Your housewarming party is this weekend, and you’re planning out the food spread you’re hoping to serve your guests. You want everything to be perfect, but the pieces just aren’t fitting into place. Sound familiar? Or maybe you discover a new recipe that looks pretty good, but it contains an allergen that you want to swap out. Or maybe you have an old family recipe that you adore, but you wish you had a healthier version of it.
There are plenty of reasons why someone might want to modify a recipe, but it’s natural to feel nervous about the prospect of messing with a tried-and-true formula. After all, if you’re going to be stocking up on all of these ingredients and taking the time to make something from scratch, you want to make sure it turns out the way you want it.
The next time you’re waffling about whether or not to change a recipe, take a look at some of the tips and tricks below to help you feel more confident about taking the plunge.
1. Swap out a flavor
This one’s pretty simple. If you have a beloved recipe for blueberry muffins, but you just picked up a pint of raspberries from the local farmer’s market, you can swap those in one for one without any issue. The trick is to try to make swaps with ingredients that are as close in size and texture as you can. A cup of blueberries will bake differently than a cup of pecans, for instance. If you want to make a more drastic swap, it’s a good idea to look for a recipe that might be more similar to model your tweaks after.
2. Switch out fresh or frozen fruits or veggies
Some parts of the country have more limited access to produce than others. You might not be able to find fresh pears in the middle of May or watermelon around Christmas. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to give up your favorite dishes just because the seasonality isn’t quite right. Feel free to swap in frozen versions of your favorite produce item. Just add an extra ¼ teaspoon (per cup of fruit) of whatever thickener you’re using. This will help soak up the extra moisture cooking out of the frozen produce. You also may need to bake your dish a little bit longer to account for the thawing that’ll need to take place, so don’t be afraid to leave it in the oven a few extra minutes. Be careful though—only swap in frozen fruit if it’s some sort of baked dish. Thawed-out frozen produce tends to be soggy and mushy and not ideal for serving to yourself or your guests.
3. Reduce the amount of sugar
There’s a healthy-eating initiative that’s been picking up steam over the past few years. More and more people are abandoning their fast food habits in favor of fresher, homemade dishes and cutting out unnecessary carbs and sugars. You can apply those same principles to your favorite recipes too, particularly desserts. With most recipes, you can reduce the amount of sugar by 1/3 or even ½ without affecting the overall chemistry of the dish. You can even double up on sweeter spices, such as cinnamon, to help make up for the reduction in sugar.
4. Change the cooking method
This is a particularly apt choice for those old family recipes you have lying around, the ones that require you to bake them in the oven for three hours at 300°F. Modern at-home cooks just don’t have time for that anymore, particularly on a weekend. If you’d rather leave it in the slow cooker all day or figure out how to use your multicooker, it’s best to find a similar type of recipe online to get a sense of the ideal cooking time. Remember that multicooker recipes typically need liquid to cook off, so make sure the recipe you’re choosing to convert fits that aesthetic. Otherwise, have fun experimenting! Try to change cooking a piece of chicken on the stovetop to an oven-baked recipe or vice versa, depending on your time constraints and nutritional needs. See how your favorite mac and cheese dish fares in the slow cooker. You’ll never know if it’ll work until you try.
5. Reduce the quantity of a recipe
It can be much more difficult to figure out what to cook for just one or two people than to cook for a group. How do you make dinner for yourself when every recipe out there seems to be geared to feed eight? If freezer meals or multiple nights of leftovers aren’t your style, one of the best things to try is to halve or third a recipe. We’ve included a handy guide you can use when trying to figure out how to divide ingredients. As a bonus hint, if you’re trying to figure out how to divide an egg in half, whisk it first and then divide, so you have an even distribution of yolk and eggs.
While there are many other ways to modify a recipe, this should help give you a few ideas to dip your toes in the pond. Modification is one of the best ways to make any baseline recipe work for you, so have fun and plunge in!