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Things you'd be crazy not to make yourself


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How hard is it to pour boiling water over some teabags?

But wouldn't that make hot tea, not iced?

Oh, you're right! It does make it a LOT more trouble to pour that strong hot tea over ice.

Now I get it.

:biggrin:

ahhh --- not a southern, i presume!

Actually, I am a "southern." And come from a long line of southerners. None of whom ever bought premade or instant iced tea. Some of them have a large contraption called an "iced tea maker," which I also find to be a pretty good example of tomfoolery (although it's handy if you've got a crowd coming, and certainly better than paying for some kind of premade or instant iced tea). And many of us southerners make sun tea, which I prefer when I have time.

But rest assured that if it's gettin' on toward lunchtime, and we want some "tea" (nobody ever adds the "iced" - it's just assumed) we boil some water (in the microwave these days) and pour it over the tea bags. We also make some really really sweet syrup to add to make "sweet tea" for those that prefer it, as just adding sugar to your glass doesn't really get it sweet enough.

Often we grab some mint from the back yard and some lemon slices to go with it. Some of us stir in some homemade lemonade from the pitcher in the fridge.

But nobody, in my family anyway, would think to go to the pantry and get out a great big tin of instant iced tea.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Gravy

The best, of course, should be made from the pan drippings and/or fond of whatever protein you've cooked, but one can also make a quite tasty gravy from a roux and stock. Again, so very easy.

Oh Yea, Gravy is a biggie. I went to a relatives house for Thanksgiving a few years ago and they were going to serve turkey with jarred gravy. I looked over at the roasting pan oozing with fond and fat and grabbed the nearest bottle of white wine to start a sauce. I actually just kicked up the jarred stuff since there were no other ingredients havdy but it tasted pretty close to homemade. I don't know what they put in that stuff but it has a distictive aftertaste.

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Those Lunchables package thingies with crackers, cheese, and ham rounds that are $5.00 a pack (I forget what they're called). Seriously?!? There's already no cooking involved - it can't get easier than assembling crackers, cheese, ham & tossing them in a plastic container yourself.

Oh, and premade, canned tuna salad (especially the ones packed with crackers). Tuna + mayo + handful of crackers is only assembly, not cooking. :wacko:

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It's interesting to see this discussion develop. I think in general it's hard to find agreement on what constitutes a must-make-yourself item and what constitutes acceptable convenience. The factors that go into judging whether a convenience item (whether it's bread or pre-chopped vegetables) is worth it include monetary cost, time, training, equipment and quality. The existence of so many convenience items in the marketplace indicates that large chunks of the population don't always rule in favor of highest quality, or lowest cost. Sometimes this is due to ignorance (a surprising number of people really don't know how easy it is to make a vinaigrette) but sometimes it's an informed choice (baking bread at home has been rejected by most -- though not everyone -- in the modern world, regardless of station or culinary knowledge). It's also the case that it's usually possible to find someone who will advocate for doing more than the next person: one person uses powder to make iced tea, the next person uses Lipton teabags, the next person uses fancier teabags, the next person thinks teabags are for amateurs and that only loose-leaf tea rates, the next person thinks iced tea is an abomination altogether. And practically nobody grows tea, dries it, etc.

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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There are also a lot of notions of value floating around here: value of saved money, value of labor, value of leisure time. I thought about those different forms of value and this topic a lot yesterday when I was curing couple dozen pounds of heritage pig and grass-fed beef -- items that nearly everyone I know would consider certifiably crazy to make yourself.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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For me, making something myself is more because of quality than cost. But it's also about enjoyment of the process. Why would I buy cookies or cake from a bakery when I can make much better myself? And have almost infinite choice over what I get? And I love baking. Same with hummous – it's so simple to make and takes hardly any time if you start with canned chickpeas and the end product is miles better than anything I can get elsewhere.

However, sometimes it becomes a time issue as well. Yes, of course I can make my own stock and commercially prepared stocks don't even compare. However, I also know I can get fabulous stock made "in-house" at the Stock Market at Granville Island. So do I buy vegetables and herbs and spend half the day making stock? Or do I buy what I know is a really good product that's ready-to-go?

I'm gonna go bake something…

wanna come with?

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There are also a lot of notions of value floating around here: value of saved money, value of labor, value of leisure time. I thought about those different forms of value and this topic a lot yesterday when I was curing couple dozen pounds of heritage pig and grass-fed beef -- items that nearly everyone I know would consider certifiably crazy to make yourself.

