Kitchen substitutions

A lifetime ago, N and I worked and lived on boats. We worked on fancy boats and not-so-fancy boats and were often at sea for days or even weeks at a time, traveling from southern Florida to the Caribbean, or across the Atlantic to make quick landfall in the Azores before an intense Mediterranean charter season. Being at sea meant no quick runs to the store, no online grocery delivery, and so I grew adept at using the ingredients I had on hand and figuring out what substitutions I could make.

It turns out that this skill comes in handy in our new world, too. Americans are cooking and baking more than ever – which is fantastic! – and more often than not, we’re doing so with a limited selection of ingredients, thanks to supply-chain bottlenecks and unnecessary hoarding and other factors. So it might be useful to learn some simple kitchen substitutions, which will make you a better cook and a better baker both during quarantine and once things return to “normal,” whatever that might mean.

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Fun fact: tartaric acid, or cream of tartar, is a byproduct of the winemaking industry.

A recent trip to our local grocery store thankfully offered plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and disturbingly empty shelves elsewhere. Baking ingredients were almost completely cleaned out, including yeast and baking powder. If you need baking powder and can’t purchase it, make your own with baking soda and cream of tartar: use one part baking soda to two parts cream of tartar and whisk well. Don’t make much more than you need, however, as it doesn’t keep indefinitely. An added advantage to making your own is that you avoid the sodium aluminum sulfate added to most commercial baking powders. (Also, please note that baking soda and baking powder are not interchangeable in recipes as they each have their own distinct purpose.)

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You can spoil your own milk by choice! How magical!

Many baking recipes call for buttermilk, usually because its acidity is needed to activate the leavening agents and produce a light, fluffy texture. Rather than buy expensive bottles of buttermilk that languish in the back of the fridge and are eventually thrown out, just make your own. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a scant cup of milk, stir well, and let sit at room temperature for ten minutes. The acid sours the milk and creates a de facto buttermilk, perfect for baking. And if you need milk for a recipe but don’t have any on hand, thin out your plain whole-milk yogurt with a little water until you have the quantity you need. (Another pro tip: milk freezes beautifully. Pour a fresh gallon into small airtight containers, leaving room for expansion, and thaw as needed.)

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Acids! So necessary, and yet so underused!

Acidity is a key component of balanced flavor and can be found in a variety of different ingredients. When it comes to savory dishes, acidity might be the difference between a compelling, intriguing meal and one that’s simply uninteresting. Acidic fruit juices, like lemon and lime, are used in the same way vinegar is, to add a bracing note to a dish. Keep in mind that certain acids, such balsamic vinegar, will add sweetness more than acidity – but this might be ideal in a slow-cooked Bolognese, for example. Rice vinegar is light and delicate, perfect for salad dressing, and softer acids, like orange juice, are terrific in stir-fries and baked goods. If you’ve got an open bottle of white wine, you can use that too. The next time you cook something that tastes a little flat, add a splash of acidity and see if it doesn’t improve the situation – and don’t be shy about subbing one acid for another.

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The room temperature consistency of cooking fats shows you how to substitute.

When it comes to cooking fats, the easiest rule of thumb is to think about their consistency at room temperature and switch like for like. For example, butter, lard (of which I am a huge fan), hydrogenated vegetable shortening (of which I am most definitely not a fan) and coconut oil are all solid at room temperature, meaning they can be exchanged with ease, with the acknowledgement that flavor profiles will change. Canola, olive and other cooking oils are clearly liquid at room temperature, so they’ll behave differently in pastries and so on. Butter and coconut oil can obviously be melted to achieve a liquid state (common in muffins and quick breads) but their natural state is solid; in the chemistry of pie crust, for example, cold fat is essential and liquid oils must never be substituted. (Know, too, that cooking fats have various smoke points, which may also affect how they’re used.)

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Please do not make a chia-flax omelette and then send us your complaints.

Our grocery store is limiting egg purchases to two dozen per person, but since we have laying hens (and plenty of neighbors with chickens, too) this doesn’t impact us. If you need an egg for baking and are fresh out, you can always make a chia or flax egg, which have become popular in recent years as vegan alternatives in baking. To make a one-egg equivalent, combine one tablespoon of ground chia or flax seeds with three tablespoons of water and let sit until thickened and gel-like. Some recipes leave the chia seeds whole, but I find that grinding the seeds in a coffee grinder offers a much better texture in the final product. Note that this egg substitute isn’t perfect in all recipes – please don’t use for quiche! – but offers a decent facsimile in muffins, quick breads and other baked goods.

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Why buy fancy cake flour or self-raising flour when you can make your own?

