As this part of the country battens down their hatches, I’m mostly watching wind knock stuff around on my porch and gaping at pictures of empty NYC subways.
And eating a hodge podge soup I made last night in 20 minutes that is, well, fantastic. Like, I would eat more, but the tummy only holds so much. My mom has been asking me how I’ve managed to make so many great soups without planning (two weeks ago I made a kale and mushroom soup with white beans that was OMG. And a black bean and corn chili that was super tasty. And a pumpkin, chicken and rice soup that used up a bunch of leftovers and was yummy and spicy). I started listing the ingredients for my latest accidental creation – white beans, chicken sausages, broth, diced tomatoes, carrots, onion, parmesan cheese, spinach – and I realized that these are items I have on hand all the time. In a pinch, I can make yumtastic things with them in 30 minutes or less.
So, I thought I’d share my perpetually-in-my-pantry list, most of which I get from good ole Costco.
Broth, low sodium
Diced and/or stewed tomatoes, organic canned or home canned
Whole wheat pasta/spaghetti squash (I prefer the squash but I just recently couponed 5 boxes of whole wheat for $3)
Beans (white and black, canned)
Lean ground beef
Nuts (usually whole almonds and pecan chips, a few go a long way in a salad. Used to swear by pine nuts til my first 3 week bout with Pine Mouth)
boneless, skinless chicken thighs (way cheaper than breasts)
Veggies (and fruit):
Onions, red or vidalia. Cippolini from the farmer’s market – treat!
Frozen spinach. This is key. So many things you can make for so little calories
Some kind of fresh green, usually spinach because I can throw it in a pan if it gets wilty
Carrots and/or sweet potatoes
Fresh zucchini (for soups or to julienne into noodles!!)
Sun-dried tomatoes, air-packed
Apples (sweet and savory dishes)
Hard cheese. I usually buy parmesan cheese shredded from Costco. It’s not super great, but I ain’t rich. Sometimes I splurge on pecorino or manchego, which taste like but better than parm.
Marinara sauce, jarred from Costco. The Kirkland brand has about 4 ingredients, no sugar, and is great in sauce or soup
Dried herbs (I love fresh, but who can afford it? Trader Joes has these great pre-frozen cubes of cilantro that make life easy, too)
Spices I love – Chili, red pepper flakes, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne, paprika, curry
Bacon (or pancetta. Again, a little goes a long way in a salad/for flavor)
Real butter (I also have smart balance but I’m scared of it)
Red wine (We don’t drink it, and it doesn’t matter what it tastes like, so I buy mini bottles and use about a half one at a time)
0% Greek yogurt
Light sour cream
Vinegars (white, apple cider, red wine, balsamic)
Duke’s, and only Duke’s mayo. Full fat. Use sparingly
With these items, you can make:
Spaghetti Bolognese – squash (spaghetti or julienned zukes), parm, lean beef, marinara. Make it special by cooking up some garlic and onions in some olive oil and red wine, adding more herbs, sun-dried toms
Italian spinach and white bean soup – fresh veggies, canned tomatoes, broth, beans, sausage (optional), spinach. Cool it down and stir in some greek yogurt.
Chili – experiment with black beans, corn, vegetarian, spinach, bacon, cilantro… chili is more about the spices than the ingredients. Sweet potato + black beans + diced toms + green chiles + spices = awesome
Pasta w/ Italian sausage – pasta or squash, italian sausage, spinach, marinara, parm. This is one of Matt’s faves because I use lots of spices and sun-dried toms. to make it super tasty. The key is to slowly cook your onions and garlic and sun-dried toms in EVOO and then simmer it in red wine.
Chicken noodle soup – add your carrots and onions for more veg power. Swap rice.
“Creamy” greens soup – Puree your white beans before adding them to some broth, fresh or frozen greens, and fresh veggies (mushrooms, onions) you’ve sautéed in olive oil. Be generous w/ herbs and parm. I often stir parm into the soup to give it a nutty flavor instead of just sprinkling on top. The purée makes the soup thicker and “creamy” w/o the fat
Taco-awesome-salad – Just need the right spices in your beef. You can make salsa with canned tomatoes, onions and herbs if that’s all you have, but my parents can homemade salsa, so it’s easy for me. Sour cream, black beans, cheese, cilantro.
Chopped salad – for this I like romaine instead of softer greens like spinach. Made one a while back that I ate on for a whole week. Didn’t want to go out once and lost 3 lbs. Full fat dressing and all (I get Annie’s sometime but with vinegar and oil and lemon juice you can make way better than what you can find in the store). Romaine, apples, cukes (zukes), dried cranberries, pecan chips, bacon.
Tuna and white bean salad – tuna, white beans (or garbanzos), red onion, red wine vinegar, EVOO, salt, pepper. Protein lunch of champions. On a bed of lettuce, it’s great for dinner, too.
Stuffed chicken thighs – parm, pureed sweet potatoes, pecans. or parm, spinach, marinara. parm, apples, pecans. I mean, what can’t you stuff chicken with?
Fritattas, omelets, and all sorts of other eggy things like carbonara (pasta with bacon, eggs and cheese, basically), westerns, egg sandwiches
Also, you could totally make meatloaf, but that’s disgusting.
Anyway, if I don’t have time to plan a menu (I usually try one or two new dishes a week), this is the grocery list I get. I know I have several tasty, mostly healthy options that I can whip up quickly. To be really healthy, get spaghetti squash and skip the carbonara.
None of these are exciting or earth shattering. But:
1. Sugar and fat aren’t the main ingredients
2. They aren’t Dominos
3. All of these are cheap ingredients
4. I can make it up as I go and only screw up to the point of inedible(ness? bility?) once in a blue.
5. My staples as a child were hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken. “Diet food” was plain grilled chicken or grilled fish (ew!) on iceberg lettuce. Tasty, healthy food? Yeah, I make it.
What are your staples?