My Kitchen Wisdom

Q: I wonder if you can provide some insight on substitutions. Y’know Sunday at 8 pm when Broulims and Barrels are closed and there’s no chance of getting out of the soft pants for a trip to VVM for that one missing ingredient. What if I don’t have lemon juice? Out of canned tomatoes? No potatoes left? Milk just went bad? What the heck is fromage frais anyway? What do you do when you want to avoid a dinner disaster?
Thanks, Erica

A: Ah the one missing ingredient! I hear you on this one. Back in the day, when I lived in the Driggs train depot and worked at the Royal Wolf, I was known to sneak over there on Sunday nights in my pj’s begging the cook to sell me a spare lemon. Now that I live in Tetonia, as soon as I am home it might as well be 8pm on Sunday. There is no way that I am heading back into Driggs to pick up any ingredients.

The questions here really have one of two answers. On the one hand, you may be able to substitute another ingredient to save the dish. On the other, you may need to go back to the drawing board and make something completely different. If that is the case you better have spare ingredients on hand. Here I will talk about the art of substitution in basic cooking. Because of the complexity of the topic (and the limited space), I will not cover substitution in baking. Next article I will cover how best to stock your pantry so that you have the emergency substitution ingredients as well as extra food to come up with a dish “on the fly.”

Substitutions were one of the things that most frightened me as a novice cook. I was the kind of person who looked at a recipe, bought the exact ingredients listed and followed directions to a T. If Broulims didn’t carry something (such as fromage frais, a soft white cheese similar to cream cheese with less fat and lower cholesterol), I moved onto another dish. After 6 years of practice and a handy internet connection in my kitchen, I am a bit more confident about making changes to a written recipe. Does it always turn out delicious? Of course not. There will always be “dinner disasters” but for every botched dish, there are several more that range from edible to downright gourmet.

When you discover that you have all the ingredients except for one or two in a dish, you have to think about what are the “qualities” of the ingredient. Is the ingredient meant to be used as a main protein or a side starch? Think outside the box and experiment. Chicken, beef and pork are often interchangeable. Try serving a dish with risotto instead of mashed potatoes. Use what ingredients you do have on hand or omit the missing ones all together. Short on veggies? Think about what family the vegetable is in and try the recipe with another veg from that group. Parsnips are easily swapped with carrots. Leeks or shallots can often be substituted with onions, just make sure you use less.  Brussel sprouts are kind of like mini cabbages. Spinach, chard and kale are all green and leafy…you get the point. Use something similar.

Subbing out herbs and spices often seems a bit more daunting. With a little research and a sense of adventure it truly is not. Different cuisines have different flavors. Italian seasonings often consist of basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary and thyme. Thai cuisine includes chili pepper, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg and cumin. Indian spice blends usually have curry, cumin, tumeric, coriander, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon. If you are out of one spice families, make the dish go in a completely different direction and switch cuisines.

In addition to herbs and spices, there are also those ingredients that impart complexity and amplify the flavors of a dish. These are the seasonings. Salt and various acids fit into this category. If you are out of them, you can still make your dish. Problem is it may come out flat. Salt is difficult to swap out but not impossible. Most of the substitutes out there will impart other flavors as well. If you are cooking Asian food you are in luck. Soy sauce, tamari, miso paste or sea weed are all viable options. You can also try anchovy paste or fish sauce. If it is some sort of acid that you are out of, it is likely that you will have another option on hand. Lemon juice, lime juice and various vinegars can often be exchanged. Have you ever tried guacamole with lemon juice? It is delightful.

Liquids in a dish are also quite easy to mess with. Most stocks are interchangeable. Sure, French Onion soup is not the same without beef stock, but there are plenty of recipes out there that call for chicken stock. Not being a household of milk drinkers, spoiled milk is something of which I am quite aware. (If your milk does sour, don’t toss it. Check the internet for paneer cheese recipes or use it for pancakes or biscuits). If you have half and half or heavy whipping cream around for coffee, thin them out with water in place of milk.

In the end, all it comes down to is a little creativity and a bit of chutzpah. Of course it doesn’t hurt if you have a box of mac and cheese on hand if a dinner disaster does occur.

No-Lime Guacamole

3 large ripe avocados

½ lemon, juiced

1 jalapeno, seeded and diced or ¼-½ tsp cayenne powder

½ tsp sea or kosher salt

½ tsp ground cumin

½ cup diced red onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 Tbs chopped cilantro plus extra for garnish

1 small tomato, seeded and diced

Cut avocados in half, remove pit and scoop into a bowl. Add lemon juice, jalapeno or cayenne, salt and cumin. Mash ingredients with potato masher or two forks until you reach the desired consistency. Fold in onion, garlic, cilantro and tomato. Taste and add extra salt or lemon juice if needed. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Substitution Resources

The Food Substitutions Bible by Davd Joachim

I got this book for Christmas and have found it particularly helpful when i find I am out of chili powder or don’t want to buy creme frais

Ingredient Substitutions

I stumbled onto this simple website when researching this article. Great stuff here

Spoiled Milk Recipes

After doing a little more research, it seems that milk that has started to go bad is ok for boiling or baking. Point is you want to heat it up enough to get rid of the bad stuff. If your milk is pasteurized then the longer it sits around, it begins to “rot.” If you have raw milk, it is actually “spoiling” and you can use it longer. Long story short…store bought milk can be used when it starts to go bad, but not long after that…raw milk can spoil even longer and still be ok for baking and boiling.

