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Better and cheaper if you make it yourself


Fat Guy
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We've had a few topics over time where we've discussed making various food products ourselves. I was hoping to assemble a list of make-it-yourself projects that meet the following criteria:

- Easy. This isn't about baking your own bread or putting up preserves. If you consider those things to be easy, please recalibrate to more normal expectations. We're talking about things that require a minimum of practice, time and skill.

- Better. The product you make yourself has to taste better than the equivalent commercially available product.

- Cheaper. We're talking only about things that cost less to make yourself than to buy.

Okay, so, that being said, here are some candidates. We have separate topics for discussing how to make these things -- go ahead and add to those topics if you have anything to add. This topic here is about establishing the master list of cheaper and better (and easy).

- Vanilla extract (see The make-your-own vanilla extract experiment)

- Wine vinegar (see making your own wine vinegar, red or white)

- Yogurt (see Yogurt-making @ home)

- Coffee beans, as in roasting your own (see Home Coffee Roasting)

What else?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Cream cheese. I have to dig around to find it. Just put some buttermilk in a low oven overnight. Drip through cheesecloth.

ETA: OK found it. I think there are some other areas where it has been discussed.

Click on me.

Edited by annecros (log)
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Toast.

Really.

Have you ever seen people with toast in their shopping cart? Little frozen slabs of bread slathered in "yellow food spread product" and often purported to be from "Texas."?

I want to grab those people, drag them over to the bread aisle, force their lazy little hands to select a loaf of some kind of bread product, and then I will manhandle them over to the dairy section, where they will be forced to pick up a pound of butter-any butter will do for this project.

Then, I will accompany them home to their pitiful little hovel and proceed to show them the many and varied ways that one can actually MAKE fresh toast at home.

"No, Nimrod, you don't even need a toaster. Hell, prisoners make it in their cells and it's better than that crap you have there in that box that you paid $3.99 for."

I like to think that once they have acheived toast competance, perhaps they will then be able to move on to some other money saving project-like making ICE TEA.

I know, I know, even in the South people buy gallon jugs of the stuff, but I don't care-it's completely insane. Fresh is better and multiple times less expensive than buying some big jug of tea at the store. I wish that I had thought up the tea in a jug sales scam though-those guys are pretty much printing money.

So, add toast and ice tea to the list.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Not quite the right time of year (Well not here anyway) but preserved oven dried tomatoes when you have a glut of tomatoes are fairly easy.

I've never actually done it myself, mainly due to lack of the appropriate jar but preserved lemons seem fairly straightforward - they are always really expensive to buy commercially.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Easy, cheaper and better - home-made grenadine syrup.

Easy , cheaper and (sometimes even) better - pickles that don't require canning.

Better and cheaper - bread, although I can buy some really great stuff.

As far as home roasting coffee goes, being an apartment dwelling Manhattanite, I used to set up all sorts of fans and things in order to be able to roast at home. I loved the quality and of course, the freshness of my own home roasts. But it was just too much of a pain in the ass to continue. If I had a backyard, maybe even a terrace, I'd be roasting once or twice a week...no contest as to the quality - it's hands down better and cheaper.

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Salad dressing. Have never figured out why anyone would choose a bottle of god knows what thickened with all sorts of emulsifiers and preservatives over a well made batch of home made.

My fav dressing right now is a clove of garlic, 1 shallot, good squirt of anchovy paste, 1 egg yolk with enough evoo to blend in the processor. Add a few drops of sherry vinegar and some good sea salt and ground pepper. Enough for a few days of good salads. Mmm good.

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Tortilla chips and salsa are the first things that come to mind.

5 ROMA TOMATOES

4 MEDIUM TOMATILLOS (PEELED AND RINSED)

1 SMALL JAR ROASTED RED PEPPERS, DRAINED

4 OR 5 JALAPENO PEPPERS, STEMMED

1/2 MEDIUM BERMUDA ONION

1 SMALL BUNCH (ABOUT 3 DOZEN STALKS) CILANTRO (STEMS TOO)

2 HEAPING TBS GROUND CUMIN

1 LVL TBS CHILI POWDER

JUICE OF 3 LIMES

2 TBS RED WINE VINEGAR

1 TBS SEA SALT

Cut the veggies into chunks and put the hardest ones (onion, tomatillos and jalapenos) with the cilantro in the bottom of a blender or food processor then add everything else and pulse until you get the consistency you like. You may need to 'persuade' things along with a spoon between pulses. Refrigerate overnight to let the flavors develop.

