Monday, November 2, 2015

15 pantry stables that every college student needs to eat like a restaurateur

15 pantry stables that every college students needs to eat

When I started cooking back in college, two problems quickly confronted me. First, some comfort foods are comfortable only when I am eating. Cooking them takes time, and sometimes, it just so happens that the only two things I don’t have are time and money. Second, I gradually grew aversion towards eating the same dishes over and over again, that I started binge eating out again. Over years, I gathered these 15 pantry stables that allow me to not only take short cuts, but also to feel like I am dining at my favorite restaurants everyday. Also, what are your favorite condiments? Comment and let me know.

Garlic- infused olive oil
If you are obsessed with garlic like me, you will be so glad that someone went through the trouble of peeling, chopping and infusing the garlic into olive oil. Chopping up garlic is not hard, but it is definitely a thing to do to have fun. Invest about $4 on garlic-infused olive oil from Trader’s Joes. You will get right to what matters the most after your annoying group project, i.e. eating.

My favorite recipe – 100g of cooked pasta, 1 tbsp. of garlic-infused olive oil, salt, pepper, and mushroom powder. Garnish with fried onion strips and scallions. No bullsh*t. Pure Heaven.

Soy Sauce
One of my friends told me that if the best sauce is hunger, the second best sauce is definitely soy sauce. It adds incredible savoriness to any sauces or soups, and unparalleled “Asianess” to dishes. With a bottle of soy sauce, the possibilities are endless – think of fried rice, braised meat and a quick ramen broth.

Fish Sauce
I think it is quite sad that fish sauce is underappreciated outside of Southeast Asian cuisines. It magically adds sour-saltiness to a dish and will make you feel like you are dining at your favorite local Thai restaurant. Yes, it is a must if you want to widen your cooking repertoire to include Southeast Asian cooking, but I challenge you to try adding several dashes of fish sauce in your pasta or baked chicken next time. You will suddenly realize that the dish tastes better, but you cannot really pinpoint what it is. That’s what I call magic.

Sesame oil
Whenever I want a quick healthy side dish, I stir fry my vegetables with garlic-infused olive oil, and drizzle with a touch of sesame oil at the end. The simple stir-fry dish always makes me feel like I am sitting at a luxurious Chinese wedding banquet.

Turmeric is one of those mysterious spices with a strong almost medicinal note. Intimidating when raw, but it gets pleasurably mellow down once cooked, and adds characteristic flavor, smell and golden hue of a good curry. Wanna learn some magic? Turn regular white rice into golden grains with turmeric, with this recipe.

Smoked Paprika
Smoked paprika is the best friend of a lazy cook, with an insatiable obsession for smoky flavor. Let the dark red powder rainfall on anything (whether meat or vegetables) to be roasted, and you will be surprisingly rewarded for your lazy short cut with a smokehouse aroma. For paprika-tinted roasted cauliflower, click here.
Finally, smoked paprika, combined with turmeric, makes up the basis of Burmese curries. SautĂ© 1 large onions (diced) in ¼ cup of garlic-infused olive oil, add 1 teaspoon each of turmeric and paprika, and add a pound of boneless chicken thigh and water to cover, cook until you see the oil floating. You get yourself a very satisfying Burmese curry.

Red chili flakes
Unexpected danger makes life more interesting. You can easily add a layer of flavor by adding a pinch of red chili flakes to anything and everything.

The third arsenal of spices I own to make killer curries, Chinese food and tacos is cumin. It adds a uniquely warm spiciness to any meat dish. Getting your hands on cumin will greatly expand what you can cook in your kitchen.

Bay leaf
Whether a quick stew or a long braise, bay leaves add another layer of earthy and homey flavor that reminds you of slow and slow home cooking. I honestly think that it is a great investment for INFPs with a strong penchant for solitary, long, low-stress cooking processes, such as braising and simmering.

Balsamic vinegar
I believe that balsamic vinegar is a very versatile ingredient. Use it as it is in salad dressing and dessert. Reduce it to make a French-bistro style sauce for any grilled meat.

