Ten Things You Should Make From Scratch…and Why!

January 9, 2014  •  Informational, Technique

julia child cookingI’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I would write a post telling you to cook for yourself. I mean, I’m no Julia Child, but I am a cooking teacher, caterer, sommelier, food writer, and cookbook author – so yes, I believe that everyone should know how to cook. But this post isn’t about beating the drum about whether you cook dinner every night for your family or not, it’s about 10 specific things that if you learn to make for yourself, you’ll never turn back to store-bought again. So humor me and read on!mixed-green-salad-the-kitchen-upstairs-boulder

Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

Vinaigrette dressings are a simple mixture of just a few things: oil, acid, salt, pepper, and if desired something to add some flavor. But when you buy bottled dressings, they are usually full of stabilizers, chemicals, preservatives and more. Plus, with bottled dressings you don’t get to choose the ratio of oil to acid, which affects not only flavor but calories. You have a wide choice of oils: extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, grape seed oil, walnut oil, hazelnut oil, and more. And an equally wide variety of acids: red vinegar, white vinegar, Champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar, lime juice, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice just to name several. Start with 3 parts oil to 1 part acid, add a small dollop of Dijon mustard if you’d like to make it easier to emulsify, season with salt and pepper to taste, then taste the dressing on a piece of lettuce. Adjust the oil or acid or salt and pepper as you like. Once you get comfortable, you can start adding in herbs, shallots, garlic or other things to enhance the dressing. Just remember that a pure vinaigrette will last almost indefinitely in the fridge, but once you add fresh things, you’ll need to use it up in about a week to 10 days. Oh, and don’t worry about slowly whisking in olive oil like many recipes call for – put everything in a small covered container or a mason jar and shake it until it’s mixed!ginger-ice-cream
Ice Cream

Those of you who have been reading for awhile know that I have no shortage of ice cream recipes on this blog. That’s because once you discover making your own ice cream, it’s hard to turn back. You’ll need an ice cream machine, but after you tackle that, it’s just a matter of imagination. By making your own you can create virtually any flavor combination that seems to be calling you. That’s how I came up with Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Plum Sherbet, Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Ginger Ice Cream, Toasted Coconut Ice Cream, Guinness Ice Cream, and Rosemary Ice Cream. You can make your ice cream with full fat (heavy cream), decadent (with eggs for a custard ice cream), with lower fat dairy if you’re trying to count calories, or even like a sherbet or sorbet if you want to limit dairy. After your first batch, you’ll find it hard to not keep creating flavors!bearnaise sauce
Bearnaise Sauce

My husband loves nothing more than this tarragon flavored sauce on a nice beef tenderloin roast. So of course, I started making it from scratch. And that’s when I discovered how easy it is to make if you use my blender technique. It also tastes immensely better than any jarred sauce you’ll buy, I assure you. Next time you have a special party with a roast, or even just for Sunday dinner, make this from scratch. The whole family will thank you!turkey-and-rice-soup

The list of reasons to make soup from scratch is long: you can control the sodium which is notoriously high in most canned soups, it’s a great way to use up what’s left in the refrigerator, soup is a wonderful way to stretch leftovers from one meal into a second meal, most soups freeze very well, and perhaps most importantly, making soup is easy which makes it the perfect thing to make for beginner cooks or parents cooking with their kids. Click here for all of my soup recipes and give one of them a try!anasazi beans

The two biggest reasons to make beans from scratch using dried beans are to control the salt – most canned beans are loaded with salt – and to achieve a better texture, something with a little firmness to it instead of a mushy canned bean. Another reason you might not know is that if done properly, you can remove some of the gaseous quality from beans through the soaking, draining, then cooking method. Beans are so good for us – vegetarian protein, high in fiber, low cost – so check out my cooking technique and then make up some dried beans. One tip: since it’s a 2-day process to soak, drain, then cook dried beans, make a large batch and freeze them in serving size portions so you can just pull them out when you need them.heirloom-tomato-sauce
Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce – whatever you call it, it’s simple to make at home, and once again you’ll control the flavors and sodium levels. Click here for my simple Marinara Sauce recipe. This is a great way to use up a large harvest of tomatoes in the summer. In the winter, use high quality canned tomatoes.arugula green onion pesto

When I say pesto, I mean an herb turned to a paste and mixed with oil to preserve it, not just the traditional Italian basil pesto with pine nuts and cheese and garlic. About the only way to preserve soft leaf herbs like basil, cilantro, tarragon is to let them whirl in a blender or food processor as you drizzle in just enough oil (I prefer extra virgin olive oil) to form a thick paste. Spoon it into ice cube trays to freeze it in individual recipe size portions, then pop them out into a bag to store. Click here for all of my pesto recipes, and remember, you can make pesto with a variety of greens like arugula and green onions, and can also vary the nuts: pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts all work well.beer can chicken
Roast Chicken

Sure, just about every grocery store sells already roasted chickens. But did you know many of them are shot up with extra salt water for flavoring and to boost the weight? Roasting a chicken at home is simple, makes the house smell wonderful, and you know exactly what you are getting when you eat it. You’ll have leftovers if you roast more than one, and the carcass makes great stock (I like to call that free food). Click here for my simple technique for roasting a chicken or click here for the beer can roasted chicken recipe you see above.hummus

Surprised to see hummus on this list? I’m not sure I would have included it here, except that the last time I had a party where I served mine, so many people who told me they didn’t like hummus loved mine. I don’t think it’s because I am so talented, I think it’s because when you make your own you can control the mix of ingredients – especially the lemon, oil, cumin, and salt – to appeal to your personal tastes. Again, the technique is simple, so why not try it? PS, leftovers freeze just fine.blueberry-oatmeal-muffins-with-lemon-and-thyme-2

I think the biggest reason for making your own muffins is to control the nutritional content. Most muffins you see sold in places like Starbuck’s are notoriously high in fat, sugar, and calories. By making your own, you can adjust the flour to include whole wheat flour, you can limit the sugar or replace some of the sugar, you can add healthy ingredients like fruit, nuts, and whole grains. Beyond the nutrition, though, muffins are easy, freeze well, and are a great way to use up leftovers like quinoa, fruit, and more. Click here for all of my muffin recipes.

Every year I try to jump start everyone’s desire to get in the kitchen in cook. I hope that this blog post did just that for you!


3 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Barbara | Creative Culinary says:

    Nice list; though I am in the middle of moving into a new home and can not deny – I bought a chicken from Costco the other night!

    I would add granola to your list. Mostly because I just made two big batches and my reasoning is this. First, you know what goes into it and can control both the sugar and fat content. Second because it is just SO good and so versatile; a great way to get some nutritional grains and fruits into your diet too.

    • Michele says:

      You are so right Barbara! One of the things I point out in grocery store tours is that while many people think of granola as a “health food”, many are just loaded with fat and sugar. Hope you’re enjoying the new house and getting back into the kitchen soon!

  2. Gail Storey says:

    What a great post, Michele, full of excellent suggestions! I already make salad dressings, soups, and beans from scratch (my pressure cooker changed my life!), so I look forward to expanding into some of your other recipes.

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