I buy a stack of about a hundred small tortillas for less than 2 dollars and a container of corn oil. That is enough to make quite a few chips. I have found that you need to get the oil hot enough to brown the chips quickly and it doesn't take much time at all to make quite a few.

HC

Edited by HungryChris (log)
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Tortilla chips and salsa are the first things that come to mind.

HC

Easier? Not so sure. Tastes better? I'm certain. Cheaper? I woudl doubt it unless time and clean-up factor are not an issue.

The price of decent quality fresh tomatoes and fresh cilantro in my area makes large containers of ready-made salsa a real bargain (I've done the math). And decent corn torillas aren't cheap around here nor are they all that fresh. If I add in the cost of oil, the time and hassle of frying the chips.... it just doesn't compute.

But I am open to suggestions and would love to be convinced otherwise 'cause I love good salsa and chips.

Add to the list those packets of guacamole mix. It's just a bunch of dried seasonings and if you want decent guacamole you still need to add chopped onion, chopped tomato etc. It's not as if the packet has avocado in it.

And in support of the notion that buying toast is pointless I'll nominate frozen garlic bread.

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Mayonnaise. There are so many foods that are cheaper to make at home, but I'm a lifelong home cook, and I'm thinking that my personal opinions of what is easy are different than some other people around here. So, I'm sticking with mayonnaise, to start. All you need is a few ingredients that are always on hand anyway, and a blender. Plus, you can tweak it to your favorite flavor profile, for instance, I prefer mine a little on the lemony side. I've eaten mayonnaise from a jar, and it is nowhere near homemade in flavor. You've all got to try making a small batch for yourselves sometime, really!

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Tortilla chips and salsa are the first things that come to mind.

HC

Easier? Not so sure. Tastes better? I'm certain. Cheaper? I woudl doubt it unless time and clean-up factor are not an issue.

The price of decent quality fresh tomatoes and fresh cilantro in my area makes large containers of ready-made salsa a real bargain (I've done the math).

To be fair, none of these-- even the luxury of home-made toast (I'd never heard of frozen toast, and it boggles the mind)-- is actually easier. Just easy: the calculus of ease to quality is an individual decision.

That said, I agree with HungryChris that homemade salsa is quite easy. It just all goes in the food processor. In winter, I use canned tomatoes, which aren't expensive. Fresh cilantro is indeed somewhat pricey, but it's the most expensive part, and a little goes a long way. And the result is light-years ahead of anything you can buy.

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Don't really like to answer for someone else, but Fat Guy's criteria were easy, better and cheaper - the home made alternative doesn't need to be easier, just reasonably easy.

The ready made toast thing has always puzzled me, strangely it's fairly unknown in the UK (If not king of the pointless convenience food only just behind the USA), On holiday in spain it was fairly common though. I always thought it was due to the popular type of bread not toasting very well.

Salad dressing, definitely, plus the fact that a couple of different oils, a couple of vinegars, mustard and any other bits and bobs that you probably have to hand will provide hundreds of dressing variations without filling your fridge full of bottles.

One more to add - Chilli infused oil.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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OK, so putting up preserves isn't so easy..... But there is freezer jam! Lots easier than dealing with scalding hot jars. Directions are with the pectin. I made a few containers of strawberry jam last year from some tasty strawberries. It was wonderful to pull one out in the middle of the winter. What a taste of summer....

"Fat is money." (Per a cracklings maker shown on Dirty Jobs.)
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I haven't made a taste comparision side by side by making your own mascarpone cheese is definately cheaper and it tastes great. I use a recipe that Luchetti gives in "Star's Desserts".

And yes, on the salad dressings; I can't remember the last time I bought a bottled dressing.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Don't really like to answer for someone else, but Fat Guy's criteria were easy, better and cheaper - the home made alternative doesn't need to be easier, just reasonably easy.

Right, I don't think anything is going to qualify as easier than ready-made. But easy is an attainable goal.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Dog biscuits/cookies. I make a peanut butter molasses cookie recipe, which yield 40-50 cookies. It's so easy it's silly, and I know exactly what I'm giving my dogs.

