So, you just harvested your rhubarb and you are making The Smitten Kitchen’s delicious rhubarb snacking cake (Smitten Kitchen Rhubarb Snacking Cake), and you discover that you don’t have any ground ginger. What do you do? Cry? Immediately jump in the car and drive to the supermarket for a can of ground ginger that you might never use again? Leave it out and hope for the best? Any or all of these could work, but what I recommend is that you pull down your copy of David Joachim’s The Food Substitutions Bible, turn to page 236, and discover that you can substitute ground ginger with: minced crystallised ginger (rinsed to remove the sugar), minced or grated fresh ginger, or ginger juice. You will also find that, failing those options, you can very the flavour slightly with pumpkin pie spice, ground allspice, or ground cardamom. I’ve tried the cardamom, which works nicely, as well as the fresh and crystallised ginger options. And don’t forget to double the crumb topping.
The Kale Whisperer’s Third Cookbook of Christmas is not a cookbook at all, but it is absolutely indispensable. Really. If you have a kitchen, and you do anything more in it than boiling eggs, buy this book immediately, if not sooner. Speaking of eggs, turn to “Egg, Whole” in this handy guide, and you will find that 1 large egg = 3 tablespoon (45ml) of egg yolk and whites = 1 3/4 ounces (52g). This is important information to have on hand if you 1) live outside the US and have no idea if 1 large egg = 1 standard size 6 or size 7 New Zealand egg, 2) you live in the US but only have jumbo or medium eggs in your fridge, or 3) you use your or someone else’s free range barnyard eggs and your hens are creative souls who lay whatever size egg they feel like laying.
While any kitchen, vegetarian or not, could benefit from the wealth of information easily available in The Food Substitutions Bible, it is a godsend for any vegetarian or vegan cook. Vegans, for example, will find that they can substitute 1 cup (250ml) of whole 3.5% milk with a similar amount of soy, rice, almond, or oat milk. It will also remind them that they may need to compensate for added sugar. It also suggests vegan substitutes for eggs, butter, and honey. With this book on hand, it is a relatively simple matter to convert non-vegan recipes to vegan.
I live in New Zealand, but most of my cookbooks were Born in the USA. Not infrequently, I discover that key ingredients for some of my favourite recipes are simply not available here. Take cake flour. Cake flour is not a thing in New Zealand. But I have learned the hard way that substituting cake flour 1:1 with all purpose flour in a recipe that calls for cake flour can be a recipe for disaster. What to do? Look up cake flour and you’ll find that you can substitute 1 cup of cake flour with 1 cup (250ml or 142g) minus 3 tablespoons (45ml) all-purpose flour plus 3 tablespoons (45g) corn or potato starch (corn or potato flour, as they are known here in NZ). You’ll need to sift the flour and starch several times before you do your final measurement, and your cake might not have as fine a crumb, but it’s a pretty darn good substitute.
And what if you are making a potato and tomato gratin, and your recipe calls for a topping made with 1 cup (4 oz; 120g) of grated Gruyere cheese, but you don’t want to lay out the cash for an expensive chunk of Gruyere for a weeknight dinner? Look up Gruyere, and you’ll find that you can substitute Comte, Beaufort, or Emmental. OK, still pricey. But you know that Emmental is a Swiss-type cheese, so turn there and you find that, yes, indeed, you can substitute Jarlsburg (usually cheaper than Emmental) or Swiss cheese. I find the cheese substitutions particularly useful here in New Zealand. It can be difficult, and expensive, to buy the more obscure regional cheeses. And even if you can find Riccotta Salata, you might not want to shell out for it for an everyday meal.
If all this doesn’t convince you to run immediately to Amazon.com or Fishpond.co.nz to order (NZD$39.49 on fishpond; sadly, it is not yet available on Kindle — go to Amazon and complain!) a copy of The Food Substitutions Bible, let me close the deal. You want to make an apple pie. You go to the market and are faced with umpteen different varieties. Which one makes the best pie apple? What variety makes the best applesauce to go with your Hanukkah latkes? Grab your copy of FSB, turn to the back, and you’ll find a comprehensive guide to “Picking Apples.”
Do you have Celiac Disease? Can’t eat gluten? You will find here an exhaustive table of alternative flours that tells you 1) their best uses (yeast breads? quick breads?), 2) their gluten content (medium, low, gluten-free) and 3) their flavour.
Do you live in New Zealand and want to make pickles? Turn to “Trading Salts” and you’ll find that you can substitute Kosher Salt (not widely available here) with coarse or flaked sea salt. Thank goodness, your pickles won’t get cloudy and soggy from using iodised table salt!
For expats and those who don’t keep every possible size and shape of pan in their kitchen, or those who find a recipe that calls for a 28oz can of tomato puree and live where tomato puree comes only in metric cans, there are numerous useful tables: Can and Package Size Equivalents, Pan Size Equivalents (will a Bundt cake recipe fit in my Tube pan? yes), Temperature Equivalents (what is an “extremely hot oven” for pizza in metric? 260C), and Volume Equivalents (what the heck is a metric “pinch”, or a non-metric “pinch” for that matter? less than 1/8 teaspoon, or .5ml).
Downsize your spice rack. Go ahead and buy those organic free-range medium eggs when they are on sale. Don’t buy a quart of whole milk when you only need 1 cup. Don’t pay the outrageous supermarket price for creme fraiche. Buy this book instead.