You may see recipes calling for cake flour or self-raising (also self-rising) flour. These flours are simply lower-protein (also known as softer wheat) flours with other ingredients added, and you can easily make your own.

-To make cake flour, measure out one cup of all-purpose flour (spoon flour into a measuring cup and use a knife to level the top). Remove two tablespoons of flour and add two tablespoons of cornstarch. Whisk together well before blending with other ingredients.

-To make self-raising flour (commonly seen in English and American Southern recipes), add two teaspoons of baking powder for each cup of all-purpose flour. (You don’t remove flour as you do with cake flour, above.) Note that some self-raising flours also include salt; check your recipe to ensure it has the required salt before adding more.

-If a recipe calls for bread flour and you only have all-purpose, please proceed anyway. You most likely won’t notice the difference. Bread flour is a higher-protein (hard winter wheat) flour, but for most home bread baking, all-purpose will do just fine.

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Be cautious when substituting sweeteners.

If you’re just adding a balancing dash of sweetness to a tomato sauce or a salad dressing, you can use any sweetener you have on hand. If you’re baking, however, be wary of switching up your sweeteners. Moisture content is very important in baking, and honey and agave and maple syrup and molasses and other liquid sweeteners have a great deal more moisture than granulated sugars. Although these can be used in certain situations (muffin recipes often call for liquid sweeteners depending on the other ingredients) make sure you know the possible implications before substituting, and know that flavor will likely change, too. Also, be especially cautious with “alternative sugars,” like coconut or stevia or sucralose or other mysterious chemical sweeteners. These rarely work in baking and you may end up with unpleasant metallic flavors and/or wasting a lot of valuable ingredients.

Remember, cooking well isn’t about slavishly following recipes, but about understanding how foods and flavors work together to create the end result you’re after. And substituting ingredients often results in a wonderful final product! Hopefully this strange time we’re in will create a new generation of talented improvisational cooks who work with what they have, rather than longing for something different.

What other kitchen substitutions do you want to know about? Stay home and stay healthy, friends, and let us know what you’re cooking and baking these days.

P.S. Thanks to Malcolm for indirectly suggesting this post, and we hope your sweet potato pie turned out amazing!

 

The second week

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Hi there. How are you holding up? Like most of you, we’re entering our second week of self-quarantine. Some of you are under a mandatory shelter-in-place order. It is no exaggeration to say that our world has turned completely upside down over the past week, and that we’re all doing our best to make sense of a fraught situation that has no logic, no precedent, no guidebook.

I am working diligently on acknowledging what I can control and letting go of the rest. To that end, I believe that our single most important job right now is to stay healthy. For those of us who are low-risk and currently healthy, the most valuable contribution we can make to our community is to remain isolated and entirely out of the medical system, so they can put their attention and skills and dwindling supplies towards those who need it. Obviously everyone’s situation is unique, but here’s what we’re prioritizing at Quiet Farm:

Limited sugar / unlimited fruits and vegetables. When this pandemic imploded in the U.S. two weeks ago, my first instinct was to grab all of my chocolate and butter and flour and cover every available surface in my kitchen with an elaborate array of cookies and brownies and comfort cakes, like some sort of mad bakery vision devised by Lewis Carroll. Baking is regimented and precise and calming, and something we can control when everything else has gone by the wayside. Instead of filling our house with sweets, though, we’re eating as much fresh (and frozen!) fruit and vegetables as we can manage. (When everyone else was stocking up on toilet paper, we were buying citrus. There was plenty.) It’s easy to justify scarfing a lot of junk food and “emergency snacks” when we’re anxious, but sugar is highly inflammatory and I think our bodies are under enough stress as it is. We’re consuming lots of salads and green smoothies and stir-fries, and when I do bake, I bake muffins loaded with fruit purees and nuts and seeds.

(P.S. If you’re buying salad ingredients for longer-than-usual storage now, avoid anything pre-cut and think hardy brassicas like kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbages. These are all super-nutritious and delicious shredded into a salad, and they’ll keep much longer than pre-washed bagged greens.)

Hydration. We live at 6,300 feet in a high-plains desert, so we’re naturally a bit dehydrated most of the time anyway. Dehydration contributes to headaches, irritability, muscle aches, mental fuzziness, exhaustion and a host of other ailments, none of which we need right now. We might be less active these days and so think that we need to drink less, but a cool glass of water could be exactly what we need to right our ship in this moment. We’re drinking lots of water, plus plenty of mint tea and a hot honey-lemon-ginger tonic that soothes throats and nerves. When it seems like everything is about to go entirely off the rails and I can’t take this for one more minute, I stop, breathe and drink a glass of water. It doesn’t change what’s happening in the world, but it does allow me to accept it without panicking.

