I'm off hanging out at the beach, so thrilled to share a guest post written by my friend Manda from Break The Sky. As a lady on a budget, it can be tough to know where to skimp and where to splurge. I love to cook, so skimping on taste is never worth it. -Kara
I am all for cutting corners when possible when cooking on a budget. I like to eat good, home-cooked food as much as the next person but I also like to shop, after all! Purchasing frozen veggies or cheaper cuts of meat can go a long way to reducing a grocery budget, and often the taste of the final dish isn't really compromised. There are, however, some shortcuts that people take in the name of saving money that can undermine all of the hard work done when trying to reduce the cost of a meal but trying to maintain its tastiness. Cheap as these substitutes may be, these ingredients are what I never purchase on when I hit up my grocery store.
- "I can't believe it's not butter!" (or anything besides actual butter) You can't believe it's not butter? Funny, because I totally can as it doesn't even taste like butter! Margarine or other butter substitutes might be cheaper, but that stuff is nasty. Think of it this way: butter comes from animals and margarine comes from a factory. It's a no-brainer as to which one would taste better. And if you want to go down the health route, butter may have saturated fats but margarine have trans fats, which is worse.
- Pre-minced garlic in a jar Heads of garlic are pretty darn cheap as far as fresh ingredients go. I can get two for $1 at my local grocery store and I'd bet they are cheaper at farmer's markets and the like. There's also very little that can beat the taste (and smell!) of freshly minced garlic that has just been sauteed. Pre-minced garlic that is sitting in water for God knows how long in a jar just smells like it's been festering for weeks. Not to mention it tastes like it, too.
- Imitation vanilla extract Vanilla extract can be pricey but a little goes a long way, so a bottle usually lasts me quite a while. Using the real stuff makes SUCH a big difference! There's a distinctive note to imitation vanilla extract that prevents anything you cook or bake with it from tasting like it's been made with genuine extract.
- Plastic cheese Kraft singles might be great for making a grilled cheese, but that stuff scares me because, well, there's "plastic" in the name. I like to buy slices of actual cheese and use that in a sandwich or a bagel. I don't use slices of cheese that often, but it's the next best thing to buying a solid block of cheese and slicing it up myself. Either way tastes miles better than the plastic kind, at any rate.
Actual butter, garlic, vanilla extract and cheese might seem pricey in comparison to its cheaper imitations, but splurging on these cooking basics can make even a broke postgrad girl's meals seem gourmet - even if you're using frozen veggies or cheaper cuts of meat! Bonus tip: if you're using dried herbs instead of fresh, pinch the herbs together and rub it through your fingers. This releases more of the flavor from the herbs!Manda is a recent college graduate beginning her career in public relations. A world traveler, she’s always dreaming about her next travel destination, although her home city of Hong Kong will always hold a special place in her heart. Other things she’s passionate about include books, cupcakes, makeup and tea. She has a tendency to listen to her favorite songs on repeat and has been known to crave noodles at 2 a.m. She can be found on Twitter and Facebook