8 Ways to Ignore a Recipe Without Ruining Your Meal

Chow on 11.24.12
Contributing Writer bio | twitter

Photo Credit: timsackton/ Creative Commons

I'm terrible about following recipes. Part of the time I'm just too distracted to read the directions that closely and the other part of the time I don't have the specific ingredients on hand. Despite not following recipes, I am usually really happy with the end product of what I've made.

Based on my experience, I've learned there is some room for adjustments on the fly by using the recipe as a template. With a little confidence and some knowledge about what substitutions can be made you'll have more flexibility when you’re in the kitchen trying to make something delicious to eat.

Savory recipes have greater leeway than baking; baking is more of a science than an art. You need the exact ratio of liquid, leavening agents, and binders to create the right fluff and consistency, but you can still find substitutions or add-ins to make a recipe your own.

For Cooking

1. Liquids.  Vegetable or meat broth can be substituted with each other as well as any other liquid. I often use wine, tomato juice, or just plain water if I don't have enough stock on hand. You may have to add salt or other seasoning before serving to adjust the final favors.

2. Herbs.  Fresh or dried green herbs -- like tarragon, basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, or rosemary -- add flavor to a dish. If you don't have enough of one you can usually use another. Keep in mind it will alter the final product's flavor. For example, when you are making Italian meatballs, they might not quite taste the same with rosemary as they would with oregano, but they will still taste good. The beauty of herbs and spices is that they allow you to stick with a dish your family loves, but keep it fresh by slightly changing it.

3. Onions. Shallots, leeks, and scallions all impart an onion like flavor to a dish and can be substituted for one another.

4. Nuts. Although they each have different fat contents, many nuts can be exchanged with one another when cooking. Just last night we made pesto sauce with walnuts because we were out of pine nuts. It was still delicious.

For Baking

5. Any pan will do. You can make cake batter in muffin tins or a cake pan, you just need to alter the cooking time appropriately. Oftentimes, a specific sized pan is requested in a recipe. If you don't have that size just keep a close eye on what you are baking as it may take more or less time than indicated by the recipe.

6. Eggs. There are numerous ways to substitute eggs in a recipe -- including flaxseed meal and mashed banana -- but be careful doing so when the recipe depends heavily on the egg (such as in a soufflé or a meringue).

7. Sweeteners. Honey, agave, and maple syrup are all liquid sweeteners that can be used somewhat in exchange for one another. They have different sweeteness levels so adjust according to your preference. Should you be substituting a dry sweetener like sugar with a liquid sweetener, be sure to add a little water or applesauce to adjust the liquid content in the batter.

8. Optional add-ins. My husband is always looking for currants in our pantry and we are usually out of them. You can use raisins, chopped prunes, dried blueberries or even dates when dried fruits are called for. We often substitute raisins for chocolate chips when making cookies for our daughter.

What tricks have you discovered work when you ignore the recipe?

Top Articles on Recipes
Make in A Minute Homemade Snack Bars 
Look Forward to Sunday Night with a Quick and Satisfying Stir-Fry 
Start Your Day Strong with Protein-Rich, Gluten-Free Almond Flour Pancakes