I’m super proud that Tatjana and Aaron both use their Personal Chef Approach memberships, but they are on a tight budget, so they’re always asking if they really need everything on the grocery list. I suspect there are a few of you out there who are in the same situation?

Aaron and Tatjana

Aaron and Tatjana

I’m all about layers of flavor, and the complexity that creates, so my recipes do tend to run long in ingredients. My apologies, I sometimes forget that I have a highly comprehensive pantry due to cooking professionally for so many years. Here are my tips for cutting a few corners while maintaining the integrity of your meals, and building a comprehensive pantry over time.

1). Use dried herbs vs. fresh herbs – Unless you are growing your own herbs, you’ll get much more “bang for your buck” out of dried herbs, because they last longer and go further. Look at it as an investment in your pantry – you will use them over and over again in the future. Even if you can’t use up the entire bottle by the “use by” date -they may loose a little of their potency, but you can still use the herbs. Tip: As a general rule of thumb, you should use 1 teaspoon dried for every tablespoon of fresh herbs your recipe calls for, but do taste and adjust as you see fit.

Dry vs. fresh herbs can help you save

Dry vs. fresh herbs can help you save

2). Omissions are okay – It can still be expensive to buy every herb or condiment when you’re just starting out, no one is going to chastise you if you don’t. Just budget for what you can get now, and make a mental note to purchase more later. Leaving one or two ingredients out of a recipe (as long as it’s not the main ingredients – i.e. you will need chicken and paprika to make Chicken Paprika) might make it slightly less complex, but the recipe will usually still work.

3). Substitutions – This will come more easily with practice, but learn to use what you already have on hand. Think about flavors and consistencies that are similar. For example, marjoram is very similar in flavor to oregano; or if you don’t happen to have any cornstarch on hand to thicken a sauce, try making a paste of water and flour instead. Sure, you may have the odd flop, but that’s also how great new recipes may evolve as well. Tip: Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Tatjana Rhodes - stocking a pantry on a budget

Tatjana Rhodes – stocking a pantry on a budget

4). Our Cyber Living Room – If you’re not sure, ask! One of the most important benefits of being a member is your access to the forum, because you’re never really alone in the kitchen. You have direct access to the chef (me) who wrote the recipes, and an entire community for support.

5). Make your own – Okay, so we all want to keep it simple and save as much time as possible, but a lot of ingredients can be made with what you have on hand already. For example, when I decide to make buttermilk pancakes, I usually don’t have any buttermilk on hand. Did you know you can add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar (an ingredient I keep on hand all the time to clean with) to 1 cup of milk, stir, and wait 30 minutes to make your own buttermilk? Tip: Advice like this again, is where the forum will come in handy for solutions.

Watch the video above to learn more about how the Personal Chef Approach works, and enjoy one of my favorite spice rubs below on steak, chicken, seafood, or tofu. Rub generously on any protein of choice (a great way to satisfy varying diets in one household with one recipe – just rub and grill all the different proteins at once).

Roasted Garlic & Chili Rub on Griilled Chicken

Roasted Garlic & Chili Rub

This versatile rub is an outstanding on any kind of beef, chicken, pork or shrimp. I sometimes find garlic already roasted at the store, which does save time, but it is very simple to do – just check out my note below. Any extra can be saved and used up to 5 days covered and refrigerated, but in my household it goes quickly. 

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes


Roasted Garlic & Chili Porterhouse Steaks

  • 1 whole head garlic roasted and squeezed out of its paper like exterior
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 pounds or 4 thick steak cut of choice


Roasted Garlic & Chili Rub Porterhouse Steaks

  1. Prepare a hot grill.
  2. Squeeze roasted garlic out of it’s skins into a small bowl. Add chili powder, brown sugar, oregano and salt. Slowly add the olive oil, mixing into a paste consistency. Rub mixture generously all over the steaks.
  3. Grill the steaks on the hot grill until cooked as desired, about 4-5 minutes per side for medium rare depending on thickness.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with chipotle cauliflower mash or mashed potatoes, Tex Mex zucchini hash, or simple grilled vegetables.

Heat To Eat

I like to rub my meat, poultry or seafood and store until I am ready to grill and eat; but you could also heat already cooked meats in the microwave on 50% power to heat without cooking further, for 3-5 minutes, turning midway to distribute heat evenly.


To roast the garlic: Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut a 4-inch square piece of foil and place on a sheet pan. Peel the papery outer layer of a head of garlic off, leaving the skins on. Cut 1/2-inch off of the top of the head of garlic. Place the larger piece of garlic on the square of foil on a sheet pan (save the rest for another use). Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the top coating well. Wrap the foil loosely around the head of garlic and roast in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the garlic is soft and squishy when you squeeze it. Store any excess garlic in an airtight container coating the garlic in olive oil for up to one week.

What building a pantry on a budget tips can you add to these?

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  • June 20, 2014
    8:35 pm

    Great info ..thnks!