I used to rattle off this idiom all the time – until I started my cooking escapades. Now it just pisses me off. In its literal sense, the idiom is used to compare two things that are the same. For the past 39 years of my life, I thought half of the items lurking behind my cabinet shelves and refrigerator door were all the same until I started paying attention to the ingredients in Mom’s recipes.
It’s astounding how many varieties of salts and vinegar and oils I accumulated over the years. Almost all of the bottles and boxes are unopened. The only ones that have been used are probably those in my direct line of sight when I open the cabinet door. I never once thought to actually look at a label to distinguish the subtle differences between ingredients. If I needed salt in my eggs, I’d grab the mill sitting in the center of our kitchen table and use whatever managed to trickle out after breaking down the hardened chunks. If I needed oil, I’d grab the Canola oil off the shelf, the one that looked like it was the miracle oil from Judah Maccabea’s temple 2300 years ago.
A few weeks ago, when Pop Pop Buddha was in town visiting, he made up a homonym game at the dinner table that we played with the kids for two hours straight (Pop Pop is always adept at making time seem like it travels through a sieve). We had to explain to my 5-year old that homonyms are words that sound alike but mean different things. He was puzzled at first but caught on quickly. Three weeks later, he still randomly spurts out homonyms as we’re walking home from school. At that moment I realized the similarities between my son’s homonym game and my new-found understanding of those subtle differences between ingredients. While Alex caught on quickly, I still find myself wracking my head against a wall. If I use chicken stock instead of broth for the Judy’s Garlic Chicken, will that really make a difference? If I don’t use baking powder in Judy’s Brownies, is anyone going to notice? I wish there could be a “Common Recipe” for meals just like the “Common Application” grads use when applying to a variety of colleges. However, I know I’m going to have to learn the hard way – one ingredient at a time, one recipe at a time. No substitutions!
Test your culinary knowledge (winner will receive my remaining wedding china). Do you really know the true difference between these cooking ingredients and the benefits to using one in place of the other? Do you have certain ingredient preferences? Are you comfy substituting? Let me know.
unsalted vs. salted butter
confectioner’s sugar vs. granulated sugar vs. powdered sugar vs. brown sugar vs. light brown sugar
garlic salt vs. garlic powder
chicken stock vs. chicken broth
olive oil vs. virgin olive oil vs. canola oil vs. vegetable oil
whole wheat flour vs. regular flour vs. all-purpose flour
Panko bread crumbs vs. regular bread crumbs
Sea salt vs. kosher salt vs. iodized salt
Baking chocolate vs. chocolate chips vs. unsweetened chocolate vs. bittersweet chocolate
Organic vs. conventional (just kidding, that’s another entire blog post)