I believe I channel Erma when I cook.
I refer to Erma Bombeck, the American humorist whose columns included a piece called “Substitutions, A Piece of Cake”.
Erma started out her career writing for Dayton Journal Herald. Very quickly her articles were nationally syndicated and loved by readers all over the world.
I believe Erma and I are kindred spirits, especially when we tie on the aprons and pull out the pots and pans. I too grew up in the Midwest not far from Dayton, Ohio, where she was raised.
In the column I mention above, she substitutes ingredients with reckless abandon. Her hilarious results did not remotely resemble the finished product described in the original recipe. When you live out in the country, a good 30 minute drive from the local Kroger grocery, you may have to improvise… just a little bit.
Tonight I made “White Bean and Chard Soup”. This is a family favorite, made frequently. It can be thrown together in about 30 minutes. It’s one of those “Go To” recipes that I have in my plastic green recipe box.
The avocado shade of green gives it away; it is an old box. The top hinges are broken. I have to keep sliding them back into the grooves on the bottom half of the box. It is treasure trove of irreplaceable recipes. Some are so old and faded that if I did not already know them by heart I’d be searching the internet for similar recipes.
A favorite is my grandmother’s recipe for Spaghetti Sauce. Ingredients include “one 5 oz can of tomato paste; to be rinsed out and refilled with red wine”. This is to be added to the sauce and simmered for an additional 30 minutes.
Priceless! Just for the nostalgia factor alone.
I received this recipe box as a Betty Crocker promotional give away. I loved it because it was much bigger than regular recipe boxes. My Mom had a little white enamel box, decorated with red fleur–de–lis. It was rusted at the edges, from years of use in steamy Midwest kitchens.
I was in my “Earth Mama” stage of life. I cooked from scratch with whole food ingredients. I immediately tossed all of Betty’s preprinted recipes that involved use of canned soup or boxed cake mix. The alphabetized place holders came in handy. The extra blank cards were put to use. I filled the box with my tried and true family favorites.
Prepping for the evening meal, I was in trouble. I looked in the pantry. No cans of white beans! There was certainly not time to soak and cook the dried ones. Going out to the store was not the least bit appealing. We were in the middle of a drizzly, Seattle winter day. At 4:00pm, it was already dark.
Lucky me! I found 2 cans of Black Turtle on another shelf. The rest of my ingredients were pretty close to the original recipe. Who would truly notice that I substituted Kale for the Swiss chard?
“Is this KAAALE?” Hubby’s exaggerated pronouncing of the word gives anyone within earshot a clear idea on his lack of affection for greens.
I strategically first suggested a different entrée; Hearty Pumpkin soup. Hubby likes his pumpkin in the form of pie. He was happy to hear the 2nd choice would be the White Bean and Chard recipe. Good thing he voted for that one right away. I did not have a third recipe to offer that would not involve a major shopping trip.
Our middle son, dining with us on this evening, happens to be totally blind. He certainly would not notice the bean substitution. Black turtles are about the same shape and size as White Canella beans. If you cut the black ones in half, guess what? They are white inside!
This soup is so full of veggies that it makes a great entrée. I love it topped with a poached egg. Add some crusty whole wheat bread to dip into the egg yolk and the broth, there is no need for more than a glass of wine and maybe some dessert.
Hubby enters the kitchen and lifts the lid of the pot. He loudly announces the obvious; “There are black beans in this soup!” I confirm “yes, indeed these are Black Turtle Beans.”
Hubby stirred suspiciously through the liquid mixture simmering on the gas burner. He replaced the lid on my Le Crueset® soup pot.
“What recipe is this?” he asks. I assure him that this is the usual recipe with a substitution with the type of bean only.
Well just another slight change. I used Sun Dried tomatoes in EVOO. I normally would use canned Organic S&W roasted and peeled tomatoes that for this recipe.
And of course there was the Kale. But when greens are cooked they pretty much all look the same. I didn’t trouble him with this additional detail.
My son, now alerted to the switch on the beans, is asking all sorts of questions about the soup and dinner in general. I assure him this will be great and he will enjoy every spoonful.
It helped to remind him of the Flourless Chocolate Torte topped with Caramelized Pears that was for dessert.
Dinner went off without further challenges. I grated lots of Parmesan cheese over the servings. Subterfuge needed to distract my diners from the fact that we didn’t have Aged Balsamic vinegar. Recipe called for vinegar to drizzle on top of the servings.
Hubby was delighted to try out Tabasco sauce on his poached egg topper. Tabasco and Sirracha Hot sauce are his usual condiments of choice on most entrees anyway.
Erma would be proud! Thanks to the chronicles of her adventurous culinary spirit, I certainly have little inhibition when the need to improvise arises.
I wish the Erma Bombeck Cook Book existed. I’d love a quest to cook my way through all of her recipes? I’d substitute ingredients freely and blog about the results. Maybe write a cookbook? Hmmmm …
My recipe substitutions rarely result in “Erma Bombeck recipe disasters. Not many of my entrees get tossed onto the compost heap. My meals are not fed to the “In Sink Erator” garbage disposal. My culinary experiments turn out great!
I write down those “amended” versions on one of the blank cards and file in my big green recipe box.
PS: here is my recipe: Chard and White Bean Stewby