Photo: ThinkstockBy Lynn Andriani
Coffee: Ditch the Caribbean for the South Pacific
Jamaican Blue Mountain and Kona are some of the most well-known and high-priced coffees. Their fame helps them command a hefty sum (as much as $42 per pound for the former), but Jason Dominy, former chair of the Barista Guild of America, says beans from Papua New Guinea are often just as good--and much cheaper (about $12 a pound). In fact, many Papua New Guinea coffees are from plants that grew from the seedlings of Jamaican Blue Mountain.
Switch and save: $30 per pound
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Photo: ThinkstockDried Mushrooms: Choose a Different Variety That's Just as Useful
Dried mushrooms are a cook's secret weapon. They keep for months in your cupboard; when you need them, just plump them up in hot water, strain and cook (and the savory soaking liquid is as valuable as the mushrooms themselves, especially for risotto). The most popular are porcini and morel, but while porcini cost $8 to $10 for 2 ounces, morels, which grow wild, fetch around $34 for the same amount. Porcini still have an intense, smoky flavor and are particularly good in pasta dishes and omelets, with garlic and fresh flat-leaf parsley or thyme.
Switch and save: $26 per pound
Photo: ThinkstockGrating Cheese: Step Out of the Northern Italian Comfort Zone
Parmigiano-Reggiano, produced only in northern Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, is known as the king of Italian cheeses because it's sharp and sweet, with a crumbly texture and tiny crystals that give it a subtle crunch. It costs a princely sum, too, usually around $22 per pound. Pecorino Romano and Locatelli Pecorino Romano, which come from farther south, near Rome, are slightly saltier but still excellent grated, and they are less expensive (most run about $12 per pound). And if you're fine with topping your orecchiette with a non-Italian cheese, look for SarVecchio, from Wisconsin ($14 per pound).
Switch and save: $8 to $10 per pound
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Photo: ThinkstockLiver Spread: Hit the Deli Counter for Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget
Pâté is a delicious and easy snack to have on hand for casual cocktails; spread it on crispy toast or crackers and you have an instant hors d'oeuvre. Many country pâtés can cost around $15 a pound, but liverwurst--which is also made primarily with pork and pork liver--is usually closer to $6 for the same amount. The deli-counter staple may be more at home on Saltines than on table water crackers, but serve it on a platter with cornichons and some plum jam alongside glasses of dry white wine, and trust us, your guests won't mind.
Switch and save: $9 per pound
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Photo: ThinkstockRice: Sop Up Sauce with a Stickier Grain
Spices are usually the most expensive component of an Indian dinner; top-quality cardamom, garam masala and curry powder can quickly add up. Add pricey basmati rice, which features prominently in many dishes, and you may start to wonder if takeout would be cheaper. Basmati, which has a dry and fluffy texture, is one of the most costly grains: $11 for a 5-pound bag. Jasmine, which originally comes from Thailand, is stickier, with a shorter grain-but still tastes delicious smothered in a fragrant curry sauce. A 5-pound bag costs about $6.50.
Switch and save: $4.50 per pound
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