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Recipes are everywhere these days, including blogs, user contributor sites, online magazines online versions of print magazines, and the list goes on. It is relatively simple to find a recipe for just about anything easily and quickly. It's a wonder anyone buys cookbooks anymore.
However, one downside to this is that recipes on the internet are often untested or tested in unknown conditions that go unlisted by the author. Fortunately, the experienced or adventurous cook should have no problem giving these recipes the eye test and finding out what needs to be changed. The following is a quick and dirty guide to modifying any recipe that even the newest cooks can follow. Follow the Recipe too much, it probably is. This applies even to recipes from trusted sources.
Begin with deciding what ingredients need to be added or taken away. For example, if a recipe contains carrots and beets, but you dislike beets or beets are out of season, you can either choose to double up on the carrots or add another root vegetable such as parsnips. The key is to find items that complement the rest of the recipe if you intend to keep the basics of it intact.
If you start adding and taking away items that are way outside the base of the recipe, you might end up with an entirely different recipe where the base ingredients simply might not work.
Another example is a meatless recipe that you want to tum into a full meal. Using the imaginary recipe containing carrots and beets, suppose this recipe is a Mediterranean style recipe where the base ingredients are Israeli COUSCOLIS, feta cheese, thyme, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
The recipe also suggests using fruit such as peaches or mangoes. Think about the basic ingredients in this recipe and which meat would work. Thyme, for example, is an herb typically used to flavor white seafood and chicken. However, it can also be used with rosemary to season lamb. Or it can be used with basil and oregano to make Italian dishes.
Upon first glance, chicken or white fish seems to be the best choice of meat to put in this dish. Heavier meats such as beef or even pork, would weigh the dish down and likely overwhelm the light flavors. Once you have decided what type of meat to put in the dish, you naturally have to decide at what point in the cooking process to insert it.
Decide this by looking at the cooking method. Is the recipe a one-pot meal? If it is, cooking the previous imaginary recipe, everything is cooked individually. The vegetables are roasted, the couscous is cooked, and then the two are mixed in with the fruit, cheese, and herbs. The decision, in this case, is simple.
Cook the meat separately, seasoning simply with salt and pepper or another complementary seasoning, and then add it to the couscous with the vegetables and other ingredients. In some cases, such as Asian stir-fry style meals, you may continue with the other ingredients. This method can also be used in casserole-style meals as well. Simply add the meat at the very end to reheat or for the final cooking time.
The next item to consider in modifying recipes is substitutions. Not all substitutions are made equal, and they can easily turn the recipe into a disaster if you are not careful. For example, substituting ground or minced meat for whole pieces of meat is doable in many cases. However, it is essential to understand the difference. of liquid as it cooks. If you do not allow for this, you can easily turn your meal into a watery grease fest.
In most cases, it is necessary to drain off ground meat before combining it with anything else. Once cooked and drained, ground meat is more or less like any other type of meat. Another commonly encountered substitution is dried items for fresh items. This is usually pretty safe.
If items need to be re-hydrated, allow for that time and make sure all the excess liquid is drained out. For herbs, it is usually safe to use half the amount of dried as you would fresh. However, be careful with some herbs as flavors can differ drastically between the dried and fresh versions.
Two great examples of this are cilantro and basil. Both herbs have very strong, distinct flavors while fresh. However, the dried versions have muted, subtle flavors. This might work fine for a spaghetti sauce or a cooked salsa, but if your dish has a lot of fresh basil or cilantro, substituting dried is not going to work. Ask one main question before you substitute dried versions of either of these herbs.