Chicken concentrate flavor packages
I can never resist the temptation of a good soup or noodle bowl. But, making your own stock takes a decade (well, not really, but it takes long), and I am not a big fan of bullion cubes or pre-made stock cans. But, these chicken concentrate flavor packages (from Trader’s Joe) are my lifesavers whenever I crave a warm hug from a noodle soup.
My favorite repertoire is to heat up garlic-infused olive oil, add one bay leaf to toast up a bit, add 2 cups of water and 2 cups of water and 2 packages of chicken concentrate. Simmer for 10 minutes. Give a good grind of black pepper and I got myself the best chicken stock I can possibly get in 10 minutes.

Whole-grain mustard
Nobody wants to be basic. Whole-grain mustard is the key to elevate any “basic” sauce to the restaurant-style, that pairs well with almost any type of meat. In the pan where the steak was just cooked, pour in a splash of leftover red wine, a sprinkle of flour, a dollop of whole-grain mustard and butter. Whisk until the mixture comes smooth, and you get yourself the best steak sauce ever.  A1 can retire. Finally, whole-grain mustard, being an emulsifier, is a must-have ingredient for homemade salad dressings that will make you feel like you are in a hipster salad place. Combine ¼ cup of garlic-flavored olive oil, 1 tbsp. of balsamic vinegar and 2 tsps of whole-grain mustard for a multi-purpose sauce that loves salads as much as it adores a perfectly grilled salmon.

Anchovy fillets
When I want to make something exotic to shake-off my ever-constant routine, I rely on anchovy fillets. These salty and pungent nuggets are the basis of the best vegetable dip  (recipe here) and pasta sauce I have ever tried (recipe here).

Whipping Cream
Whenever I have a sudden craving for indulgence, I can count on whipping cream to create something fast yet satisfying. I whip the cream until it stiffens into soft cloud-like structure. Pile it on top of strawberries, macerated with a touch of sugar and balsamic vinegar, and I got myself the best desert a student on a budget can ever hope for. Finally, with the aid of some flavored alcohol, you can easily turn whipping cream into non-churn no-fuss ice cream (Recipe here).

Honey is a lot more than a sweetener for tea. It is also an essential component of a great salad dressing, BBQ, pancakes and finishing touches to your roasted vegetables. My personal favorite is bacon-honey roasted Brussels sprouts. Halved Brussels sprouts are roasted with paprika and bacon fat for about 35-40 min at 425 degree. Salt, and drizzle with honey afterwards.


  1. Love your list and agree with it! The only thing I don't have in my pantry/fridge is the chicken concentrate packets - I do prefer to waste a decade on making a chicken stock:)

    And I am trying your Burmese curry tonight as I just defrosted a package of chicken thighs.

    1. Haha yes like Ina Garten would say, home-made is definitely superior (and Jeffery’s gonna love this).
      For the Burmese curry, you can use this recipe : , but instead of using pork, use the chicken. Let me know how it turns out :D

  2. Great list. I totally agree with fish sauce. Some dishes are just not complete without it.

    1. I am glad you really appreciate the fish sauce in my collection :D

  3. In college, I made Ramen noodles and spaghetti. No restaurant cooking over here! LOL This is an awesome list for a student who loves to cook.

    1. Thank you LaKisha. Yea, I have my fair share of ramen noodles and prego every now and then. They are so good hahaha

  4. Replies
    1. Haha right? Fish sauce is so underrated outside of the Southeast Asia cooking.

  5. Such a beautiful list. Adding flavors takes the same old things to a whole new level and can be different each time!

    1. Thank you Brittney for checking this post out. Yes, it is amazing what a handful of spices can do to ordinary ingredients.

  6. Your list is interesting but your comments about each one is even better. You write beautifully! Very entertaining! I'm a big fan of garlic myself. Garlic and parmesan.

    1. Thank you Anna, I really appreciate you took time to read it :D And, YES! Garlic and Parmesan together make even my spoon tastes good.

  7. I would also add shallots to this list! They're frequently used in restaurant cooking, but not a lot by home cooks!

    1. So true, shallots are so much superior to onions. Especially when you are cooking something delicate like fish, they are really good at playing a supporting role, in contrast to their narcissistic counterparts, onions.

  8. Nice blog showcasing the essence of Burma ....what is your favourite soy sauce ? . Do you have a brand you can suggest?