In this life (so far), I have had a variety of experiences. That knowledge has been both professional and personal. I write from that basis.
It happens more often than we like. We are in the middle of a simple or complex recipe, and it calls for some special apparatus to finish the cooking process. Here are a few examples:
- Melted chocolate: You need a double boiler.
- Quiche: You need a whisk.
- Pasta Sauce: A garlic press is needed.
- Steamed Vegetables: Steamer basket is required.
The list seems to go on and on. The problem, of course, is that you don't have these things. And think about it a moment: Who do you know who has a steamer basket or double boiler?
Most manufacturers only offer these items as separate purchases. Neither of these two items comes as part of a set of pots and pans. So do you avoid recipes that require these things, or do you innovate?
I say innovate!
Stainless Steel Mesh Colander as a “Steamer” Basket
Most of us have colanders. I have three, more or less designed for pasta, that are made of plastic and two more that are designed for much finer foods. In fact, I use a stainless steel mesh colander for rinsing leafy greens and berries.
In a pinch, it makes a great steamer basket and since it is bowl-shaped it will fit neatly into many different sizes of saucepans and stockpots that I own.
Do not use a plastic colander. Steam is considerably hotter than the 212°F boiling point of water; the plastic will melt. Do use a stainless mesh. Mild steel will impart flavors into your food so avoid using that.
As you can see from the photo at right the colander is considerably larger around than the pan it's nested in. Despite this, I can get 3 cups of food in there, place the lid for the saucepan over it all, and still get a halfway decent "seal" between the colander and pan.
Note: When steaming you do NOT want a tight seal.
Double Broiler Substitute: Stainless Steel Bowl in Three Quarter Saucepan
This is almost as easy as the "field expedient*" steamer above. It does not work with an 8-quart stockpot, however.
A small stainless steel bowl nested in a 3-quart saucepan serves beautifully as a double boiler. After all, the entire point is to use steam heat, rather than burner heat, to bring your food items to a particular temperature. Since double boiler inserts start at about twenty dollars and they are step-graduated to accommodate just about any sized pan why not just use a stainless bowl? You don't really want to have that insert parallel to the top of the pot anyway (I don't; I usually like to tip the bowl toward me) and if you do it's not a big deal to get it there.
In the picture gallery above, I have a flat-bottomed bowl in the saucepan. I also have a round bottom bowl that works just as well.
Result? I didn't spend $15.00 to $20.00 for a special boiler insert and I can use the bowl for other things, not just double boiling.
* When in the service any time we used something other than the "proper" equipment to get a job done, either because we forgot it or just didn't have it, we called it a field expedient solution to a problem. In earlier times this was called "Yankee Ingenuity."
Coffee Chopper: Mortar and Pestle Substitute
You have a complex recipe that calls for a considerable number of spices (let's say chili) and part of the instructions says to grind coriander and cumin seed and mix well with chili powder. The problem? You don't have a mortar and pestle.
Not many of us do (I do as you can see). But let us be blunt, how often are you going to use that?
As you can see from the picture above, I have the mortar and pestle (the mortar is the "bowl" and the pestle is the "stick"), but to be honest, using this device is a lot of work, and cleaning it can be problematic. Worse a really good mortar has a very rough inner surface. It's almost impossible to get all the ground spices out and you certainly don't want that if your next recipe calls for a completely different set of spices.
A perfect substitute is a coffee chopper. Not a grinder. The chopper will make quick work of your spices (be sure to pulse to get a good grind) and it's very easy to clean.
Garlic Press vs. Cutting Board and Knife
These things are hardly worth the trouble to use. Sure they are fast. Just pop a clove of garlic in there and squeeze. The problem, of course, is cleaning the darned thing afterward. Ever picked shards of garlic out of those little holes? It's a royal pain in the neck. And honestly, what else are you going to use this for?
As a kitchen tool, it breaks two of my three ground rules on utensils. It will last a long time, but it's not mufti-function and it's not easy to clean.
Better to just place your clove of garlic on the cutting board, place the broad side of a knife over it, and smack the knife. If you are worried about a lot of garlic slivers all over the place, put it between the sides of a folded piece of wax paper.
Not quite fine enough? Use the knife to further cut up the garlic. In one aspect this is a lot slower than the press, but as to cleaning up, it's much faster. And you can use the knife and cutting board for other things, right?
Whisk vs. Fork vs. Chopsticks
OK, this isn't a perfect substitution, but it's close. The tines of a fork are almost as good as the loops on a whisk. And the better news is the fork is much easier to clean; it is also multi-functional.
Granted you may need to whip your food item a bit more with the fork than with the whisk, but if no whisk is handy, the fork is a close analog.
Of course, "whisking" is all about pumping air into a liquid. Commonly used in egg-based dishes (such as scrambled eggs, whipped cream, quiche, and even mayonnaise) a whisk is a first-rate tool, but if you don't have one (I personally think they are overpriced for what they are) then a fork is not a bad substitute.
You can also use a pair of chopsticks held with a slight gap between them. This makes for a very rudimentary "whisk", but it is also surprisingly effective.