Often the food stuff we buy for convenience has some not-so-good-for-us or what-is-that-I-can’t-read-that-is-that-even-English ingredients. Preservatives, MSG, high sodium, stabilizers, emulsifiers and lack of flavor can really be a bummer. But fear not, because while we may be used to just picking up a jar or package of whatever, many of these things can be made at home quickly and cheaply. Here are seven things you could easily make at home; and they’re all surprisingly tasty!
Pre-packaged spice blends are notoriously filled with who knows what. Taco mix, steak seasoning, pie blends, they all have unwanted preservatives and sodium and the like. Thankfully, these are super simple to make at home. I like to buy whole spices from a trusted local provider (the kind with the bulk bins) and grind and blend at home. The best tool to do this is a coffee grinder. Just throw in whole spices and blend until a fine powder.
The great thing about spice blends is experimentation. It is always fun to change up the mixture and try out new tastes and varieties. Start with whole spices whenever possible, you will be amazed at the difference in taste.
A few ideas:
Taco seasoning: whole cumin, whole coriander, chili powder, dried spicy red chile, dried oregano, paprika. Add a little cornstarch, too, to thicken the sauce as it cooks. You can use a combination or dried onion and garlic powders in the blend or add fresh as you cook instead.
Pumpkin pie spice: Cinnamon stick, dried ginger, whole, grated nutmeg, whole allspice, whole cloves, a touch of black peppercorn
Chinese five spice: Szechuan peppercorn, star anise, fennel seed, cassia bark or cinnamon stick, whole cloves
Mustard is very simple to make. The essential ingredients are mustard seed (or you can start with dried mustard powder), vinegar, turmeric, and a little salt. Yellow mustard seeds are milder than brown ones, which can get very spicy. And the coarseness of the grind will also affect the taste of your mustard.
Mustard is easy to throw together: grind up mustard seeds, add vinegar and any spices you like, and let meld for a few days to reach maximum flavor. But, it’s also a blank canvas to try out fun stuff. You can add some wine vinegar, or wine itself to replace some of the liquid. You can add some espresso powder, or dried fruits. You can mix the different mustard seeds and play with coarseness to make smooth or grainy mustards.
Here’s a recipe from David Lebovitz for a basic homemade mustard that is a great place to start.
Julia Child said that every cook needed to know how to make a homemade mayonnaise, and she’s probably right. Not only is mayonnaise easy to make, but it just tastes better and doesn’t have all the stuff they pump into commercial mayo to keep it stabilized without breaking the emulsion over long periods of time (which is, I have to point out, not natural.)
Mayonnaise is a basic emulsion that combines egg yolks with oil, whipped together with air to a fluffy consistency.
I like to use a food processor for this, though I have been known to whisk my hand. If you go from the by hand method, you can skip arm day at the gym. You can also use a blender
In your food processor or a very clean stainless steel bowl, lightly mix/whisk egg yolk with a dab of mustard (to help with the emulsion) and a pinch or two of salt and pepper. Then, slowly drizzle oil into the yolks as you are mixing them. It takes a few minutes to emulsify. Keep adding oil until the mayonnaise has the right consistency and color. The egg will become paler and almost white over time.
Homemade vinaigrette is so simple. Almost every commercially available salad dressing is chock full of stuff we don’t want to eat. Like mayonnaise, a slew of chemical enhancers and stabilizers are used to stop the emulsion from separating. Again, not natural.
I like to use a medium sized jar leftover from jam to make vinaigrette (like a Bonne Maman brand jar or similar). I usually add about a tablespoon of mustard, any kind of vinegar I have around the house, a touch of salt, pepper, maybe some honey for sweetness. I hear a secret of the epic French mustard vinaigrette is to use a splash of soy sauce instead of salt. Now is when you taste. You can adjust the flavors at this stage, before you add the oil.
You can add lemon juice in place of some of the vinegar, or zest for a citrusy flavor. A spice blend you’ve made for variation (a little five spice is great). Add some dried marjoram and oregano for a Greek-style dressing.
Then, add a small amount of olive oil. The less oil you add, the more vinegary the dressing will be. I tend to like my dressings with less oil. But, however you like it, once you add the oil, but the jar lid on and shake it very well. Done.
This video of Jaime Oliver making fresh pasta (and sauce!) in under 7 minutes changed my life. It made me realize that yes, one can quickly make homemade, fresh pasta. Even on a weeknight.
You need a pasta roller to do this, but it’s an inexpensive device and the result is so delicious.
Essentially, there is a simple formula to follow: for each person, mix 100 grams of flour (I like to mix white and semolina) and 1 egg yolk. That’s the dough. Put through your pasta machine and voilà, you’re ready to toss the noodles into boiling water. Fresh pasta cooks up in 2-3 minutes and has a lovely texture and flavor. Serve with your favorite sauce.
Crème fraîche is ridiculously tasty and super hands off to make. It’s great in place of sour cream in dishes, but also amazing on a variety of desserts.
This one is simple, in a glass jar with a lid, combine ½ pint heavy cream, and 2 tablespoons of cultured buttermilk. Leave out on the counter for 24 hours. Then, put in the fridge until chilled.
Another set-it-and-forget-it thing to do at home is infused vodkas. The real flavors and variety of options here is endless.
And because you’re infusing it, you don’t need to spend a fortune. In fact, you want to start with a good, cheap, pretty flavorless vodka. You know those big jugs on the bottom shelf at the liquor store? Those are great for this.
Throw in whatever you want to infuse the vodka with, place in the freezer for a while and when you want delicious cocktails with flavored vodka, you’re ready to go.
I like to divide one large bottle of vodka into three smaller ones and then infuse with different things.
Whole roasted coffee beans are great for a coffee infused liquor to use in mudslides.
Jalapeño or habeñero vodka for a spicy bloody mary.
Grapefruit or lemon zest for a citrusy snap.
Or, throw in the whole ingredients from your pumpkin spice blend above and make a fall-inspired vodka for Thanksgiving cocktails.
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