We all want to save time and money when it comes to cooking. If we can improve our health in the process, that’s even better. If you like to be in the kitchen and you want to take your cooking to a new level, it’s easy to do with a few staples you probably buy in jars and boxes.
While these products are convenient, you don’t always know what you’re getting. Processed ingredients are almost always found in pre-made products, and no matter what the label tells you, it never tastes as good as something you make yourself. If you’re looking to branch out, learn new skills, and maybe even impress a dinner guest or two, try making the following things instead of buying them. You’ll be amazed at the results!
If you are constantly buying bottled salad dressing, you’re missing out. Making your own is as simple as putting 3 parts oil and 1 part vinegar in a jar with a lid and shaking it up. Add mustard or mayonnaise to help emulsify and add flavor.
You can add anything you want to add flavor: garlic, honey, shallots, citrus zest, fresh or dried herbs; the possibilities are endless. Only make as much as you can use at once for best results, but you can store homemade dressing for a few days in the fridge; just shake to re-emulsify. Caution: If you use garlic in your dressing, throw it out; storing raw garlic and oil can cause food poisoning.
You can make your own mayonnaise either by hand or in a mixer or food processor. The basic ratio is 1 egg yolk to 1 cup of oil. Beat your yolks until frothy and slowly drizzle in oil until emulsified. Add flavorings such as vinegar, lemon juice or cayenne pepper, and you’re good to go.
Stop Buying Whipped Cream!
Rather than buying cool whip or even whipped cream in a can, making your own is a cinch if you have a stand mixer. Simply put a pint of chilled whipping cream in a bowl, add a tablespoon or two of powdered sugar and a splash of vanilla extract and whip at high speed until creamy and thick. Want your whipped cream to hold up as long as the store bought stuff? Add two teaspoons of dry milk powder to every cup of cream.
Have Extra Whipping Cream? Make Butter!
Don’t throw out leftover whipping cream. Instead, whip it up the same way you would whipped cream, but continue whipping until it becomes butter. Add a little bit of salt, or experiment and add herbs, garlic, or even honey.
Homemade Bread isn’t as Hard as You Think
Instead of buying store-bought bread that is loaded with chemicals and preservatives, why not try your hand at making your own. A basic loaf is easy to start with, and only contains 4 ingredients, which you probably already have in your kitchen. You don’t even need special equipment.
To make your own bread, take a packet of yeast and dissolve it in 2 cups of warm (not hot!) water. Once it’s dissolved, add about 4 cups of flour and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir until there’s no visible flour left in the dough. If it’s very wet, add another tablespoon or two of flour. When everything is mixed well, cover with a towel and allow to sit in a warm part of your kitchen for 2 hours. When it’s about twice the original size, form a loaf, or transfer to a loaf pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes until top is browned. Allow to cool before serving.
Turn That Bread (Or Any Bread) Into Breadcrumbs or Croutons
Don’t throw away leftover bread. Instead, turn it into something you can use. Breadcrumbs are an easy choice. Simply put the bread in a food processor and process until you have crumbs. For crispier meats and breaded foods, use a larger crumb. You’ll never buy those fine breadcrumbs at the store again!
Cubed bread can easily be turned into croutons that you can use for salads, soups, or whatever else your heart desires. Simply cube your bread, toss with a little olive oil, and bake in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until bread is crisp. This works best with bread that’s a day or two old. You can also toss your bread cubes with herbs and spices to add flavor depending on how you’re using them.
While most cheese making requires special equipment and extreme temperature control, you can easily make a ricotta that tastes much better than anything you’ll get at the store. You’ll need a thermometer, cheesecloth, and strainer to do it.
Start by taking a 1/2 gallon of whole milk and heating it in a large pot until it’s 200 degrees. Do this over medium heat to avoid it boiling over. Remove from heat and add the juice of 2 lemons and a teaspoon of salt. Let it sit for about 10 minutes. Line a strainer with cheesecloth, set it over a mixing bowl, and transfer the large curds into the strainer. Carefully pour the cheese into the strainer and allow it to drain.
If you want your ricotta to be on the dry side, you can let it drain for up to an hour. Otherwise, 15-20 minutes should do the trick. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge for a week. You can use this anywhere you would use ricotta cheese.
Don’t Buy Pasta Sauce
For a super easy pasta sauce that is amazingly delicious, take 2 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes, 1/2 stick of butter, and half an onion and put them in a pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 45 minutes, until tomatoes have broken down. Remove the onion. For a chunkier sauce, serve as is. For a smooth sauce, puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. That’s it!
Make a Healthier Granola
Granola is one of those foods that is often thought to be healthy, but in truth, the store-bought stuff is usually loaded with fat and calories. Making your own allows you to customize it to your liking and control the calorie, fat, and sugar content.
To do so, combine 2 cups raw oats, 1/2 cup nuts, 1/4 cup seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, or flax), 1/2 cup dried fruit, 2 tablespoons honey or pure maple syrup, 2 tablespoons coconut oil and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract in a large bowl. Stir well to coat and add a pinch of salt. Lay it in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Allow it to cool before transferring to an airtight container.
You can easily customize your granola by using whatever nuts or seeds you like. Stir in flaked coconut or chocolate chips at the end, or even use almond extract instead of vanilla. By making it yourself, you’re sure you’re not getting a bunch of sugar and preservatives.
Making your own staples is easy and once you start doing it, you’ll be amazed at the amount of money you save. Many of these items also make excellent, inexpensive gifts that are sure to impress. This list is only the start of what you can make on your own instead of buying store-bought versions. Pickles, applesauce, stocks and broth; the list is endless, and most things are not nearly as difficult as you might think. Experiment until you find your favorites; you’ll be amazed at what you can do!