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Shortcuts and Substitutions

Today I was making spaghetti and meatballs and realized I only had 1/3 of a jar of sauce left.This was problematic because I brown my meatballs on two sides and then let them simmer in the sauce to finish. In a flash of brilliance, I decided to drain a can of diced tomatoes and added my leftover sauce and managed to make a pretty tasty concoction for my meatballs to complete cooking in. No complaints from the boyfriend. He loved it.

So now I am wondering...

What are your favorite shortcuts and substitutions in the kitchen?


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 17th, 2014 11:29 pm (UTC)
I still consider myself a food newbie, but I have bookmarked some authorities to help when I get stuck in a pinch.

The Cook's Thesaurus

*glances through more resources* Hmm. I guess I've focused more on how flavors complement each other instead of when to make substitutions. Hope the above helps, though!
Mar. 18th, 2014 12:41 am (UTC)
I rarely make anything the same way twice. Recipes are more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule. Take fishcakes as an example.

The fish can be salmon, tuna or shrimp, possibly even crab. All of those things, except the shrimp are found in the pantry. The starch could be mashed potato, especially if there's some leftover, cracker crumb or breadcrumb, whatever is handy. The vegetables always some minced onion, but it could be fresh, dried or green, then whatever else needs using: celery, bell pepper, a bit of chile, corn is good with crab and shrimp. Season depend on what else has gone before. Bind with egg. Refrigerate to let the flavours blend. Form into small cakes. Dust with crumbs or seasoned flour. Pan fry or bake.

The trick is to take your recipe, break it to its components and substitute away.

Edited at 2014-03-18 12:43 am (UTC)
Mar. 18th, 2014 11:55 pm (UTC)
true enough
Mar. 18th, 2014 03:28 am (UTC)
I never EVER EVER EVER sift. I whisk dry ingredients together. I can't be bothered with that mess.

I also never chop chocolate, which is one of my least favorite kitchen jobs. Hard and messy and ugh. I always use good quality chocolate chips instead.

I use the little bottled lemon juice. It's probably not perfect, but it's better than ever juicing a lemon ever. I also use jarred, ready-minced garlic, which i find identical to the freshly minced stuff, if a little stronger.
Mar. 18th, 2014 03:29 am (UTC)
Things I can honestly say NOT to do convenience/store-bought: puff pastry, pimiento cheese.
Mar. 18th, 2014 11:55 pm (UTC)
hmm, how do you do puff pastry? I only ever use it for making bourekas but now i am curious.
Mar. 19th, 2014 12:40 am (UTC)
Oh, that made it sound like I ALWAYS whip up my own puff pastry. LOL. No... I WILL still use store-bought just to get a recipe made for the blog, but it's so different than handmade. I'm NOT one of those snooty types who's like, "You simply MUST grind all your own flour, dear" either.

Here's my recipe for homemade (from a lonnng time ago, so forgive the photos):
And handmade croissants (same laminated dough technique):
And a phototutorial:

It tastes so different than the freezer kind!
Mar. 18th, 2014 03:29 am (UTC)
When I make anything chocolate, I add a tablespoon of espresso powder to make it darker and richer.

For meatballs or meatloaf, I usually substitute half ground turkey and half ground pork for ground beef. I just like the taste better.

And a friend told me that her daughter can't have citrus but loves lemon, so she made a cake using cardamom powder and cardamom seeds. I tasted it and it was just wonderful.

Also: I never sift flour any more. It does not mix ingredients; it only aerates them.

Edited at 2014-03-18 03:30 am (UTC)
Mar. 18th, 2014 03:36 am (UTC)
YES to espresso powder in chocolate!
Mar. 18th, 2014 11:57 pm (UTC)
i always forget to add instant coffee and espresso powder to my chocolate items.
Mar. 18th, 2014 06:02 am (UTC)
Your post reminds me of my tomato sauce - super easy and tastier than jarred, plus you can control exactly what's in it!
Brown onion with ground beef and garlic. Drain. Dump in a 28 oz can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Put a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes in a food processor, give it a few whirls, throw that in. You can do a can of plain tomato sauce if you prefer. Add a tbsp sugar, 2 bay leaves, salt, pepper, Italian seasonings, whatever you like, and let it simmer for an hour or so. Yum!

I also used to always bake spaghetti squash. Now I totally microwave it. Tastes the same and takes way less time.

I generally buy veggies and cut them myself, but I'm a big fan of the Mirepoix that Trader Joe's sells... very finely diced celery/onion/carrot, saves me SO MUCH TIME and onion tears, so it's worth it. I've also been using their precooked chicken (or rotisserie chicken) to make recipes come together more quickly.

If I don't have precooked on hand, I'll throw a few chicken breasts in the crock pot, cover with broth, and cook. When it comes out, I shred it and use it on salads, in quesadillas, etc etc etc.

And definitely agree with buying good-quality chocolate chips instead of chopping chocolate!
Mar. 19th, 2014 12:00 am (UTC)
how long do you cook the spaghetti squash for? i have been wanting to try it?
Mar. 18th, 2014 03:02 pm (UTC)
I make tomato sauce from canned tomatoes/passata anyway, so easy and quick and you can vary it, eg basil and oregano for an 'italian'/pizza style, chorizo and smoked paprika for a more 'spanish' taste, more or less garlic, a stock cube to make it richer, chillies or chilli flakes for spicier.....super simple.

I always keep bottled lemon and lime juice in the fridge for whatever, as if I buy lemons they go dry and wrinkly before I get a chance to use them - I also use dried chilli flakes instead of keeping fresh chillies to hand for the same reason. Also jarred garlic and ginger paste, soooooooooo much simpler than peeling and grating or chopping garlic and ginger and I really can't notice the difference in stews and sauces where it cooks for a while anyway.

Also not really a shortcut but a time saver - if I want roasted vegetables (squash, parnsips, carrots etc) the next day but don't have time, I roast them up the night before and refrigerate. Just pop them in the oven to warm through (or microwave if you're super rushed) and they are still delicious. I have done this with other long-to-cook things like dauphinoise potatoes as well, works a charm.

Not sure if it counts but I also keep tortillas in the freezer since I only ever need a couple at a time and they come in packs of 10. Take them out whilst you're cooking or ten seconds in the microwave and they're good as new, and saves me throwing out mouldy or stale tortillas. Same with leftover charcuterie type meats like pepperoni, salami etc if I have half a pack - just chop it frozen and throw it into whatever.
Mar. 18th, 2014 11:56 pm (UTC)
my tortillas keep in the veggie drawer for weeks and weeks. never thought of freezing them.
Mar. 19th, 2014 02:14 am (UTC)
Why would you use a bought sauce when all you need is onion, garlic, tinned tomatoes and herbs (passata is a useful extra) and you've got a really tasty home-made sauce?  Try adding a good dollop of Marmite (or any other STRONG yeast extract) for depth of flavour, and gooseberry jam (a couple of tablespoons at least) gives a flavour that's out of this world, especially with meatballs
Mar. 19th, 2014 08:56 pm (UTC)
An Asian counterpart to Marmite is miso, particularly the dark salty red, brown, and black barley and pure soy misos. A glob of the right miso can serve as the basis for a stock all by its lonesome, and I like to fortify miso further by kneading dried chopped onions, garlic, and wakame into it; since the dried vegetables absorb moisture, a loose moist miso such as South River or Miso Master is best for the purpose. (I've also used fresh wild chives--Allium vineale--to good effect.)

(This admittedly might be tricky with Marmite, which has a much firmer consistency and comes in tiny jars.)
Mar. 19th, 2014 02:20 am (UTC)
To save on chopping garlic all the time I now have a small screw-top jar (the ones that come in packs of four from Ikea) with some chopped garlic topped up with salt.  I give it a shake whenever I open the cupboard door so that the garlic gets properly mixed in, and gradually the garlic oil infuses the salt while some of the salt gets absorbed into the garlic as a preservative so it shouldn't ever rot
Mar. 19th, 2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
That's amusing, because I would say that jarred sauce is a shortcut for making it yourself with canned or fresh tomatoes, not the other way 'round.
Mar. 27th, 2014 05:22 pm (UTC)
I always start with a completely plain sauce and add fresh ingredients. I don't see much difference between using a plain sauce to start vs. the tinned tomatoes. Do you notice much of a difference?
Mar. 27th, 2014 05:24 pm (UTC)
By "plain sauce" do you mean jarred? I do think a sauce made from canned tomatoes tastes better than what I get out of a jar. Fresh or frozen tomatoes are even better.
Mar. 22nd, 2014 11:32 pm (UTC)
Nothing wrong with shortcuts and working around mistakes, aka The Julia Child Method!
It'd take me a while to think of a favorite, I use so many of them.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )


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