One of my gigs is with a company named ChefsLine. ChefsLine is a service that provides professional cooking help for home cooks either via chat or on the phone. I've been doing it for three years and three questions have predominated season-in and season-out, year-in, and year-out:
1. I put too much salt (or pepper) in my ______, how do I fix it.
2. Why... are my cookies too crisp/did my cake fall/is my icing runny?
3. I'm making ______ and don't have ______, what can I substitute.
The first one is easy, the second more difficult, and the third sometimes requires doing a good deal of research to answer. For instance, someone recently asked me how to substitute semi-sweet chocolate for unsweetened chocolate. I managed to Google an answer, but on occasion it's taken me as long as an hour to find the best answer. That's why when I was offered a copy of Substituting Ingredients: The A to Z Kitchen Reference (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2010, $9.99) to review I leapt at the chance.
Becky Sue Epstein's little book is 191 pages consisting almost purely of entries ranging from:
= clams = scallops Note: Cooking times may vary. See Shellfish
1 teaspoon white vinegar in 1 quart water
I confess, I expected to find a "Z" entry, if only suggesting that eggplant is a good swap in texture and cooking characteristics for zucchini (the reverse entry does exist suggesting). Nevertheless, if you need a substitute for mascarpone you'll find that. And if I'd had the book then I could have quickly told my caller that cocoa and butter were a better sub for unsweetened chocolate than semi-sweet chocolate (it took me an hour to find that info on the Internet).
In addition to straight swaps there are pseudo/mini recipes such as quick chutney or fudge sauce as well as quantity equivalents like how many apples are needed when the recipe calls for four cups of sliced apples (1 lb. = 2 1/2 - 3 slice cups). And did you know you could substitute shark for scallops? I used to know that but it would have taken me some time to dig the memory up. But Epstein doesn't mention that skate can sub for shark and so, by extension, for scallops.
Quibbles aside, this little book is quite thorough and passed my spot tests for the accuracy of the advice. I'll have it near my phone/computer when I man the ChefsLine help line in the future.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.