Cooking at home: Cheap substitutes for expensive ingredients

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Just because you’re cooking a fancy dinner with fancy recipes doesn’t mean you’re stuck with fancy ingredients. If you want to cut costs at your next dinner party, here are a few possible substitutions. You can use the money you save to buy better friends to eat with, like maybe someone in a turtleneck or who travels exclusively by sailboat.

Herbs and Spices

You buy an expensive jar of spices for a single recipe, and then for the next two years you stare at it angrily every time you open the spice drawer, wondering, “What the heck am I going to do with a half cup of mace?” Much like the Atlanta airport, we’ve all been there, and it isn’t pretty.

    1 teaspoon Allspice = ½ teaspoon Cinnamon + ½ teaspoon Cloves

    ¼ teaspoon Saffron = ¼ teaspoon Tumeric

    1 teaspoon Mace = 1 teaspoon Nutmeg

    1 teaspoon Star Anise = 1 teaspoon Ground Fennel


    1 tablespoon Fresh Herbs = 1 teaspoon Dried Herbs

Read more: Kroger recalls 4 seasonings in 30 states due to Salmonella risk

Baking Ingredients

It’s 4:00 AM and you’ve got a hankering for cake, either because you’re having a really fun night, or a really sad night. You’ve got the butter, the sugar, and the all-purpose flour. But what the heck is cream of tartar? Is it a character from Game of Thrones?

    1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar = 2 teaspoons Lemon Juice or Vinegar

    1 cup Treacle = 1 cup Light or Dark Brown Sugar

    3 tablespoons Cocoa Powder = 1 ounce Unsweetened Chocolate + 1/8 teaspoon Baking Soda

    1 cup Cake Flour = 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of All-Purpose Flour


    1 cup Powdered Sugar = 1 cup Granulated Sugar + 1 tablespoon Cornstarch (pulse in blender)

    1 cup Molasses = ¾ cup of Brown Sugar + 1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar

Read more: 5 cheap options for buying organic 


Dairy is a cruel mistress. First they charge you an arm and a leg for products that squirt out of a cow’s belly. Then you take a swig of buttermilk as a child, foolishly believing it will taste like buttery milk. Then your father makes you do push-ups in the basement slathered in sour cream as punishment for failing history class. No? Just me?

    1 cup Buttermilk = 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice or Vinegar + 1 cup (minus 1 tablespoon) of Milk (allow to sit for 5 minutes)

    1 cup Crème Fraiche = 1 cup Heavy Cream + 1 tablespoon Plain Yogurt (let stand 4-6 hours)

    8 ounces Mascarpone Cheese = 8 ounces Cream Cheese


    1 cup Parmesan Cheese = 1 cup Asiago Cheese or Romano Cheese

    1 cup Heavy Cream = 1 cup Evaporated Milk, OR ¾ cup Milk + 1/3 cup Butter

    1 cup Half and Half = 7/8 cup Milk + 2 tablespoons Butter, OR ½ cup Light Cream + ½ cup Milk

    1 cup Sour Cream = 1 cup Plain Yogurt, OR 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar + 1 cup (minus 1 tablespoon) Heavy Cream

Read more: Popular brand of almond milk contains almost no almonds

Cooking Alcohol

It’s already a given that your guests are going to show up with a five dollar bottle of wine from Rite Aid. “2015? I hear that was a stellar vintage for grapes harvested in the City of Industry.” If they’re cutting costs on the alcohol for drinking, why can’t you cut costs on the alcohol for cooking?

    1 tablespoon Sake = 1 tablespoon Rice Vinegar


    1 cup Beer = 1 cup Broth

    1 teaspoon Bourbon = 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

    1 cup Red Wine = 1 cup Grape Juice or Cranberry Juice

    1 cup White Wine = 1 cup Apple Juice or White Grape Juice


It’s time to put those crusty bottles of sauces and syrups and general goops to good use. It’s never a perfect fit, but you can replicate salty, sweet, sour, savory, or bitter effects with various concoctions. Or you can just mix them all together in a giant cauldron with a newt’s eye and put a curse on your neighbor.

    1 teaspoon Fish Sauce = 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce or Light Soy Sauce

    1 teaspoon Hot Sauce = ¾ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper + 1 teaspoon Vinegar


    ½ cup Soy Sauce = ¼ cup Worcestershire Sauce + 1 tablespoon Water

    1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar = 1 tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar + 1 teaspoon Honey

    1 cup Maple Syrup = 1 cup Honey, OR ¾ cup Corn Syrup + ¼ cup Butter

Read more: How to make your own gluten-free flour at home

Real Foods

While there are obvious differences between various nuts, meats, onions, greens, etc, as long as they’re not the central ingredient you can often swap them out. Not many people know, for example, that brussels sprouts are just dehydrated hedgehogs.

    1 cup Shallots = 1 cup Onion or Leek or Green Onion

    1 teaspoon Chives = 1 teaspoon Green Onion tops


    2 tablespoons Pimento = 3 tablespoons Red Bell Pepper

    1 oz Guanciale = 1 oz Bacon or Pancetta

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