please leave your comments, criticisms, recipe ratings & requests or input for future posts! comment or email me at with any of the above.

Friday, October 10, 2008

go fancy: the art of recipe modification

i used to find myself getting discouraged because i'd see fancy meals that looked soooo delicious in magazines, online or even in restaurants that were just too fancy for me to make for any number of reasons. then i started dappling in the art of recipe modification and realized - "i can cook fancy, exotic things too!". the consequence is that now i'm not capable of following a recipe exactly (which is sometimes good and sometimes...), but here are some basic reasons the skinny bovine modifies recipes and how i work around them (if this post is too long for your taste, skip down to the "total savings for all 6 servings" near the bottom and you may be convinced it is worth your time!):
  • the ingredient is too expensive. this obviously happens a lot on my budget. some examples are fancy cheeses, nuts, fresh herbs, etc.
  • the ingredient is obscure or strange. do you ever read a recipe and think - "what the heck is that and where would i even buy it?"
  • the ingredient is the most unhealthy thing you could possibly eat. that might be extreme, but you know what i mean. example - a whole cup of oil in a cake recipe. barf. how young do you want to die?
  • you don't like the ingredient.

work arounds:

  • leave it out: you obviously can't leave out a main ingredient or something that will drastically change the taste of a recipe, but there are many things you can leave out. example: my banana nut muffins are still fabulous without the expensive nuts.
  • cut it down: if there is something expensive, maybe just use a tiny bit of it. if it is something unhealthy, see if you can use less - it is often just as good with less! example: almost every recipe calls for more oil than is actually needed. cut it way down or you can often leave it out (see example below).
  • search out a substitute: so brie cheese or fresh herbs won't fit in your budget either? you want to make a pasta sauce with cooking wine but you don't buy wine? a cake recipe call for 1 cup of oil (barf)? use google or a cookbook in your kitchen to find a substitute. example: chicken broth is a good sub for some kinds of wine in recipes. sub applesauce or plain yogurt for oil. (see an herb example below.)
  • use a different ingredient than the undesirable one and then use extra of something else (spices, another ingredient, etc.) to compensate. this takes a little bit of practice, but try it and you'll be surprised how creative you are! (i did this with the spaghetti squash and red sauce - added more of the veggies i like and left out the ones i don't. i also do it in the example below.)
my sweet friend jenny brought me dinner right after i had my daughter and what she brought was sooooo yummy i just had to get the recipe. i was slightly disappointed when i saw all of the fancy ingredients, but have since modified this fancy, exotic recipe to be totally doable, even for a healthy-eating, money saving skinny bovine. it illustrates all of the above modifiying techniques also, so it helps illustrate my point! it also uses some of that coriander i told you to buy when i posted creamy herbed chicken and homemade mashed potatoes!
rachel ray's "moroccan chili and 10,000 grains of sand"
6 servings

(places where i made changes are purple - see list of changes and reasons below)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds ground lamb
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce, eyeball it
1 (14-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups chicken stock/broth
a handful golden raisins
4 apricots, chopped
1 1/2 cups couscous
3 to 4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
a handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped
a handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
8 pita breads, cut into wedges for scooping

skinny bovine's "moroccan chili and 10,000 grains of sand"
6 servings

1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder + a bit more
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin + a little more
1 tablespoon ground coriander + a bit more
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon + an extra dash
1/2 teaspoon paprika + a little bit
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce, eyeball it
1 (14-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups couscous
1 teaspoon dried parsley
a handful fresh spinach leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
8 pita breads, cut into wedges for scooping (made from recipe here)

looks the same as rachel ray's, eh?

1. make pita bread and let rise.
2. heat skillet, add meat. season the meat with salt and pepper, to taste, chili powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and paprika. cook until browned.
3. add the bay leaf, onions, bell pepper and garlic to the pan. cook until onions are soft, 8 minutes. 4. add lemon juice and zest, worcestershire sauce and tomato sauce. stir and reduce heat to simmer.
5. bring butter and stock to a boil in a pot with tight fitting lid. add couscous, stir then turn off heat and set lid in place. let stand 5 minutes. add spinach and dried herbs and toss with fork.
6. cook pita bread and cut into wedges.
7. pile chili in bowls, top with "sand" and serve with pita wedges for scooping.

  • eliminated olive oil - there is enough grease in the meat that you don't need it and you're eliminating 28 grams of fat and 240 calories by leaving it out!
  • substituted 2 lbs ground lamb for 1 1/2 lbs ground turkey - who has ground lamb? and this makes it 36 grams of fat and 765 calories in 1 1/2 lbs ground turkey instead of 123 grams of fat and 1772 calories in 2 lbs ground lamb.
  • added a little bit more of each spice - ground turkey absorbs flavor and usually needs more. (read more.)
  • left out half the butter (just 1 tablespoon instead of 2) - saving 11 grams of fat and 100 calories.
  • left out apricots and raisins - i don't like apricots or raisins and they are just something else that adds cost to the meal.
  • left out pine nuts and mint - i once paid about $2 for 2 tablespoons of pine nuts. never again. these would obviously be a yummy addition, but the recipe is still wonderful without them! also, 3 tablespoons of pine nuts has 174 calories and 18 grams of fat)
  • substituted fresh parsley for 1 teaspoon dried - way cheaper!
  • added spinach - this way it is still pretty like if you used the fresh herbs and besides, you added a veggie! (read more on adding veggies)

total savings for all 6 servings:

  • fat grams eliminated: 144 (olive oil, turkey, butter, pine nuts)
  • calories eliminated: 1521 (olive oil, turkey, butter, pine nuts)
  • money saved: $12 (about $4 on turkey, $4 on fresh herbs, $1 on fruit, $3 on pine nuts)

okay - that is totally amazing!!!!!!!!! i don't usually obsessively break it down like that, but i'm even shocked now. that is real healthy and budgeted savings!

hope this post was as fun for you to read as it was for me to create! now, go to it - go mess with a recipe! take something out, add something yummy, make it better and make it your own!


Janssen said...

I love this post (of course, I love all your posts on this blog - totally brilliant).

Super Angie said...

Awesome post! I do a lot of substitutions because of where I live... One of my all time favorite cooking sites is

It's a cooking thesaurus. It's especially great when a recipe calls for spices I don't have.

BrittWilk said...

thanks janssen! it was fun to write, too. now i'm tempted to obsessively breakdown all of my recipe changes for money, fat and calorie savings. it was pretty cool! :)

and i've never heard of before... a cooking thesaurus sounds amazing!

The Foote Family said...

Wow! I can't believe how much fat that cuts out. That is awesome! I am inspired to try to experiment with recipes now. Thanks.

BrittWilk said...

go for it, katie! you'll be surprised how good you can make stuff while still cutting lots of fat and calories.

healthy cooking on a budget

disclaimer: i don't claim to be an expert on cooking, weight loss or even healthy eating, but i do love to cook, find healthy, taste bud-friendly tricks and most of all, i love to eat!

qualifications: what qualifies me to blog on cooking healthy on a small budget? well, as my husband is still a student, my budget is not what you'd call large. and as for the healthy part, when i was 10 i was diagnosed with pancreatitus - a disease that doesn't effect me much anymore unless i eat food that is too greasy or has too much fat (in which case, well, let's just say i get really sick). this had steered my experience and limited cooking expertise in a health-conscious direction.

please feel free to comment, criticise, rate recipes, try ideas and make requests for future posts!