Pass me the homemade bread.
November 9, 2007 2:06 PM   Subscribe

What parts of your cooking do you strictly DIY? I'm looking for more ways to incorporate "doing it myself" into my cooking.

Do you make your own snack mix? Make cookies instead of buying them? Make your own vanilla extract? Make your own liquers?

Can you offer any tips for foods or drinks or edible treats that are easy to do yourself but most people buy?
posted by lucyleaf to Food & Drink (79 answers total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
I make my own salsa whenever possible. Having a molcajete (big mortar and pestle) makes it easier, but is by no means required.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:08 PM on November 9, 2007

I make my own spaghetti sauce. It's so much cheaper, and I just freeze it in containers the same size as a jar from the store so I can easily have enough for a single meal onhand.
posted by Kellydamnit at 2:14 PM on November 9, 2007

Canned tomatoes
Roasted squash seeds.

The bread is just for fun; the others are easy and taste way better without all the preservatives and junk that usually go into them.
posted by ohio at 2:16 PM on November 9, 2007

Pizza dough.
posted by togdon at 2:17 PM on November 9, 2007

We make our own lunch meat. Buy a turkey, cook it, slice it, bag and freeze the extra and defrost as needed. I think most people buy lunch meat separately, which is more expensive and not as tasty.
posted by empyrean at 2:20 PM on November 9, 2007

Whenever I can, I make my own mayonnaise. For a food that packs huge punch in tiny servings, it's *so* worth it. Even a BLT can become kind of transcendent.

Fresh pasta. It doesn't really take that long, particularly if you have a roller - and the difference is huge, especially for lasagnas and filled pastas.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:23 PM on November 9, 2007

Pastry - I find most homemade pies are better than storebought stuff, even if you 're not a master at pastry. You can make shortcrust pastry easily enough in a robocoupe.

Broth/stock - far less salt and way more flavour in my homemade broths, easy enough to do on a spare sunday or something. Save your veggie trimmings for vegetable stock, chicken bones for chicken stock, etc. You can also buy chicken backs and feet specifically for making stock. These stocks in turn can make all sorts of homemade goodness: gravies, soup, etc.
posted by glip at 2:27 PM on November 9, 2007

Granola. It keeps for a long time, and you get to decide what kinds of fruits/nuts/grains go into it (for me, this means no walnuts, since I sincerely believe they taste like dirt).
posted by ethorson at 2:28 PM on November 9, 2007

Hummus is really easy to make yourself with a handheld mixer. I bought mine at a thrift store for like $5. You could also use a food processor.


-A can of chickpeas (don't know if canned violates the essence of DIY, you could always buy dried chickpeas and re-hydrate them yourself)

-A jar of tahini


Mix the can of chickpeas, two teaspons tahini, half a lemon, salt to taste. Grind it all with the mixer/processor.

The great thing about doing this is that the only mildy expensive part is the tahini, it's usually like $5-$6 a jar. Once you have that, you can just buy one can of chickpeas and a lemon and whenever you want hummus and it only costs you like a $1.50.

Of course, you need something else to eat it with. I can't really help you with that. Maybe combine it with something else from this thread.
posted by kpmcguire at 2:30 PM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Pizza dough, tomato sauce, vanilla extract (along the same line, infused vodka and rum), cookies, salsa, ice cream, lemon curd, whipped cream and yogurt. Some of the stuff (like cookies and salsa) I've always made from scratch, but it wasn't until I got into the forums at eGullet early this year that I expanded my DIYness. I love eGullet so much. Next I'd like to try to make homemade marshmallows and bacon.
Try these threads:
Vanilla Extract
They're great examples of reeaaally easy things to make, yet taste so much better (and usually cheaper)
posted by lizjohn at 2:41 PM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I second hummus and salsa. Both are easy and a lot cheaper than anything you'll find at the store.

Other things I make myself: ice cream (so much better than store-bought!), tabouleh salad (this recipe is close to how I make it), salad dressing (a favorite of mine is balsamic vinegar + oil + red pepper flakes), BBQ sauce (you can make a basic one with just ketchup + Worcestershire sauce!), strawberry dessert sauce (slice strawberries, mix with sugar, leave in the fridge for a day or two), onion dip (sour cream or yogurt + pepper and chopped green onion).
posted by vorfeed at 2:43 PM on November 9, 2007

My former roommate always used a no-knead bread recipe to make his own bread. It really was quite good, not just "hey, this isn't bad, considering you didn't have to knead it." It had to sit for something like 12 or 24 hours though. But the total amount of active labor involved was very low. Easily less than 20 minutes of mixing the ingredients, and putting the bread in and taking it out of the oven. If you want the recipe he uses, message me. Or you can check his profile for his email. He is Utilitaritron.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 2:44 PM on November 9, 2007

