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I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Instants

Frugal Kitchens 101

In general convenience foods are more expensive than homemade versions. They tend to be high in salt, sugar, artificial colourants/flavours and preservatives as well. That being said there are a few of the instants that I consider frugal additions in my pantry. Most of these instants fall into the category of emergency preparedness food items in the pantry as well. While all can be used for their intended purpose, they usually used as an ingredient in other dishes. All of these ingredients are relatively inexpensive must haves in the pantry.

  • instant potatoes - Instant potatoes are an ideal thickener for soups and stews. In a pinch they substitute nicely for fresh mashed potatoes. They also are a good nutritious food for someone recovering from an illness. Buy a good quality instant potato. I prefer the instant potatoes that are powered rather than flaked but either will work. Protect from insects and humidity by stored in vacuum sealed mason jars.

  • instant coffee - I wouldn't say instant coffee is as good as fresh brewed coffee but it will give you that morning caffeine boost. Instant coffee is often used as an ingredient for both flavour and colour. When using instant coffee as an ingredient you can use regular or decaffeinated. Stir a tbsp into the milk when making chocolate pudding to give you a mocha flavoured pudding. It is one of the ingredients in dark rye, some multi-grain and pumpernickel breads. Use instant coffee to boost the flavour of any chocolate batter (eg. cake, brownies). Add to bean soups, stews and chili to give both depth and colour.

  • instant pudding/pie filling - Cooked puddings can be from scratch however instant pudding mix can be used as an ingredient in batters (eg. cake). The prepared pudding can also be used as an ingredient for quick to make summer desserts. The most common instant pie filling is lemon which basically is an instant form of lemon curd. Again this can be used as an ingredient.

  • instant milk - At one time instant milk was always recommended as a way to save on milk costs. In recent years instant milk has fallen out of favour even with the frugalistas as a milk substitute or milk stretchers mainly because in most cases instant milk is no longer less expensive than fresh. Still instant milk is often used in baking. It is one of the secrets to getting a soft crust on home baked breads. Adding instant milk to the fresh milk when making yogurt will give a firmer, thicker yogurt without dramatically increasing the fat content.
  • jello/gelatin - Jello and gelatin are pantry staples not only because they can be used to make inexpensive dishes and deserts but because they are a great way to get extra fluids into someone recovering from an illness. Keep several boxes on hand including unflavoured gelatin. Unflavoured gelatin can be used for meat dishes, salads and thickening yogurt. There are several recipes online for using jello/gelatin in jam making as well.

  • instant gravy - Instant gravy wouldn't be something I would recommend using as a substitute for homemade gravy. However, it is good for those times where you just need an ounce or two of gravy and do not have any homemade gravy on hand. I find it generally works well for hamburger where you might just want to thicken a little.

  • powdered cheese - Powdered cheese really is an emergency preparedness food item but it is a good item to have on hand. Powdered Parmesan cheese can add a punch of flavour to salads and sandwiches for those times you are out of fresh Parmesan. Powdered cheddar cheese can be used to make give that vegetable dip a little twist or to make homemade versions of cheese and macaroni. Powdered cheeses can be added to bread dough for a different flavour as well. The main advantage of powdered cheese is it is a shelf stable product.

  • powdered eggs - Powdered eggs are another emergency preparedness food item. In a pinch they can be used to make scrambled eggs simply by mixing with water and cooking. A good way to use them is as an ingredient when baking. The main advantage of powdered eggs is it is a shelf stable product so no refrigeration is needed.

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