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Things you'd be crazy not to make yourself


agray
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Right, so I answer the question, "what do I find silly?" and get a lecture in economics.

Of course its about what works for you.

Hence the 'thank goodness' in my post when the little person didnt like the damn things.

On the otherhand, this lecture came from the man who molds the hardboiled eggs into animal shapes. :):biggrin:

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Right, so I answer the question, "what do I find silly?" and get a lecture in economics.

There was an amusing article the other day about how economists apply the "opportunity cost" argument in their own lives. The upshot was that many economists are cheap bastards, but will generally pay to have other people do things for them. And given that our current economic situation is in part a testament to the wisdom of economists and the value of their theories, I tend to ignore this argument, which taken to its logical extreme, would imply that the guy billing $375/hr should choose to do almost nothing except work. Personally, I don't want to be that guy, or put a dollar value on my every waking moment.

"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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Whether or not one applies the label "economics" to the argument, it seems profoundly silly for most residents of the Western industrialized world to invest a significant amount of time to save a dollar solely for the purpose of saving a dollar. If they're spending the time because they're enjoying it, great. But then don't pretend it's about saving the dollar.

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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I'd never been all that aware of the product, so I wanted to see what I was missing. While they're not for me, I'm not sure I'd characterize them as awful.

You have to try to eat them first.

Actually, I've never eaten lunchables, either, but nothing I've ever eaten in similar packaging would inspire much confidence. I guess they're mainly intended for kids, though. But it is really so hard to throw together a sandwich?

I don't find 'Lunchables' awful in and of themselves insofar as product quality of the food goes, but the very few times I bought them for my school-aged kids, I did feel pretty wasteful, even irresponsible. I can see, though, how a sandwich might not be the substitute that the kids want, and the crackers/coldcuts/cheese/juice option could be a nice change of pace. The main reason I almost never bought Lunchables was because I thought that they were quite expensive considering what you got, and all that excessive packaging troubled me. So I just bought a box of crackers, some cold cuts, sliced cheese and juice boxes and made up my own.

Along the same lines, the attraction to the lunchable concept got us to discuss what he found cool about other kid's lunches and we landed in the world of bento. Not strict bento, but the basic outline; but that takes us back to one of the basic discussion points here which is "time" for prep.

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Since this is a topic in the "cooking" forum, I took the original question to mean: what are the food items that you never buy now that you know how to make them yourself? Once I learned how to make a basic salad dressing, I never bought salad dressing again. Every time I make one it's slightly different, depending on what acids/mustards/oils/etc we have on hand and what the dressing is for. I would need a separate fridge just for dressings if I wanted to match the variety I can create on the fly. I also never buy stock, gravy, hummus, pasta sauce, and a few other things.

I think all the foods on my list are things I can usually throw together with whatever I have on hand, without using a recipe. For me, that's what makes something "easy". Maybe it's from the years spent in labs, but I HATE having to measure things or follow recipes :smile: Also, if it's tough to find the ingredients, takes too much active labor, or requires a lot of clean-up, I wouldn't call it easy.

I usually don't make cooking decisions based on the relative cost of the finished item (unless it's an absurd difference). Instead, I'm much more likely to make things that I don't find too difficult, or things that I really want but aren't readily available.

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Since this is a topic in the "cooking" forum, I took the original question to mean: what are the food items that you never buy now that you know how to make them yourself?

Exactly. In in that vein, I'd like to add:

"Simple" Potato Dishes

By simple I mean au gratin or mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, etc. I've always made these dishes from scratch but my aforementioned housemate believes doing so is once again just "too much trouble" and should come from a box. Of course, even "easy" dishes like these can seem difficult if you're struggling with a dull knife or peeler, or believe that you must have a potato ricer or expensive mandolin to make them.

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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Whether or not one applies the label "economics" to the argument, it seems profoundly silly for most residents of the Western industrialized world to invest a significant amount of time to save a dollar solely for the purpose of saving a dollar. If they're spending the time because they're enjoying it, great. But then don't pretend it's about saving the dollar.

If it's a matter of saving a dollar, then I agree it's probably really about whether you enjoy it or not. It starts getting ridiculous to me when you're paying a 75% or more markup for something you could make at home. The simple syrup mentioned earlier is a good example. I was at BevMo! earlier today, and a 750ml bottle of Depaz Cane Syrup (basically simple made from brown sugar from what I can decipher) was almost $5. The same amount of simple could be made at home in less time than it takes to go to the grocery store, and for much less money.

