How to Update Your Old Recipes
By Kathryn Bailey
How to Update Your Old Recipes - Food Network Canada
Add some excitement to old recipes – or simply make them healthier.
“You are what you eat” is a tired old cliché, but in reality our eating habits are as key to our identities as the clothing we put on each morning. Fashion trends exist for the simple fact that most of us, by nature of being human, itch for variety in our lives. And in the same way that wardrobe-weariness leads to updating clothing and investigating new fashion trends, “old standard” recipes can be rejuvenated to add some variety and kick, or to simply keep up with the trend toward more healthful eating.
Family recipes that have been passed from generation to generation are undisputedly treasures to be preserved. Reality dictates updating most of these heirloom recipes simply because ingredient or measurement instructions prove sketchy at best. In times past, most recipes were passed on verbally. And if they were written down, information was often imprecise as recipes were frequently altered depending on ingredient availability.
Use Measurement Charts
In Grandma’s day, most recipes were limited to very basic staples like flour, sugar, salt, milk, eggs, and simple meats and vegetables. And, of course, many of the kitchen appliances or measuring instruments we now take for granted simply didn’t exist. It’s not unusual to come across peculiar measurements like “a spoonful”, “a jigger,” “a pinch,” “a peck”; and cooking terms like “place in a slow [or quick] oven.” In order to decipher these types of measurements, there exist plenty of modern cooking resources featuring conversion charts explaining that “a slow oven” is 300-325 degrees Fahrenheit and that “a peck” (which sounds small) is actually a two-gallon dry measurement. If ingredients are difficult to determine, it’s best to research your recipe, comparing it with similar items in modern cookbooks or online resources. At some stage, improvisation may be inevitable, but isn’t that just what Grandma used to do? Very few recipes need to be followed to the letter to ensure successful results. In fact, many suggest seasoning “to taste.”
Experiment with New Ingredients
In today’s “global village,” most urban centers or Internet and mail-order resources prove endlessly abundant when it comes to obtaining international flavours, exotic spices and convenience foods that eliminate the need to prepare from scratch. A new trend sees many gourmet grocery shops hand-picking weekly or monthly featured items and delivering directly to your door. With so many delectable, fresh and healthful items so easily at hand, it’s impossible not to consider ingredient substitution, recipe embellishments and, simply, experimentation.
Try Healthier Options
In addition to flavour embellishments, health considerations apply when updating recipes, and unfortunately, “healthful” is likely not the best descriptor when it comes to these family heirlooms. Though not all of them need to be modified, some recipes might benefit from calorie, fat, sugar and/or salt reduction, and/or an increase in fiber. In most cases very simple ingredient modifications or substitutions can significantly improve the nutritional/healthful quality of a recipe without sacrificing flavour.
The best way to update recipes for health benefits is to gradually introduce modifications (noting successes or failures for the next attempt) until the recipe meets satisfaction. Some modification suggestions are as follows:
For fat, calorie and cholesterol reduction, use skim or low-fat milk where whole milk is called for; use margarine instead of butter; when baking, reduce butter, oil or shortening by up to 1/3 or substitute all or part of the fat with fruit purées or applesauce; where fat is called for, substitute vegetable oils; always select lean cuts of meat and remove fat and/or skin; use two egg whites or an egg substitute for a whole egg; use reduced-fat/calorie dairy products, or substitute plain low-fat yogurt for sour cream in sauces and dips; bake, broil or grill instead of cooking with fat; and substitute oil with water, broth or wine when stir-frying vegetables.
To eliminate sugar and salt, consider reducing quantities overall. In most cases, sugar can be reduced by up to 1/3 without much impact upon flavour. Salt can usually be eliminated entirely, though it may be necessary to reduce it gradually from one’s overall diet. And to a certain extent, using spices and herbs can approximate both sugar and salt. Artificial sweeteners can be used in moderation but sometimes fail in recipes. Low-sodium versions of soups/broths and canned vegetables should always be first choice.
To increase fibre, always choose whole grains over refined products; add fruits and vegetables to recipes and add extra when already called for; leave peels on fruits and vegetables wherever possible; and substitute up to 1/2 of refined flour with whole wheat flour in recipes.
Other influences to recipe updates might include specific dietary requirements. For example, there exists a profusion of “heart-smart” and diabetic cooking products and resources, not to mention the world of vegan/vegetarian cooking which continues to influence advances in meat and dairy substitutes. Whatever your motivation toward rejuvenating your old recipes, a little research and a lot of creativity will go far in keeping you on the cutting edge of culinary style and savoir-faire.