There are two ways to experiment in the kitchen: try an extravagant new dish, or find new ways to use up the stuff you already have. For the last month, I’ve been trying to use up the frozen meat and various stuff we have in the fridge. I came really close to using all the meat before we move this weekend, but I guess we’ll have that last piece for dinner Sunday night in the new house. Nevertheless, using up my fridge contents has forced me to get more creative with my menus, and I’m finally learning how much money I can save by experimenting in the kitchen.

Substitute Cheeses
I’ve made two recipes in the last week that called for Parmesan cheese. Just one problem – I forgot to buy Parmesan. The first time, I tried substituting some Pecorino Romano I found in the back of my fridge. It worked perfectly. So this week, I did it intentionally. Rather than Chicken Parmesan, we had Chicken Pecorino. Neither of us noticed a major difference. Of course, once you’ve breaded something, smothered it in sauce, and added more cheese to the top, who’s going to complain?

Any Veggie Will Do
This one I actually discovered a few years ago. If I was making a stir-fry and didn’t have the right veggies, so I tossed in a different vegetable I had in the fridge. It tasted just as good. As long as it has the same crunch and roughly the same level of sweetness as the required vegetable, you shouldn’t throw the dish too far off balance. For example, this week I have fried rice on the menu, but I forgot to buy snow peas. That’s just as well because snow peas require additional prep and steaming. Instead, I’ll use up the frozen shelled peas.

Egg=Milk=Butter
This isn’t necessarily always true – you wouldn’t want to serve someone scrambled butter for breakfast, but it is true if you’re trying to use it as a binder. Usually, breading requires first dipping the item in flour, then in milk, egg, or butter, and then in the breading. If you’re out of eggs, try milk. Out of milk, try butter. Yes, you’ll change the fat content slightly, but not so much that you can’t work it off quickly. It shouldn’t drastically alter the flavor profile.

Leftover Bread=Breadcrumbs
Because I’m gluten-free, I have to bake my own bread (assuming I want edible bread that doesn’t cost $7 a loaf.) Unfortunately, baking gluten-free bread is expensive and time-consuming. I try not to let any of it go to waste. If I have heels leftover or a slice that’s falling apart or about to mold, I leave it on the counter to go stale. Then I pop it in the oven at 200 degrees to dry out the rest of the way. Once it’s dry, grind it into fine crumbs in a blender or food processor. Store it in the freezer in a big bag and pull it out as needed. It needs just a few minutes to come to room temperature before you add seasonings or spices. Need Panko breadcrumbs? Toast your breadcrumbs at 350 until lightly browned. Now you never have to buy a can of breadcrumbs again.

All Chicken Breasts All the Time
I have a few recipes that call for chicken thighs, but I buy chicken breasts by the bag, so chicken thighs would be yet another bag I had to buy. Instead, I use chicken breasts for just about every recipe. Yes, it tastes slightly different, but it saves me time and money.

These are just some of the tricks I’m leaning as I’m forced to experiment with my recipes. Do you have any simple, affordable kitchen substitutions to share?

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