A reader recently asked about how I write recipes, and another requested that I write a “Cooking for Dummies” series, so this is the first in a series of posts about the basics of cooking and baking. However, I should first explain that I’ve been cooking for almost 25 years. I began making dinner for my family when I was 13 (12?), and at that time, because I was inexperienced and not terribly confident, I followed recipes exactly. To the letter.
I don’t cook this way anymore (as evidenced by my How to Be a Leftover Magician post), because at this point in my life, I’m pretty knowledgeable and experienced in the kitchen. I can take a basic recipe and completely reinvent it, or I can use it as a starting point for the creation of new recipes. I do this with breads all the time. For example, my herb bread is just a modified white bread recipe – the same recipe that I tweaked for sandwich and dinner rolls. Also, I’ve been able to successfully recreate, and sometimes improve, favorite restaurant dishes, because I can usually tell, just by tasting, what the ingredients are. My Mexican pizza is a good example of an improved recipe. We think it’s better than any restaurant version we’ve ever had.
This ability comes with experience, but I think that learning substitutions for common ingredients is a good way to start building confidence in the kitchen. This basic knowledge can help you if you hit a snag while cooking; if you forgot to read a recipe completely before you began, and you don’t have a required ingredient, or a necessary ingredient is expired, or no longer fresh, or even if you just want a cheaper alternative. For example, I never waste money on spices that I will rarely use, such as marjoram, because I know that I can just substitute basil. Knowing how to substitute ingredients also helps you understand how recipes are built.
Here’s a list of common substitutions, which I’ve compiled over the years, and jotted down in cookbooks and on recipe cards. I put them all together so you can print them, and add them to the Food section of your HMG, or to your recipe file or binder.
Herb and Spice Substitutions
Allspice (1 tsp) – 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon + 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Basil – Oregano or thyme
Chervil – Tarragon or parsley
Chives – Onion or scallions
Cilantro – Parsley
Italian seasoning – Blend of basil, oregano, rosemary and cayenne
Marjoram – Basil or thyme
Oregano – Basil or thyme
Parsley – Cilantro
2 teaspoons ground sage
1 1/2 teaspoons ground thyme
1 teaspoon basil
3/4 teaspoon ground rosemary
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
Red Pepper – Dash of Tabasco, or sub black pepper
Rosemary – Thyme or tarragon
Sage – Poultry seasoning or rosemary
Savory- Thyme or sage
Tarragon – Chervil or fennel seed
Thyme – Basil or oregano
Baking chocolate, unsweetened (1 square) – 3 tablespoons baking cocoa + 1 tablespoon cooking oil
Baking powder (1 teaspoon) – 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar + 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Brown sugar (1 cup) – 1 cup white sugar + 1 1/2 tablespoons molasses
Butter (1/4 cup) – 3 tablespoons cooking oil
Buttermilk (1 cup) – 1 cup plain yogurt OR 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon warm milk, plus 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice (mix and let stand 5 minutes).
Cake or bread flour (1 cup) – 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, stirred well with a fork.
Cornstarch (1 tablespoon) – 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Eggs (1 whole) – 2 tablespoons oil + 1 teaspoon water
Heavy cream (1 cup) – Evaporated milk, or 3/4 cup whole milk + 1/3 cup melted butter
Lemon juice (1 teaspoon) – 1/2 teaspoon vinegar
Self rising flour (1 cup) – 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder + 1/4 teaspoon salt
I hope this is helpful!
Now, I would like your input. Which subjects would you like to see covered in this cooking basics series?[print-me/]