How to Make Do in the Kitchen

My mother taught me a lot about food, including how to work with what you have on hand to make nutritious meals. She lived through many years when money was tight, and her creativity, coupled with a refusal to waste food, served her well for feeding a family of five. While I have more resources than my mom did for most of her life, her make-do mentality has stuck with me, shaping how I cook and manage food in my household.


My mom, who recently passed away, but is always in my heart.

Thanks, Mom!

I recently came across a recipe in the Washington Post for Roasted Salmon with Artichoke Topping by Ellie Krieger, nutritionist, cookbook author, and host of Ellie’s Real Good Food. Ellie’s recipe sounded so delicious that I had to make it that night. Problem was, I only had half of the ingredients in the house, and I wasn’t going to the store at 6 PM to get the rest. So, channeling my mother’s flexibility with food,  I changed Ellie’s recipe by:

•  Using canned, drained artichoke hearts instead of the frozen kind.

• Whipping cottage cheese in the food processor to stand in for ricotta cheese.

• Swapping in half as much dried parsley for fresh.

• Using sundried tomato pesto instead of plain sundried tomatoes.

• Substituting regular salt instead for sea salt.

• Relying on minced, prepared garlic instead of fresh

The result? Scrumptious! It goes to show that the best recipes, like Ellie’s, will turn out just fine, even when tweaked quite a bit.

My version of Ellie Krieger’s Roasted Salmon with Artichoke Topping. Almost the same, but not quite.

Do Recipes Matter?

Improvisation in the kitchen comes naturally to me, but I  have to admit that I had doubts about messing with Ellie’s recipe because I was sure that she had worked hard to get it just right. However, as Jacques Pepin explains in this video, even if I had used the same ingredients, my results could have turned out differently than Ellie’s.

Pepin says a recipe is merely a point of departure, and that ingredients and preparation can, and must, change to fit each particular situation.  As a recipe developer, that’s music to my ears.  I want my recipes to “work” so badly for my readers that I get panicky about other people getting the same results as I do, but I guess I shouldn’t worry so much.  Changing up ingredients offers the opportunity to make food that suits your tastes.

It seems as if my mother was on the same page as Pepin, in her everyday-cook sort of way.  As a working mom who had a home cooked dinner on the table for us every night except Sunday (when my father ruled in the kitchen), I’m not sure she thought too hard about how a recipe would turn out; she seemed to know that her results would be OK, even with alterations.

Emergency Recipe Swaps

Being willing to improvise, and knowing how, helps you to be a better, more efficient food manager (which saves money), and helps you get food on the table.


It’s always a good idea to scan recipes before starting to cook and realizing that you don’t have an ingredient, or as in my case, six. However, coming up short on ingredients shouldn’t deter you from making most recipes, although it’s more difficult to alter certain baked goods than meat, chicken, or fish dishes.  Here’s a great source for ingredient substitutions that I refer to frequently.

I also find it helpful, and entertaining, to read comments about online recipes for ingredient swap ideas.  I love to see how cooks change recipes because they want, or need, to tweak the ingredients, and I appreciate the tips that they offer after trying the recipe.

What are your favorite ingredient substitution stories?







  1. I’m a firm believer in winging it! I think people often get so hung up on the fact that they’re missing one ingredient that they don’t try a recipe at all. Good advice Liz!

  2. I love this post (and I *live* this post, too!) I often use dried herbs when recipes call for fresh, or use frozen veggies when fresh isn’t available…things like that. I also add things when I think they’re needed, like frozen peas to a favorite chicken curry recipe (that we made last night, in fact). I think it’s helpful even for insecure cooks to know that a recipe isn’t a to-do list, that cooking is exploration and that improvising can be fun. The worst that could happen is you trash the end result and order in pizza 🙂

  3. Kit Broihier says:

    Along with “making do” for financial reasons (or because going to the store for one thing is ridiculous!), I think it behooves children to see how to be creative in the kitchen, as well as to see that sometimes things won’t turn out and it’s not the end of the world. Also, it tickles me to no end to use up stuff in my fridge and present it in a new way. I can thank my mom for that just like you do. Growing up during the Depression and having 8 kids has a way of making someone culinarily thrifty and creative I guess! 🙂

  4. Judy says:

    Reliving last night’s dinner. I used corn tortillas, refried beans, grilled chicken and green salsa to make some kind of chicken enchilada dish. Doctored it with chile powder, salt, pepper and a couple dollops guacamole. We enjoyed our dinner as we cleaned out the fridge from a vacation home! Saving money, saving time!

  5. Pingback: Menu Plan Monday: February 13, 2017

  6. Anthony Sepe says:

    I love this post, Liz. I also live this post. Thank you for sharing, and again, I’m sorry for the loss of your mom. She is alwsys in your heart and will be with you.

    Love you,

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