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Create Your Own Menu (Part 9): Substitutions & Equivalents

Figuring out substitutions and equivalents is most important when creating the grocery list and when creating the instructions. There are a few resources (see list below) that I use regularly to figure out the equivalents that I am looking to replace.

Not all recipes are created equally. Or at least not written equally. Meaning, some recipes will give you the number of onions needed, others will give you the number of cups of diced onions needed.

ChoppedOnionsIn a typical Once A Month Mom menu I have to go back and forth between recipes and resources to figure out the correct amounts. I also make adjustments so that on the recipe cards the ingredients are listed by cup while on the grocery list I indicate the number of items needed. For example, onions. In the recipe I will list the number of cups but on the grocery list it states the number of onions or the approximate pounds needed. I do this because when you are grocery shopping you need to know how many to buy. Then, once they are cut up you need to know how many cups are needed. If you get to a recipe and it calls for 2 medium onions and you have chopped 10 onions it is difficult to decide how much at that point.

This is the reason that many of you sometimes end up with too much or too little of one product or another. It really is an estimation game. If I am indicating that you need 5 lbs of medium onions and your onions are large you will likely end up with too many. I think chicken is the most difficult to judge. As chicken breast portions vary by vendor and store this is the one that I find the most variance on. I do my best and you will have to also when you are planning your menus.

Here is the process that I take:

Substitutions & Equivalents

1. Get to know your resources

There are lots of resources out here but these are the ones that I use on a regular basis. I encourage you to use these as you are creating your menu. If there are others that you have utilized I also encourage you to share those with others in the comments section below. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Gourmet Sleuth – This site just got a face lift and I am LOVING it! It is where I frequent the most for substitutions, equivalents, conversions and better understanding of a product.
  • About.com – This site has an alphabetical listing of ingredients so that you can figure the conversions, equivalents and/or substitutions. I use this site as a comparison to Gourmet Sleuth or if I can’t find it on Gourmet Sleuth.
  • Barilla – How To Measure Pasta – Pasta is tricky to me. So is rice. This site gives you uncooked ounces and cup yields. This is important when trying to figure out how much pasta to buy versus how much pasta it yields for the recipe. On the grocery list you will want to list dry ounces, on the recipe cards cups. I also use this site when I am changing the type of pasta in a recipe to make sure that I am purchasing enough.
  • Recipetips.com – This site has several different sets of information but I use it most often to figure rice equivalents. Again, the grocery list needs to list the ounces/pounds needed to purchase while the recipe card of ingredients needs to list the uncooked or cooked yields in cups.
  • Kitchenlite iPhone Application – I have an iPhone, sorry for those of you that don’t. And honestly, I don’t think I could live without this application! I use it every single month. I can type in the number of Tablespoons and it will tell me the number or teaspoons, cups, ounces, etc. It is easy to use and saves me tons of time when creating my menus. I think that you can get the same functionality out of Gourmet Sleuth’s Conversion Calculator if you don’t have an iPhone.

2. Go through ingredients on each recipe card

I go one by one through my recipe cards looking at ingredients. If the product is listed as a whole item, like 1 onion, I write down the equivalent in cups. You have to do conversions most often for produce, meats and canned items.

GroceryListEquivalentsIf it lists cans of something without ounces I figure up how many ounces is in a typical can of that particular product (each product is different) and write down the indicated ounces. When we go to the grocery list it is just easier to see the total amount of ounces needed instead of number of cans. One reason being that some people buy at super stores in bulk and this helps them to know the total ounces they will need.

Occasionally, you will also have to figure out how many teaspoons, Tablespoons or cups of a product equal the ounces of that product. For example, when you are grocery shopping you need to know how many cups of flour or ounces of mustard you will be needing. The cups or Tablespoons really isn’t going to help you much unless you are really good at conversions on the spot (I definitely am not). See the above list of resources for figuring these measurements out.

2. Substitutions

I then go through and see if I need to do any substitutions. For example, if a recipe calls for a vegetable medley but doesn’t indicate which vegetables I will see which vegetables I am already using and include those vegetables in the medley opposed to having us purchase additional types of vegetables.

There are often times when a recipe calls for a wine or other substance that might not readily be available to readers. At these times I will look at the substitutions charts to see if there is another ingredient we could substitute in it’s place.

And there are sometimes when we have a like ingredient that I substitute in a recipe for ease of use. One example of this is that several recipes on the February 2010 OAMM Menu included Canola Oil. I therefore changed all the recipes to be Canola oil so that we weren’t using several different types of oil. Another ingredient that I often do this for is pasta. It is just easier to have to boil the same types of pasta all together than in separate batches.

Used with permission Flickr Creative Commons, photo by deartistzwei

Used with permission Flickr Creative Commons, photo by deartistzwei

3. Equivalents

Back when we were evaluating quantity we had to multiply the ingredient list. When you did so, you may have found that you now need 14 Tablespoons of an ingredient. You could spend all of your time measuring that out on your cooking day or  you can simply figure out how many cups it will be.

4. Update Your Grocery List

As I am writing in the measurements for the ingredients that I will need on our grocery list I make sure to take careful notes on the recipe cards and on the grocery list as to the indicated amount to purchase versus the measurement needed on the cooking day. You can save yourself some time if you figure out substitutions and equivalents BEFORE creating your grocery list. But do whatever works best for you. That is the key.

Overview Questions – Substitutions & Equivalents

  1. Which resources will you be needing for this menu?

  2. Have you gone through EACH recipe card and indicated measurement on the ingredient list but purchasing amount on the grocery list?

  3. Are there recipes that would be easier if I figured out the equivalent amount of a larger measurement?

  4. Have I gone through my grocery list one last time to make sure that I have the indicated product amount needed?

Please feel free to direct questions in the comment section below. However, keep in mind that this is a multi-part series. Please review previous posts for answers before submitting questions and review upcoming topics to see if your question will be answered shortly. Thank you.

Previous “Create Your Own Menu” Posts:

Future “Create Your Own Menu” Posts:

  • Part 10 – Creating Labels
  • Part 11 – Bringing It All Together

**Don’t forget this months ongoing contests in celebration of the Once A Month Mom Blogiversary! There are great prizes to be won!

**And the Flirty Apron Giveaway going on through 2/15.

5 Responses to “Create Your Own Menu (Part 9): Substitutions & Equivalents”

  1. Heather_H says:

    AHHHHH — this is good information. I crave a step-by-step approach when it comes to something daunting like this. I’m grateful for very organized people who are liberal with the tips and tricks. Thanks!!

  2. Amy says:

    I have to disagree with you on the pasta. I would much rather see the weight of pasta on a recipe card than the volume. The biggest reason is that I have a hard time cooking more than 2 pounds of pasta in a pot at one time. I use my biggest pot and a bunch of water, but if I add more than 2 pounds of pasta to the water it sticks together and doesn’t cook properly. Once it’s cooked there’s the problem of draining off the boiling water. For shaped pasta I use the lid to drain the water, but that trick usually results in lost spaghetti, so it doesn’t always work. My colander only fits 2 pounds of pasta and even that’s a stretch. When I need to cook more than 2 pounds of pasta, I use multiple pots and/or multiple batches. BTW, I cook alone so this isn’t as big a deal as it would be if I were cooking for 2 families.

  3. Deanna says:

    I searched itunes for the Kitchenlite app, but couldn’t find it. Do you recall where you got it from?

  4. [...] series I started called Sliced & Diced. The point of Sliced & Diced is to help us get some equivalents and yields on commonly used foods for our once a month cooking menus. After all, on our grocery list we need to buy whole produce, [...]

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