Get Fed

You've crossed that stage. Meal points and co-op kitchens are no longer options. Here's how to fill your stomach without emptying your wallet.

Anna Vignet/Staff

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Starving is probably not the first thing on your mind post-graduation. Isn't that what your undergrad days were for when you ran out of meal points? But let's be realistic. You're probably going to be paying off your college debt while simultaneously avoiding living at your parents', so high dining may be off the table for a while. Fret not! There are still plenty of classy, cheap and tasty options to suit your palate and budget.

Knowing where to shop for which ingredients is key. Berkeley Bowl has cheap produce but expensive meats and seafood, Safeway is good for staples but lacks a robust produce section and Trader Joe's is great for small splurges on specialty foods. Second, you should never be without a few key ingredients: All-purpose flour, granulated sugar, butter and eggs are key components of muffins, cakes and cookies, all of which are excellent vehicles for aforementioned seasonal ingredients. But these are the bare minimum, and luck favors the prepared. On the baking side, we wouldn't be caught without a bottle of vanilla extract, a bag of chocolate chips, halved walnuts, baking soda and powder, vegetable oil, brown sugar, and brownie mix. For savory dishes, keep a few onions and cloves of garlic on hand at all times. You'll find that chicken (or vegetable) broth, canned tomatoes, canned beans, rosemary and shredded cheese all round out your last-minute dishes.

Many ingredients can be purchased more cheaply if purchased in bulk. Stash up on oatmeal ($0.99/lb) at the Berkeley Produce Center or visit Berkeley Bowl for cheap beans and lentils ($1.19/lb) and pasta that's far beyond Barilla-in-a-box quality ($1.29/lb), perfect for a meal of mac and cheese.

Don't hesitate to venture off the beaten track. Hit up some of the ethnic grocers on North Side to throw some spice in your life. From Milan International on University Avenue to Middle Eastern Grocer on San Pablo Avenue, you will find something that strikes your fancy.

Vegetarianism is a great way to save money. Certain hearty vegetables (think eggplant, portabello mushrooms or butternut squash) can provide a tasty and filling alternative to meat. Grains like quinoa and soy products like tofu can provide protein, and are completely undeserving of the bad rap they get as rabbit food for health nuts.

However, if vegetarian leaves you wondering, "Where's the beef?", Indus Food Center on San Pablo has lovely Halal cuts of lamb shank for $3.99/lb, and 99 Ranch has dirt-cheap deals on chicken. Don't disregard cheaper cuts of meat, either; chuck roast comes out perfectly tender when stewed for hours in a pot roast, and flavors soup to boot.

Fresh herbs are a mile above their dried counterparts in flavoring your cuisine (European basil and parsley for Italian, rosemary and thyme for French, cilantro and Thai basil for Southeast Asian). Freezing is your friend here also; it works especially well on parsley and green onions, but also on the other herbs, as long as you wash them and pat them thoroughly dry first to avoid the formation of ice crystals, which can make them soggy.

The most important thing is to find joy in making food for yourself and throw together unexpected elements that you individually take delight in. Treat it like an adventurous experiment rather than a necessity.


Chocolate Chip

Banana Pancakes

Serve these sunny pancakes to overnight guests and they'll be smiling all day.

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder and a dash of salt. In a smaller bowl, beat 1 egg and add 1 cup milk, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, and 2-4 mashed ripe bananas. Combine all ingredients (pro tip: add the wet mixture to the dry mixture rather than the other way around to avoid lumpy batter) and ladle into a frying pan, prepared with melted butter, on medium high heat. While batter is still uncooked, sprinkle chocolate chips, in a smiley face pattern, if desired. The pancakes are ready to flip when bubbles form in the batter and pop, but are not immediately filled in with more batter. Flip and cook the other side until golden brown; serve smiley side up.

Bonus points: Experiment with other ingredients, like toasted walnuts or fresh blueberries.


Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Make classic grilled cheese sandwiches a little more exciting by adding roasted vegetables in this healthy and filling variation.

Grill sliced onions, red bell pepper, eggplant, mushrooms and/or firm tofu in a large pan on medium heat. Set aside; melt more butter and add two slices of whole wheat sandwich bread; toast until one side is golden brown, then flip over and add sliced or shredded mozarella cheese on the toasted side. Add hot grilled vegetables and put the sandwich together, toasted sides touching. Toast the remaining sides, adding more butter as necessary, until cheese is melted and bread is golden brown.

Bonus points: Try other complementary combinations of bread and cheese, such as white bread and cheddar, or pepper jack and dark rye.


Trail Mix

Trail mix fuels your mind and body and is a perfect pick-me-up between classes. Build your own blend of sweet, salty and crunchy from the suggestions below. Make it ahead of time and package it into baggies for an on-the-go snack.

Sweet: Raisins, dried cranberries, dried apple slices, dried apricots, dried mango, chocolate chips, M&Ms

Salty: Pretzels, rice sticks

Crunchy: Peanuts, cashews, almonds, macadamia nuts, banana chips

Bonus points: Opt for a spicy blend with nuts, wasabi peas, and cayenne pepper rice sticks.


Pot Roast

Chuck roast is one of the least expensive cuts of meat you'll find; if cooked improperly, it can be tough and dry, but when allowed to simmer with vegetables and broth over an afternoon, it practically falls apart as part of this hearty pot roast.

In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat and sautee 1 diced large yellow onion and 4-6 cloves minced garlic. Set aside.

Clean 1-2 pounds of chuck roast. Bring pot to high heat, add more oil, and sear roast, about 1 minute on each side, to seal in juices. Immediately add 1 quart beef or vegetable broth and reduce to a simmer. Add onions and garlic, 4-5 carrots, cut into 0.5-inch half-circles and 5-6 medium red potatoes, diced into 0.75-inch cubes. Cover and simmer, on low heat, for three to four hours, stirring occasionally, until vegetables and roast are fully cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste. Accompany with slices of freshly toasted bread, like sourdough or rustic loaf.

Bonus points: Try adding splash of red wine for depth or a few sprigs of thyme for flavor.

Tags: GRAD ISSUE 2010

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