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Treasures in Your Pantry: Spring Clean Your Kitchen and Save

photo: edmittance

Don’t like to throw away food? Who does?

Yet, cleaning out your fridge and pantry often involves tossing away a bunch of oddball items you bought for that one recipe and left lingering for months.  The good news: While there’s nothing you can do to salvage expired, smelly, moldy, fuzzy or otherwise gross items – you get the idea – you could use certain items to replace shopping-list staples like sugar, salad dressing, snacks and more.

With some creativity, spring cleaning your kitchen may actually help you shave some dollars off your next grocery bill.  Here are a few ideas:

Molasses

“Most people use it for gingerbread and then stash it away,” says Diane Henderiks, a chef and registered dietician based in New Jersey. (Her “Kitchen Ambush” service clears out clients’ kitchens of unhealthy and expired items.) Once opened, most varieties keep for at least a year.

* Use up the jar by making homemade barbecue sauce. Just blend molasses with Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar, experimenting with the quantities until the mixture has the flavor and consistency you want.

* Add that sauce to navy beans, along with some mustard (another shelf lingerer), chopped bacon and onion, for homemade baked beans.

* Brush a tablespoon or so on cooked meat for a simple glaze.

* Drizzle atop plain yogurt instead of honey, agave syrup or other sweetener.

Mustard

“Everyone always collects way too many condiments,” says professional organizer Stacey Platt, author of What’s a Disorganized Person to Do? “They seem to multiply.” Once opened, most types keep for about a year.

* Make easy vinaigrette with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a little mustard — preferably Dijon or another grainy variety.

* Frugal Foodie still likes to make an old college standby of apricot-mustard glazed chicken. Mix three tablespoons apricot preserves (jam is another shelf lingerer) with about 1/3 cup mustard, and brush over chicken breasts. Bake until cooked through.

photo: ulterior epicure

Preserves

Odds are good you have a variety of jams, jellies, marmalades and other preserves, says Alejandra Ramos, the creator of AlwaysOrderDessert.com. Jars stay good for about a year once they’re opened.

* Add a tablespoon to homemade or store-bought vinaigrette.

* Use as a sugar substitute in tea. “In Eastern Europe, it’s common to use spoonfuls of jam or preserves to sweeten tea,” Ramos says.

* Replace applesauce or almond paste in cake recipes. Try the orange and vanilla marmalade cakes Ramos recently whipped up with leftover apricot preserve.

* Make a simple marinade or sauce by whisking a tablespoon of jam in with a little chicken stock. Use to cook sausage or chicken. (Frugal Foodie especially likes this with grape jam.)

* Add a tablespoon or two to fruit smoothies and milkshakes for a flavor twist. In tart yogurt smoothies, it also serves as a replacement for honey or sugar.

* Spread between cake layers instead of frosting.

* Prepare Ramos’s homemade Bellinis by whisking a cup of peach or raspberry preserves with a tablespoon of lemon juice until loose. Drop a tablespoon of the mixture into the bottom of Champagne glasses and then top with sparkling wine.

* Use as a savory sandwich condiment. Ramos likes to pair raspberry jam with turkey, strawberry with goat cheese, and apricot with chicken. Apple butter or peach jam go well with pork, she says.

Spices

Dried spices last a year, tops, a little longer for whole (un-ground) ones such as peppercorns and nutmeg. Spices should be tossed when they have no aroma, even when crushed between your fingers, Platt says.

* If your spices have gone a little weak, use up to double the amount that the recipe calls for, she says. Taste as you go to make sure you don’t overdo it.

Dried fruit

“I find a lot of really old dried fruit on people’s shelves,” says Henderiks. Stored in a cool, dry place, it can last for more than a year.

* Try it solo as a snack.

* Make trail mix using nuts and other pantry odds and ends. Henderiks keeps a pack in her car and other places to handle a snack attack instead of heading to a convenience store.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner.