Culinary Sleuth

The Creative Cook
Adapting and Altering Recipes

by Lynn Kerrigan


Someone recently e-mailed me requesting a recipe for a jalapeño marinade. She'd been to a restaurant and enjoyed the pork chops created with this particular recipe and wanted to duplicate it at home. Using the handful of recipe search sites on the Internet I found a reasonable facsimile and sent it off to her.

For some reason, this exercise made me wonder just how many recipes there are in the world. The Internet alone must have archives of thousands if not millions. In addition, there are millions more in cookbooks, newspaper food column and food association promotional brochures. This in turn made me wonder just how many of these recipes are unique and that's what led me to write this article.

It's said there are no new recipes anymore. New cookbooks contain a reworking of previously published recipes from cookbooks that contain adapted recipes from previously published recipes and so it goes. A subtle change here or there, a pinch of this instead of a half teaspoon of that and eureka, you've developed a new recipe. Recipes themselves are copyright free meaning you may copy the list of ingredients in any media you want. It's the recipe name and instructions that are subject to copyright law so be sure if you filch a recipe to use as your own, you make significant changes in these areas. Also, if you adapt a recipe, it's professional (and common) courtesy to site the original source or creator.

If new cookbooks contain hashed over versions of old recipes, why are they so popular?

I call this phenomenon, recipe mania. It may even border on obsessive-compulsive behavior. Recipe or cookbook collecting is the American homemaker's number one hobby according to Avis Hulvey, editor of Cook's Notebook. I believe it. Scan any pen pal publication like Woman's Circle and you'll find recipe or cookbook collecting listed as a hobby in the majority of listings. There appears to be some weird force that compels normally sensible people to feel they "must have" every published recipe in their kitchen or they'll expose themselves to culinary illiteracy. The irony is that even if we live significantly longer than average, we'd never have time to make all the recipes.

So getting back to that jalapeño marinade, what would I have done? I probably have the recipe right under my nose in my own obsessive-compulsive collection of cookbooks and recipe literature. Finding a basic marinade recipe and adding a couple of chopped jalapeño's sounds reasonable to me.

The first point to remember when altering recipes is that all changes are experiments. What results may be a culinary masterpiece or an inedible disaster. Therein lies the fun in adapting or altering recipes not to mention satisfying creative impulses. You become a culinary pioneer or mock food scientist in your quest to develop something new.


Remaking Recipes


The healthy eating trend has people scrambling to remake their favorite recipes into more healthy and still delicious versions. Culinary magazines feature Recipe Makeovers each issue to meet this need. It's easy to do it yourself and is only a matter of knowing what can be changed.

Food scientists discovered most people don't notice a significant difference or accept the difference resulting from the following kinds of changes.


Reduce The Fat


All fats and oils are high in calories and provide lots of flavor but you can make a healthier choice by choosing those with less saturated fat. Likewise, when you use lower fat milk products, you reduce fat, calories, and cholesterol.

Canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, peanut, olive and soybean oil, contain the lowest amount of saturated fat (6%-15%). Coconut oil, butter, palm oil, animal fat and lard contain the most (41-54%).

Use reduced fat sour cream, low fat or nonfat yogurt, or cottage cheese instead of regular sour cream in sauces and dips. Skim milk can replace whole milk in most recipes. Evaporated milk can substitute for whipping cream, and evaporated skim milk can replace regular evaporated milk in some recipes.


Other (Healthy) Ingredient Substitutions


Remake Recipes By Increasing Fiber Intake

* Try All Bran, Bran Buds, 100% Bran, Fiber One. Raw bran is less expensive but some people object to the texture and note a metallic flavor.


Remake Sauces and Gravies

Fat separates the flour or starch granules in sauces and gravies preventing lumpiness. Fat also enhances flavor. To make no-fat, smooth sauces and gravies, blend starch or flour with cold liquid. Add herbs or bouillon granules to heighten flavor.


Did You Know?

When using a regular, not light or microwave, brownie or cake mix you can substitute 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt for the 2 eggs and 1/2 cup oil.


Mock Sour Cream


Combine all ingredients using blender or food processor. Yield: about 1 cup

Has 14 calories and 0 fat grams per tablespoon as opposed to 26 calories and 2.5 fat grams in a tablespoon of regular sour cream.


No-Fat Whipped Topping

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. In a thoroughly chilled small bowl, beat milk and ice water. Beat in lemon juice. Add sugar and vanilla and beat to soft peaks. Add gelatin mixture and beat. Yield: about 1 1/2 cups. Calories: 12 per tablespoon


Homemade Egg Substitute

Because this recipe contains raw eggs, do not use it in uncooked products such as eggnog and ice cream.

Combine all ingredients using a blender or electric mixer until smooth. Store in covered container in refrigerator for up to 2 days. Or freeze in 1/4 cup portions. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Yield: 1 cup; 1/4 cup is equivalent to 1 egg


Information and recipes in this article are adapted from the county extension publication, "Altering Recipes" by food science specialist, Patricia Redinger and communication specialist, Diane Nelson. Available for $2.50 from University of Illinois, Office of Agricultural Communications and Education, 67 Mumford Hall, 1301 West Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801.

The olive oil and baker images provided by ©1996 Alma Shon.


Copyright 1996 Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.

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This Archived Page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007