1. Stock - keep it in the freezer and you're always 30 minutes away from real chicken noodle soup.
2. Thai curry pastes - way better than canned, but a huge amount of labor to make. So every once in a while we'll make big batches and freeze it in tablespoon-sized lumps. A tablespoon of homemade red curry paste will liven up all sorts of things.
3. Ham, bacon, sausage - ok, this is really more of a hobby because it requires a significant investment of time, money, and storage space. But once you do, you'll discover that it's pure magic using a bit of salt and smoke to transform a gnarly hunk of fat into bacon.
4. Pickles - worth nthing, fresh dills are amazing.
posted by TungstenChef at 2:53 PM on November 9, 2007

Chicken Soup. Roast a chicken and eat it. The next day or so, put the rest in a big pot. Add water and chopped onions. Simmer until the meat falls off the bone. Pick apart or not - the flavor has gone into the stock at this point anyway.
Add precooked rice or precooked noodles or uncooked potato pieces. Then add a bag of Birds Eye Frozen vegetables. A cheaper brand could taste of freezer so I always buy the good stuff.
Season to taste. I always add salt and black pepper, and sometimes sesame oil and vinegar and soy sauce.
Note: precooked rice/noodles will absorb more water when in the stock.
posted by andreap at 2:56 PM on November 9, 2007

I don't understand why anyone would buy hummus. It is so easy (kpmcquire posted the basics, I would add some garlic and cumin) and so cheap.
I never buy cookies, I just don't like them. It doesn't take much to whip up a batch of snickerdoodles or chocolate chip cookies once a week for lunches.
I make pasta sauce and soups in bulk and freeze them.

Easy peanut sauce:

Skin and quarter a large onion
Throw it in a blender with some water (eh, half-a-cup to a cup), a tablespoon of white sugar, some chili peppers, garlic, and ginger
Pour into a pot, simmer for a few minutes
Add peanut butter until saucy
Optional: coconut milk

Tastes great with stirfried veggies and/or meat over rice or noodles.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:56 PM on November 9, 2007 [4 favorites]

Cakes, cookies, pies. You'd be shocked at how easy it is to make a cake. Anything you you can get as a boxed powder mix, you can make at home cheaper and it will taste *much* better. If you're really interested, I can provide you with the recipe for the World's Best Chocolate Cake (tm). It's certainly not healthy, but if you know a bunch of people who enjoy chocolate and will be getting together, you can make them love you forever with it.

I also make coconut buns at home. Basically, just mini-loaves of bread, but made with coconut milk instead of dairy, so it has a faint coconut-y flavour. It's a bit more work and time consuming (kneed, wait 45 minutes, separate, wait 30 minutes, bake, wait 30 minutes), but ye gods, it's SO good and you know exactly what went in it. Component-wise, it's easy and I can provide that recipe too if you want.
posted by Nelsormensch at 2:57 PM on November 9, 2007

I make my own spaghetti sauce. It's so much cheaper, and I just freeze it in containers the same size as a jar from the store so I can easily have enough for a single meal onhand.

Also a good idea because you avoid the HFCS and stuff in popular brand jar sauces.

Roasted squash seeds.

Including roasted pumpkin seeds--delicious and totally easy.

Most of the time bread and ice cream/sorbet are homemade, but machine-assisted, items in my kitchen. If I'm serving cake or similar baked goods, it's almost always going to be homemade from scratch.

I've made liqueurs, but they were rarely good enough that I felt confident serving them.
posted by gimonca at 2:58 PM on November 9, 2007

Oh yeah, and about stock. We just keep a baggie in the freezer and whenever we have veggie trimmings (carrot ends, celery ends, anything except starchy vegetables). Every week or so when the bag gets full just empty the bag into a stock put, throw in some garlic and onion, boil, strain, and voila! Fresh veggie stock, ready to be frozen for later use.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:59 PM on November 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

Grinding your own spice mixes, curry powder for example, is another low effort/high reward item.
posted by gimonca at 3:00 PM on November 9, 2007

I haven't bought canned soup in years. This is one of my recipes:

Tomato soup

Saute med onion and a few cloves of garlic.
Add chopped or canned tomatoes.
Add a few cups of broth (equal to the cups of tomatoes).
Season with black pepper and thyme.
If you like it creamy, sub milk for some of the broth.
Puree it, if you like.

Far, far better than anything from a can.
posted by wg at 3:06 PM on November 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

Hummus is really easy to make yourself with a handheld mixer.

