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by the author of The Ultimate Guide to Frugal Living and the online course Build a Better Pantry on a Budget
Last month, I was trying to pay off some bills, and I skipped my regular grocery trips. I have a pretty hefty pantry, so I wasn’t risking going hungry. But toward the end, I was left with some odd combinations. And it got me thinking.
Some of the concoctions I created from the odds and ends of my pantry were amazing – even better than my original recipes. Some others were not so great. But all in all, it was a great exercise in creativity. It was important to make meals that were tasty enough I wouldn’t be tempted to dial 1-800-BRING-PIZZA.
Oh – and before anyone comments, I do have extra food stashed away in my storage unit. The point of this exercise was to use things I had here in my apartment.
Here are some of the things I made.
Last night, I was making coleslaw, and I realized that I didn’t have two of my regular ingredients – granulated sugar and apple cider vinegar. I substituted balsamic vinegar and brown sugar and mixed that with mayo, salt, and pepper. I also shredded a radish from my little patio garden onto it and topped it with some fresh green onions. It was probably the best coleslaw I ever made.
I also used my balsamic vinegar to make a tasty dish with chicken breasts and canned peaches. I browned the chicken in some cooking oil on the stove top; then I mixed the syrup from a can of peaches with balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper. I poured that mixture over my chicken, added in the peaches, and baked it at 375 for45 minutes. At the end, I removed the chicken and peaches, then thickened up the sauce with some flour on the stove top until it was a nicer consistency. I served this over rice and added some green beans from the freezer. Delicious!
Stale crackers? I crushed them up, added some favorite seasonings, and made my own “shake and bake” pork chops.
I made some chilaquiles with tortillas that were no longer soft and pliable and used some leftover cooked ground chicken spiced up with Mexican seasonings to add protein.
The point isn’t to get “recipes” – the point is to use up everything, waste nothing, and use your creativity to make tasty meals with what you have on hand.
Substitutions to consider in your creative cooking
Here are some things I’ve found to be all but interchangeable over the years.
- Pasta <—> Rice <—> Potatoes – use whichever one you happen to have as a base for your favorite sauce or casserole. We often use rice for beef stroganoff and bolognese sauce and pasta under meat with gravy. Potatoes can be interchangeably delicious in a lot of recipes, too.
- Ground whatever <—> If your recipe calls for ground beef, you can use whatever ground meat you happen to have on hand. Just be sure to account for the differing amounts of fat for your recipe.
- Apple cider vinegar <—> There’s no need to be a vinegar purist. You can use almost any vinegar interchangeably.
- White sugar <—> You can use brown sugar or honey in many cases if you happen to be out of white sugar.
- Plain yogurt <—> Sour Cream (savory dishes only) – strain the yogurt to make it thicker.
- Applesauce <—- Eggs (in baked goods)
There are all sorts of substitutions that you can use – the key is to be creative and not try to adhere to the norm when you can probably use something else with great results.
Seasoning is everything!
When you’re concocting new things from your existing ingredients never forget the power of seasoning to turn a leftover into something totally new. Got some leftover meat? Make it…
- Mexican – add chili powder and cumin, top it with salsa or chopped tomatoes, and serve it in a tortilla.
- Italian – add basil, garlic, and oregano and drench it in tomato sauce.
- Indian – add curry powder, broth, and yogurt and serve it over rice or potatoes.
You get the idea, right? Flavoring things differently takes the boredom out of leftovers and allows you to create all-new combinations using inexpensive pantry staples like rice, tomato sauce, and pasta. Here are some more yummy ideas for leftovers.
Don’t be stuck in your ways.
Quite often, I think the refrain of “there’s nothing to eat” just means that you’re missing an ingredient or two for your normal recipes. (Obviously, this isn’t always the case – if you truly have no food and are unable to purchase any, I urge you to visit your local food bank and keep yourself and your family fed.)
Don’t hesitate to “color outside the lines” in the kitchen. You may come up with some tasty combinations that are better than your original meals!
What are some successful substitutions and recipe alterations you’ve made? Share some of your tastiest experiments in the comments.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites. 1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2) The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.
Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand Survival.com You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.