I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – food is the greatest love of my life and has been since as long as I can remember. I have never been on a diet because I would feel like I was cheating on my other half. I love doing food shops, reading recipe books and of course cooking itself. Sweet or savoury, I’m interested.
My life revolves around food. I plan my day to day life around my meals, going to the shop to buy ingredients, or going to the gym so that I don’t feel guilty about what I plan to eat that day.
That’s not to say I eat badly – some of my favourite food is on the healthier side. Life is not worth living without beautiful, glorious food for every meal, in my humble opinion. I just happen to eat a lot of it.
Some say I’m easily pleased; others don’t believe I’m this passionate about cooking. Not that I do crazy complicated meals, often simplicity is key and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a modest homemade Spaghetti Bolognese and some damn good cheese on top. I don’t eat plain, and if there’s an option, I always choose cheap.
But from planning out this food-recipe-budget segment I’ve realised that there a few staples that I take as a given, always have in the cupboard and rarely cook without, so much so I don’t class it as an expense because it’s a necessity.
I thought before I’m in too deep, better share them here so that my recipes are easier and clearer to follow. So here is a list of the top 10 cooking must-haves (well in my tiny kitchen at the very least)
1. Salt and Pepper is the real elixir of life
To me this has always gone without saying. I think salt and pepper is referred to as seasoning in recipes because the original recipe makers felt they had to jazz up such a staple, but nonetheless, it is vital for everything, and it can turn some boring eggs into mouth-watering sunnyside up eggs on toast with a sprinkle of seasoning. Especially if you get the fancy (Lidl) black pepper and rock salt. Do not waste time with any so-called pepper that is just greying pre-grounded dust.
2. Stock up on Stock
Full disclosure, I never used to cook with stock until about a year or two ago. I always thought it was pointless, unhealthy and just tasted like salt. Unless it was necessary, I found an alternative.
But three months of traveling eastern Europe and trying to make even the saddest meals taste better, the stock was my go-to. Yes, I’m aware that it is filled with salt and additives but if a little bit of stock is an issue I’m sure your local health food shop has a healthier alternative or you can even make some from scratch (I will not be hitting that goal for some time so don’t expect to see the recipe here for a while!).
3. Chilli – Dried or Fresh?
I have always loved my spice, and fresh chilies are essential for me. If I can make a recipe spicy, I will. Chilli flakes are good, convenient and cheap and I always keep a jar of them just in case. But nothing beats a big packet of fresh chilies. I used to buy the small packets because they went off so quickly or lost their spice, but now I just buy the bigger ones (saves money!) and keep them in the freezer. That way I can just take them out as I need them, and they don’t go bad. Run them under hot water for a minute and their as fresh as can be!
4. Garlic is more than a Vampire Repeller
I have been told on occasion, that I go way overboard with garlic. I never follow guidelines with garlic because there is no such thing as too much garlic in my eyes. I understand the annoyance of the smell on your breath and your hands after cutting, but I see past that with my love for the taste. If the smell bothers you, get some chewing gum and kitchen gloves. I love how it’s never really necessary, but it always makes a meal better. It’s cheap, tasty, and if you have a garlic crusher you are already winning.
5. Paprika to Spice up Life
When I lived with my parents, there were jars and jars upon spices that I took for granted. Since living on my own the last few years and realising how good I had it, I have always associated success and stability with having a house filled with pointless unending spices, even duplicates sometimes. But not having reached that yet I’ve discovered that paprika nearly always covers it. Whether it’s a classic paprika chicken, or you want to jazz up a stir fry or a curry, paprika can do it all. Of course, I love to have a curry spice in my house, but that is quite restricted to a curry dish, unlike paprika.
6. Oil it up
I’m not filling up space here, I just can’t emphasize the importance of oil, especially olive oil and coconut oil. For a while, I’ve been living off boring old sunflower oil, which has its uses, but I’ve recently invested in some good Spanish olive oil and I forgot how much it transforms a meal. Some pasta with garlic and olive oil, bread dipped in it, a salad, everything tastes better with the added taste of olive oil. On the more expensive side, coconut oil is amazing also, especially if you’re making a juicy stir-fry or curry, and it is also healthier and takes out the guilt of frying some quick eggs up on the pan. And it’s a natural moisturizer and I love my go-to coconut oil cleanse routine when I need freshening.
7. Merry Berries
Frozen, mixed, cheap berries were gods gift to the countries without the year-round affordable fruit, but upon moving here I’ve found it a little difficult to find and not as good when I do. Lucky for me, I can get a box of blueberries for €1. Whether it’s pre-frozen fruit or fresh fruit, I always have some in my freezer. You don’t have to worry about it going off, you can stock up when a deal is on and it’s perfect with yoghurt, in a smoothie or in your porridge (it defrosts so quick!) and I never go without this quick and cheaper way to get one of my 5 a day in.
8. Carbs, Carbs and More Carbs Please
I haven’t quite embraced the Spanish late dinner time meals of olives and salad yet. Maybe for lunch, but after a long hard day, I just want to be consumed by a bowl of carbs (and vegetables of course).
Sometimes close to bedtime it can be a bit much, and most people prefer not to eat a big stodgy dinner. I, on the other hand, can find that I have a better night’s sleep going to bed with a jam-packed tummy. Every-time I go to Lidl, I stock up on whole-wheat penne pasta, rice, risotto rice, egg noodles, and spaghetti. I always need some form of carb in my kitchen, even if I have next-to-nothing else because you can make something deliciously filling with a simple minority of ingredients (and a kilo of any one of these is a maximum of 80cent in Lidl).
9. Saucy Soy Sauce
I don’t even think I need to explain this one, its cheap, it’s delicious and it’s relatively healthy in small doses. A busy schedule can mean a lot of quickly-whipped stir-fry’s, or even just some pan-fried vegetables or potatoes. These are all made ten times better with a beautiful drop of the good stuff. A bottle costs a mere 99 cent in Lidl so it’s never a waste, and always an investment.
10. Last but not Least, Wine
Half a joke and half a genuine necessity, I always like to have wine around. For the classical drinking-after-a-shit-day, yes, but wine can randomly spruce up a simple pasta or risotto dish, and some recipes call for it for no apparent reason whatsoever so it’s always good to have in the house. Being the cheap ass that I am, I have recently started buying cartons of wine. Refrain from your judgments before you try it. I love a good bottle as much as the next girl, but when you’re not exactly a wine connoisseur, on a budget and just want more wine for less money than you can’t knock it. I buy mine in my local corner shop, a liter costs 90cent. Can’t fault that.
I hope you have invested in my must-haves by the time I post the next recipe, to enjoy a cheap and tasty life of food.