I've been making breads of late, and am surprised at how gratifying it is! Maybe it's not terribly cheaper, but knowing I made it makes it taste all the better.

I hope this counts: making a good steak at home. FAR cheaper than most steakhouses here in D.C. and i can cook most cuts to medium rare with consistency. It just bothers me to pay 3-5x more for a steak dinner now.

Pizza! Dough is easy and I can control the freshness of the toppings. Definitely cheaper and doesn't take too long to make the dough. Plus, I get to store the leftover dough in the freezer to enjoy later.

Soup! I am a soup nut. Eat it and make year round. I can make soups better, and sometimes healthier than anything that comes in a can. I usually make soup in bulk, so it is very cost effective. In fact, I just finished a last batch of Ina Garten's Cheesy Corn Chowder with ears of sweet succulent corn I had vacuum sealed from last summer. Yes, I saved it all those months to make on a snowy day :raz:

I also recently made meals consisting of Cooks Illustrated Rosemary Olive

Bread and beef vegetable borscht made from homemade stock and all. It was so satifying to put a meal on the table which was all made with my own two hands. That feeling is priceless!

Edited by monavano (log)
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Sauerkraut, kimchee other salt preserves

I've also heard that most fresh cheese are relatively easy to do... and what can beat the freshest mozarella?

Pesto (and other pasta sauces)

Fresh pasta

Stock

Soy milk (tofu is not that difficult either)

Ice cream if you have the equipment

Duck fat

Confit (duck or whatever)

Tortilla (always fresh.. which is rare where I live)

Some people will say beer or wine but I don't have the knowledge...

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Hummus. It takes about two minutes in the Cuisinart, and you can adjust the seasonings to your own taste (I like a lot less garlic and more tahini than most store-bought hummus.) Same for any other bean dip/spread.

"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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Toast-easier to make than to buy in the store. In fact, come to think of it, you have to TOAST premade toast so, really, you aren't gaining anything by buying it.

Tea-1) Boil Water 2)Add bags 3) Wait awhile 4) drink-How hard is that. Shoot, you don't even need a stove. Just get a gallon jar, fill it with water and some tea bags, and place it on top of that old Rambler wagon that's rotting off in the side yard. You'll have tea sooner rather than later.

All of this can be done in less time than it probably takes to GO to the store and certainly in a much more economic fashion.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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It's really hard to quantify ease -- take fruit leather, which my preschooler devours. I could easily buy it every week when I'm at Trader Joe's. But if I want it cheaper, better tasting, and I want better control of additives, I can make it home simply by pureeing fruit and letting it dry out in the dehydrator. Same goes for beef jerky, which my husband likes. I also dry herbs and spices in the fall so I never have to pay $5 for a bottle of dried sage.

Another one is butter. We use a lot of heavy cream around here, so when I've got a couple containers going, I'll dump it all in the KitchenAid mixer, let it beat for awhile, and voila! unsalted butter. The leftover liquid/buttermilk goes into our bread.

Last spring my husband went on a bender to eradicate every weed in our lawn by digging them up. We don't use chemicals on our lawn, so I told him to bring that basket into the kitchen for the night's salad. Hey, people pay $2.99 for a puny bunch of dandelion greens at Whole Food! Ditto for lamb's quarters and purslane.

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I'd think that tomato sauce, as discussed in this thread in Cooking, might qualify.

Though since I haven't priced Prego in years, I'm not sure about the "cheaper." I think "easy" & "better" are pretty much indisputable, but there's always the question of "easy for whom"?

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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Ease...what is "ease"?

I'm challenged by scissors and getting things open.

I abhor the idea that people are spending serious money on ready made polenta.

Just twist off the top of the corn meal container, blend the corn meal into some boiling salted water, add in some pork fat as it plops, drop in the mushrooms, and finish it with some fresh parmesan (that I would've added anyways).

There, I didn't have to wrestle with any plastic seals or anything.

(we won't mention the 3rd degree burn marks I have all over my body from hot polenta)

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Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

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This isn't about baking your own bread or putting up preserves.

But if you have a bread machine, fresh bread is really really easy, even if you bake it in the oven. I made a freeform cheddar loaf yesterday with a total of 5 minutes of active involvment. I've not purchased a cheese bread I like better, and it's definately cheaper.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

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