Ah yes, can't forget hummus. Easy, cheap, tasty, and versatile. You can use this template in so many ways:

For example:

Black beans + garlic + olive oil + lime juice + green chiles and cilantro = Southweshummus.

White beans + garlic + olive oil + lemon juice + basil and anchovies = Italian hummus.

Pinto beans + garlic + sour cream + lime juice + chipotles and cumin = Mexican hummus.
posted by TungstenChef at 3:07 PM on November 9, 2007 [11 favorites]

Oh, I thought of another. And a few weeks ago I made my own apple sauce. It was incredibly easy. When I was done, I actually thought, "I wish they just told you when something is this easy to make". Just cut (fourths are fine) and boil some sweet apples, until they turn sort of clear. Strain, add sugar, or not, depending how sweet you want it. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, or whatever. Or simmer with a cinnamon stick for a bit like I did.

Also, mashed potatoes are made basically the same way, but with milk, butter, salt, and more savory seasonings. I really cannot comprehend why anyone uses instant mashed potatoes. They are disgusting. The only advantage is they take overall less time. Mashed potatoes take nominally more active work, IMO. Mashing them isn't that bad. They just take a while to boil.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:13 PM on November 9, 2007

Oh, and don't forget the vital mashing step for apple sauce.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:16 PM on November 9, 2007

No-no wait. My memory has gotten the best of me once again. You boil the apples in a bit of water, or juice, or cider, look up how much if you wanna know. Then you don't strain. Wow I look like a dick. Three comments in a row.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:22 PM on November 9, 2007

As someone who grew up on homemade cookies, I just CAN'T eat cookies that weren't individually spooned onto a tray and baked into a home oven.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:29 PM on November 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

i make a fish stock. The local fish guy will give me some fish heads from that morning. Then I clean out the guts and remove the gills and make a stock with all the regular stuff mentioned above, plus fennel and white wine.
The nice thing is that fish stock (also called fumet) takes about an hour vs 5 or so for chicken.
Then freeze that, and any anytime you want a fish stew bam just heat it up and add some shellfish and some chunks of white-flesh fish. and Bam!
posted by alkupe at 3:30 PM on November 9, 2007

my girlfriend and I make granola, mostly so that she can get all of the tasty fruit that she prefers without the nuts that she's allergic to.

I make my own tomato sauce as well, mostly for the flexibility of being able to add specific flavors beyond "Italian Basil" or "Spicy Carbonara"

My freezer is also filled with trimmings and various parts for stock.

As a matter of fact, almost everything we cook is pretty much from scratch.

Except falafel -- the proper balance of wet/dry chickpea puree suitable for frying has continued to elude both of us.
posted by bl1nk at 3:31 PM on November 9, 2007

kpmcguire mentioned this already, but I just wanted to add how easy and how much cheaper it is to prepare and freeze your own beans instead of buying them canned. For the price of a can of cooked beans (around 2 cups), you can often buy an amount of dried beans instead that gives you two to three times the amount once cooked.
How to do this:
1) pick over the dried beans for any stones and rinse them a few times
2) cover them with water in a large pot and soak them overnight
3) discard the soaking water and rinse the beans again
4) cover them with water again in the large pot, bring them to a boil and let them simmer until the beans are as soft as you want them (30 min to 1 hour)

Then you can drain them and freeze them in plastic bags or containers. Not only are the beans cheaper this way, they're also way lower in salt. You can avoid extra packaging and get a wider variety of dried beans too than you can of canned ones.
posted by onoclea at 3:39 PM on November 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

I've heard some people buy their guacamole from a store. Possibly the strangest thing you could ever do.

How hard is it to mash 2 avocados with a fork, add loads of garlic (all right, all right, to taste), a pinch or two of salt, and perhaps one chopped tomato?

Steamed dumplings are so good, and if you're willing to use pre-made dumpling wrappers, super easy.

Simple recipe:
1lb ground "protein" this can be ground beef, ground lamb (really delicious), ground turkey
seasonings (I like lots of onions, a bit of salt, and possibly a bit of shredded greens like spinach)
dumpling wrappers (you can use wonton wrappers in a pinch but I like the circle wrappers that are specifically for steamed dumplings)

Put about half a teaspoon in each wrapper and fold them over, using a bit of water to keep them together. Throw them in a bamboo steamer basket for about 3-4 minutes I guess? (Basically, until the wrapper is translucent and the filling springs back). Oh so so so tasty.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:40 PM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Elderflower cordial easy and delicious. Mix with sparkling water.
posted by londongeezer at 3:43 PM on November 9, 2007

Flavoured syrups to go in coffee/cocoa.