Also, surely a lot depends on circumstances. In some places you can get such great bread that it's very unlikely that you could make it better yourself. In other places the reverse is true. I can make bread which is unquestionably better than a supermarket's ... but I simply can't make bread that is better than I can buy in any of a number of reasonably local bakers here in London. On the other hand, unless I make it myself, I can't get an acceptable stock for love or money.

It also depends on the individual's eating habits. If you eat yogurt every day, it may make sense to make it ... but what if (like me) you never eat yogurt and just use it perhaps once a fortnight when you have curry. Ditto hummus. If you have tahini on hand, it's a breeze. But if you just feel like having hummus maybe once a month, that may not be a good use of fridge-space.

For me there are only a few products where convenience versions are so clearly inferior to the home-produced article, and usually where the home-made doesn't really take longer or cost more than the commercial version, that I'd have thought there would be pretty wide agreement that it is "crazy" to buy them: vinaigrette and pasta sauce certainly fall in this category, for me. I can almost always make them in almost no time from ingredients I'm bound to have on hand. I can hardly imagine any scale of value on which it would make sense to buy these. Even if you valued your own labour and leisure time very highly, they are so very quick and easy to make that it's almost impossible to construct the trade off that makes it sensible to buy them.

But many of the things people have identified on this thread don't seem to me to fall into this category. Bread, yoghurt, hummus -- these are all things that seem to me to fall into a pretty grey area. For my own part, they are things I would usually buy, but sometimes make. In many cases I'd accept the home made could well be better, but the commercial product is not just acceptable but (for me) pretty good, and there is a marked inconvenience factor. Note that the inconvenience need not be the actual time taken, it may the timetable required (bread), or it may be that I usually want the product in quantities that are much smaller than those that it is practical to produce (hummus, e.g.).

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There were a couple of semesters in college when baking bread was a weekly thing, and I could usually make enough to last for the better part of the week. Since then, I've gone through periods of baking much of my own bread off and on, and for the last couple of years it's been mostly on. I've definitely found that I bake more since acquiring a stand mixer, so that is a big factor, and I'm fairly sure that the Kitchen Aid has paid for itself by now in terms of making things at home for less money than it would cost to buy them. I tend to work from home a lot, so waiting for bread to rise and bake works well with my schedule and doesn't require a great deal of labor time, even compared to walking a few blocks to the bakery and back.

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"Easy"? This thread is awash in claims of it's "easy".

I conclude that the existence of this thread shows that "easy" is largely not correct.

There is a remark from violinist Nathan Milstein on passages in music few could make sound good something like "It's not easy or difficult. Either you can do it or you can't." His suggestion was that, with a lesson and some work, a violinist COULD do it.

Well, for the topics on this thread, maybe mostly if one knows how to do it, then it's easy; if one doesn't know how to do it, then with a lesson and some work one can learn and then maybe it's easy; but in the meanwhile one doesn't know how to do it, and it's not "easy".

I come to eG to learn how to do it. I was among the first 1000 members, and I'm still struggling to learn how to do it for a huge range of kitchen tasks. My rate of learning is slower than the movement of tectonic plates.

I want to LEARN. Mostly I'm not learning. I'm eager to learn, willing to learn, wanting to learn, waiting to learn, working to learn, but I'm mostly not learning.

I have to rate computer scientists as among the worst expositors of their work anywhere in academics; computer programmers as several steps lower; most cooks, several steps lower, etc. E.g., yesterday on the TV program 'America's Test Kitchen' Julia did a 'ranch dressing' for use with boiled potatoes or some such. Her measurements were fine until she got to garlic and then said "one clove", and I screamed in agony. Then she measured something else even more important with still less precision, and, after I peeled myself from being one molecule thick on the ceiling, clicked away. Maybe she just wants to toss out vicarious, escapist, fantasy, emotional, experience entertainment instead of instruction, but she's no Marilyn Monroe in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blonds', and her instruction is sloppy.

I'm sure both God and Julia know what she did, but I don't know, and in six months only God will know.

Just today I saw a video clip of a chef making creme fraiche. He started with pasteurized (not ultra pasteurized) whipping cream and heated it to "tepid" or some such. In efforts to be more clear he kept saying "tepid" or various synonyms. I'm sure he knew how hot he was heating his cream, but he definitely was NOT telling me how hot he was heating his cream. Gee, maybe someone should invent something, call it a 'thermometer', and get rich selling it to chefs!!!!!

As earlier in this thread, I just recently made my first decent chicken soup. I've been trying to make decent chicken soup off and on for decades. One trial had me go through about 30 pounds of chicken. BAD soup.

For this soup success, I gave up on any instructions for chicken soup and just improvised from more general lessons I've picked up: How to make mirepoix, a blond roux, a veloute, a vegetable stock, a chicken stock, how to keep a stock relatively clear, how to take the fat off a stock, how to strain a stock, etc.

With a lot of the poached chicken, I 'shredded' it and made a lot of chicken salad, my first ever, and it was terrific: 1 C finely diced celery, 3 C lightly packed, shredded, poached chicken, 1 C Hellman's mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste, served as a sandwich on toast. It's GOOD. Right: I should weigh the chicken, weigh the amount for one sandwich, count calories, etc.; will next trial.

In my queue is how to make a good pan sauce from a saute of a 1 pound ground beef steak. I'm working with some of: The pan drippings, own chicken stock, white or brown, canned beef stock, beef base, dry, astringent red wine, red current jelly, crushed black pepper corns, vinegar, butter, flour, whipping, cream, Cognac. So far my best efforts would run a restaurant out of business in one evening. "Easy"? EXcuse me. And I believe that the martingale proof of the strong law of large number is easy along with an iterative application of linear programming to a problem in nonlinear, multi-objective optimization, and how to do multi-variate, distribution-free hypothesis tests to monitor computer server farms.

In my cooking, when I get a dish done, I take measurements and make careful notes.

Net, in cooking (computer programming, computer science) there's a big, HUGE communications problem so that far too many things are not "easy", and threads like this will be less important when cooks who do know how to do it write, with careful measurements of weights, volumes, times, temperatures, HOW to do it.

Come on guys, say HOW to do it so that it's "easy".

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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There are also a lot of notions of value floating around here: value of saved money, value of labor, value of leisure time.

Also, whether you count it as "leisure" or "labor". I suppose I could count cooking dinner as "labor," since there has to be dinner whether I feel like cooking or not, and there may be a certain time pressure (having it ready by when the spouse gets home) and then the labor/convenience/take-out trade-off can come into play, but much of the baking I do is more discretionary: I'm doing it because I want to. It is at least partly a leisure activity. Admittedly, then the tradeoff is whether I might prefer doing other leisure activities that might be possible at the same time.

And of course, even in the home there can be some economy of scale: some types of soups and sauces, for instance, can be just as easily made in large amounts as small, so the extra can be saved in the freezer for when you don't feel like cooking--you make your own convenience.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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There are some homemade things I insist on in my kitchen

Stock

Bacon Bits

Croutons

salad dressings/dips

salsa (unless it's winter and from Lone Star which makes the best homemade salsa and tortilla chips ever)

I hate making pasta, like someone else said about pizza, its just not fun for me, so I buy it fresh made from the Italian bakery. I do make my own pizza dough when I make pizza, but just as often, we order it in. I like making my own bacon and prefer it when possible. It's not always possible. In which case I buy it from my butcher.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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"Easy"? This thread is awash in claims of it's "easy".

I conclude that the existence of this thread shows that "easy" is largely not correct.

Come on guys, say HOW to do it so that it's "easy".

...

A lot of what makes this stuff hard is the means by which we try to communicate. It really is quite easy to show someone how to make a vinaigrette say if they are standing beside you. It's harder to show them on a video or a film. Harder still to describe it in words. The demand for a formula gets in the way. Do you want 3:1 or 4:1 or 5:1 oil to vinegar -- that may depend on what I'm dressing, on how acid the vinegar is, on whether I've added mustard or shallot, or sugar, or honey -- there is no precise formula.

Which is another reason why vinaigrette is better made at home -- because it can be tweaked subtly, whereas the stuff from the bottle is (as it's supposed to be) uniform.

I do think it's easier than violin playing. But it is a set of skills that are so very much easier to communicate person-to-person than in some more impersonal way. The means we use to communicate about cooking leave out of account three (and often four) of the senses that matter most when we are cooking.

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you make your own convenience.

I think this is very much the case, and if one is cooking all the time, then a lot of things get made along the way that may not have been the original object, like poaching a chicken to strengthen a batch of chicken stock and having a poached chicken to use in chicken salad or soup or ravioli or pot pie or whatever. The other day I was making a batch of clarified butter and thinking about what I might do with the otherwise discarded milk solids, so I made up a batch of pancake batter to throw them into, and when the jet lagged wife and son woke up, I made pancakes. Food begets food.

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How hard is it to pour boiling water over some teabags?

