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Frugal living tip #17. April 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for another frugal living tip here at Poor Richard’s Almanac! Today’s tip was inspired by a post over at Tomato Casual (www.tomatocasual.com) that mentioned a chocolate cake recipe that used green (as in unripe, not as in heirlooms like ‘Green Zebra’) tomatoes.

I’m a big believer in using what you have, and especially if using what you have means your ingredients are essentially free as opposed to costing big bucks at the store. Being a vegetarian, I’m an old hand at substitutions, converting recipes with meat into equally delicious vegetarian fare. But you certainly don’t have to be a vegetarian to put this money-saving practice to good use!

Suppose, like me, you home-can applesauce, or you have a jar or two of applesauce sitting around on a shelf. Rather than using oil in your zucchini or pumpkin bread recipes, or, say, in your spice or even chocolate cake, you can substitute your applesauce and save the oil for sauteeing. You’ll get a moist bread or cake and save calories as well as money. (I’ve heard of adding tomato sauce and even Coke to cakes as well, should you have some lying around. Green tomatoes seem like a natural by comparison, and it’s another way to use up produce that might otherwise go to waste.)

Here are some other examples of how substitutions can save you money without sacrificing flavor. As in the case of applesauce, they often are lower in calories and better for you, too:

 Try low-cal chips. Craving a dip but out of chips? Try crunchy Romaine lettuce leaves instead. If you grow your own, you’ll have “free” chips with almost no calories, yet you’ll still get a really satisfying crunch, plus the flavor hit of the dip. I’m a white-tortilla-chip addict, but I’ve found that I enjoy my Romaine “chips” just as much, and if I use a really crunchy lettuce, I can even make a taco salad without the taco and still feel satisfied.

* Go for the zuke. Use grated zucchini to thicken dishes that normally use beef. Unless it’s in zucchini bread, I generally hate zucchini, with its mealy texture and lack of flavor. But I’ve found that it makes a great thickener. I use zucchini to add a lot of body and thickness to meatless spaghetti sauce and chili; you could replace part of the ground beef in either with zucchini for a fraction of the cost (or nothing, if you’re growing it).

* Make your own cream cheese. If you make your own yogurt (or happen to have plain yogurt sitting around), it’s so easy to make your own yogurt cheese. For some reason, the sour tang that characterizes yogurt seems to drain away with the whey (give the whey to your cats, dog, or chickens, who will all love it, or use it instead of water in any recipe), and the result is a smooth, creamy cheese. I have a yogurt drainer for this purpose: I pour plain yogurt in the mesh top, the whey drains into the bottom of the container, and voila! I use the creamy yogurt cheese instead of cream cheese or sour cream in dips and dishes. No yogurt drainer? Pour the yogurt into a cheesecloth bag and let it drain, or into a mesh strainer suspended over a bowl.

* Make kitchen-sink soup. Soup is the most forgiving of foods. You can toss in pretty much anything you have on hand and, as long as you add some herbs and a little fat (either from meat or oil), it will probably be good. Soup is a great way to use up the last of the rice, pasta, ketchup, greens, green onions, chicken, you name it. You look in your crisper drawer and see one carrot, two wilted stalks of celery, a dozen mushrooms, an onion you can’t even remember buying? There are two new potatoes left in the bag, way too few to feed your family? Yow, there’s still a slice of breakfast bacon or some leftover roast beef? Is that some rice you put in a plastic container because you couldn’t stand to throw it out? Or how about that extra spoonful of tomato paste or pesto or whatever that was left after your last recipe, the end of the salad dressing or hot sauce or marinade or barbecue sauce bottle? The last spoonful of cheese in your shredded cheese bag? It’s just amazing how the dregs of practically anything can come together to make great soup. The key is this: long, slow cooking; some fat or oil, herbs and/or spices, and ingredients to give the soup body. Thin, watery, flavorless soup is pathetic. Rich, thick, flavorful “kitchen sink” soup is marvelous, and you can almost always make it with stuff you already have.

