How to navigate being an ill-prepared chef

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First Posted: 5/30/2014

You think you’ve got it all: the measuring cups are out, that fancy beater you just bought is in hand, and all your ingredients are gathered – until you’re all, “Oh s—t, I have baking soda, not baking powder!”

Don’t be ashamed, friend. I once tried to make an omelet and realized I didn’t have any eggs. These things happen to those of us who get pumped up about the kitchen; we go mad with the need to make delicious food and in the process forget, well, some of the actual food.

Fortunately, some brave culinary souls have tested out numerous ingredients in place of others and found that many work wonders. Whether you’ve found yourself short a stick of butter or are just yearning to put something healthier in your dish, here are some ingredient subbing tricks to keep on hand – just don’t forget to keep these hanging around the pantry, too.

Fake it ‘til you bake it: Baking can pose a problem for health-conscious folk; just think about the gobs of butter and piles of sugar you most likely throw into one recipe. Thankfully, there are some healthier substitutes. You can use mashed avocado or banana in place of butter, evaporated milk instead of cream, applesauce or vanilla extract instead of sugar, and Greek yogurt instead of canola oil.

Egg-cellent: If you’re like me, eggs just fly off the fridge shelf, so I’m often left with none when I think I have a ton. (I love egg salad – lay off me.) There are a bunch of substitutes for these little guys. Vegans have found that making “gel eggs” works: whisk together one tablespoon of chia meal or flax meal and three tablespoons of water, then let it sit until it gels for five to 10 minutes. You can also use one-half of a mashed banana or two tablespoons of cornstarch and three tablespoons of water combined or one-quarter cup of applesauce to equal one egg.

Milkin’ it: There is so much more than plain ol’ milk out there, so how do you know what to choose? Almond milk is best for cereal and coffee, while coconut milk works well for baking moist cakes and making ice cream. Oat milk, which is thick and grainy, works in cookies, and nutrient –packed 7-grain milk is best for smoothies and cereal because of its thinness.

Yes, there is a difference: If you’re lacking in baking powder but totally have baking soda (no, they are not the same thing), sub in one-third teaspoon baking soda and one-half teaspoon of cream of tartar to equal one teaspoon of baking powder. Or you can mix together one-fourth teaspoon of baking soda and one-half cup of yogurt of buttermilk for the same effect, but be sure to decrease the other liquid in the recipe by one-half cup.

Yo-no!: No yogurt? No problem. One cup of plain yogurt also equals one cup of buttermilk, or blended smooth cottage cheese or sour cream. Or, if you find you do have yogurt but no mayo, use the yogurt in place of it. (Your arteries will probably thank you for that at some point.)

The odd couple: Whether you are out of flour or trying to shirk gluten, this strange swap will achieve the same effect. In place of one cup of flour, use a can of black beans. One can that is rinsed, drained, and puréed cuts up to 200 calories and adds protein to whatever you’re baking. Just be wary of using it with light-colored desserts, as the black beans will obviously alter the color of whatever you’re making. I don’t think a lemon cake would go over well if the hue doesn’t follow the name.

Never toss a recipe again due to lack of goods – there’s always a way around it. Never be afraid to experiment, as you just might find the next great substitute.

Go forth and invite me over when you make that chocolate cake with black beans… because I sure as hell am not trying that one.