Also, most people seem to buy pie crusts (WHY?!)--they're super easy to make at home, if you have a food processor.
posted by anaelith at 3:47 PM on November 9, 2007

Like several others have said, home made stock is a great thing to have. I usually make several gallons once or twice a year and freeze in quart quantities in ziplocks. It's essential for soups, stews, braising, pan sauces--even making rice. Oftentimes I'll replace water with chicken or beef stock in any given recipe for an extra boost in flavor.

Bacon, sausage and beer are also great to make at home, but take a bit more equipment and dedication.
posted by slogger at 3:53 PM on November 9, 2007

. I never throw out the carcass of roasted chicken; it always gets made into stock.
. Real oatmeal, never instant.
. iced tea: pot of tea made with 4 tea bags, 1 can frozen lemonade + 3 cans water, combine, chill. Not overly sweet, very refreshing.

The Thanksgiving meal has to be from scratch, although pre-made bread cubes are allowed, as is canned broth.
- curried squash soup
- turkey
- stuffing
- mashed potatoes
- gravy
- roasted brussel sprouts
- cranberry ice
- pies
posted by theora55 at 4:10 PM on November 9, 2007


Cranberry sauce. I made sauce for the first time a few years ago & it was almost faster than opening up a can of the stuff. I'll never buy it again.
posted by belladonna at 4:29 PM on November 9, 2007

I've made liqueurs, but they were rarely good enough that I felt confident serving them.

You're right that a lot of these can be tricky, but there is one that is an exception for sure: limoncello. Very simple to make and just ridiculously good (much better than bought).

posted by madmethods at 4:39 PM on November 9, 2007

Oh, oh my goodness! I nearly forgot popcorn. Popcorn.

It's beyond my comprehension why people think that using a microwave is the only way to make popcorn. I guess it's ignorance. I thought it was the only way, until I moved to a country (Egypt) that has almost no microwaves (and almost no microwaveable popcorn). So, I learned to pop it myself in a pot and it's the easiest thing in the world.

When it's done, why not make it into caramel popcorn, also super easy recipe:

tiny pinch of salt
splash of water (or, if you're adventurous, vinegar)

melt the butter in the pan on low heat until it's bubbly. Add the sugar (no measurements, I'm afraid you'll just have to wing it on this one, although seriously it's impossible to get this wrong)
stir stir stir. the butter and sugar will make a thick pasty mess.
Add a small amount of water, this will melt the sugar and make it into a sort of more syrupy concotion. but it should be a very, very small amount of water (or vinegar, if you want it to be a bit tangy in flavor). I used two small capfuls of vinegar--maybe a teaspoon, tops? Keep stirring, stirring. The oil from the butter might seem to separate, but this is cool. Keep stirring. It should now be the consistency of honey, totally smooth (no bubbles) and a light brown color. Keep stirring until it becomes just chestnut in color. Just before it starts to bubble (you might see a bit on the side, but you have to stop it right away) remove from the heat and stir in the popcorn, coating the popcorn completely. This will cool down the caramel somewhat and you will hear the popcorn sizzling. After a couple of minutes, pour the whole concoction out onto a wide flat greased surface. Push it down with the spoon (it is probably too hot to handle with your fingers). Let it cool. The caramel will harden and you can snap the stuff into tiny pieces. Oh so frikkin tasty.

In fact, making candy of any kind is very, very easy once you learn about soft-ball and hard-ball and get a sense of how the sugars behave in heat. To learn it, you will have to burn a few pots and spend a long time scrubbing them, but it is to be able to eat candy made yourself. If you care about presentation you can learn how to make honest to goodness candies that can be cut into little pieces and wrapped. I never bothered -- I just pour the candy out into huge blobs and munch on them while lying on my back watching television.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:48 PM on November 9, 2007 [9 favorites]

I make my own egg noodles. They take maybe a half an hour, and they freeze beautifully. And, because you dust them in flour to keep them from sticking, they thicken your soup or stew as well as fortify it with egg noodly goodness!
posted by headspace at 4:49 PM on November 9, 2007

Popcorn, yes! You can also get an air popper for $15, and it cooks just as fast as the microwave only without the nasty chemical flavor.

And I make my own vegetarian soup stock. Save all the vegetable scraps from veggies I cool with in a plastic bag in the freezer, then put them in a huge pot full of water, making sure that onion, garlic and celery are represented even if I don't have them in the scraps. Toss in a random assortment of yummy herbs, 1-2 bay leaves, some soy sauce, bring to a boil, then simmer for 1-2 hours. Taste and adjust flavoring along the way. Strain out all the solids, and freeze any stock you don't plan to eat within a week.

