Hi Society!

This is not a list of acceptable substitutions in the kitchen. This is my cooking style.

I grew up cooking with my mom who would never follow recipes. She just made stuff up. Most of the creations were palatable, but some weren’t exactly. Having the exact same thing twice (whether you liked it or not) wasn’t an option. It could have been frustrating, but it wasn’t. I only have good memories from cooking with my mom. She taught me to trust myself and not be afraid to experiment. Challenge accepted mama!

Of course, this type of cooking doesn’t work for everyone. My husband for example will follow recipes to the letter. If the recipe says to heat the pan on high, it will be on high; regardless of the fact that the content might be burning. I still encourage him to cook. It’s usually very tasty. But it makes me laugh (and occasionally cough or cry). Substitution or cooking with your gut feeling (not cooking actual guts) also doesn’t work if you don’t understand what basic ingredients do in recipes, especially in baking. I once lived with a friend who was very passionate about baking but…. it just wouldn’t agree with her. Burnt rocks were a staple at our house. It’s important to be able to listen to your recipe and be willing to learn from experience.

Once I moved out (from my mom’s, not my baker friend), Chef Michael Smith helped me broaden my cooking horizon following the same relaxed mindset. In one of his cooking shows, he always starts by saying that a recipe is a mere collection of words, a canvas, and that it’s basically just a suggestion. I like that. He doesn’t impose but proposes possibilities. He’s also really good at teaching techniques and explaining how to achieve a certain result. And he’s Canadian. Just saying, eh! 🙂

With this background, I continue inventing and substituting a lot and it’s been a real confidence booster and a life saver! Sometimes, you just have to make do with what you have. In those moments, I pretend I’m on Chopped, the cooking show what forces you to come up with great food from weird ingredients that you wouldn’t think to combine. I also know that if I don’t have a specific ingredient, let’s say evaporated milk, I can simply make it from scratch. Same with vegetable broth: I can make it from vegetable scraps that I stash in my freezer until I have enough. Or miso paste in water. If someone doesn’t like cilantro, parsley can be used. If I don’t have a pie crust for a quiche, left over cooked rice will do. Enough seasoning and good techniques will go a long way!

What are your favorite substitutions?