Substitute This!

by Linda Shapero


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How many times have you found a great recipe worth trying, but when you read the list of ingredients, you find you'd have to re-mortgage the house to afford it? Or you're in the kitchen assembling ingredients for a cake, only to find yourself short of one or more items in the recipe?

Well, I've got good news. Help is on the way. I have found dozens of substitutes for all types of dairy and flour products, as well as sweeteners, spices, and more. A lot of them will help you save money. Others are for your convenience when you're short on time. (I've given you a head start on the dairy, flour and sweetener substitutes here, but if you want to investigate even further, there is a wonderful book called The Food Substitutions Bible by David Joachim that has more than 5,000 substitutions, including not only ingredients, but things such as equipment and techniques.)

The first group, dairy products, can be especially costly when it comes to items such as milk, butter, eggs, half and half, and ricotta cheese. For even a small family, these purchases can easily destroy your food budget.

Did you know that using powdered milk in cooking and baking can produce the same results as whole milk? Some people don't like it as a beverage, but using it this way will save money and no one will be the wiser. Another dairy product you can create at home is buttermilk. It's great in biscuits, scones, and pancakes. Just add one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to one cup of milk and let it stand for about ten minutes before using.

There's an easy substitute for butter in recipes, too. Mix 7/8 cup of oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to equal one cup of butter. If you're concerned about too much fat, since butter has 102 calories per tablespoon, perhaps you'd like to substitute one cup of applesauce in any recipe for one cup of butter. For basting, instead of using butter or oil, try any fruit juice (I like apple) or any low-fat stock. Your poultry will turn out tender without sacrificing any of the flavor.

Tofu is a wonderful egg substitute in recipes such as egg salad, frittatas, or quiches. In some recipes, such as meatloaf and many casseroles, oatmeal or even bread crumbs can be used for eggs. Another substitute is one tablespoon of soy flour to one tablespoon of water. Compare the cost of a dozen of these "eggs" with the real thing, and I think you'll agree that it's a great deal.

Speaking of eggs, I can't forget to mention my new favorite cookbook, Bakin' Without Eggs, by Rosemarie Emro (1999). It is a gem that shares egg-free recipes for all kinds of cookies, cakes and other desserts, as well as breads, biscuits, muffins, and more. Emro wrote this book because her daughter suffered severe food-related allergies, but it is wonderful for anyone, especially those looking for low-fat baking ideas. The recipes I tried are outstanding.

Another dairy product we use often in dessert recipes is half and half. Now I know all I have to do is add one tablespoon of melted butter to one cup of whole milk, and voila!

Ricotta cheese is a favorite for lasagna and cheesecakes. For one cup of ricotta substitute, add one tablespoon of skim milk to one cup of cottage cheese and stir.

Flour products can be pricey, too, as any baker knows. There are many types of flours, all for different purposes. Now, we can create one cup of cake flour from 7/8 cup of all-purpose flour, minus two tablespoons. We can also make one cup of sifted self-rising flour from 1 cup of sifted all-purpose flour plus 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/8 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar.

In baking with sweeteners, when out of corn syrup, just mix together two parts sugar and one part water. And 1-1/3 cups powdered (or confectioner's) sugar equals 1 cup of granulated sugar. Also, the equivalent of one cup of honey is 1-1/4 cups of sugar, plus 1/4 cup of whatever liquid you're using in the recipe. All helpful to know.

So, next time you get stuck, think about all the substitutes that are out there and don't panic. What you need might just be sitting in your pantry.

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