Movement and fresh air. I’d much rather be outdoors than in even in the best of times, but a heavy, wet spring snowstorm this week has turned our farm into one giant muddy puddle. Despite the poor weather, I compel myself to get outside every day for at least thirty minutes, even if it’s just to empty the compost bin or watch the chickens or check on seedlings. And I never seem to actually want to go for a walk or a run, but once I’m out and moving, I never regret the decision. If you’re able to do so safely (and with appropriate six-foot-plus social distancing), please get outside, even if it’s just to feel the sun on your face. Do ten jumping jacks. Stretch like a contented cat. Skip rope. Run around in circles. Dance like a person possessed. Spring is here, and there is new growth to see everywhere, even if it doesn’t feel much like a time of hope and renewal right now.

Sleep. It is oddly comforting to me, somehow, to know that every single human on the planet right now is under some degree of stress from this new enemy; collectively, we are suffering together. But we’re concentrating on keeping our immune systems strong, and stress, anxiety and poor sleep are in direct opposition to this. So we sleep, as much as we’re able. There is no shame in going to bed at nine o’clock (without our phones!); no shame in sleeping past our usual waking time. Sleep is our bodies’ time to heal and to repair, and we all need that right now. If you can, get some extra sleep. It definitely can’t hurt.

I’m well aware that these are small and meaningless tasks, and they’re nothing compared to what the people on the front lines of this crisis are facing. But these are things I can control, and that’s all any of us have right now. And we need to stay healthy, first and foremost.

How is your household navigating our new world? We’d love to hear what you’re prioritizing. Stay healthy and well.

Farm update: April 29

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Spring is truly here and the Quiet Farm project list expands daily! The weather has been unusually warm, so much so that everyone is concerned about our wonderful mesa snowpack melting too quickly and flooding the creeks. This sunny (and windy) week alone, we received deliveries of soil, lumber, fencing and concrete. We hauled railroad ties, hefted 80-pound bags of Quikrete, wheelbarrowed soil, hammered in T-posts and more. Our farm muscles are coming along nicely, and we’re trying hard to remember to apply sunscreen and drink enough water. When people say farming is hard work, they aren’t kidding – especially when you don’t yet own a tractor.

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The FAQ Series: Sugar, Part Three

We promise that this is our last post on sugar (for now). As you’ll remember, in this three-part series we’ve already talked about sugars you have at home and sugars used by the food processing industry. Now, let’s discuss how the sugar industry has worked so hard to convince us all that sugar is not only benign, but actually good for you!

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Before we get into the sugar industry, we’d like to clarify exactly what we mean by added sugars. An added sugar is any quantity or type of sugar that doesn’t naturally occur in a specific food. A perfect example of this is applesauce: in its simplest form, applesauce is made by cooking apples until they’re soft, then mashing or puréeing them. Lots of ingredients can be added to applesauce, including spices like cinnamon and acidifiers such as citric acid to preserve color. Fresh apples contain plenty of natural sugar; primarily fructose, but also sucrose and glucose in small proportions.

Most store-bought applesauce, however, includes added sugars, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, honey or any of the other sweeteners we’ve mentioned. So if that applesauce label were adhering to the now-abandoned revised nutrition labeling laws, it would have to list both the naturally occurring sugar in the apples, plus all of the sugar added by the manufacturer. Hopefully this clarifies the concept of added sugars – it doesn’t occur naturally in the food or drink.

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Both the apple and the soda contain sugar, but all of the apple’s sugar occurs naturally. All of the soda’s sugar is added.

The sugar conspiracy is one of the most significant health-related stories to appear in the news recently. Essentially, the claim is this: fifty years ago, the sugar industry funded studies on the potential correlation between sugar and heart disease. When preliminary studies did appear to confirm this link, the studies were shut down, and research findings were concealed. The Sugar Research Foundation also reportedly paid Harvard scientists to obscure the link between sugar consumption and heart disease, pushing them to blame saturated fats instead.

And that, friends, is one reason why we’ve spent decades being told not to eat bacon, eggs, butter, cheese or burgers – because they cause heart disease. While excessive consumption of the low-quality saturated fats found in most American diets definitely isn’t a healthy choice, the point is that sugar should also shoulder a lot of the blame. And we now consume a lot more sugar than we do saturated fat, and our heart disease rates are still rising.

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All dried fruit contains natural sugar, but processors add a lot, too. Buy unsweetened dried fruit (this means no Craisins!).

