Milk, butter, eggs, flour, sugar, nuts, beans, oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, herbs, spices, yeast, grains, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, honey, molasses, coffee, tea, potatoes, lemon juice, onions, apples...
Meats, fish, poultry, fresh seasonal produce...
Not a big list, right? But with that list you can feed yourself and your family forever. These are the basics everything else in the grocery store is made from.
Like Suddenly Salad from Betty Crocker.
Don't get me wrong. I love the stuff. But did you know it's basically spiral pasta dosed up with salad dressing? Chop some ham into your own freshly made noodles (thinly rolled out dough made from flour, water and salt, then cut into strips and boiled a few minutes), steam some frozen peas, and toss both with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some dried basil - Voila! A wonderful meal. And no preservatives.
How long does that take?
Dough takes a little practice, but once you have it, it only takes a few minutes and it's virtually free, especially if you pick up the flour near the Baking Holidays (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah). I know people who make their own fresh pasta all the time. They don't even think about it.
No, I'm not one of them, but I'd like to be. I settle for the dried whole-wheat pasta I pick up for free or near free with coupons. Point is, if I didn't have the coupons, I'd have the means to make the meal so long as I had some whole wheat flour and the other ingredients listed above.
Cooking is easy. It just requires DOING. Forget recipes with 15 ingredients and 16 steps. Life is short, dinner is daily. Stock the basics, get a cookbook filled with simple recipes and GO MAKE IT.
P.S. If you're desperate to get something, anything on the table, so desperate you don't even care about the preservatives, you can often get the Suddenly Salad for free with coupons, also. In fact, this week (until tomorrow, anyway) you can get it for about 30c. You still have to add your own oil and it's only about half the pasta in a the free box of pasta you can get with coupons, but it's still cheap and tastes good and certainly beats a big mac with fries.
If you want to know about the 'free or almost-free with coupons' thing, sign up for CouponSense and tell 'em Mindy Likes to Coupon sent you. It's only 4 bucks for the first month. Don't worry, you'll get back the investment many times over.