As someone who is always halfway through baking a cake before discovering we’re out of a seminal ingredient — cake flour, perhaps, or cream of tartar – I am a big fan of those lists of ingredients you can use as substitutions. They’ve certainly saved a baking project or a batch of pancakes many a time for me.
Knowing how to make the most of the food in your pantry and fridge has other benefits: If you have fewer items in your pantry that do more, you’ll be more likely to use them up before they go bad and you have to throw them out. And if you do have some foods that are about to outlive their usefulness, it’s helpful to know how you might be able to use them up.
1. DIY Your Buttermilk
Buttermilk is one of those ingredients that I never seem to be able to use up before it expires. After all, there are only so many buttermilk pancakes or buttermilk biscuits you can make in a week or two! I’ve stopped buying it altogether and instead I’ll make it from milk and lemon or vinegar (The Kitchn has easy instructions for making buttermilk). Another trick: I’ll buy dried buttermilk powder, which has a shelf life for up to a year, far longer than that carton that’s in the back of the fridge!
2. Make Vinaigrette In The Mustard Bottle
If you’re the kind of person who insists on squeezing every last bit of paste from the toothpaste tube, you’ll love this idea: When your jar of Dijon mustard is so empty that you can no longer scrape out enough to spread on your sandwich, fill it with vinegar, oil, and seasonings, replace the lid, and give it a good shake. Et voila: Vinaigrette made with those last little drops of Dijon. It turns out that there are also a few other tricks you can do with almost-empty jars, according to Food Network.
3. Clean With Lemons
If you’ve bought a big bag of lemons but the last few are starting to go bad, they can stand in for your usual cleaning supplies. Halved lemons can be used to scrub stains, germs and odors from kitchen counters or cutting boards; bleach cloths; or remove tarnish from copper pots. And when I’ve squeezed all the juice out of a lemon (whether I’ve used it for cooking or for cleaning) I like to put it down the garbage disposal, where it helps to clean the walls of the disposal and eliminates odors.
4. Use Spirits Around The House
We usually have to dust off our liquor collection any time we’re expecting guests. But ever since I read about how certain types of alcohol can be used for cleaning, my booze isn’t going to waste. Vodka, in particular, is just as versatile around the house as it is in cocktails: It can clean glass or crystal, deodorize fabric and clean mildew. The next time you have just a finger or two left in the bottom of your bottle, put it to use instead of pouring it down the drain.
5. Know Your Substitutions
Find a good list for substitutions (I’m partial to the one from Joy of Baking) and you’ll soon learn that you don’t have to have a separate canister of cake flour on hand when you can just include 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in a cup of all-purpose flour, and if you’re out of baking powder, you can combine baking soda with cream of tartar and cornstarch.
6. Keep Cornstarch On Hand
Cornstarch seems to be mentioned often in the ingredient substitutions I mentioned previously, and it can be used for so much more, both in and out of the kitchen. I keep it on hand to thicken sweet and savory sauces, to use in place of baby powder (actually baby powder is typically not talc anymore, but cornstarch), to blot oil, and to dust foods before pan-frying to help them crisp up.
7. Make The Most Of Milk
Milk is one of the most common things that people have to throw away because it’s gone bad. If you don’t have enough time to pour it in your cereal or your coffee before it’s soured, try using milk as a hair conditioner or a silver polish. And, as we’ve mentioned previously, milk can even be used to mend cracks in China.