Release yourself from the shackles of the written recipe! Such guidelines are meant to be just that….merely suggestions of ratios that worked for the creator of the dish. Before writing for LearnVest, I’d never even written a recipe, and I only follow recipes when baking.
Check out the following principles and create dishes that are tailored to your taste, are inexpensive, and open up a world of possibilities when it comes to variety in your everyday meals.
Measure With A Grain Of Salt
Your idea of a medium onion may differ greatly from my image of one. What’s more, if a recipe calls for one cup chopped onions, the actual amount of onion will differ depending on the size of the chop. Unless you weigh ingredients, each time you make the recipe will be unique. As a matter of fact, an onion bought at the farmers market will be fresher, yielding more taste than an onion that’s been stored for a month. So it’s hard to compare “onions to onions.” My attitude is, if you like onion, throw in lots of ‘em!
New dishes are created when an existing recipe is altered. For instance, a butternut squash soup recipe looks great, but sweet potatoes are on sale. Voila….sweet potato soup! Here is some guidance for utilizing what you have or promoting personal preferences while using a recipe as a guide.
Chef’s choice when sautéing: olive oil, butter, lard, vegetable oil, duck fat, bacon fat—the list goes on and on. Keep in mind the “smoke points” when substituting, as in: Olive oil burns at a lower temperature than peanut oil.
The easiest way to save on calories and fat is to trade out when choosing liquids. A soup calls for heavy cream? Substitute whole milk or omit dairy all together. The same principal holds true for stock. A recipe calls for chicken stock? Vegetable stock or water can be used in a pinch.
Herbs & Spices
These fresh and dried seasonings can be interchanged easily. During the summer I tend to be basil happy, while in the winter, rosemary is my staple.
Fruits & Vegetables
This is the playground wherein you can be most creative. When interchanging produce, trade out items within categories—interchange leafy vegetables or root vegetables. Think logically about water content; carrots added to a dish that calls for tomato may require an addition of liquid, because the tomato yields its own flesh and liquid. But in general, if a dish calls for parsnips and you have turnips or carrots, employ your creative license.
Add Ingredients Actively
Adding a signature touch to a dish is fair play. I love spicy food, so many of my dishes have the addition of my “holy trinity”: ginger, garlic, and jalapeño. Parmesan cheese is a great addition to chopped meat for burgers or meatloaf. Capers are often snuck into my cooking as is—the unsung hero of the kitchen—lemon zest. If it sounds good, just add it!
Follow Orders Occasionally
Don’t throw out your measuring cups quite yet, as there are a couple of instances where precision matters. The first is when cooking grains. The grain-to-water ratio should be respected while keeping in mind your individual bent for “tooth” in your grain. A fluffier grain results from adding additional liquid, while firmness results come from a little restraint in the liquid pour. The most important instance in accurate measuring is when baking. Ratios should be respected as, each time you bake, you’re performing a scientific experiment. Chemists need to be accurate.
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