Paneer Cheese

Many recipes from cooks.com for spoiled milk. Mostly baking recipes

 

Q: I wonder if you can provide some insight on substitutions. Y’know Sunday at 8 pm when Broulims and Barrels are closed and there’s no chance of getting out of the soft pants for a trip to VVM for that one missing ingredient. What if I don’t have lemon juice? Out of canned tomatoes? No potatoes left? Milk just went bad? What the heck is fromage frais anyway? What do you do when you want to avoid a dinner disaster?
Thanks, Erica

 

A: Ah the one missing ingredient! I hear you on this one. Back in the day, when I lived in the Driggs train depot and worked at the Royal Wolf, I was known to sneak over there on Sunday nights in my pj’s begging the cook to sell me a spare lemon. Now that I live in Tetonia, as soon as I am home it might as well be 8pm on Sunday. There is no way that I am heading back into Driggs to pick up any ingredients.

 

The questions here really have one of two answers. On the one hand, you may be able to substitute another ingredient to save the dish. On the other, you may need to go back to the drawing board and make something completely different. If that is the case you better have spare ingredients on hand. Here I will talk about the art of substitution in basic cooking. Because of the complexity of the topic (and the limited space), I will not cover substitution in baking. Next article I will cover how best to stock your pantry so that you have the emergency substitution ingredients as well as extra food to come up with a dish “on the fly.”

 

Substitutions were one of the things that most frightened me as a novice cook. I was the kind of person who looked at a recipe, bought the exact ingredients listed and followed directions to a T. If Broulims didn’t carry something (such as fromage frais, a soft white cheese similar to cream cheese with less fat and lower cholesterol), I moved onto another dish. After 6 years of practice and a handy internet connection in my kitchen, I am a bit more confident about making changes to a written recipe. Does it always turn out delicious? Of course not. There will always be “dinner disasters” but for every botched dish, there are several more that range from edible to downright gourmet.

 

When you discover that you have all the ingredients except for one or two in a dish, you have to think about what are the “qualities” of the ingredient. Is the ingredient meant to be used as a main protein or a side starch? Think outside the box and experiment. Chicken, beef and pork are often interchangeable. Try serving a dish with risotto instead of mashed potatoes. Use what ingredients you do have on hand or omit the missing ones all together. Short on veggies? Think about what family the vegetable is in and try the recipe with another veg from that group. Parsnips are easily swapped with carrots. Leeks or shallots can often be substituted with onions, just make sure you use less.  Brussel sprouts are kind of like mini cabbages. Spinach, chard and kale are all green and leafy…you get the point. Use something similar.

 

Subbing out herbs and spices often seems a bit more daunting. With a little research and a sense of adventure it truly is not. Different cuisines have different flavors. Italian seasonings often consist of basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary and thyme. Thai cuisine includes chili pepper, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg and cumin. Indian spice blends usually have curry, cumin, tumeric, coriander, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon. If you are out of one spice families, make the dish go in a completely different direction and switch cuisines.

 

In addition to herbs and spices, there are also those ingredients that impart complexity and amplify the flavors of a dish. These are the seasonings. Salt and various acids fit into this category. If you are out of them, you can still make your dish. Problem is it may come out flat. Salt is difficult to swap out but not impossible. Most of the substitutes out there will impart other flavors as well. If you are cooking Asian food you are in luck. Soy sauce, tamari, miso paste or sea weed are all viable options. You can also try anchovy paste or fish sauce. If it is some sort of acid that you are out of, it is likely that you will have another option on hand. Lemon juice, lime juice and various vinegars can often be exchanged. Have you ever tried guacamole with lemon juice? It is delightful.

 

Liquids in a dish are also quite easy to mess with. Most stocks are interchangeable. Sure, French Onion soup is not the same without beef stock, but there are plenty of recipes out there that call for chicken stock. Not being a household of milk drinkers, spoiled milk is something of which I am quite aware. (If your milk does sour, don’t toss it. Check the internet for paneer cheese recipes or use it for pancakes or biscuits). If you have half and half or heavy whipping cream around for coffee, thin them out with water in place of milk.

 

In the end, all it comes down to is a little creativity and a bit of chutzpah. Of course it doesn’t hurt if you have a box of mac and cheese on hand if a dinner disaster does occur.

 

No-Lime Guacamole

3 large ripe avocados

½ lemon, juiced

1 jalapeno, seeded and diced or ¼-½ tsp cayenne powder

½ tsp sea or kosher salt

½ tsp ground cumin

½ cup diced red onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 Tbs chopped cilantro plus extra for garnish

1 small tomato, seeded and diced

 

Cut avocados in half, remove pit and scoop into a bowl. Add lemon juice, jalapeno or cayenne, salt and cumin. Mash ingredients with potato masher or two forks until you reach the desired consistency. Fold in onion, garlic, cilantro and tomato. Taste and add extra salt or lemon juice if needed. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

 

Check out my website thesinglechef.wordpress.com for a list of great food substitution books and websites as well as recipes for spoiled milk. Please continue to send your questions to mykitchenwisdom@yahoo.com

 

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