Other things, I think its crazy not to make them at home just because I enjoy making them so much. Like hamburgers, pasta sauce, etc. Those things I don't look at from a cost standpoint so much as an enjoyment standpoint. Yeah, I can save a dollar a jar on pasta sauce, but I'd be crazy not to make it at home because it tastes better and I enjoy making 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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prasantrin is quite right. Panko requires a speical type of bread to provide that golden brown, crunchy texture, and I'm sure Blether knows all about the texture, considering how much he likes tonkatsu!

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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.

If one does not already know how to make a vinaigrette then he/she does need a starting point (a recipe) that can then be tweaked as personal preference shows in the eating of it. Personally I detest vinaigrette. Bleu Cheese is my choice and since I only eat salad once every few weeks Bob Big Boy in a jar serves me just fine.

Home made mayo is used enough in our home to justify making it.

Edited by Porthos (log)

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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Breadcrumbs are easily made at home, but I'd never make Japanese panko. It's a different animal, and I'm not even sure it can be made at home.

Hmm.

prasantrin is quite right. Panko requires a speical type of bread to provide that golden brown, crunchy texture, and I'm sure Blether knows all about the texture, considering how much he likes tonkatsu!

Uh-huh. Hiroyuki, I think you may be getting the wrong idea about me & tonkatsu. But I digress :smile: What's special about the bread for panko, the Japanese commercial product ? I can anything brown and crunchy in my pot of fat, given time.

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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Breadcrumbs are easily made at home, but I'd never make Japanese panko. It's a different animal, and I'm not even sure it can be made at home.

Hmm.

prasantrin is quite right. Panko requires a speical type of bread to provide that golden brown, crunchy texture, and I'm sure Blether knows all about the texture, considering how much he likes tonkatsu!

Uh-huh. Hiroyuki, I think you may be getting the wrong idea about me & tonkatsu. But I digress :smile: What's special about the bread for panko, the Japanese commercial product ? I can anything brown and crunchy in my pot of fat, given time.

I see. I had the wrong impression that you had been hooked on the tonkatsu of Maisen and other famous Japanese tonkatsu restraurants.

What's special about the bread? For example, it contains less sugar so that it will turn golden brown when deep-fried. And, as you may know, there are a variety of types of panko available that differ in moisture content, particle size, etc.

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I think the only reasonable way to interpret the topic of this thread is "things that YOU would be crazy not to make yourself," not "things that OTHERS would be crazy not to make for themselves." Because of course it all depends on one's skill, funds, and free time. Seen in that light, I don't think the topic is silly at all.

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Panko

Not to go too far off-topic, but My popular kaki fry use my house breadcrumbs.

My house breadcrumbs work like this: I bake bread at home. I won't bore you all with the details again. No actually, I will. It's usually either 100% wholewheat no-knead, baked in the oven; wholewheat of somewhere between 100% and 40% or so, going by total weight and eye-balling it, using the breadmaker; or 100% white long-rise bread, mixed by the maker but oven-baked. I keep bread-ends and bread remainders in the freezer, along with a bag with remainder breadcrumbs. Whenever the remainder breadcrumbs aren't enough, I can defrost some ends / remainders, tear them up into rough pieces, and crumb then in the blender (average-size home cup blender - I mean cup blender as opposed to stick blender). About a slice at a time, for, what ? 20 seconds ? Maybe stop once to reach in with a cook's chopstick and stir ? Anyway, till they're as fine as I want 'em.

If I really want the Japanese-supermarket-panko experience, I have to go out and buy Chorleywood 'CBP' whipped-not-risen white plastic bread, I can do that, but don't, much.

I do bread and fry things; but not every week. Panko is relatively expensive cf. the price of the source bread. I'm not even keen on bread-ends for anything else (and the bread-end lover is no longer in the house). Ergo... crazy.

(Thinking about this topic brings to mind a whole other category of 'things I'd be crazy not to...', to wit, all sorts of Japanezse food that I can go out and eat, expertly prepared to a high level of quality, in a restaurant for less than I can get the ingredients at the supermarket. But that's another story).

Edited by Blether (log)

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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I just pile the stale bread off to the side of the breadbox, and when it's thoroughly dried out, I put it in the blender to make breadcrumbs and store it in a bag. This seems to produce enough breadcrumbs for what I need.