But wouldn't that make hot tea, not iced?

Oh, you're right! It does make it a LOT more trouble to pour that strong hot tea over ice.

Now I get it.

:biggrin:

ahhh --- not a southern, i presume!

Actually, I am a "southern." And come from a long line of southerners. None of whom ever bought premade or instant iced tea. Some of them have a large contraption called an "iced tea maker," which I also find to be a pretty good example of tomfoolery (although it's handy if you've got a crowd coming, and certainly better than paying for some kind of premade or instant iced tea). And many of us southerners make sun tea, which I prefer when I have time.

But rest assured that if it's gettin' on toward lunchtime, and we want some "tea" (nobody ever adds the "iced" - it's just assumed) we boil some water (in the microwave these days) and pour it over the tea bags. We also make some really really sweet syrup to add to make "sweet tea" for those that prefer it, as just adding sugar to your glass doesn't really get it sweet enough.

Often we grab some mint from the back yard and some lemon slices to go with it. Some of us stir in some homemade lemonade from the pitcher in the fridge.

But nobody, in my family anyway, would think to go to the pantry and get out a great big tin of instant iced tea.

i'm sure you'll excuse me for my typo -- sadly my ability to type coherent posts is sometimes challenged by the three kiddos i have running around at my feet.

being a southern myself, i must confess that i've never seen anyone make simply one glass of tea, but have never been in a home where there wasn't a pitcher of tea chilling in the fridge. i certainly didn't mean to question your devotion to the beverage, it's just -- in my experience -- non-southerners think hot tea + ice = iced tea, and -- in my little corner of the south -- that's just not the case.

and, we are in full agreement that instant or bottled tea is an aberration.

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This is why non- southerners use Iced Tea mix...

We tried making a cup of tea, putting ice in it, then trying to mix in some sugar - oh and some bottled lemon "juice".

And I will tell ya Lipton mix is better than that combination. :wacko:

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

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Come on guys, say HOW to do it so that it's "easy".

One problem is that writing to that level of precision isn't easy either - nor is the kitchen the domain of intellectuals in the first place. I believe computer science has similar problems, with a different root - pure, academic computer science is precise and intellectual, but the application of computers in commerce is the field of every duffer and his dog, who're in it for the money, not the beautiful high country of the mind.

In the second place, food is inescapably regional and local. Trying to follow an exact formula laid down by anyone who lives other than in the same town, will leave you thrashing about just to source ingredients.

You only *ever* learn to cook by doing it, no matter how much you read or how many videos or live demonstrations you watch.

With respect, if you're frustrated with an inability to progress, trying to make minced beef with that number of ingredients is more likely to make it worse than better, IMO. I can make a killer minced beef & pan sauce using only mince, onions, water & salt. (I feel that if you can pitch the salting right, you've mastered 50% of the art of making tasty food).

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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This is why non- southerners use Iced Tea mix...

We tried making a cup of tea, putting ice in it, then trying to mix in some sugar - oh and some bottled lemon "juice".

And I will tell ya Lipton mix is better than that combination. :wacko:

:laugh:

You do make it sound pretty ghastly.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Simple syrup is a good example. I was in a store recently and saw an approximately 12-ounce bottle of it for something like $7. In addition to sugar and water I think it contained a little vanilla.

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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Come on guys, say HOW to do it so that it's "easy".

One problem is that writing to that level of precision isn't easy either - nor is the kitchen the domain of intellectuals in the first place. I believe computer science has similar problems, with a different root - pure, academic computer science is precise and intellectual, but the application of computers in commerce is the field of every duffer and his dog, who're in it for the money, not the beautiful high country of the mind.

In the second place, food is inescapably regional and local. Trying to follow an exact formula laid down by anyone who lives other than in the same town, will leave you thrashing about just to source ingredients.

You only *ever* learn to cook by doing it, no matter how much you read or how many videos or live demonstrations you watch.

With respect, if you're frustrated with an inability to progress, trying to make minced beef with that number of ingredients is more likely to make it worse than better, IMO. I can make a killer minced beef & pan sauce using only mince, onions, water & salt. (I feel that if you can pitch the salting right, you've mastered 50% of the art of making tasty food).

I don't think it's possible to articulate every last thing in minute detail to the point of covering every thing you need to know to make most recipes--you could write ad infinitum about every detail and eventuality of sauteeing a protein and making a pan sauce. If you want to learn to bake bread, there's no way a formula can account for the humidity of your kitchen or how your yeast is reacting to its environment so you have to learn by trial and error to some extent. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for recipes coming with precise weight, not volume, measurements. But there's just no way that a recipe can be written that describes exactly everything--you have to use your judgment and developing a keener and keener sense of judgment is what defines progress.

