People complain because they are poor and can't afford food that tastes good at home.
I resent this!
Here's how you do it:
1. Toasted Sesame Oil: for about three dollars you will buy a bottle of "why everything Korean/Chinese tastes so good". Put it on everything, mix it into a simple bowl of rice (and add a few of some things later on this list), and you're golden. This is the stuff of heaven. A little goes a very long way.
2. Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce: Go to the Goya section of your supermarket. You'll find these here. They are in little cans and cost you about a dollar. In one can lies about 4-5 chipotle (smoked jalapeno) peppers in a thick spicy sauce. Scrape away the seeds and one of these babies + a spoonful of sauce can jazz up anything.
3. Dried Red Pepper Flakes. They'll last forever and just a pinch-full will make pasta and rice and anything suddenly better.
4. Garlic salt. Don't knock it 'til you try it. On that note: create your own seasoning salt. You won't regret it.
5. Seasoned Rice Vinegar. A bottle of this stuff will allow you to make bowls of sushi rice at home, which is a staple for me, not to mention ccountless dressings. A little sesame oil and red pepper flakes and an egg on top and you're gold.
6. Fresh Flat-Leaf Italian Parsley: If you keep it from bruising, a bunch of this will last a long time, and some chopped leaves as a finishing touch will consistently make anything you cook better. Promise.
7. One block of good European-style butter. It might seem pricier, but it WILL be worth it. Make it last: just stir a little chunk into your food. Quality of life will suddenly increase ten-fold. And it won't go bad.
8. Canned tomatoes/tomato paste. Buy the cheap store brand and you have homemade pasta sauce, braising liquid, spanish rice base, etc at your disposal.
9. Decent Olive Oil. Try Whole Foods over Trader Joe's. The difference in color is remarkable. Just a drizzle over pasta and soup works wonders. Whole Foods 365 brand has a beautiful green hue and a huge bottle is $7.00.
10. Eggs. Keep good eggs around and you have the basis for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. A poached egg on top of anything basically is just awesome.
On the same thought track, Whole Foods now has a bulk section (read: cheap) for dried rice, beans, fruit, cereal, nuts, etc, and the 4th St. Co-op always did, so no more excuses, k?! Also, Raffetto's on Houston sells hand-cut fresh pasta for 2.50/LB.