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Yes. Interestingly enough, the TV guru from whom I stole the kaki fry technique wholesale, instructed that the breadcrumbs should be the soft, i.e. not-dried-out kind. They crisp up when you fry 'em !

Following the link I gave above, the Japanese page on Japanese-supermarket-panko explains that after they bake the bread, it's held for some time before they crumb it - so not completely fresh, a little dry/stale, I guess - but there's no special magic about the soft-type panko. They just don't go through the final drying stage that the dry-type crumbs do (Step 8 in the link).

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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I see. I had the wrong impression that you had been hooked on the tonkatsu of Maisen and other famous Japanese tonkatsu restraurants.

What's special about the bread? For example, it contains less sugar so that it will turn golden brown when deep-fried. And, as you may know, there are a variety of types of panko available that differ in moisture content, particle size, etc.

Hi, Hiroyuki. Sorry, I didn't notice your reply before I posted again about breadcrumbs. I've commented about tonkatsu a few times in posts before I started the Tonkatsu (dining) thread. I'm interested in tonkatsu and I like to eat it, but no, I'm not hooked. (I haven't even been to Maisen ! But let's talk about tonkatsu over there. Anyway I'm planning hatsu-katsu this month, though for the first time in fifteen years, this year I've got past January 5th without even going for hatumoude).

... it contains less sugar so that it will turn golden brown when deep-fried. And, as you may know, there are a variety of types of panko available that differ in moisture content, particle size, etc.

Yes, I'm aware that there are different kinds of panko. I'm sure you know more about them than I do. But it's very curious, "less sugar so that it will turn golden brown" - is that what they say ? Because everywhere else in cookery, if we use more sugar, stuff will turn brown more readily. Even if I do use plain white mass-produced bread, I get a good golden brown colour from deep-frying.

What are the things that you think you'd be crazy not to make at home ? I don't do much Japanese cooking, and I'm always interested to hear about what you are doing.

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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Yes. Interestingly enough, the TV guru from whom I stole the kaki fry technique wholesale, instructed that the breadcrumbs should be the soft, i.e. not-dried-out kind. They crisp up when you fry 'em !

Following the link I gave above, the Japanese page on Japanese-supermarket-panko explains that after they bake the bread, it's held for some time before they crumb it - so not completely fresh, a little dry/stale, I guess - but there's no special magic about the soft-type panko. They just don't go through the final drying stage that the dry-type crumbs do (Step 8 in the link).

Yes, yes, the soft kind is much better (but it's also more expensive). They crips up when you fry 'em because the moisture in them is replaced by oil in the deep-frying process.

OK, we are getting way off topic here, so I'll be brief.

Bread for making panko contains less sugar than regular bread. It's more like French bread, as you can see from this webpage:

Link (Japanese only).

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Interesting link, Hiroyuki, thanks. To translate, "originally, breadcrumbs were made from leftover bread from breadmaking and sandwich-making. But if you use those crumbs for deep-frying, they will burn pitch black. So, people started to bake bread specifically for making into breadcrumbs".

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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I'll be disagreeable and say that nowadays you can buy a good version of just about anything, and most home cooks I know would do well to simply buy, and not waste their time butchering a recipe.

The only exception - homemade burgers, no matter how badly formed and sloppy looking, always taste better. That being said, most people don't know how to make proper, soft squishy burger buns, so they'd do well to just buy those...

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Croutons! The store bought variety are execrable. And home made are so easy. If I go to a "good" restaurant that offers a store bought crouton, it goes waaaay down the list to junk food restaurant in my rating.

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soup.

i grew up never having eaten homemade soup - Campbell's it was. i vividly remember making my first tomato soup from an early Cook's Illustrated recipe that called for roasting canned Italian plum tomatoes to caramelize them, then processing them with other ingredients.

revelation.

i rarely make tomato soup anymore, but all other kinds are in constant development in my kitchen.

there are some convenience foods that tempt me, but canned soup is not one of them.

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I'll be disagreeable and say that nowadays you can buy a good version of just about anything...

Let us be agreeable and grant you that assertion. The question then becomes: Is it more trouble to go buy it or make it? At least in my neck of the woods, it can require considerable effort to go to the one store that has a quality version of what you desire. Or you may well need to special order or mail order.

The question isn't can you buy a good version of something, it is whether or not you would be crazy to do so.

Edited by Paul Kierstead (log)
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