Humans instinctively love the taste of sweet things; sweetness implies carbohydrates, which are quickly converted to energy in our bodies. Now, however, our satiety point is ever higher: as food manufacturers use more and more sugar (or artificial sweeteners), we need more and more in order to stay satisfied and for things to taste sweet. In short, we’re hooked. Sugar has repeatedly been shown to have addictive qualities; one controversial study demonstrated that rats preferred sugar to cocaine.

Not only does eating sugar give you a quick hit of dopamine, causing you to crave it more frequently, but it also ages your skin prematurely, causes inflammation that may increase joint pain, builds up in your liver (causing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) and thickens your artery walls, leading to heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. And obviously, we know it rots our teeth. But because sugar kills so slowly, it’s taken us decades to acknowledge its risks. Sound familiar? Indeed, this is the tale of Big Tobacco, with a different villain. (Fun fact: cigarettes contain a lot of sugar. It dramatically increases their inhalability and therefore their addictiveness. This is true.)

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Notice the percentages? If it’s only 27% juice, the rest is most likely corn syrup, water, colorings and flavorings. And even if it’s 100% juice, it’s still sugar.

While our entire standard American diet (cheap meat! low-fat dairy! refined starches! hold the vegetables!) is to blame for the astronomical rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in the U.S., sugar is a big part of this – and by far, we consume the vast majority of sugar in sweetened beverages. Coca-Cola has spent millions funding studies shifting blame for obesity away from sugary drinks and onto “lifestyle choices,” and we’ve long been told that “fruit juice is part of a healthy diet” – remember every breakfast commercial with its tall, frosty glass of Florida orange juice? But soda and fruit juice are still simply liquid sugar, and we’ve been convinced that drinking our calories doesn’t count. This is proving immeasurably detrimental to our health.

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They all contain sugar. But they also contain fiber.

Drinking juice, or soda, or sweetened coffees or teas, or energy drinks, is basically a great way to mainline sugar, with no health benefits whatsoever. Eating whole fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, offers your body accessible sugar – with the immensely important addition of fiber. Fiber is key, because it acts like those traffic lights allowing timed access to busy highways: it slows the sugar down in your body, giving you more time to absorb it. This is precisely why a soda gives you a sugar rush and then a crash, but a roasted sweet potato allows for sustained energy. The standard American diet is shockingly low in quality fiber, and this deficiency seriously affects our overall health; increasing rates of various GI diseases, including Crohn’s, IBS and colon cancer, prove this. For optimum health, you have to control the way your body absorbs sugar, and the fiber in whole foods does just that.

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Salted peanut butter chocolate chunk cookie, anyone?

Let me be clear: I am in no way advocating a 100% sugar-free diet. First, it’s virtually impossible to achieve, and second, it takes a lot of the joy out of eating, which should be one of our greatest pleasures. I obviously bake frequently, and I use real sugar when I bake. But I want people to know when they’re eating sugar. When you drink your calories, or when you eat yogurt that doesn’t taste that sweet, or when you drown your industrial burger in high-fructose corn syrup, you’re consuming a ton of sugar, but you’re not getting the true enjoyment out of sweets. I want people to eat delicious, satisfying, well-made desserts, but I also want people to appreciate those for what they are: occasional treats. Hidden sugar simply does not need to be part of every single food, beverage, condiment and snack we consume, but our processed food industry has convinced us otherwise.

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So after all this lecturing, how can you reduce sugar in your own diet? It’s actually pretty simple.

  • Eat whole foods, including unlimited fresh fruit and vegetables. Eat whole grains and quality fats, like good butter and olive oil.
  • Work on your own sugar satiety point. If you regularly sweeten your coffee or tea, start by using a little less. Then a little less, then a little less again. Do this gradually. Eventually, you’ll reset your own taste buds.
  • Don’t drink your calories. Despite what the label says, there is no health benefit, and you’ll end up eating more because drinks don’t satisfy the way actual food does. Black coffee, unsweetened green, black or herbal tea or sparkling water with lemon will do just fine; stay away from fancy juice bars. And soda is poison. End of story.
  • Read every single ingredient label. Learn the names of all the industrial sugars. Then avoid them. Even better, save yourself lots of reading time by purchasing foods without ingredient labels, like fresh produce and bulk grains.
  • And above all else, cook or make it yourself. When you prepare food from scratch, you control exactly what’s in it, and you know that you don’t need six teaspoons of sugar in your morning yogurt, or eight teaspoons of sugar in your coffee.

Thanks for following our sugar series! If you’d like to read more about the processed food industry and the sugar conspiracy, I’d highly recommend these two books: Food Politics, by Marion Nestle (or anything else by her) and The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes. And let us know what else you’d like to learn more about, and we’ll get on the case!

The FAQ Series: Sugar, Part Two

In Part One of our series on sugar, we discussed the most common sugars you might have at home and typically use in your own drinks and baked goods. Food processing companies, however, have access to dozens more ingredients that they can use in their products, all of which are sugar – but under different names.

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Here’s a fun game: how many different names for sugar can you find on this ingredient label?

Keep in mind that labeling laws in the U.S. require a product’s ingredients to be listed in descending weight order, with the most prevalent ingredient first and so on. Because added sugars are in at least 75% of all processed foods (a conservative estimate), manufacturers are understandably wary of listing sugar as one of the first three ingredients, even if that’s technically true. So the loophole here is to obviously identify sugars individually – that is, maltodextrin separate from high fructose corn syrup which is separate from invert sugar and so on. Did you know that sugar goes by over 60 different names on American food labels, and anything ending in “-ose” is sugar? If you see more than three of these on a product label – especially if they occur within the top three ingredients – put it back on the shelf.

  1. Agave nectar
  2. Barbados sugar
  3. Barley malt
  4. Barley malt syrup
  5. Beet sugar
  6. Brown sugar
  7. Buttered syrup
  8. Cane juice
  9. Cane juice crystals
  10. Cane sugar
  11. Caramel
  12. Carob syrup
  13. Castor sugar
  14. Coconut palm sugar
  15. Coconut sugar
  16. Confectioner’s sugar
  17. Corn sweetener
  18. Corn syrup
  19. Corn syrup solids
  20. Date sugar
  21. Dehydrated cane juice
  22. Demerara sugar
  23. Dextrin
  24. Dextrose
  25. Evaporated cane juice
  26. Free-flowing brown sugars
  27. Fructose
  28. Fruit juice
  29. Fruit juice concentrate
  30. Glucose
  31. Glucose solids
  32. Golden sugar
  33. Golden syrup
  34. Grape sugar
  35. HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup)
  36. Honey
  37. Icing sugar
  38. Invert sugar
  39. Malt syrup
  40. Maltodextrin
  41. Maltol
  42. Maltose
  43. Mannose
  44. Maple syrup
  45. Molasses
  46. Muscovado
  47. Palm sugar
  48. Panocha
  49. Powdered sugar
  50. Raw sugar
  51. Refiner’s syrup
  52. Rice syrup
  53. Saccharose
  54. Sorghum syrup
  55. Sucrose
  56. Sugar (granulated)
  57. Sweet sorghum
  58. Syrup
  59. Treacle
  60. Turbinado sugar
  61. Yellow sugar

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The FAQ Series: Sugar, Part One

It’s February, and in America that means we’re celebrating both American Heart Month (take care of your heart!) and Valentine’s Day (so much excess sugar!). Ironic, no? We’re going to return to travel posts from our winter trip to Europe shortly, but in every single one of my recent corporate presentations, I’ve been asked about sugar. Therefore, I think it’s time that your trusted team over here at FQF HQ answer some questions about this ubiquitous yet widely misunderstood ingredient – one that we absolutely need to survive but that is also making us very, very sick.

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Oh my goodness! So very many sugars! All in my own cupboard!

We’re going to start with the basics, and we’re going to break this post into three parts because it’s that lengthy and it’s that important. (Also, I don’t want you to tune out due to boredom.) I’d argue that no other single ingredient in our collective Western diet right now is as significant as this one, so let’s get a few things straight.

  • sugarany of the class of soluble, crystalline, typically sweet-tasting carbohydrates found in living tissues and exemplified by glucose and sucrose; present in sorghum, maple sap, honey, etc.; used extensively as an ingredient and flavoring of certain foods and as a fermenting agent in the manufacture of certain alcoholic beverages

Let’s break that definition down a bit further: almost every single food we eat – fruit, vegetables, dairy – contains some quantity of naturally occurring sugar. It’s a carbohydrate, and it exists in simple and complex forms, and we need it to survive. But it’s not so much the naturally occurring sugars that are killing us, it’s the added sugars in just about everything.

In this first section, we’re going to talk about commonly available sugars: the ones we might find in our grocery store or pantry, the ones we use every day in our own coffee and tea and cookies and other things we make at home. And in the second section, we’re going to talk about industrial sugars: the ones that are added in for us, the ones we’re totally addicted to and the ones we eat way too much of. Finally, we’re going to discuss how the sugar industry has conspired for decades to convince us that butter and cream and eggs and bacon are the true villains, not sugar, even though they’ve long known otherwise.

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