I will admit not all recipes can be treated with such wild abandon but after cooking for as many years as I have, I feel1 comfortable substituting ingredients, confident that the end result will turn out just fine. Sometimes even better!
Let's take a Tuna Pasta recipe I made for the family this past weekend:
Tuna 2- 5 oz. cans, drained
2 cups egg noodles, cooked & drained
1 cup peas
1/2 cup cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
Combine all ingredients, heating in pan just until heated through. Serve.
My notes-I cannot remember where I got this recipe from since I've had it so long. I don't know why the instructions are so vague. Luckily, it's hard to mess up!
If I were to guess, I would say this recipe would be 4 servings but for my family, ahem...more like two (or one if my husband had his way~he loves pasta!) so I double it.
tuna: even though I double this recipe, I don't double the tuna. I stick with the two cans. The water that is drained off is offered to the pets.
egg noodles: the last time I made this, I didn't have egg noodles on hand so I used shell shaped pasta instead.
cheese: I normally use shredded cheese; usually we keep shredded colby-jack, mild cheddar, Mexican 4 blend or mozzarella~any is good. This time I was out of shredded cheese so I used canned, grated, parmesan cheese.
peas: I prefer using frozen but did not have frozen peas on hand so I used canned peas from the pantry. I didn't measure, I just drained off the liquid and dumped the whole can of peas in the pot.
cream of mushroom soup: I normally use the 10 3/4 ounce size of condensed soup but didn't have that so I used a 19 ounce can of Progresso cream of mushroom soup.
milk: we don't keep milk on hand since we don't drink it but I used a bit of heavy cream mixed with water this time. I just eyeballed it but I would guess the ratio was a tablespoon of heavy cream and then added enough water to equal 1/2 cup (or in the case of doubling the recipe, I doubled the amounts.). I've also used reconstituted dry milk at times.
With all the tweaks and substitutions, I made this time and in the past, we've never not liked the result!
Serving suggestions: Hubby likes to add a squeeze of lemon to it. We all like to sprinkle parmesan on top. Add a simple green salad & maybe some garlic toast.
*Most of the ingredients for this dish I purchase on sale and keep on hand, making this a quick, thrifty meal!
As a new cook, I did follow recipes to the letter but as time has gone by and I have hundreds of dishes under my belt, I've learned (pretty much) what can and cannot be toyed with. Oh, I do still get nervous at times when I'm trying something new, but usually my fears are unfounded and the results are delicious!
I hope this might help any novice cooks that are just now entering the world of cooking and baking to relax a bit, make common sense substitutions to your recipes if need be (hey, we all find ourselves in the kitchen from time to time in the middle of a recipe only to find we are missing something) and, worse case scenario, you have to call for pizza. And know it's not the end of the world!
(I wish I had thought to take pictures of the dish before it was devoured by all of us!)