“There is NOTHING to eat in this house!” said my daughter. It was her first night at home in Maine after Columbia University authorities required her to shelter in place somewhere other than in her eighth-floor dorm room on the corner of Broadway and 114th Street.

What she really meant was “There is no chocolate peanut butter ice cream in this house!” Because that’s what would sooth her craving for some level of comfort. Given that it was the early days in the social distancing phase of our collective coronavirus journey, my larder was appropriately stocked for a long-haul confinement. With a little notice, I could have made some ice cream with the eggs, cream, sugar, chocolate and peanut butter on hand. And I have since done so.

But now that we’re three weeks in, I’m doing my best to cook from my personal stores instead of trotting out to the grocery stores much. I find I seldom have all of the ingredients called for in any familiar recipe we’re craving, or in a new one that I hope can add some much-needed dinner time variety during this confining time. Therefore, with the help of one of my all-time favorite – and currently indispensable – culinary resources, David Joachim’s “Food Substitution Bible,” I’m making ingredient swaps at an unprecedented rate.

I know I am not alone in this struggle to get good food on that table as supplies dwindle, so I am sharing with you my top-10 (or so) ingredient hacks.

10. If you’re making cookies, and you don’t have a cup of packed brown sugar, substitute 1 cup of granulated white sugar and 1½ tablespoons molasses for light brown sugar, or 3 tablespoons of molasses for dark brown sugar. Note also, this substitution works in the reverse. If your recipe calls for molasses and you don’t have it, dissolve 3/4 cups of dark brown sugar into 1/4 cup of hot water.

9. Capers add a quick, salty flavor to any light pan sauce or vinaigrette that can be poured over simply cooked chicken or fish. And while I am always recalling that a half-full jar of capers lurks somewhere in the back of my fridge, I’m rarely right on that score. Therefore, I finely chop green olives in equal measure, as they do a similar culinary trick.


8. I should have paid more attention in chemistry class if I really wanted to understand the difference between baking powder and baking soda. I tend to think of them as the leavening agent in the small can and the leavening agent in the bigger box. Obviously, I typically run out of the former first. Now I know that if I need 1 teaspoon of baking powder that I don’t have, I can combine ¼ teaspoon baking soda, ¼ teaspoon cornstarch and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar to get the same rise out of my baked goods.

7. I’m partial to Coleman’s Dried Mustard Powder, as it was originally made in Norwich, England, where we lived when the kids were younger and still thought I was awesome. I’ve learned to use it to boost the flavor of my mac and cheese and most of the stews I make. But when I run out of Coleman’s powder, I turn to any prepared mustards I have in the fridge. I can stir a teaspoon of any of them into a recipe as long as I subtract a teaspoon of liquid from elsewhere on the ingredient list. If I need straight dry mustard – say for a dry rub on a steak – I pulverize 1 1/2 teaspoons of mustard seeds with my mortar and pestle.

6. Whiskey – oh wait, we’re NOT going to run out of that as we’re still working our way through the 10 bottles of single malt scotch my husband got for his big birthday recently! But I might run out Worcestershire sauce. To make up for a tablespoon of this umami-boosting agent in a dish, combine 2 teaspoons soy sauce with 4 drops of hot pepper sauce, plus 1/4 teaspoon each lemon juice and granulated sugar.

5. My dear friend Elizabeth wrote to tell me the two quarantine staples she requires are Italian Illy coffee grounds and cob-smoked ham hocks from a butcher in Manchester, Vermont. She stocked up on both. But I did not get my hands on the hocks I like for my favorite pot of beans. To get the same smokey flavor in the soup as a single hock would give, my options include 4 ounces of chopped smoked ham, kielbasa or cooked smoked bacon.

4. Fish sauce is the secret ingredient in much southeast Asian food that you don’t want to think too hard about because it’s made from squeezing the juice from fermenting, salted seafood. Might seem gross, but the funky, salty taste it adds to cooked and dipping sauces can’t be beat. Should your bottle run dry and you need a tablespoon, swap in 1 tablespoon soy sauce mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of powdered dulse in a pinch (You are stocking up on seaweed now, aren’t you? It’s handy and nutritious). If you want to make a half cup of fish sauce substitute to keep on hand, combine 1/4 cup soy sauce with 3 tablespoons anchovy paste, 3 tablespoons water, a smashed garlic clove and a pinch of brown sugar in a saucepan. Simmer the mixture over low heat for a few minutes, then strain the sauce into a clean jar and store it in the fridge.

3. Every DIY chicken nugget or fish stick deserves a crunchy coating. Ready-made panko breadcrumbs make this quick and easy (and very kid-friendly) dinner a breeze. If you run out of panko, your pantry likely has at least three other players that can come off the bench and be crushed and pressed into play. Those include Ritz crackers, melba toasts, matzo meal, tortilla or potato chips, dry-bagged stuffing mix, pretzels or cornflakes.


2. I typically use dried oregano only when I’m making pizza, so I was surprised when I ran out of my supply. But I was more surprised by the list of dried and fresh herbs that could be used in its place to give a dish a sweet but pungent note. If a recipe calls for a 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, you can use marjoram, thyme, sweet basil, summer savory or parsley, either 1 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh and minced. For a more rounded flavor, substitute a teaspoon of dried Greek seasoning or French Herbes de Provence.

1. Though I always have semi-sweet chocolate chips in the cupboard to make cookies, I believe semi-sweet chocolate is for kids, and my recipe for Grown-up Chocolate Milk is not. To upgrade the chips into the bitter-sweet chocolate syrup needed for this cocktail, I’ve done this: For every ounce of semi-sweet chocolate chips in the sauce, I’ve added an extra 1/2 teaspoon of cocoa powder. It’ll give you a richer chocolate flavor. I’ve adapted David Lebovitz’s The Best Chocolate Sauce recipe to reflect my substitution. To make what I call “The Best Chocolate Sauce I Can Make With What’s In My Cupboard,” combine 1 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup light corn syrup or agave, and 3/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder in a pan and place it over low heat. Whisk until the mixture comes to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips until they melt. You can share the sauce with the kids over ice cream or waffles, but keep the cocktails for yourself.

Now, even with all of these substitutions at your fingertips, I know full well that sometimes when a cook says she doesn’t have the right ingredients to make dinner, that is code for her saying she doesn’t really want to cook. if that is the case, instead of making dinner, substitute a homemade meal with one of the many curbside take-out options that local restaurants are offering right now as they try to stay afloat until we can all get together again.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at cburns1227@gmail.com.

Grownups’ Chocolate Milk. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Grownups’ Chocolate Milk
This one’s for all my friends who have suddenly become homeschool teachers at the same time they are trying to work at home. To make this vegan, substitute your favorite cow’s milk alternative and skip the whipped cream. Other substitutions include rum, tequila, Irish whiskey or bourbon in place of the vodka.

Makes 1 tall, cold, glass of milk

1/2 cup milk (whole or half & half work best)
3 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate syrup
1 shot of vodka
1 shot of strong coffee
1/2 shot of orange liqueur
Whipped cream
Nutmeg or cinnamon

Combine milk, bittersweet chocolate syrup, vodka, coffee, orange liqueur, and a couple ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Pour into highball glass using a strainer and top with whipped cream and nutmeg or cinnamon.

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