pierogies. You can also buy bacon in bulk and freeze the packages you don’t need to use immediately.
Chicken breasts – This is the best thing to buy at Costco. For about $19.95 you can get a 5-pack of individually wrapped boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 per pack). You keep them in your freezer and take out a pack and thaw when you need it, for me they usually last for a month’s worth of good dinners. You can do just about anything with chicken breasts, so it’s good to have on hand when you feel like a wholesome home cooked meal. Chicken is novice-friendly, cooks pretty fast and can be used in just about every genre of cooking. My go-to meal is baked rosemary and garlic chicken breasts with golden potatoes. Simply make a mixture of olive oil, finely chopped garlic, chopped fresh rosemary, a little garlic powder, and some sea salt and cracked black pepper. Coat the potatoes and chicken breasts in it and place both in a glass baking dish with some whole sprigs of rosemary and more garlic if you like. Bake at 350 (F) degrees for about 30 minutes, cover with foil if need be.
Sea salt and black pepper grinder – Buy a shaker carton of Mortons or Baleine sea salt to have on hand by your stove (preferably fine textured). Sea salt is just so much better tasting than regular grainy salt and worth the little extra you will spend on it. I will only salt pasta water with sea salt, you notice the difference. It’s got more of a bitter taste than regular salt, so you will end up using less of it. Also pepper should be grinded, not shaken. Fresh cracked pepper, as opposed to pepper from a shaker makes a huge difference in recipes, and just looks and smells so much more appetizing. You can buy the pepper corns in the grinder from the grocery store for about $3.
Onions (yellow or white) – Raw or cooked, you will use onions in so many things. There’s really nothing like grilled onions on a burger. They will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks, so you can just slice them up when you need them on sandwiches or what not. I always seem to use them within a couple days of buying them. Onions are pretty cheap too, so make them a staple in your fridge.
Fresh or dried herbs – Whether you buy them dried or grow them yourself, you should always have these essential herbs on hand: Italian flat-leaf parsley, oregano, rosemary, basil, sage, and thyme. I buy this dried Italian Seasoning that has all of them in it and I use it all the time, it’s a pretty common find at any grocery store, and cheap too. Another important dried ingredient is red pepper flakes. You can use them in any kind of spicy cooking, as well as on pasta and pizza. I also grow herbs on my balcony of my apartment, and they are surprisingly easy to take care of. It’s a good idea to buy a long planter (with enough room for the herbs to root) and plant flat leaf parsley, oregano, sage and thyme. In another mid-size pot plant a rosemary tree. And in another smaller pot plant some basil. You’d be surprised how little it costs (the pots, a couple bags of soil, and the herb plants), and how rewarding it is to have these ingredients right on your front porch, it’s a bonus that they smell amazing. You can use herbs in so many things; it will really broaden your culinary horizons.
Olive oil – You will use this ALL THE TIME, it is a cooking essential. Buy an extra virgin and a lighter flavor variety. Replacing butter with olive oil in many dishes is so much lighter and healthier. With the extra virgin olive oil, don’t skimp on quality, you can find a good bottle olive oil for about $12, also the bottle should be glass and stored out of the light (some better olive oils are packaged in light-proof bottles). A good olive oil will improve the flavor of your dishes by leaps and bounds. You can flavor an olive oil by heating it in a skillet (not too hot) with a teaspoon of red pepper flakes or a couple crushed garlic cloves just until it sizzles. Drain pepper flakes from oil and you have a good chili oil. Remove garlic cloves and you’ll have a tasty garlic oil.
A couple GOOD cheeses – You should always have at least one or two good cheeses in your fridge. I like gruyere (it’s a bit pricey, but so worth it) or a sharp aged white cheddar (any really good cheddar is going to be white, the orange you see in a lot of cheddar cheeses is food coloring). Any cheese that is more expensive is often more rich and savory so you will end up using less of it. Good sliced cheese is a perfect snack with some water crackers (you don’t need to spring for gourmet crackers) and a glass of wine. Gruyere is also amazing with sautéed onions and bacon in an omelet, and doesn’t take any longer to make than any ordinary omelet. You can stuff a good cheese like Fontina inside a seasoned chicken breast cut horizontally and baked. Just make sure the cheese you buy is versatile. I’m no cheese snob, but the good stuff can be addictive. Plus, no matter how broke you are, snacking on a good fancy cheese just makes you feel that much more posh.
Eggs – Eggs are cheap, they last a while in the fridge and there are thousands of dishes you can make using them, other than just scrambled or fried for breakfast. You can use them for French toast, pastas, omelets, etc. They also come in handy for instant boxed baked goods like brownies (because aren’t eggs always the things we don’t have when we need them?) Try making a fancy omelet with gruyere cheese and cremini mushrooms and a spinach salad with vinaigrette on the side for a healthy dinner.
Lemons and limes – The most obvious use of lemons and limes is for drinks (use muddled limes and ice instead of those overly sweet margarita mixes). But you can flavor a lot of dishes with lemons and limes. Lemon and fish is a natural, lime and garlic is good on shrimp, the citruses are also great with chicken and vegetable dishes. A lot of recipes you will come across call for lemon zest (which you can grate with a fine cheese grater in a pinch, just remember to grate only the yellow part, the white rind is bitter and will ruin the zest). I like to make angel hair pasta and toss the hot pasta with lemon juice, chopped fresh parsley, a dash of cream, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, and grate some lemon zest on top for a light but flavorful side dish.