budget talk

One Ingredient for the Budget Savvy Cook

Some of my best money-saving habits began by pure accident. Take for example, the time I was making mashed potatoes. I’d drained and mashed them, then walked to the refrigerator, opened the door, and yes, had forgotten I was out of margarine or any other type of low fat spread. I began to think, if only I’d checked before I boiled the potatoes. I thought about what I could make with a saucepan of smashed potatoes and would just adding milk really work? But then I noticed a box of cream cheese sitting in the dairy compartment.

I’d seen a few of the TV chefs add it to potatoes, I’d never tried it, but hey, now was the time to do it. I have to say, I actually preferred the taste and texture. It takes a little bit more work to incorporate it into the potatoes but it’s well worth the effort. Now if I’m making mashed potatoes, 95% of the time, I’ll use cream cheese.

So why is cream cheese such a great find for a budget savvy cook? If you’ve shopped for butter or margarine in the last few months, you’ve probably noticed a jump in price. Okay, it won’t break the bank, but cream cheese is a bargain. And there’s always a sale going on. And if you’re like me and stick with the supermarket brands, you can often get an 8 ounce package for just a $1. And with the holidays on the horizon, it’s always on sale from mid November to the first week in January. I’ve even bought a few packages to put in the freezer. The consistency changes, but if you’re adding other ingredients, no one notices.

And there’s more to love about cream cheese than just adding it to mashed potatoes.

Appetizers and Party Fare
It’s one of my secret ingredients to making appetizers for holiday parties. You can add other items like chopped smoked salmon, chopped cucumber, chopped dill and serve it as a dip with crackers. You can swirl it onto crackers using a fancy nozzle and a piping bag. One of my favorites is to add dill and pipe it onto cucumber slices. I often fill filo pastry cups with it and top each one with an olive, or chopped sun dried tomato.

And it makes a great sandwich filling all by itself. I add some herbs like oregano, basil and then spread it onto the bread and top it with sun dried tomatoes. It’s also a great way to use up any leftover roasted vegetables you might have sitting in the fridge. And another ingredient I like to add to the cream cheese is the Mediterranean Grinder Rub or the Grill Shakers from Spice Hunter. I know they’re supposed to be for grilling and adding to meats and poultry, but one day I thought I’ll do some experimenting. All you need is just had about a teaspoon for a 8 ounce package. I’ve found it’s best to let the mixture sit in the fridge for about an hour so everything can blend together. The taste is really gourmet for just pennies.

Scrambled Eggs
And another trick I found to great tasting scrambled eggs is to add some cream cheese while you’re scrambling them.

And I love soups that are creamy and rich tasting but hate having to add cream. One thing I’ve found that works just as well is cream cheese. Once you’ve finished making the soup, just stir in cubes of cream cheese and let it melt slowly over a low heat.

And it seems it’s not just potatoes that taste great with cream cheese. I’ve substituted cream cheese for butter when I’ve made pastry. You can’t really taste the cheese, but I think it makes the pastry flakier and almost like puff pastry but without all that effort.

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