Making Do with What You Have: Alfredo Sauce


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Yesterday afternoon before I started making dinner I had a change of heart.  The plan initially was to defrost some pot roast, make roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli.  But my tummy was not asking for that, what I really wanted was pasta with alfredo sauce.  That was a problem because I don’t keep jarred alfredo sauce or half-and-half to make the sauce from scratch.  BUT I did have milk and cream cheese and I figured I could make that work to satisfy my craving.

The recipe I was working with called for:

  • 1 (12 ounce) package linguine pasta
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 4 tablespoons diced onion
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 40 small shrimp, peeled and deveined (I substituted with cubed cooked chicken, I keep in the freezer for nights like this)
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 sprigs fresh parsley


  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente; drain.
  2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large saucepan. Saute onion and garlic over medium heat until tender. Add shrimp; saute over high heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in half-and-half. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens.
  3. Place pasta in a serving dish, and cover with shrimp sauce. Sprinkle with black pepper and Parmesan cheese. Garnish with parsley.

So instead of using a cup of half-and-half, I substituted with about 1/3 cup of cream cheese and 2/3 cups of milk.  I really didn’t measure either the cream cheese or milk because I was looking more for a creamy consistency.  When I got to that point I tasted the sauce and well it didn’t really taste like alfredo sauce (or at least the taste I wanted).  So I pulled out the Parmesan cheese.  I *love* Parmesan cheese.  My husband often jokes that I eat pasta with my Parmesan.  So I grated about  1/4 cup of Parmesan and added it to the sauce.  When it melted I added the warmed cubed chicken and the cooked pasta and it was ready to eat!  Well, not before adding another 1/4 (or maybe half?) cup of Parmesan cheese to my plate.  I did say I love Parmesan.  Using Pecorino Romano cheese would have probably been better for my taste but I didn’t have any of that.

I love that frugality is about resourcefulness, inventiveness and experimenting.  I am glad my experiment worked out so great this time.  It gives me courage to experiment again the next time I am missing a recipe ingredient.  What kind of ingredient substitutions have you made that have worked for you well?

Here’s one last cooking tip:  If your sauce turns out to be too thick, add some of the water you used to cook the pasta in.  The liquid will help thin the sauce and the starch from the past will help the sauce bind better to the pasta.

  • Rhonda

    When making chili, I “stretch” ground beef by substituting about 1/3 of the beef with uncooked bulgur. Or, sometimes I just skip the beef altogether!

    rgbarron01 at

  • Belinda

    I love this type of frugal thinking! I use coconut milk as well for a sauce base. Another “additive” to stretching food is shredded zucchini. You hardly know it’s in there!


  • Jennifer

    I imagine it is healthier with the cream cheese too, right? Sounds delicious!

  • Jess

    I use cream cheese and milk as a cream substitute all the time, with great results. It’s cheaper, healthier (I use 1/3 less fat cream cheese and 1% milk, generally) and cream cheese lasts a lot longer than cream or half and half. Hmmm. Now I want some turkey Tetrazzini, for which the cream cheese/milk combo works beautifully.

  • Erin

    In cole slaw recipes that call for half-and-half, I’ve substituted milk with a little mayonnaise whisked in. It’s not the same flavor, but if you like mayonnaise it’s a workable substitution that doesn’t require running to the store.

  • Krista

    So funny you mention this..I did basically the same recipe this week when I had to have alfredo but wasn’t planning on it!!

  • Melissa

    I wanted to make a pumpkin pie the other day and it called for a can of evaporated milk. I didn’t have any (didn’t have any milk either!). I substituted powdered milk with a little water for the evaporated milk. It didn’t taste as good, but it was still good.

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  • KR

    In reference to substituting for beef in chili, I often use either eggplant or believe it or not peanut butter (it melts you don’t see it) for all or part of the ground meat.

  • kelly

    I use evaporated milk, regular or fat free, for cream or half and half all the time.

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