Saving time and money in the kitchen is a common goal among cooks. Preventing recipe stress is the reason most cooks reject a recipe in the first place. Expensive ingredients, items only found in large containers you would only use once, and not knowing what or how to substitute for unusual items keeps many recipes out of the family’s menus.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Using these ten recipe shortcuts, you can take any recipe and cook anything. Buffets, family reunions, parties, and regular dinners can be gourmet experiences instead of the same casseroles, soups and stews.
1.Create a substitution list
Create a list of ingredient substitutions for your kitchen ahead of time. Use a 3-by-5 index card file, a notebook or other means of keeping your list handy and organized. If more than one substitution is listed, keep them both. Chances are you have ingredients for at least one at hand.
2. Inventory your supplies
Go through your refrigerator, spice cabinet, freezer and pantry. Write everything down. Now go to your recipe and use what you have first. I have purchased ingredients many times, only to find later that I had what I needed all along. I would have saved money, time and travel had I taken inventory first.
3. Use Glassware for baking
Every recipe will give instructions for the size and shape of baking dish. Using the same size of glass baking dish will allow you to turn the oven down 25 degrees. This saves money by using less electricity. The glass absorbs heat better, and in most cases, helps to reduce the cooking time as well.
4. Prepare your own mixes
Over the years, I have saved hundreds if not thousands of dollars by avoiding pre-mixed foods and spice mixes. Instead, I learned to make my own soup seasonings, taco seasonings and baking mixes. I keep them in sealed jars or vacuum bags.
For example, I made pancakes from my own mix this weekend. The week before, I mixed all the dry ingredients together, including milk powder and kept it in a quart-sized zip-lock bag. On the bag was a label stating all the liquid the recipe needed.
The same works for cakes, cookies, hot cocoa and more. Place them in decorative jars with pretty ribbons. Write the liquid ingredients on a card and give as a gift.
This time-saver is a must for last minute holiday guests in my house.
5. Use less expensive meat
Instead of buying the most expensive cuts of meat, substitute less expensive cuts. In casseroles, soups and stews, no one really notices. Allow four ounces of meat for each serving in the dish. If the budget is tight, reduce the serving size to three ounces and add a cup of beans (your choice of variety) to the dish. Really, no one notices and everyone gets a healthy serving of protein and fiber.
6. Plan for future dishes when cooking for one or two.
If cooking for one or two, and the recipe makes four or more servings, there’s no need to take an instant math quiz to readjust the recipe or throw anything away. Make the full recipe and set aside portions for freezing.
This works for vegetables, potatoes and breads as well. Combine main dishes, vegetables and more for work or school lunches, or for those nights you don’t want to cook.
7. Look for recpies that fit your budget.
During different times, my wallet has been fat, skinny and flat. I learned quickly how to search for recipes using a minimum of ingredients.
For example, when the price of eggs rose in San Antonio, my budget didn’t. I looked for “one-egg” recipes such as cornbread, pancakes, and more. I found several on the internet, wrote down a few, tweaked one or two to my liking, and now they have become part of my recipe notebook. No need to buy additional books, and I didn’t go through my carton of eggs too quickly, either. The healthy thing is, you’re supposed to limit your intake of eggs anyway, and this helps.
8. “One Pot ” Meals
During the early 1970’s, a big change came to kitchens with “one pot” meals. Nearly everything on the food chart was in the casserole, soup or stew. Just add a serving of fruit, a piece of bread and a glass of milk (if the casserole wasn’t topped with cheese) and you were good to go.
Most of these recipes called for ground meat, still an inexpensive ingredient today. Recipes abound for these time and money saving ideas. They’re worth looking into.
9. Plan a menu for the week, then go shopping.
Once you plan a week’s menu, look at your inventory. Your grocery list will practically write itself with those ingredients you actually need. Impulse buying is curbed, and you don’t wind up buying something on sale that you might not use unless you find a recipe for it.
The recipes you choose will not only keep you within your budget, but your family’s tastes as well.
10. Study different recipes and make your own.
I wanted to make a lobster bisque, but the thought of dropping a live creature into a boiling pot of water makes me ill. I looked at the seasonings, and noticed they had a few things in common with some of my fish soup and chowder recipes. When I listed a few common ingredients, I came up with a bisque that uses haddock. Haddock is far less expensive in my local grocery store than lobster. I have also used catfish, shark (on sale) and other fish. Just tweak the recipe as you go along.
These ten tips will help save time and money when you cook and at the grocery store. Recipe stress won’t bother you any more, because you control the recipes, not the other way around. People will be asking for your recipes soon.
Source: Deborah Taylor-Hough, “Emergency Kitchen Substitutions,” Pioneer Thinking website, 2003, no specific date given