5 Reasons to Scratch It

brownie and coffee

 

Why do I cook from scratch? The stores are full of wonderful ready-to-eat products, why make my own?

1) I have time
Cooking from scratch does take more time, though often not a lot more time. In the case of homemade yogurt, the time is spent on waiting. Heating the milk takes only a few minutes, but the rest of the process takes more than 6 hours. Of course, I don’t have to stand there and wait for it, I just have to not forget about it.

2) I can control my ingredients
Packaged foods contain a few ingredients that help to preserve the contents and provide a longer shelf-life for the product. I don’t have to eat those. I’m sure none of them will prolong my shelf-life.

3) Things taste better
I had a package of seasoned coating mix in the pantry. (I think it was there for a while.) It tasted like salt. There were many other ingredients listed, but all I could taste was the salt. If I want my chicken to taste like salt, I can do that myself. I can add more or cut back on one or more ingredients to make it taste like I want it to taste, even if what I want is salty.

6) It’s usually cheaper
I did a cost comparison for baking mix here. While it may not prove to be true every time, overall it is cheaper to make your own.

5) I can’t go back.
Since I started cooking more things from scratch, packaged foods just don’t taste good to me anymore. I prefer what I make.

Don’t Fear the Egg

 

My mother made cookies. At Christmas, there were plates full of cookies of all shapes and kinds. Throughout the year though, it was often chocolate chip cookies for dessert and after-school snacks. It’s still a favorite.

Sometimes I was around when she was baking, though I think that wasn’t her favorite time to bake. She knew I was waiting to eat the last bits of dough out of the bowl. I would beg her to leave a chocolate chip or two in the batter, but she rarely would.

eggs

We weren’t afraid back then. We ate raw eggs without worry. Then came the concern about Salmonella enteritidis, the scourge of bowl-lickers everywhere.

Food-borne illness are a fact of life. I have no data to support this, but I believe that everyone will be a victim sometime. Bacteria happens.

In the case of infected eggs, I think I’ll take the risk. According to a study done in the 1990s by the Center for Disease Control, only 1 egg in 20,000 was internally infected with Salmonella enteritidis. During the years of 2009-2010, the CDC reported that there were 2231 cases of illness caused by contaminated eggs. There are more than 316 million people in the US, so 7 people per million became ill from eating raw or undercooked eggs.

Fear of a raw egg would put the brakes on trying freshly made mayonnaise and nothing should prevent that. Once you have made your own, it will be hard to return to anything from a jar.

mayo3
It’s not difficult to make mayonnaise and it requires only a few ingredients. Here are a couple of basic recipes to try:
Basic Mayonnaise from Martha Stewart

Alton Brown’s Recipe

Pork Chops for Two

Another effort to combat the problem of leftovers is to repackage items that you buy into smaller sizes. In this case, I wrapped pork chops from a larger package individually. When it’s time to cook, I can take out what I need.

This is an easy, inexpensive recipe for two that is quick to prepare.
porkchops

Pork Chops for Two

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pork chops
Salt and pepper to taste
1 green pepper, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 teaspoon dry basil

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium high heat. Season pork on both sides with salt and pepper. Cook pork chops until browned on both sides.
Top chops with green pepper, onion and basil. Cover skillet, reduce heat and cook until vegetables are tender and pork is cooked through.

Yo, Yogurt

Being an adult requires that you do things you would rather not do. My father used to say that he ate his vegetables so the kids would eat theirs. He had a life-long dislike of most vegetables, but he also knew that his kids would mimic his disdain, even if we didn’t dislike vegetables.

For me, one of the things I do because I should is eat yogurt. I don’t really like it, but there are rewards that are hard to duplicate.
WebMD.com lists six yogurt benefits:

  • Yogurt with active cultures may help the gut
  • Some probiotic strains may boost the immune system
  • Yogurt with active cultures may discourage vaginal infections
  • Yogurt may help prevent osteoporosis
  • Yogurt may reduce the risk of high blood pressure
  • Yogurt may help you feel fuller

When I started eating yogurt daily, I reached into the refrigerator for the individual cups that I bought each week. I made sure I had several flavors to keep it interesting. Once I tried Greek yogurt, I was hooked, but the cost of those little cups was a concern.
Making yogurt at home isn’t difficult but what about Greek yogurt? What is the secret to that? Not much of a secret really. Greek yogurt has been drained of whey. That’s it. No magical process. No special ingredients.
So, what does it take to make yogurt? There are a number of recipes to choose from online, but this is what I use:

yogurtingredients

  1. 1 quart milk
  2. ½ cup dry milk powder
  3. 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

I bought a large container of plain yogurt to use as the starter culture. I froze individual portions to save them. Now, when I make a batch of yogurt, I take one cube out and allow it to thaw while the milk is heating and cooling.
It doesn’t matter what kind of milk. Use skim, 2% or whole milk. All kinds will work. The milk powder adds more milk solids to the mix and produces a thicker yogurt.
When it’s done, flavor your yogurt in any way that suits you. I put in a spoonful of jam. Honey would be good, as well. Put in nothing, if you can stand it.
I have to admit, I like my home-made yogurt better than anything I can buy at the store.

