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10 frugal cooking tips that sizzle

If you cook, you're already saving money. That $10 to $20 you'd fork over for an entree can fund several homemade meals for a single person or feed the whole family, depending on the size of everyone's appetite. Kudos to you for getting more greens for your green.

However, cooking can get expensive if you buy too many kitchen gadgets, make poor grocery choices or panic shop for each night's supper. Also, the recent price hike in everyday staples such as milk and cereal means that smart, thrifty food shopping is more important than ever.

We spoke with chefs, caterers and cookbook authors for their insights on eating well without spending a lot.

We share their onion pearls of wisdom with you.

Frugal cooking
Try these tips, and spend less on the necessities.
10 cooking tips
1. Buy produce in season.
2. Purchase dry spices and herbs whole.
3. Get dry milk for use in recipes.
4. Buy real cheese.
5. Seek tough cuts of beef.
6. Buy straight from local farmers.
7. Shop Latin markets and Korean grocers.
8. Don't bother with all-inclusive sets.
9. Opt for versatility.
10. Slow means cheaper.

Better grocery buys
Frugal cooking starts at the grocery store. Even if you use coupons, you may not be saving on basic items such as vegetables and milk.

1. Buy produce in season.
You've probably heard before that buying produce that's in season will taste better and cost less than produce shipped from Mexico. "If you go out looking for really good tomatoes in January, chances are you are going to pay for it," says Chris Turano, executive chef at 1940s-style restaurant Dine, in Chicago. Finding out what's in season isn't hard, he says. "Ask the produce guy standing there."

The Food Network also lists seasonal fruits and vegetables on its Web site.

2. Purchase dry spices and herbs whole.
When you can't buy fresh herbs and spices, Turano advises buying them dry but whole. Whole spices, such as peppercorns and cinnamon sticks, keep longer, retain flavor better and cost less, since less labor goes into the production. Grind dry spices and herbs when needed using a mortar and pestle. You can find these tools online or in a discount chain store for around $20. He recommends selecting a set with a rough texture, such as basalt lava rock, which helps speed grinding.

Forget those year-old ground spices stored in your spice rack. After six months, using ground spices and herbs in your recipe is "like putting dirt on your food," says Denise Vivaldo, author of "Do it for Less! Parties" and founder of Food Fanatics, a Los Angeles-based catering firm. Buy herbs that you like in the smallest containers, she says.

3. Get dry milk for use in recipes.
In the dairy department, fresh milk proves an expensive purchase to make every other week. If you're only using it in recipes, opt for dry milk, which keeps longer and costs less. Once reconstituted, it can substitute for fresh milk, says Mary Webber, author of "The Frugal Family's Kitchen Book." Buy the smallest quantity of fresh milk for drinking and cereals.

4. Buy real cheese.
Cheese fans can get better quality cheese by buying it in bulk at the deli when it's on sale. Depending on the type of cheese, the cost could be about the same as processed cheese, but the taste and thickness will trump the processed variety. Look for what's on sale, and plan a meal around it.

Next: "Unless you host a cooking show or really need a wok ..."
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