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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Provident Gourmet - Frugalizing Your Recipes

Bauern Brot

Originally uploaded by nodigio

This may take some experimentation on your part, but the end results will be better than you expect. In many cases, your frugalized recipe will be pretty and tasty, and often indistinguishable in taste and presentation from the original.

The first thing you need to do in this process is collect your favorite recipes as well as the recipes you’d like to try that have expensive ingredients you can’t find or afford. Write them in a spiral bound notebook or type them into the computer so you have room to write your substitutions and notes.

Next, make a list of the expensive ingredients in your recipe collection: saffron, asparagus, truffles, arrowroot, unsweetened baking chocolate, leeks…

Now, figure out less expensive substitutions for them. For example, turmeric makes a good substitute for saffron and the taste and presentation are almost indistinguishable between them. You can replace unsweetened baking chocolate with cocoa powder and cooking oil or butter. Scallions (also known as spring onions) and regular yellow onions can replace leeks. Cornstarch replaces arrowroot handily. Green beans can be used in place of asparagus; it changes the flavor but leaves the presentation and texture pretty much intact. Truffles are a type of mushroom, so experiment around to find a mushroom that will give you the earthy sweet flavor of truffles – morels are, to my taste, a good substitute, but you may prefer an oyster mushroom or even the common button mushroom.

Write your preferred substitutions in your list.

You can also use less of the expensive ingredient. For example, truffle oil will often give you the flavor of truffles for far less than buying actual truffles. Also, using half a cup of chocolate chips in a cookie recipe won’t affect the flavor any, but will make the cookie healthier and less expensive. Jarred roasted red peppers are just as tasty as freshly roasted red peppers and both faster and less expensive. Canned tomatoes make a good substitute for fresh when tomato season is over. Consider halving or even quartering the amount of meat in a recipe or replacing the meat with stock – we don’t need to eat so much meat anyway. Cut back on sugar and other sweeteners, and substitute unsweetened fruit juices instead where possible. Fruit juices add depth to the dish as well as sweetness and often has fewer calories.

Also, consider making your own stocks, broths, pie crusts, and sauces. These are easy to make from inexpensive ingredients and they can often be canned or frozen to use later. Stock is made with a deboned poultry carcass, chicken feet, or pork neck bones, or beef marrow bones, or other bony parts and is simmered for about 6 hours. Broth is made with meatier parts and even with whole chickens and vegetables like the ends of carrots, celery tops, onions, and herbs, then simmered for about 3 hours. Pie crusts cost about a dime to make yourself compared to $2.00 to buy frozen. A lot of sauces can be made and canned or frozen to use later – pesto sauce made when basil is growing, then frozen, is cheap compared to buying prepared pesto, for example. Consider what you can make yourself when you are making substitutions for expensive ingredients. Sometimes, homemade is both tastier and cheaper.

Now, prepare a recipe using your substitutions list. Note what happened – was it too dry, too moist, did it fall apart, was the flavor not quite right? Was the texture off? Make any adjustments, and try again. Often, the method you use to cook the dish has almost as great an effect on the final outcome as the ingredients themselves. Consider toasting your spices before adding them to your recipe – toasting spices brings out greater depths to the flavor. Let your bread doughs rise longer.

Have family and friends sample your experiments. When you create a frugal and tasty substitution, write it down and keep it. You can make a file of recipes on the computer, or write them on recipes cards, or keep the recipes in a spiral bound notebook, or however you prefer to keep your recipes.

Review them from time to time to see if you’ve developed new and better frugal substitutions. The goal is to continue to eat delicious foods on a decidedly shoestring budget.


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