Review: The Food Substitutions Bible

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The Food Substitutions Bible
By David Joachim
ISBN: 0778801195
Publisher: Robert Rose
Publication date: Sept. 2005
Format: Paperback
List price: $19.95 (Canada, UK)
Type: Reference
Sample recipe: Vegetable Stock
intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive Biblical stature coffee-table
competition: outclassed also-ran midrange strong challenger leads the pack
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 >300
practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% >80%
# of ingredients: <3 <6 <9 <12 >12
ingredient hunt: 7-11 pantry supermarket online airfare required
recipe complexity: baby steps simple medium intense professional
instructions: inadequate bare bones full figured educational verbose
time conscious: outright lies speed of light fairly quick takes time takes all day
photos/drawings: skimpy adequate decorative instructive glorious
recipe results: dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
flavor quotient: disappointing fair good delicious exceptional
layout: ick cluttered clean kind to cooks work of art
legibility: microscopic challenging adequate clear brilliant
production quality: cheesy questionable years of service gift-quality stunning
value: ouch! a little pricey on the money excellent worth splurging
Ease of Use
page numbers: invisible hard to find spotty adequate obvious
table of contents: missing frustrating passable useful helpful
index quality: none tragic adequate good excellent
page flipping: infuriating tedious acceptable rare never
writer: hack cook turned writer writer turned cook comedian auteur
cook: self-taught non-restaurant chef teacher celebrity
overall rating: fair good above average excellent Ochef Top 100

Comments: As it absolutely should, this book begins with a disclaimer: there are not substitutes for everything in the food world and every substitute you make involves a compromise. The expectation of so many people (and so many Ochef questioners) is just the opposite — there must be a substitute for everything, it should be better than the missing ingredient, and it should cut out 96% of the fat of the original ingredient. It just doesn’t work that way.

Another problem facing people who have run out of an ingredient is that often the best substitutes are more exotic than the original item — if they don’t have gelatin on hand, how likely are they to have kosher gelatin, agar powder, or carrageen on their shelves? Again, a list of possible substitutions still doesn’t save them from an extra trip to the store.

But into this minefield of frustrated expectations marches crusader David Joachim bearing his Food Substitutions Bible. While bringing a little reality check to people’s expectations, he has produced a comprehensive reference book of substitutions for more than 1,500 ingredients and cooking processes — in all, more than 5,000 substitutions. In lays out in table form every ingredient, technique, and piece of cooking equipment Joachim could think of and every possible substitution for each item — including substitutions that “vary the flavor, “substitutions “to save time,” and (a Joachim specialty) substitutions “for better health.” There are short definitions for most items, as well as measurement- and temperature-equivalent tables in the back of the book.

Now, as much as we like it, this book is absolutely not sexy. It’s like the world’s largest black, white, and gray spreadsheet. You’re not going to curl up with it for a little cozy reading. But it is an indispensable reference. It’s thorough, it tackles ordinary and exotic items alike, and — and this is the important part — we trust it. There are other books on the market that look OK until you try out their substitutions and find some of them to be ghastly. All the listings we checked in this book look to be very good — the best compromises possible for the sad eventuality that some day you may be cooking merrily along and realize with a shock that you don’t have lardons, or Gouda, or a Dutch oven, or plantains, or savory, or chipped beef, or….

Also by this author: Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks