Saturday, May 1, 2010

Substitutions...the Basics

Before I plan my meals for the week, I always take a quick inventory of freezer, pantry and bulk items that I have tucked away everywhere. Then I make my meal plan and write any grocery items that I need on a separate list. Or, in a pinch, on the back of my meal plan. Which I usually lose in the grocery store. But that's a whole other issue that is best saved for another day.

Most of the time, I do pretty well with my list. I hardly ever *ahem* forget anything. Okay, I forget more than I should, but it's because my list usually jumps somewhere between the produce section and the dairy case. If you find a list on the floor with doodled daisies on it, it's probably mine!

The problem with not picking up everything at once...I usually don't realize it until half of the recipe is put together. It's a 30 minute drive, if there's no construction, one way. I have to make do or do without.

And in a recipe, that doesn't always work to my advantage.

So what do you do when that happens? Here's a list of some of my favorites. Actually, they are only my favorites as of now because my brain is misfiring today. As I remember more, I'll add them!

~Sour cream~I don't use sour cream, I use whole fat, plain Greek yogurt. It's thick, creamy and nobody knows the difference. Plus, I can still use it as yogurt!

~Vegetable oil in baking~I absolutely do not use vegetable oil! EVER!!!! Sometimes olive oil can be substituted, but not always. The oil is only in the recipe for moisture. I use unsweetened applesauce. Try it in banana bread, cakes and even brownies!

~Shortening~Let me just say, Crisco shortening is the devil. That is what nutritionists refer to as hydrogenated fats or trans-fats. Stay away from them. They kill. I use an organic shortening when I remember to buy it. It is non-hydrogenated and is made from 100% palm kernel oil. If I don't have that, I use raw coconut oil.

~Brown sugar~I happen to like brown sugar. It is refined and therefore bad for you, but I still like it. That said, I have replaced brown sugar with sucanat. Read this for more information on how sucanat is processed. Use it cup for cup.

~Quick Oats~I don't buy these. At Bob's Redmill, I buy 25# of organic rolled oats along with 3 or 4 other 25# bags of grains/flours. I have to stop short of storing grains in my children's bedrooms, so that is the invisible line that I've drawn. When I need quick oats though, I just put my rolled oats in the blender and give them a quick whirl. Voila...quick oats!

~Unsweetened chocolate~This is the first substitution I ever learned. My mom didn't buy the unsweetened chocolate baking bars, but we had a lot of recipes that called for 1 square at a time. Not a problem...use 3 Tb. unsweetened cocoa powder plus 1 Tb. unsalted butter. (Or coconut oil)

~Buttermilk~Use 1 cup milk and add 1 Tb. white vinegar or lemon juice. Mix it and let it set for about 10 minutes. Or, keep a can of buttermilk powder in the fridge!

~Cream cheese~Remember that Greek yogurt I mentioned above? Dump a container in a cheesecloth-lined colander. Tie up the corners and hang above a bowl overnight. I have a hook under a cabinet for this purpose, but you can also tie the cheesecloth to a wooden spoon and lay it on top of the bowl. Next morning, scrape the solid cheese from the cloth into a glass container and store it in the fridge. (Save the liquid whey to soak beans helps to make the beans more digestible!)

~Sugar~I know, this is taboo. In America, we love our sugar. And it's making us sick. I love sugar too. Did you know that we are predisposed to sweet stuff as a way of recognizing safe food? Usually, sweet is good, bitter is bad or poisonous. So we can't really help that sweet tooth of ours. But we have taken sweet to a whole different level. Milk should not have sugar in it. Water should not have sugar in it. Fruit should not have sugar on it. Here's the deal. Learn to use less. Most recipes do not require the full amount called for in order to turn out. Start by decreasing the amount added to your cookies. Start small and only remove a quarter of it. In a lot of recipes, sugar can be decreased by half and not have a negative impact on the taste. Try substituting raw honey or pure maple syrup in recipes. Make sure that you use raw local honey though. Most of the honey in the grocery stores (not health stores) has corn syrup added to cut costs.

~Baking powder~I have run out of this a few times. Mix 1/4 t. baking soda plus 1/2 t. cream of tartar to equal 1 t. baking powder. Don't worry about the math, it works!

~Pam~Many people use this, I do not. I grease my pans with unsalted butter that still has the wrapper around it. Sometimes I use coconut oil or olive oil. Keep in mind what is going in the pan and grease accordingly.

Always read the ingredients before using a product. If it didn't grow in nature, don't eat it. It's that simple. Have I mastered this yet? No. I still have fantasies about being buried with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups lining my coffin. Not that it would do me any good.

But it wouldn't hurt me either!

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