Tuesday Ten: My Pantry Staples

English: Uncooked bulgur wheat
Bulgur Wheat – For those who don’t know what it is!

Lauren Conrad’s blog is great for quick, healthy recipes, fashion recommendations and budget friendly workouts.  Last Tuesday she wrote about her top 10 pantry items so I thought that I would create my own to share with you, a week later.  Keeping these on hand at all times is crucial for preparing my budget meals especially at the end of the month when you’re waiting for the next budget cycle to kick in.

Canned Tomato Sauce 

I keep about 3-5 8 oz cans of tomato sauce on hand at all times and use it in place of  jarred spaghetti sauce.  (Saute garlic in a pan for a few seconds, add sauce and season with fresh or dried Italian herbs). It’s also a base for some Armenian dishes that I make pretty often which I will share with you later.

Frozen Vegetables

Inexpensive, long lasting, healthy shortcut.  Thaw and add to a salad, saute for a stirfry, or for a pasta toss.  Make sure you buy the ones without sauces or added flavorings since those have a lot of sodium and even cost more.  You probably have the seasoning in your pantry s well.

Frozen Shrimp

I used this in paella, pasta, on salads, when I’ve run out of meats I know that I have frozen shrimp on hand.

Bulgur Wheat  

I swear to god this is the next trendy grain.  But Armenians have been eating this forever.  I make bulgur pilaf as a side to chicken or beef, or in some Armenian dishes.  Mix with meet and stuff into peppers.  Mark Bittman has a few recipes for breakfast bulgur, something I haven’t tried before, but similar to an oatmeal dish.  I buy in bulk at international grocery stores, it can run from $1-$2 a pound and comes in xtra coarse, coarse, medium and fine.  The medium is the most versatile so I usually go with that one.

Canned Tuna

When you run out of EVERYTHING, you always have a can of tuna.  One of my new favorite combos is tuna salad with avocado just together without bread.  Top with salsa for an even more delicious combo.  When I’m craving comfort food I usually whip up a tuna melt.


Cheese is one of life’s guilty pleasures, who doesn’t love to snack on cheese all the time? I usually keep sliced deli cheese on hand to put on sandwiches or in salads.  Whenever I go to Trader Joe’s I stock up on multiple varieties from goat to gouda.  If  you have small pasta on hand then you have the makings for homemade mac and cheese.  No need to spend extra on the box.

Oils and Vinegars 

In my cupboard I have sesame, canola, and olive oils, white wine, red wine, rice wine and balsamic vinegars.  The number sauces and salad dressings you can create is endless and you’ll never have to buy the bottled kinds again.  Mix sesame oil and rice wine vinegar with peanut butter to make peanut sauce, mix any of the vinegars and oils with a bit of Dijon mustard to make your own vinaigrette.


Onions are an aromatic that creates a base of flavor in many dishes.  I always have these on hand to cook with to add a layer of flavor.

Peanut Butter

A hearty protein to spread on toast before a run, or on top of apples to make a more satisfying snack.  Also, I often make my own peanut sauce for Asian noodles.  Try this recipe from We Are Not Martha.


Good for breakfast, egg salad (when you’re low on sandwich goods), also boil some up to put on top of a salad.  You can always make your own omelette with a side salad for those nights when you really just don’t feel like cooking.  Here’s the recipe I posted a few weeks back on baked eggs.

I hope you find these helpful!

What are your pantry staples?


Stay Motivated While Saving Toward a Goal

English: San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge at night
English: San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my favorite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer compared the experience of reading a traditional book vs. an e-reader during “The Old Country” panel discussion at the New Yorker Festival in October 2012.   A book allows the reader to build an enriching relationship with a novel distraction-free while the e-reader doesn’t. Until e-readers are strictly for reading books devoid of email, social media, and news tickers, it’s impossible for a human to ignore those distractions and build the same long term relationship with the novel that the book affords.  The e-reader offers small bursts of happiness and instant gratification that the book doesn’t.

I’ve often thought of this analogy during my saving and debt repayment process. I’m building a long term relationship with my money and finances but in the meantime it’s hard to pass up on day to day experiences (and expenses) that offer instant gratification while my savings goal does not. The  feeling of the future experience doesn’t feel tangible, but spending money on going out to dinner, or going shopping does.

In addition to paying off my credit cards in the next year, I’m also saving to go to San Francisco the first weekend of August.  I know that traveling isn’t something to do when you’re on a budget, but my Armenian young professionals group is holding its biannual global assembly and I’ll be connecting with Armenian peers from all over the world.  I’ve had my eye on this trip since I got back from Armenia in October, since it will be an opportunity to reconnect with the friends I made there and, since I’m not planning any other trips or weekend getaways this year, I’m going to make this work.

It’s two and a half months away and I still can’t feel the tangibility of it yet.  I know it will be a blast, I know it’s an investment in a life experience, but I still need to feel the tangibility of it in order to stay motivated.  Here are a few techniques that I’m using to create these small bursts of happiness between now and August 1st.

Start a Separate Savings Account

I started a separate savings account to build a reserve for San Francisco expenses.  I can transfer money in whenever I want and building that account and seeing it grow is rewarding.  If I have extra money at the end of the month it goes into my SF account, if I get any reimbursements (I often front some event expenses for my Armenian group), I pretend that I’m not owed that money to spend and throw it into this account.

