The Penny Pincher's Pantry: 9 Money-Saving Kitchen Staples
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The Penny Pincher's Pantry: 9 Money-Saving Kitchen Staples

We can show you how to make budget-friendly (and often healthier) versions of your favorite convenience foods in minutes.

Budget Kitchen Basics

Need it: Pancake Mix
Make it: Stir together 1 3/4 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In another bowl, whisk 2 eggs and 3 tablespoons vegetable oil into 1 1/2 cups milk. Add liquid to dry mixture and whisk. Don't overmix; batter should be lumpy. Makes 10 to 12 pancakes.

Need it: Chocolate Syrup
Make it: In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together 1 cup water, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir constantly until just boiling. Cool and store in the fridge for up to 2 months.

Need it: Bacon Bits
Make it: Finely chop leftover cooked bacon and place in a zip-top bag, pressing out all the air when you seal it. Form into a flat, thin layer and freeze; simply break off a few pieces and crumble them when you need bacon bits. Freeze for up to 3 months.

Need it: Pre-Chopped Garlic
Make it: Chop a handful of peeled garlic cloves in a food processor; place in a sealable container and cover with olive oil. Store chilled airtight up to 2 weeks. Once the garlic is gone, use oil to flavor pasta or salad dressing.

Need it: Fresh Buttermilk
Make it: For 1 cup buttermilk to use in baking, mix 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice with 1 cup milk; let sit 5 minutes and use. Combining 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup milk works, too.

Budget Kitchen Basics, Continued

Need it: Packaged Croutons
Make it: Cut any type of bread into cubes and coat them lightly in oil, then sprinkle with salt or garlic salt. (Add even more flavor by tossing in oil-and-vinegar salad dressing or dry herbs.) Toast on a baking sheet in the oven, stirring occasionally, at 350 degrees F. until just golden.

Need it: Jarred Spaghetti Sauce
Make it: Saute half a chopped onion, 1 minced garlic clove, and 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium saucepan until onion is soft. Add a 28-ounce can diced or chopped tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 tablespoon dry oregano and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with ground black pepper.

Need it: Taco Seasoning Packet
Make it: Stir together 4 teaspoons chili powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons dry oregano, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Use 2 tablespoons to season 1 pound ground beef, chicken, or turkey.

Need it: Packaged Bread Crumbs
Make it: Dry slices or cubes of any type of bread about 15 minutes in the oven at 300 degrees F. Crush in a food processor or with the bottom of a pan. For seasoned bread crumbs, add dry herbs like oregano or thyme (a little garlic powder tastes great, too). To make flaky panko-like crumbs, mince fresh bread by pulsing it in a food processor, then dry the crumbs at 250 degrees F.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, November 2009.

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