Homemade Yogurt


1 quart milk
½ cup dry milk powder
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
Mix powdered milk into the milk in a sauce pan. Using a candy thermometer, heat the milk mixture until the temperature reaches 180 degrees. Remove from heat and allow to cool to 115 degrees. Spoon out approximately ½ cup of the warm milk and whisk it with the yogurt starter. Add this mixture back into the milk and mix throughly. Incubate from 4 to 12 hours until thickened.

The yogurt can be left in the same pan to incubate or put into a jar or bowl. I leave mine in the same pan I used to heat the milk and it works just fine.
To incubate, I heat up the oven to the lowest setting and then turn it off.

yogurtoven

The pan is wrapped in a towel before I put it into the oven and I leave it in place for about 6 hours.

 

yogurtcheesecloth

When the yogurt is thick, I put the batch in a colander, lined with cheesecloth, to separate the whey. Now, it’s Greek!

What to do with the whey is a work in progress. I’ll get back to you on that.

 

Crockpot Chicken Tetrazzini for Two

This is a simple recipe that can be dressed up any way you like. Add some carrots, celery or bell peppers for a different taste. Use turkey or pork instead of the chicken. Experiment a bit with herbs. It’s a blank canvas.

CrockpotTetrazziniforTwo

Crockpot Chicken Tetrazzini for Two

1½ cups cubed, cooked chicken
1 can (14½ ounce) chicken broth
½ cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup sliced mushrooms
¼ cup cream
1 tablespoon sherry (optional)
4 ounces dry spaghetti
Grated Parmesan cheese

Place first 5 ingredients into slow cooker. Cook on low for 4 to 5 hours.

Turn to high. Add spaghetti, cream and sherry, if using. Stir until mixed. Continue to cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until spaghetti is tender.

Serve with Parmesan.

Nary a Chocolate Bunny Was Found

marshmallows

This year’s Easter basket was filled with homemade marshmallows. No chocolate bunnies. No jelly beans. Just marshmallows.

It isn’t that I don’t like chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. I do but, like everything else at the store, the cost of candy is pretty steep and I thought I could save a little money by doing my own.

I’m not new to making candy. I’ve made peanut brittle every Christmas for more years than I can remember. I have also made caramels, peppermint bark, fudge, gum drops and more to round out the candy tray.

Most people bake for the holidays. Baking has never been my thing. I make too much of a mess because something always happens to the flour. Some mysterious force always flips the measuring cup over or poufs it out of the mixer bowl all over me. It isn’t IF I’m going to make a mess while baking, it’s WHEN.

Candy is a bit neater because there is no flour involved. It is, however, easier to burn and I’ve done that too often. Nothing smells quite like burnt sugar in the morning.

Making candy doesn’t need to be limited to the holidays. Someone somewhere has developed a recipe for just about any kind of candy you can think of. I used this recipe for peanut butter cups, substituting candy melts for the chocolate bar. They’re good.

peanutbuttercups

Some other interesting candies I intend to try soon:

Copycat Snickers® bars
Copycat Three Musketeers® bars
Copycat Heath® bars
Copycat Almond Joy® bars

I’ve never made a candy bar but I’m up for the challenge. What could possibly go wrong? There’s no flour.

Cooking Like a Copycat

A few years ago, we decided that eating at most restaurants wasn’t really worth the money. Yes, it was nice not to cook. Yes, it was nice to go out, but the food wasn’t the central focus of the event. Of course, restaurant meals are no way to cut the food budget and, if it isn’t good, why bother.

Copycat recipes can replace the food that is missed by cooking at home instead of eating out. Last week, I tried one of my husband’s favorites–Jack-in-the-Box tacos. I tried to follow this recipe, but I didn’t have everything listed. I had to make refried beans and, of course, they don’t taste like those from a can. I didn’t have the specific taco sauce called for in the recipe, so I used what I had on hand. I’ve never had a Jack-in-the-Box taco, but I thought they tasted fine. The expert, my spouse, said they tasted fine but were nowhere near the real thing. I guess I’ll have to go out for a taco dinner to know for sure.

Buddy

If you miss some of your favorites, there is a recipe for just about any restaurant dish: