Not all substitutes are created equal
My kitchen is a place of mystery. It shouldn’t be that way, because it is MY kitchen. But I’m a person that skips over the things I don’t know and tries to glean the meaning through context. That works well enough in stories with simple plots. It’s less effective when you have to eat your mistakes. Obscure terms and poorly managed context clues can taste a lot like bitterness and heartbreak, especially if you have to feed them to your family on a hectic Wednesday night.
I can follow a recipe. And I do. And I’ve managed to hone my instant pot skills to the point where my pot roast rocks. I’ve got a short list of meals that might not be a homerun but are at least a stand-up double. But throw in words like julienne or blanche or emulsify and I’m going to just stick the ingredients in the toaster and hope for the best.
But then there are substitutions.
When ya don’t have the ingredients ya gotta have to make something edible.
Then what, Missy.
Well, even with this I have learned a lot over the years. I have learned how to substitute all forms of tomato products for all other forms of other tomato products. I’ve even found that in times of necessity, Little Caesar’s crazy bread dipping sauce stands in for tomato paste like a boss.
On Wednesday afternoon, I had decided that we could get by on leftovers. I wasn’t going to cook. Under the cool, quiet shade of that decision, I sat working on my manuscript. When my phone chimed, I looked at the text and saw that it was Brady.
“what we doing for supper
lucy wants me to come”
I made mental notes to speak with him later about his grammar and punctuation and then responded.
In the instant pot
So come on
My texts were as devoid of style and substance as his were. I stood up from my laptop and immediately began scrambling. I gathered the ingredients I could think of while also searching on the instant pot recipe for Mississippi Pot Roast. Beef stock, au jous seasoning, hidden valley ranch dry dressing mix, the roast. Which was frozen solid. Shoot.
I stopped in the middle of my kitchen and took a breath. It was 4:25. This wasn’t going to work. But I could make something else work.
I switched gears in front of my refrigerator and went back to my pantry for a different set of ingredients. I thought I was making a linear move. I was going from a sure bet to another sure bet. I’ve done both of these meals successfully multiple times. I launched into Melissa’s Beefy Mac n Cheese recipe. I pulled out the beef stock, the ground beef (frozen again, shoot!), the elbows, the cheese, and started measuring off the 900 spices that get mixed into the meat after it’s brown. I defrosted the beef, browned the beef, added the onion, added the 900 spices, added the tomato paste, measured the beef stock and then reached for the milk.
I reached for the milk in the kitchen refrigerator.
There was no milk.
Please tell me the milk got moved to the garage refrigerator. My eyes narrowed in annoyed panic and I swung open the doors to the garage refrigerator.
There was no milk.
My mind began turning on the subject of substitutions. I could be flexible. This didn’t have to be a deal breaker. I opened the kitchen fridge again. Reddy Wip. No, probably not, but I do admit to considering it. Was there oat milk? Oat milk would work. No oat milk. No yogurt, not that this was a good idea anyway. No coconut milk. For some reason, melted butter or sour cream or even water never entered my mind.
I looked at my watch. It was 5:40. It was less than an hour before we needed to leave for church and I had Brady coming for dinner in less than 20 minutes. I was standing there with overdone beef that was dry-roasting in a stew of spices, crackling into little fried meat tips, while I desperately attempted to create milk out of what I currently had in my fridge. I didn’t think I had time to run to the store. I didn’t think to ask a neighbor or a friend, either of which would have worked fabulously. Instead, my eye kept landing on a milk substitute on the door of the open fridge.
A never-opened bottle of Coffee Mate French Vanilla creamer.
I shook my head like I did the instant before I jumped 7 stories with a bungee cord strapped awkwardly to my unmentionables.
This was never going to work.
This was a mistake.
Triple churned, it said.
2x richer than milk, it said.
Contains a milk derivative, it said.
FRENCH VANILLA, it said. That should have been all it had to say.
I should have given up the moment I cracked open the seal and reeled from the pungent French vanilla fumes. Those bad boys flew up my nose like a gnat on a suicide mission. But I didn’t give up. I poured. In my defense, I did make adjustments to the amounts I poured in. The recipe called for 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of broth. I poured in 3 cups of broth and less than a cup of French vanilla creamer. Maybe that would even things out.
I stirred in the liquid as I went light-headed with the smell of flavored lattes. Gross. So gross. But I didn’t stop stirring. I was all in at this point. There was no going back. We are having French vanilla beefy mac tonight, family.
About this time, as the French Vanilla pasta simmered on the stove, Jenna rounded the corner into the kitchen.
“What are we having? Why does it smell so weird?”
“Beefy mac with a twist. I don’t want to talk about it any further,” I answered.
Two minutes later, Lucy rounded the corner into the kitchen.
“What’s that smell?” she asked.
“IT’S DINNER, man! There are people starving in other countries. Cut me some slack.”
I mean, why are we so spoiled?
And then I tried it.
People use brown sugar to sweeten chili all the time. Why not French Vanilla Coffee Mate to sweeten beefy mac?
Because it’s SUPER GROSS. That’s why not.
Brady walked in the back door, with a head full of curly hair peeking out from his cold weather beanie. It was 80° outside.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked innocently. “What am I smelling?”
“Oh, for crying out loud, people. It’s FRENCH VANILLA COFFEE CREAMER, ok? I ruined dinner. It’s ruined.”
Brady had stopped in his tracks to wait out my weird, exasperated little monologue.
“Let me try it,” he said. He is the kindest soul I know and very much wanted to like my substitutions. Because he very much likes this meal. He scooped a small bite of pasta out of the bowl with a plastic fork and put it into his mouth. He chewed on it a little. Then he smacked his lips around a little. He tried to smile, just a little, as he said, “Well, it’s not terrible. A little bit sweet.”
“It’s disgusting,” I had to chuckle a little. “We can’t eat it.”
At this point, the others were lined up like I had opened a new roller coaster. Come see, folks. Mom sweet-poisoned dinner. It’s horrible. Taste for yourself.
The verdict was the same from everyone, Todd included. It’s oddly sweet…with, like, the aftertaste of a band-aid.
“I thought we had milk,” I explained. “I’m sorry, you guys.”
“Ohhhh,” Lucy said with a ‘my bad’ look on her face. “I used all the milk to make pudding.” Well, that explained the mysterious disappearance of all the milk.
I scooped out a bowl’s worth of French Vanilla Mac to offer Andrew when he got hungry and texted him that it was there and to expect a different iteration of the recipe this time around. Then I took what was left of the nasty goulash, which was pretty much all of it, and dumped it into the sink and the trashcan. An hour later, I received a text from Andrew. “I’m just going to order in.”
Even Andrew would not eat it.
Andrew, a dumpster-diving scavenger goat who will eat absolutely anything, took one sniff of that French vanilla ruination and decided he’d rather drain his bank account than take a risk that smelled like that.
The rest of us scrambled to find something to eat. Brady grilled hot dogs. Jenna boiled some regular flavored pasta. Lucy ate tuna. I had an egg.
So, you know. French Vanilla Beefy Mac wasn’t a homerun.
And it wasn’t a stand-up double.
It was a strikeout.
A strikeout where I threw the bat into the stands and killed 3 spectators.
And then went to jail for it.