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Money Crashers

Nothing beats home cooking when you’re trying to save money, but some of the fun recipes have expensive ingredients. Others involve so many artery-clogging calories you might as well be eating at a fast-food restaurant. But there are plenty of ways to save money and eat healthy cooking at home. One key is simply making a few substitutions. Whether you’re trying a traditional recipe with lots of expensive and caloric ingredients (hello, cheddar cheese!) or making an elaborate dinner from the latest health food magazine, ingredient substitutions can be your friend. Here are six substitutions that will help you save bucks on your food budget or cut calories or fat. And note, none of them involve sacrificing taste.

Doctor Up Milk And It Becomes Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a prime ingredient in all sorts of luscious home-cooked meals. It figures in dishes like Southern fried chicken, chocolate cakes, pancakes and of course delicious salad dressing. It tends to be lower-fat than other creamy sauce ingredients, so buttermilk itself is pretty healthy. But if you need some and don’t have any on hand, it can be expensive to have to buy a pint or half-gallon when your recipe calls for less than a cup.

Get around the expenditure by concocting your own “buttermilk” from a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar mixed into a cup of ordinary milk. Let it rest for 15 minutes to develop the signature buttermilk twang. For a healthy vegan version, use the same strategy with soy milk.

Create Homemade Crumbs

Lots of food shows and smart cooks zest up the flavor of an ordinary vegetable or casseroles simply by adding a breadcrumb topping. It’s a nifty trick, especially if you toast the crumbs with a little butter or olive oil first. But, you don’t have to make an extra stop at the store or spend several dollars on storebought bread crumbs. It takes just a few seconds more to make your own and you’ll get the dual savings from using an ingredient you probably already have on hand: stale bread. Take a few slices and let them dry in the oven at 300F for 15 minutes. Then chop them in the food processor or crumble them between your fingers. If you make more than you can use, store them in an airtight jar in the fridge or freezer.

Other “crumbs” that are in the pantry just waiting to top macaroni and cheese or tilapia include crushed cheese crackers, butter crackers or even potato chips, which don’t need any oil to taste rich. To make the crumbs a super healthy option, try crushed flaxseed. Opt for rolled oats when you want to go gluten-free.

Use Fruit Purees To Stand In For Eggs

While eggs can be a healthy option and are a cornerstone of the ketogenic diet, you may be avoiding them to reduce cholesterol or eat vegan. To carry on with a typical baked good recipe, consider using fruit puree as a substitute for one of the eggs. You probably have a tablespoon of applesauce, which works well in recipes like quick breads or muffins. Or try a mashed banana in place of one of the eggs called for when you make brownies or other chewy bar treats.

Go Greek When You Need A Bit Of Mayo

Breaded foods and church potluck-style casserole recipes may call for mayonnaise, as do some of the best potato and pasta salads on the planet. But if that’s not an ingredient you have on hand or you don’t want to invest that many calories in your finished dish, look in the fridge for a healthy substitute.

A dollop of plain Greek yogurt may not be as creamy, but it will still taste great in almost any recipe that calls for a couple of tablespoons of mayo. In addition, it doesn’t contain eggs and does tend to have healthful active cultures, depending on the brand.

Work Around Recipes That Call For Wine

When you’re trying to cook gourmet fare so you won’t miss your favorite bistro or ethnic lunch spot, wine may show up on the ingredient list. Assuming you don’t have a pricey bottle already open in the fridge, there are simple workarounds. The recipe may already suggest substituting chicken stock for the wine and that’s a good idea. If you don’t have stock on hand, either, dissolve a vegetarian, chicken or shrimp bouillon cube in just a half cup of water for extra flavor and use that instead of the wine. If the dish calls for red wine, use beef broth or double-strength beef bouillon.

Fruit juice will also work, especially in dishes that have a clear sauce, like Coq Au Vin. Try apple juice in place of white wine or cherry or cranberry (or a mix) in place of red wine.

Get A Cheaper Chocolate Fix With Cocoa

Especially with free trade chocolate on even the most ordinary grocery store shelves (and the British Baking Show for inspiration), dessert recipes calling for baking chocolate are all the rage. The expense from the standard sort comes mostly from the fact that you rarely need even a fourth of it. The worthy fair trade varieties can cost a bit more. But either can be replaced with less expensive cocoa, which stays good for a very long time in the freezer and can also be used handily to flavor hot beverages or even oatmeal.

To use cocoa in place of baking chocolate (also known as bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate), replace each ounce called for with three tablespoons of cocoa powder and a tablespoon of oil. If you want the taste of butter in your baked goods, it’s fine to substitute that for the vegetable oil. Shortening works as well. Just make sure to dissolve the cocoa powder in whichever liquids you are already using in the recipe.