It’s easy to forget about some items when shopping because they are so commonly in the pantry, but it happens. I’ve often found myself either calling mom or frantically searching on-line how to get around this problem.
My biggest problem used to be thickeners. I now have so many memorized methods I doubt the problem will recur, but it took a lot of time. Here is what I’ve found to be useful: Corn starch and water: This will add very little flavor, making it an ideal method. It can thicken things too much, but if that happens all you need to do is add a little liquid. It also rarely clumps.
Flour: Making a roux at the beginning of the dish is the best way to use flour for thickening. It takes some time to thicken up, allowing you to cook a dish longer. Uncooked flour does have a distinct flavor, so if you need to use it later on, it’s best to use it in a fifty/fifty mix of flour and butter, mixed until smooth. Flour does tend to clump if not mixed properly.
Arrowroot: Not many cooks have this on hand anymore, but it makes a superb thickener. I don’t recall it having any flavor, but it may be noticeable to others. It should be used like corn starch. I’ve never had this clump on me.
Buttermilk: I rarely use buttermilk, so when a recipe calls for it I don’t have it. The only time I buy it is when I’m planning to make Boston brown bread, and not always then. However, there is a way around it. This is done by mixing whole milk with vinegar. You can use reduced fat milk, but it doesn’t come out as good. I use about a half teaspoon of distilled vinegar to a cup of milk. Don’t use any other type of vinegar, as it will bring other flavors to the dish that may clash.
Baking Powder: Baking powder and baking soda can be used as substitutes for each other. They aren’t the same chemically, but they do have the same job — leavening. If your recipe calls for salt, use about two times the amount of baking powder as you would baking soda. To substitute for baking soda, you’ll need baking powder and cream of tartar. Use two parts cream of tartar to one part baking powder.
Whole Wheat: If you want to substitute whole wheat for white flour, you have to be very careful. You will still need some white flour or your bread will be much closer to a brick than a soft, springy, tasty loaf of bread.
Milk: Many people recommend substituting soy milk for cow’s milk. However, there are some hormone problems with using a lot of soy, so most recommend using almond milk. There are all kinds of cooking substitutions. If you find yourself in the middle of something, many cookbooks have a table of them in the back of the book right before the index.