Adopt a Phrase to Save

Betsy and Warren Talbot saved $75,000 in 25 months in order to travel the world.  In order to connect the impact that their daily purchases had on  their future experience they adopted Phrase to Save.  $100 = One Day on the Road, which did they want more?  Each night out for dinner or drinks = XXX% of my plane ticket, hotel stay, registration fee, for the weekend.  It’s helped to tell myself that each $50 expenditure = 12% of my flight.  Or half of the wine tour excursion.  Or a night out to dinner in San Francisco.

I also know that I get a high from spending money (not exactly a good thing) but paying for pieces of the trip one at a time is making it more tangible.  Wednesday was pay day I had some money saved toward the ticket, so I bought it on the spot. Having less money in my checking account keeps me from spending. Now I’m definitely going, there’s no turning back!

Chart Your Progress

I’m using LearnVest to chart my progress toward my goals.  Seeing the % increase toward your goal is so motivating and I love logging in everyday to see where I’m at.  Also, you can link all of your accounts and discover your net worth.  Seeing that increase as debt goes down and savings go up makes me want to save more!

Afford Yourself Cheaper Luxuries 

Although I’ve given up coffee during the week, today I’m writing from a coffee shop.  Cafe Grind in my neighborhood has amazing organic coffee, but at $3 for a large drip, it doesn’t fit into my monthly budget.  Today I splurged for the $3 large, a hard boiled egg and a banana for breakfast.  At $4.80 for the morning, I hardly call that an expensive Saturday.

I still like to go to bars with my friends too, while I’m still working on mastering the art of socializing on a budget, I have given up cabs as much as I can. (If it’s really late at night, I”m not going to sacrifice my safety) but I will take the subway if I leave the bar by 1230/1 am.  I always try to stay in one neighborhood for the night, or choose places that are convenient to get to via public transportation.  Limiting myself to one or two drinks is a great way to stick to a $20 budget for the night.

If it’s just one or two friends and we don’t have set plans, having a movie/popcorn/wine night is a fun way to save.

Find Other Means of Financial Support

I celebrated my 30th birthday a few months ago and my mom has been bugging me to choose a birthday gift.  Instead of a “thing” I’ve asked for a financial contribution toward my trip.  Since my mom is in full support of me going to San Francisco for this event, they agreed to contribute.  That will cover registration fees or hotel stay which gets me closer to my goal.  Also, I am expecting a referral bonus for getting my cousin a job at my company, while most of it will go toward debt repayment, I’m allocating a couple hundred dollars toward my trip.

I also sold a giftcard on Plastic Jungle, a site that up until last week, paid for giftcards.  I had received a giftcard to Tiffany’s as a reward for returning someone’s wallet, and since I can’t afford anything there right now, I sold it for $100.  (As of May 13, Plastic Jungle only swaps for giftcards to one of their merchant partners).

How do you stay motivated to save for something that may not seem in reach?

One Package of Chicken, One Week of Meals

Hello everyone! It’s that time of the month, the last two days before my budget replenishes and I am running on fumes until payday. Which means I literally can’t spend one cent until Wednesday. On top of that, my pantry is running pretty bare of staples. Yesterday I had one package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts left in the freezer and was determined to make them work for dinners and lunches until at least Wednesday.

Lately I’ve been wondering if my recipes really fit in with my blogging, but Carly from (Re)Creating Carly had told me to “keep them coming!” Thanks for the feedback, Carly! And to everyone else, if you ever need a motherboard installed on your computer, then she’s your girl.

My findings in the pantry/’fridge/freezer revealed zucchini, arborio rice, brown rice, parsley, cilantro, frozen shrimp, frozen broccoli, half of a tomato. I started to dream up yummy concoctions in my head, google search my ingredients and came up with the following options:

  1. Saffron Risotto with Chicken, Shrimp and Sausage
  2. Chicken dressed in Chimichurri Sauce with Brown Rice and Zucchini
  3. Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo Pizza

Making bulk dishes that combine ingredients are a great way to stretch your food budget for the week and preparing multiple dishes will prevent boredom. I made a trip to the grocery store for pizza dough, cream cheese, one Italian sausage and sliced mozzarella cheese (sliced cheese at the deli counter is way cheaper than buying the shredded kind, I think it covers the pizza much better too). I spent a total of $10.

I started by cutting the chicken into one inch cubes and sauteing them in a fry pan Followed by the sausage. Then got started on the risotto.

If you’ve never made risotto before, it’s pretty easy. I get the Arborio rice from Trader Joe’s and prepare according to the package directions. You’ll have to keep a pot of heated broth on while you’re preparing. I used a bouillon cube to make the broth and then whatever was left over to prepare the brown rice for my chicken/chimicurri meal. I added onion and garlic at the bottom of the pot first. After adding the first laddle of broth I added the saffron to allow the color to diffuse throughout the cooking process. About half way through I added chopped tomatoes and then at the end added one quarter of the chicken, sausage and a handful of frozen shrimp. Simmer until the shrimp are thawed.

I had left over broth so I added a cup of brown rice to the pot and left it alone until it cooked through. I cut my zucchini by halving first length wise and then width wise and then into half inch pieces. I threw them in another fry pan with a bit of olive oil. I then prepared my chimichurri sauce. Chimichurri is one of my favorite sauces. It’s typically used on steak but I put it on chicken, burgers, corn on the cob. I like this recipe found on Epicurious.

Before mixing the chicken with the chimichurri, I held out a handful of chicken which I will use to make my pizza tonight. The rest of the chicken was mixed with the tangy green sauce and served with rice and zucchini.

This evening, I will be making my pizza. I found a recipe for a really easy alfredo sauce using cream cheese right here. I’ll top the pizza with frozen broccoli and chicken and bake off this evening and enjoy some leftovers tomorrow!

What are some ways that you stretch your budget until the end of the week?