In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Food Wednesdays: Ingredient Substitutions

Written by Donna Marie Desfor, Culinary Consultant and Chef | Apr 18, 2012 11:39 AM

When it comes to meal time who doesn’t feel rushed in the kitchen?  The only thing worse than feeling the pressure to get a meal on the table is going to the fridge or pantry only to find a key ingredient missing.  Substituting ingredients isn’t as daunting a prospect as it may seem:  replace the ingredient’s primary taste (salt, sweet, sour, bitter or savory) with something similar.  For example, missing lemon?  Try something acidic, like lime or orange, or a mild vinegar like champagne vinegar.  Missing bitter radicchio for your salad or a pasta dish?  Try walnuts.  Both have a bitter edge and a slight crunch.  Easy, right?  But there’s another place we too often forget to look and that’s our liquor cabinet!  With the variety of flavor infusions in today’s cocktails, most of us have a lot more help tucked away in our home than we realize.

The trick to making good use of liqueurs as an ingredient substitution is to know its story.  Take one of my favorite drink and pantry stand-bys, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur, for example.  You have to understand that first, it is a liqueur, which means there’s a predominant sweet note to it.  But, when you consider that it’s made from all natural pomegranate juice, infused with vodka and then an added splash of imported tequila, the world of possibilities opens up.  Starting with taste, pomegranate juice is tart and bitter; vodka has a clean taste and works well with most fish and poultry, and then tequila will stear you in the direction of Mexican flavor-profiles.  A splash of this liqueur when I’m missing something key can usually do the trick. 

Once you get comfortable enough with making a liqueur-type substitution (after all the alcohol is cooked off if you heat it) you may do what I’ve done and that’s keep a separate bottle in your pantry.  Then, in the case of the pomegranate liqueur, I have a go-to ingredient where ever a splash of citrus is required.  Yesterday while mixing up a little fruit salad – something I always squeeze fresh orange juice over and found my fruit drawer shockingly bare – I drizzled the PAMA over the fruit instead and tossed it in. After a few minutes I tasted it, expecting a strong, boozy kind of flavor to emerge. In fact, what I experienced was the delicious natural flavor of each fruit in the salad, but with the unexpected and long lasting finish of the flavor – something similar to what you experience with good wine. Though it was there, the bit of liqueur that I did taste was on the after palate, and it was delightfully delicate and surprising, but in a refreshing way.

For those who want to have a bit of fun with some molecular gastronomy in the kitchen, investing in a bit of agar agar powder (less than $3 for about 4 packets at your local Asian grocer) is the way to go.  You just boil ¾ cup of your liqueur with 1 teaspoon of the agar agar, then add about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar (regular works too) and return to a boil  Let this all start to cool down, and then using an eye dropper, drop the agar agar liqueur mixture into a tall glass of vegetable oil that has been in your freezer for about one-half hour.  You’ll end up with a bunch of caviar-type pearls in the bottom.  Strain them out and re use the oil for regular cooking!  This is the perfect garnish to any dessert!

After a bit of experimentation it’s easy to get comfortable with the versatility using flavored liqueurs offer as an ingredient.  Try these simple recipes to gain some confidence in the kitchen, and then see where the ingredient substitution experiment might lead you.

Copyright © 2012 by Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen, llc. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by WITF, Inc. All Rights reserved.


pomegranate vinaigretteRecipe: Goat Cheese Mousse with Pomegranate and Herb Vinaigrette
Serves 4

This works as a first course served over some baby lettuce (mâche, Boston, bibb). As a dessert, it is perfect for those who don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and prefer something light, instead.

For vinaigrette

2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar, or other high quality white wine vinegar
1 small shallot peeled and sliced paper thin
1/4 cup lemon infused olive oil, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons pomegranate liqueur, or to taste
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to season
Baby mint leaves, to garnish
Seasonal berries, to garnish

For goat cheese mousse
2 egg whites
8 ounces fresh goat cheese (not aged), at room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature


Prepare vinaigrette
. In a small, non reactive bowl combine the Champagne vinegar and the shallot. Add 1 tablespoon of hot water and whisk in the infused olive oil. When completely emulsified, whisk in the liqueur. Add the fresh chopped herbs and allow to infuse for about 5 minutes. Taste. Adjust seasoning as needed with sea salt or fresh ground pepper. Reserve.

Prepare the mousse. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk egg whites into soft peaks. In a separate bowl combine the goat cheese and butter with a generous pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of hot water and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Fold the egg whites into the goat cheese and butter mixture until combined. Chill about 20 minutes to firm up, if needed.

To Serve
Using two spoons make quenelles with the goat cheese mousse and set each quenelle on a chilled salad plate. Drizzle the liqueur and herb vinaigrette around the mousse. Garnish with some fresh mint and seasonal berries. Serve immediately.


Recipe and Photo Copyright © 2012 by Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen, llc. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by WITF, Inc. All Rights reserved.

pomegranate steak sauceRecipe: Pomegranate Steak Sauce

Makes about 2 cups – enough sauce for 6 to 8 steaks, plus additional to pass at table

This recipe is for the men in the family that want to make dinner and head for the grill! This special little steak sauce is as delicious as it is easy to make. Marinade beef, lamb, pork, or chicken and then baste as you cook.

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup pomegranate liqueur
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger from a 1” x 1” piece peeled and finely minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons molasses (mild)
Coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper, to season

In a small saucepan combine the liqueur and golden raisins. Gently heat until just boiling. Remove from the heat and let the raisins plump, about 15 minutes. Place the raisins and the liqueur into a blender and puree until smooth. Reserve.

Wipe out the saucepan and add the olive oil. Place the pan over medium heat. When the olive oil is hot add the garlic and ginger. Sauté for about 1 minute, but do not brown. Add the mixture from blender, and then whisk in the coriander, mustard, orange juice, ketchup, soy sauce, and molasses. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes until thick and syrup-like. Taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

To use: Marinade your meat for up to 8 hours in the sauce (reserving some to pass at the table separate from the marinade). Blot steaks dry; Grill as usual. Just before steaks are finished cooking on the grill, brush a bit of the sauce over the steak and let it caramelize. Remove the steak from the heat and let it rest. Serve and pass the remaining steak sauce at the table.


Recipe and Photo Copyright © 2012 by Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen, llc. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by WITF, Inc. All Rights reserved.

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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