When you are facing a new task, it makes sense to look to other people for guidance.
How do you fix a hole in a sock?
Can you freeze mushrooms?
Can you substitute x for y in a recipe?
Can you use fabric dye to cover a bleach stain?
(I tried that one and here’s what happened.)
Learning from people who have gone before you is smart. Why reinvent the wheel?
But sometimes, you can’t find an answer, the answers are conflicting, or the answers don’t quiiiite address your particular situation.
In cases such as these, as long as the stakes are low, I think it’s a very good idea to just try it and see. You will learn so much if you approach life like this!
A few examples that are common questions people ask me:
Can you freeze ______?
If you try a recipe and no one in the comments knows if it freezes well, set aside a one-serving portion, freeze it, thaw it, and see how it fares.
That way you have only potentially ruined one serving instead of an entire recipe’s worth of food.
Can you sub ___ for ____?
If you want to sub an ingredient in a recipe, give it a try and see what happens.
(I recommend only subbing one ingredient at a time; if you sub four ingredients, you might have a culinary disaster on your hands.)
A one-ingredient sub will probably be fine, and the very worst thing that will happen is that one dish you make will be inedible. That’s not a huge price to pay for an experiment.
I’ve been doing this a lot as I try to figure out how to make our familiar foods dairy-free for Sonia. Most of the time, it’s going well, but sometimes things don’t work quite right.
I’ve also tried making just a small batch of a dairy-free version as a test. Once I know how it works (or doesn’t). then I know how to proceed in the future.
Can I fix this doll’s hair?
Maybe you’ve wondered, “Will that boiling water doll hair straightening method work on my doll?”
And I say, if the doll’s current hair is a complete disaster and you couldn’t possibly make it worse, give a try. What have you got to lose?
Can ____ be made ahead of time?
For instance, if you wonder, “Could this bread dough be made ahead of time?”, you could bake one loaf regularly, but let the other one rise in the fridge all day.
That way you have one guaranteed good loaf, and the other one is just an experiment.
Can I paint this piece of furniture?
If you think, “Hmm, would this old, ugly dresser look good if I painted it?”, I think you could just try it and see.
If it’s super ugly right now, odds are good you won’t be making it worse. The risks are low!
Will this item sell on eBay?
You can do some research to get a good idea, but if that doesn’t give you a definitive answer, you could always list it and see what happens.
That’s how I ended up selling the hardware from Sonia’s dresser and also the drawer pull from Zoe’s nightstand.
I was skeptical it would work, but I gave it a try and I recouped the cost of the furniture!
Can this be halved or doubled?
If you wonder, “Could I halve or double this recipe?”, give it a try.
Most things can be easily halved.
And most foods double well, although you may need to adjust cooking times a bit.
For instance, if you double this brownie recipe, you will probably need to bake the batter longer if you use a 9×13 pan.
Or you could double the recipe and just use two 8×8 pans (that’s what I do!)
How do you mend ____?
If you have a dishtowel, washcloth, bath towel, or item of clothing that’s coming apart, I always think it’s worth a try to mend it.
It usually only takes a minute or two to redo a hem, sew up a hole, or zig-zag over a frayed area. And the more you try this, the better you will get at figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
And that’s the thought I want to end on: the more you “try it and see”, the better you’ll get at judging whether or not something will work.
Both failures and successes will add to your knowledge base, so these experiments really do pay dividends over the long haul.
What’s something you’ve learned with the “try it and see!” method?
It can be a success or a failure, since they’re both instructive.
Sunday 5th of July 2020
This week I found 4.6 oz. tubes of Pomi tomato paste for $1.00 each. The expiration date is the end of November, which means they should be good for at least 18 months. I was going to buy twelve, but inspired by this post, decided to go for 24. I'm hoping I can freeze then, but I'm not sure if the tubes will explode. I think I'll put one in a plastic container and try it. The worst that can happen is the tube splits, but at least the mess will be contained. Fingers crossed that it works.
Monday 6th of July 2020
Tomato paste is so dry, I don't think it expands much when frozen (when it I freeze it in cubs, it stays pretty much the same size). You could always squeeze a little out of each container to give it a little expansion room.
I hope it goes well for you!
Wednesday 1st of July 2020
My friends kept saying I should write a cookbook (or open a restaurant!) after all the years of cooking/baking for my kids since one is allergic to wheat, rye, barley, oats, sorghum, buckwheat, tree nuts, and dairy, and the other is allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, and melons and has oral allergy syndrome to SO MANY fruits and veg. I used to have to work without eggs and sesame as well! You definitely get a sense for what you can substitute for what. Most recent success: gluten, dairy, and egg-free artisan bread. Most recent fail: dairy-free mint chip ice cream. I made it with fresh mint, which came out a little...toothpaste-y, but OK. I didn't want to use eggs, and did use rice milk, so it came out more like an icy sorbet. Edible, but not fabulous.
When my youngest turned 1, we knew he couldn't have wheat. Since he was in a sweet potato phase, he got a big bowl with a "1" candle in it. When he turned 2, I was brave enough to try baking a cake (gluten, dairy, nut, and egg-free), but didn't know that GF would always be denser and wetter. It tasted pretty good, but was a bit...doughy. By the time he turned 3, I had it dialed in and have fed everyone from my family to a couple hundred people using my alternative recipes. But nearly 15 years on from that successful birthday cake, I'm still experimenting. This week it'll be faux graham crackers so he can (hopefully) have s'mores for the 4th of July.
Wednesday 1st of July 2020
I give you so much credit, working with all those allergies!
Tuesday 30th of June 2020
“Just throw it out and buy a new one” is such a destructive mindset. Thank you for the practical examples to beat this bad habit!
Tuesday 30th of June 2020
The "Can I sub X for Y?" in a recipe is the number one reason to learn some chemistry!
Experimentation can help, of course, but having some basic knowledge of the chemistry behind cooking/baking can really help you make a good decision about whether to try a substitution.
For example, if you're trying to reduce the sugar in a recipe, it's important to know whether or not the sugar is structural, or just there for flavor. In cookies, sugar is structural - you can't reduce the quantity without significantly impacting the texture, browning, and flavor, even if you're adding a sugar substitute. However, in a smoothie, sugar is merely there for flavor - you can easily sub a sugar substitute.
Or in baking - is the milk structural or for flavor/moisture? If it's structural, like using dairy-based milk in a pudding mix (the chemistry involved means you can't sub a non-animal-based milk), if you try to sub something like coconut milk, it's not going to work. But if you're making pancakes, sub away - it's mostly there for moisture and activating the baking powder.
Tuesday 30th of June 2020
I have very little counter top space & drawers in my kitchen so when I moved in I had to get creative. I had this idea to buy a wine rack to sit on top of a portable small kitchen cupboard to store all my drink bottles & foil, cling wrap, & baking paper boxes & I wanted a silver one to match my kettle & utensils. Of course no-one was selling silver ones at the time so I searched on our version of craig's list & Hoped it would be the right size & drove a long way on a very hot summers day, got lost, found the house, got the rack & got home & it works great, it even holds my rolling pin. I keep the bottle lids in a drawer so I can air dry the insides after washing.
Thursday 9th of March 2023
@Deidre, That’s brilliant. I may also try your idea in my small kitchen!