When I was a child, both of my grandmothers were very good cooks in their own rights ...but their approaches to cooking were very different. My mother's mother was very literal. If the recipe called for 1/4 tsp of a certain ingredient and my grandmother did not happen to have that particular ingredient on hand, she could not make the recipe. My mother was a little more adventurous that her mother, but not much ...she would deviate but only when absolutely necessary and not without great trepidation until she knew for a fact the final product was still good.
My other grandmother, my dad's mom, was just the opposite. She could and would follow a recipe but she also relied on her past experience and sense of adventure when she cooked. If she was missing some key ingredient to the recipe, she considered what alternative she might have available and gave it a whirl. My cooking habits lean toward my adventurous grandmother. Some of my best casseroles and desserts were born from the necessity of stretching the groceries and a willingness to experiment with what was available in the cupboard. Tweaking I call it.
One of my earliest adventures in such tweaking of recipes was when I got called at the last minute one afternoon to hostess a meeting that night for members of a committee I was on at my son's school. I needed a quick and easy dessert and decided to make the Velvet Crumb Cake recipe which used to always be on the back of the Bisquick box. I knew it was a simple coffee cake recipe but very tasty, perfect for a quick easy dessert.
The recipe called for 1-1/2 cups Bisquick, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup milk, 2 Tbsps shortening, 1 tsp vanilla and 1 egg. Very simple. I was in a hurry, so I didn't take the time to look through my cupboards before I started. I grabbed a mixing bowl and just started measuring ingredients into it. The Bisquick and sugar and milk were already in the bowl when I discovered I had no shortening ...none. I had no real butter either, only tub margarine. Now I was not only worried about not having a dessert, but was faced with the very real possibility that I had just wasted all of the other ingredients already in the bowl. So I decided to be adventurous. I started looking through my cupboards to see what I did have that might make a reasonable substitute for shortening. And then I saw it ...a big jar of creamy PEANUT BUTTER. It was the same approximate consistency of shortening and having made plenty of peanut butter cookies in my time, I knew it would blend well and bake well. So I substituted 2 Tbsps of peanut butter for the shortening and continued on with the recipe. After the batter was properly mixed and in the baking pan, I put it in the oven and turned my attention to making the topping.
The original Velvet Crumb Cake recipe called for a coconut and brown sugar topping but I decided to be adventurous with the topping as well and continue on with my peanut butter theme. I combined 1-1/2 cup confectioners sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/2 cup peanut butter and beat with an electric mixer until very smooth. The result was a thin peanut buttery glaze which I then drizzled over the now cooled coffee cake. The meeting went well but the cake was the hit of the party. Each of the four ladies at the meeting that night requested the recipe and were really surprised when I told them it was the old standby Velvet Crumb Cake from the Bisquick box, but with peanut butter substituted for the shortening. Since then, I have never been afraid to experiment in the kitchen.
Sometimes I tweak because I don't have a particular ingredient on hand but most times I do it simply to make the recipe better suited to our particular (or should I say our peculiar) tastes. Yeoldfurt really likes it when I tweak.