Andrea Nguyen thinks cheesecloth is a good idea badly executed. “Ridiculous,” the Vietnamese culinary authority says. “It would just fall apart or it would get really gross.

For a cheaper, more durable alternative, the author of “The Pho Cookbook” buys lightweight, unbleached muslin at the fabric store. Using a single layer, she can strain soy or nut milks, tofu, homemade yogurt, even broth and stocks.

She attributes the inspiration to her mother, a dressmaker who recycled cotton rice bags, using them to strain pickled vegetables—or rather, had her daughter do it. “I spent a lot of time wringing vegetables out when I was a kid.”

Nguyen buys 48-inch-wide muslin and tears it into 24-inch squares, washing it before first use and twice after use—once with dish soap to remove any food, then again in the laundry. She hang-dries the cloth, but it can also be tossed in the dryer.

“It’s so much better than cheesecloth, a gazillion times,” she says. “It ended up saving a lot of money and also a lot of grief.”