(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
Mixing-and-matching is more likely something you would probably do with your wardrobe than your recipes, but maybe you should rethink that strategy. Sometimes when we're busy, we don't have all the ingredients we'd like on hand for a meal, but that's no reason to give up.
Look at your favorite cookbook's suggestions with an open mind. Think not about what you don't have handy, but what you do.
This recently hit home with me when I was gazing at a glorious color photograph of juicy, pink sliced pan-seared sirloin steak in Dijon mustard sauce in Atkins for Life Low-Carb Cookbook
by Veronica Atkins. This is a standout book because the wife of the late famed Dr. Robert Atkins puts seemingly gourmet specialties on the table in minutes.
However, I didn't have the sirloin steak, low-sodium beef broth or bacon for which the recipe called. Fortunately, a quick glance in my refrigerator reminded me I did have store-bought rotisserie chicken breasts (a less expensive choice than steak) and some leftover low-sodium chicken broth. In a snap (especially because I pan-seared slices of the precooked chicken for only a moment), I was relishing the author's inspired mustard-butter sauce, which I had pepped up with a little pure raspberry fruit spread I had. I also heated the precooked chicken in olive oil I had on hand, rather than in the canola that the author had originally recommended.
The dish, with my last-minute variations, has since become one of my in-a-snap favorites. Here are some additional tips for the savvy substituter:
--- Replace like with like. For instance, don't take a pasta with gorgonzola and walnut recipe and try to whip up nut-crusted salmon with a like sauce instead. Perhaps substitute rice (especially quick-cook varieties) for the pasta, Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino for the gorgonzola, and pecans for the walnuts.
--- Look for ways to shorten cooking times and skip steps. Precooked meat from the convenience food aisle is often a blessing. Items from your pantry, like canned soups, such as minestrone or gumbo, can quickly pinch-hit for recipe sauces with somewhat similar flavors.
--- For easiest results, mix-and-match within the same cookbook, and then next time try another one. As I found with Atkins', you are dealing with one author's consistent style and directions, methods of quick or slow cooking, etc., and it makes the transition go smoothly and deliciously. QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK:
Be sure to look carefully at your receipts before filing them away or discarding them. Hundreds of chains have offers and bonuses that give bigger rewards than coupons. When you call fresh-ingredient chain Panda Express and answer a few guest survey questions, for instance, you are given a code for a free entree item; supermarkets like Ralphs and Kroger offer large sums off future shopping trips.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.