It's true that garlic cloves are like snowflakes; there aren't two alike. The same goes for your tastebuds,though, so why not add as much garlic to your dressing as you like? If you're unsure how much that is, add a little bit at a time and just keep on tasting until you're satisfied. Next time, you'll know how much to add and the process won't be as slow. A little bit more or even less garlic than the recipe says won't hurt the dish that much, as long as you're in the ballpark. Recipes are like laws: they're abstractions that have to be applied judiciously to specific cases. We'll never stop rewriting recipes (every time we make them) and we'll never stop rewriting laws.

For some people, even making simple syrup sounds difficult because they're more focused on what might go wrong and what they don't know. I've told tons of people how to make stuff and a lot of them suddenly turn extremely timid and anxious because they're in foreign territory and they think something's going to go horribly wrong. I don't think its just values (different equations of convenience, money, taste, etc) but also in some cases this anxiety that keeps people buying crappy or ridiculous products like bottled pasta sauce or simple syrup.

nunc est bibendum...

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We tried making a cup of tea, putting ice in it, then trying to mix in some sugar - oh and some bottled lemon "juice".

That "juice" could likely be the reason.. Fresh juice, just like in cocktails, makes all the difference in the world. And ditto the simple syrup idea. Trying to dissolve anything but superfine sugar in a cold liquid is an exercise in futility. It would be much easier to sweeten your tea while its still hot, or add a dose of simple after it has the ice in it..

"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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Those Lunchables package thingies with crackers, cheese, and ham rounds that are $5.00 a pack (I forget what they're called). Seriously?!? There's already no cooking involved - it can't get easier than assembling crackers, cheese, ham & tossing them in a plastic container yourself.

Oh, and premade, canned tuna salad (especially the ones packed with crackers). Tuna + mayo + handful of crackers is only assembly, not cooking. :wacko:

You've touched a huge nerve for me here. I'm trying to be fair, but I think that parents who buy Lunchables are crazy. It also reminded me of a dinner a few years ago with an avid food guy who happened to be Charlie Trotter's accountant. We feasted from Trotters to Go and his kids got Lunchables. I'm not suggesting that all parents go thebento route but you can pack a sandwich, some fruit and a cookie. Or pack up your own crackers, cheese and salami.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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We tried making a cup of tea, putting ice in it, then trying to mix in some sugar - oh and some bottled lemon "juice".

That "juice" could likely be the reason.. Fresh juice, just like in cocktails, makes all the difference in the world. And ditto the simple syrup idea. Trying to dissolve anything but superfine sugar in a cold liquid is an exercise in futility. It would be much easier to sweeten your tea while its still hot, or add a dose of simple after it has the ice in it..

Well, for some people it might be the reason, but it really depends upon why you're drinking the tea in the first place. How much of a tea drinker are you? Can you taste the difference between Lipton and Salada? Some folks can't even tell green tea from black.

Some folks drink sweetened iced tea simply for the sugar, and it matters almost not at all what type of tea it is, whether it was brewed properly, whether it was brewed and sweetened in a vessel that only rarely gets cleaned (and since sweet tea breeds vast amounts of bacteria, this can be not only common, but pretty nasty), or whether lemon comes in a wedge or a packet. I can say from personal experience that more than half of the population who drink sweet tea, in the Southeast, where sweet tea is popular and unique, the sugar is literally all that matters.

I do like tea, but I usually prefer it hot, so no need for instant there. When I do drink iced tea I don't take lemon and I sweeten with Splenda, if I feel like it.

This thread is fascinating by the way, as it illuminates the differences between what I find to be "easy" to make at home, and what I find to be "difficult."

@project: Hi. I'm The Food Tutor. I'm actually pretty good at explaining, in vivid and explicit detail, how to cook in certain ways, how to formulate recipes that suit your tastes, and how to execute certain techniques. I do it all the time. If you have any questions, message me.

(This is not an advert for my business, but an offer of free services, if you would want them. If anyone wants to know how to make duck confit at home, I can certainly explain it in layman's terms, though I know that information is available here on eGullet.)

I will admit that, while I always make my own duck confit, I rarely make mayonnaise at home. I know how, but the jar is simpler, and it has preservatives, so it lasts longer. I really hate battling my fridge in terms of expiration dates.

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