Or kitchen-sink pasta. Whoa, almost forgot to extol the delights of leftovers or dribs and drabs on pasta. Pasta is both adaptable and forgiving, accepting both leftovers and almost used-up ingredients with grace. Say you have a cup of lentil stew, beef stew, dal, or stir-fry (chicken,veggie, seafood, beef, or pork) sitting in the fridge. Cook some fettucine or thick spaghetti or whatever you have on hand, make a fresh tossed salad, heat the leftovers, toss them with the cooked pasta, add a little shredded or grated cheese (where appropriate), and you have an instant and instantly good meal. 

* Consider cottage cheese. Yogurt often gets star billing when it comes to substitutions, but price cottage cheese (especially store brand) versus ricotta and consider this: I’ve found cottage cheese to be a fantastic sub for ricotta in pasta casseroles and lasagna. Cottage cheese makes an inexpensive, healthy, satisfying lunch when combined with a leaf or two of Romaine lettuce and a few slices of tomato, too. Dried herbs already in your pantry, like basil and oregano, can perk up cottage cheese, and so can that old fallback salt and pepper.

Wow, I haven’t even scratched the substitution surface. If you have great frugal ideas, please share them with us! There really is so much you can do to substitute less expensive, more wholesome foods without blowing your budget or your cooking cred with your family.

         ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

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Comments»

1. Becca - April 27, 2009

all–yum! I’m not quite sure I get the green tomato sub in the cake. How does that work? As for coke in chocolate cake–I can vouch for that working. I worked at Cracker Barrel for several years and our Coca Cola cake was a supreme hit!

I have tried to do yogurt cheese before. I didn’t realize special strainers were made for making it. The cheese cloth thing didn’t work for me! I’ll find a mesh strainer and try it again. We’re always finding great deals on yogurt!

Hey Becca! I have to assume the green tomatoes add moisture and a little body to the cake. As for the yogurt cheese makers, I use a low-tech, inexpensive Donvier Wave Yogurt Strainer, and it works like a charm. I don’t even remember where I got mine, but I see that Amazon carries them, and you can buy a used one through Amazon for $12! Trust me, you’ll love it!!!

Becca - April 27, 2009

I just looked into that maker. That is on the wishlist as of now. I didn’t know yogurt cheese could be used in so many ways! Thanks for the tip.

I love mine, Becca, and it’s held up perfectly over lo these many years. Gotta get one!

2. Lzyjo - April 27, 2009

Interesting that you mentioned adding Coke to cake, reminds me of the famous 1 point weight watcher’s cupcake that calls for diet soda, I think they recommend 7-Up. Great tips for saving money, fake meat products can be pricey when they’re not on sale, I really like the idea of adding zucchini, I’ll have to mention it to DH when we start harvesting. I’m a big fan of kitchen sink meals. My grandma was one for making things taste delicious with the weirdest ingredients from the fridge!

That zucchini trick really works, lzyjo! And your grandma definitely had the right idea. I always think of roasted veggies in this respect—if you just have some potatoes, a few carrots, an onion, and maybe a beet or a handful of mushrooms, you can make the most delicious dish ever with just a little oil, butter, rosemary or oregano, and salt. I also think that stew, chili, and potato/egg salad must have gotten their starts as “kitchen sink” meals!

3. nancybond - April 27, 2009

These are all great ideas! I recently researched making my own tofu (just because…) and I like the idea of the yogurt cream cheese! I’ll try this. :)

Wow, Nancy, I’m impressed! I know it’s possible to make your own tofu, but have never dared to try (even though I have chickens who’d probably eat the leftover soybean mash). But homemade yogurt beats storebought hands-down and is ever-so-easy to make. (In fact, I think both my yogurt maker and starter culture are made in Canada!) And yogurt cheese is not only easy—drain and use—but I swear, and as you know I’m no pushover when it comes to taste, I really can’t taste a difference between yogurt cheese and cream cheese. Yum!!!

4. mornien - April 27, 2009

These sound really good! I want to try that yogurt cream now!

Thanks! You’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how rich and creamy it tastes!

5. shibaguyz - April 28, 2009

Great list of substitutions and alternate uses! Thanks for the tips!

Thanks, Guyz!!!


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