I love the idea of homemade. I think they probably taste better than the commercially prepared in many cases (except perhaps the truly high quality products which tend to be truly high priced as well–you are getting what you pay for, but you still have to pay for it) as it is fresher and less processed, also I just think the idea of it is fun! Also, I am more and more convinced that making things from scratch is healthier and perhaps if we all cooked our own meals most of the time we wouldn’t have all these food related issues. Even if you were to use only conventional produce and products, and can’t pay the extra for organic, I’m convinced it’s still loads better. At heart my interest here probably goes to the fact that all three of us sisters will swear up and down to you that our grandmother’s homemade jam is the best you’ve ever tasted (don’t argue with us about this–it’s futile. You are permitted to feel very sorry for yourself that you haven’t gotten to taste it). For me too I think it’s my love of international cultures and how this is so deeply reflected in the traditional foods of a given place. It’s also a snippet of history and links you to the past and hopefully to the future–the same way rituals connect you through time to people in the past, so does traditional food.
Anyway, enough waxing poetic: many of these things perhaps could be more work than they are worth, and who knows if I’ll ever get around to it. There are only so many hours in a day.
Some of these projects just require getting into good habits, some just require an initial investment but then should be very easy and relatively inexpensive to keep going. Others could be very time-consuming at first until you get the hang of it (assuming you ever do), and others, well, probably will never easily fit into a busy schedule. Nevertheless, I press on.
I call this an “ultimate” made from scratch list because it’s homemade versions of the staples you usually buy to make homemade food. Sandra Lee may have semi-homemade, this is decidedly in the opposite direction.
1. Homemade breadcrumbs. I have nice bread that sometimes goes stale (not because it’s left out unwrapped or anything). I have a food processor. Why, then, pay for breadcrumbs that are probably made with yucky wonderbread leftovers?
2. Homemade soup stock. I am pretty good about this, I think–I’ve made duck, chicken, and turkey stock–so it’s just a matter of keeping it up.
3. Homemade bread. I do this from time to time and love it when I do. I think it would be pretty cool to have a natural yeast starter living in the back of the fridge. But I’d have to use it at least weekly I think to make it worthwhile. (I’ve been a little frustrated with my bread results lately too–even with a recently purchased oven stone. No matter how long I knead it never seems to fully develop the gluten, maybe I should go back to hand kneading where practicable).
Initial investment but not much effort or expense afterwards:
1. Homemade vanilla extract. Those little jars of vanilla extract never last very long, and it’s no fun to buy “imitation vanilla flavoring.” Vanilla beans are expensive, but if you can make your own extract, perhaps it’s worth it–use a flavorless alcohol (I’m going to use Finlandia Vodka of course) and vanilla beans (purchased online in bulk, as that’s the cheapest way). According to Ina Garten, you can then pull the beans out as needed for use in recipes, plus you have the extract. A real two-for-one. Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa has the methodology, as does Chocolate and Zucchini. Now, I need to find some cute jars to make the extract in. (I admit this involves some expense afterwards as you will have to replace the beans, but how much more expensive is that than buying extract which you can go through so quickly?)
2. Homemade yogurt. I love love love yogurt, and naturally am attracted to the idea of making my own. When I got Karen a yogurt maker for Christmas and saw it’s not all that pricey I almost got one for myself. Though not so expensive, it is one of those kitchen gadgets that has the potential to just clutter up your space while you forget to really even use it. So it’s also something you’d have to make sure you got in the habit of using. Other than that, I think it’s probably a no-brainer to do, no special technique or vast quantities of time required. (Famous last words). When I give it a try I’ll probably use Chocolate and Zucchini’s recipe for Yaourt Maison/Homemade Yogurt to guide me. (It just sounds nicer in French doesn’t it?)
3. Homemade red wine vinegar (though perhaps this belongs in the next category). Really, what really appeals to me about this is that you don’t waste any wine. And I have to figure that the wine you would use for this would be far and away better than the wine that is used for making commercial wine vinegar. (Not to be unfair to red wine vinegar producers here: why would you use your best wine as a base for vinegar?). Heard about this on The Splendid Table, who suggested this site. Some google searching found this as well. No doubt I’ll find more online and at our library if I actually get around to doing this.
Things that sound kind of cool to do but probably are more trouble than they are worth.
1. Homemade cheese. I love love love cheese and have heard of a lady in western MA that runs courses on making cheese at home and also sells the supplies. If she’s so close by, it’s a sign right? At a minimum it could be cool to make mozzarella, that sounds doable. That too, was recently featured in Gourmet. On the other hand my husband told me that he can handle our freezer being full of chicken parts but that making cheese at home would be going too far.
4. Homemade butter. I have heard about this on all the food sites I visit as well as splendid table. This is a good post, and also links to the Splendid Table recipe. Sounds kind of cool…and you get lovely buttermilk too…again, a two-fer!
Things that will supposedly be easy once you do it enough to get the hang of it. (Query how long “do it enough” is).
1. Homemade sausages. I know. This is weird. “Excuse me, butcher counter, do you stock sausage casings, by which I mean, prepared pig intestines?” (You can buy non-animal casings, but perish the thought!) I would have to buy the attachment for the kitchenaid, but for some reason this just seems neat to do. I’m a Luddite, apparently. I know all this romanticizing of the old-fashioned is a little silly (life was harder, resources were scarcer, women were stuck in the kitchen), but I think there’s something special about making everything yourself in this way. It just seems so “authentic” and “connected to the past” (whatever that is). (As a side note, I only recently realized that this strange contraption that was in my furnished apartment in Prague was a meat grinder, probably for this purpose. Ah how I missed out!).
2. Homemade pasta. OK, I probably don’t have to explain this one quite so much. I have the pasta machine, I can easily get the pasta flour, I just need to do it. My husband expressed an interest in learning to do this of all things (he’s not, as yet, interested in cooking, so it’s funny this is where he’d want to start…) so maybe together we’ll get ourselves doing this.
So that’s that. I’ll keep you posted!