A few weeks ago, I had the chance to interview Becky Sue Epstein, author of the new book Substituting Ingredients: The A to Z Kitchen Reference.
I was also sent a copy of the book to review, and I have already used it more than once. It really is a great kitchen reference to have on hand. The book is an alphabetized index of common ingredients and possible substitutions you can use if you don’t have that specific item.
I know I’m always running out of things – cornstarch, vinegars, the right type of flour – and it’s nice to have all this information in one place. Plus, the book is on the smaller side, which I LOVE. Most of my cookbooks and reference books are huge and I don’t always want to get them off the shelf because they completely take over my counter space. I don’t have to worry about that with this book!
If you spend any time in the kitchen, you’ll love having this book in your library.
How did you come up with the idea to write a book about substitutions in the kitchen?
I like to make spur-of-the-moment meals, so I’m always looking for substitutions. I began collecting them, and after a while — and a lot of experimentation — it turned into a book
Have you always been a writer? If not, how did you get into this field of food writing?
I have always been a writer. First I was a concert reviewer in Los Angeles. I had friends who were restaurant reviewers and sometimes we would cook together, and that turned into me becoming a food writer. I write about wine and spirits as well.
I always find myself running low on flour, sugar, butter, oatmeal, and chocolate chips (guess that’s a clue as to what I’m usually making). Are there certain ingredients that you run out of often?
First of all, I have to say you sound a lot like me: I always have the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies in my house. You never know when you’re going to need some. But for brownies, I don’t always have the right chocolate, so I learned early on how to substitute cocoa and butter for baking chocolate.
As far as substitutions go, are there any that surprised you when you were researching and writing the book?
I was surprised at how easy — and cheap — it was to make things like marinades, sauces and condiments that we pay a lot of money for in the supermarket.
Do you have substitutions that you use often in your own kitchen?
Yes, speaking of condiments, I never buy tartar sauce or cocktail sauce because they’re so simple to make.
What would be your number one tip or suggestion to carry into the kitchen?
Can I have 2 tips? When cooking, don’t be afraid to try a substitution. When baking, remember it’s chemistry and you need to keep the ratio of liquids and solids and leavening the same.
What’s next on the horizon for you? Any other new books in the works?
My book The American Lighthouse Cookbook also came out in the past year. I wrote it with a local chef, Ed Jackson. It’s local, coastal food from all the coasts of the United States; North, South, East, West and including the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska and the Great Lakes.
And a couple of fun questions:
It’s Saturday morning. What’s your dream weekend breakfast?
Waffles, a Fritatta or Eggs Benedict if someone else is cooking. And bacon on the side. (Pancakes and sausages if it’s me cooking.)
What is your favorite dish to cook? To eat? To make for others?
I have a major sweet tooth, so I really like eating desserts. I’ll try anything in my ice cream maker, and it usually comes out pretty well. You don’t need to make something complicated with eggs and cooking. You just need milk, fruit, sugar, and touch of flavoring. People are often impressed if you make your own ice cream. (And it’s pretty easy so don’t tell on me.)
What substitutions do you use in the kitchen?