You can microwave old fashioned/thick cut oatmeal. It really doesn't take much longer than instant, and its much, much better (and healthier). Take half a cup of oats, a cup of water, microwave for three minutes. Add milk, raisins, brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, etc. - whatever you like. Let it cool for 1-2 minutes and enjoy.

Pumpkin pie made with real pumpkin, instead of canned goo, is very yummy, too.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:56 PM on November 9, 2007

Nthing hummus. It's easy to make and you can flavor it any way you like. Anything used as a dip, really, is generally easy enough to make homemade, like guacamole, salsa, cheese/queso dip, etc. A favorite homemade treat in my house that I haven't seen mentioned is beer bread. It's easy enough for a beer-equipped 9-year-old to make, and you can do amazing things with the flavor by changing the beer you use, adding herbs or cheese, brushing the top with butter and/or honey, or just about anything else you can think of doing. Plus, it's very forgiving on time and temperature.
posted by notashroom at 5:31 PM on November 9, 2007

The suggestion for guacamole is great. Try adding mango, cilantro, onion, and lime juice along with the avocado, salt, garlic, and tomato.
posted by summit at 6:13 PM on November 9, 2007

Cranberry sauce (and the entirety of Thanksgiving, really), cakes, muffins and cookies, soup, oatmeal.
Pancake mix - soooooo much tastier than Bisquick and the like. I make a big ziploc bag full and keep it in a cabinet. Then I just add the wet ingredients and voila! Delicious homemade pancakes.
posted by missuswayne at 7:01 PM on November 9, 2007

Oh yes, I never buy cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie filling. Cranberry sauce is the easiest thing in the world to make (they even print the recipe right on the back of the bag of cranberries), and although from-scratch pumpkin pie is a bit of work, it is oh-so-worth it.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:11 PM on November 9, 2007

Several times this summer, as I got seasonal produce, I canned and pickled a bunch of produce (tomatoes, beans, potatoes, cabbage (sauerkraut), Argent super-sweet white corn, rhubarb, and 2 batches of jams), which we're eating now. Home preservation of food let's you trade a little time, energy, and capital cost, for the benefits of having your own tasty stuff on the shelf, for a fraction of what it costs in the store. My canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce costs me about $0.75 a quart; whereas even bargain RagĂș is about double that. Pickled zucchini is a cinch to make, but hard to buy, as is canned rhubarb sauce.

And the great thing about canning and pickling, as with drying, is that there is no on-going energy cost for food storage with these methods, as there is for freezing. Once something is canned on your shelf, it's good for at least a year, with no degradation of quality or spoilage, even through power outages. And, there's never any need for defrosting time when you use canned or pickled foods.
posted by paulsc at 7:39 PM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just to echo, making a load of chicken stock and freezing it in small portions a couple of times a year is the most useful (and delicious) DIY thing I do for cooking.

Making bread is the most satisfying thing DIY I do for cooking. Also, conveniently, delicious.
posted by transient at 9:29 PM on November 9, 2007

I make my own pasta (although I do keep store-bought for when I can't be bothered), sour-dough bread, jams & pickels, curry and other spice-blends (anchiote etc), apple-sauce, pizza dough (& pizza, obviously), gelato and sorbet. I've just started making bacon and biltong but this will have to wait until autumn/winter as it's too hot and humid I can't smoke stuff because of the firebans. I make up my own muesli (granola) blend so I get only what I enjoy. I buy bulk meat and cut it down myself (cheaper and not that hard to do).

Of course, I don't make all the above exclusively because I'm lazy and unmotivated, but it's damn satisfying.
posted by ninazer0 at 9:55 PM on November 9, 2007

Dulce de leche! I've never lived anywhere it's been easily commercially available, so have always made my own. Truly homemade: bring 2 litres of milk and 500g of sugar to the boil, stirring CONSTANTLY, then turn the heat down and simmer on VERY low for ~3 hours. The longer you leave it, the darker the result. Whisk while still hot for creamy goodness!

Semi-homemade: Place a few unopened tins of sweetened condensed milk in a large pot, and totally cover with water. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for ~3 hours. Remember to top up the water or you may have milk all over the kitchen! The water level must ALWAYS be above the top of the tins. Turn the heat off, then let the tins cool in the water in the pot for at least an hour or so before opening.

Otherwise, I have never had store-bought tomato sauce or packet cakes or biscuits in my home, and I didn't think real people actually bought instant mashed potato, only institutions! Trail mix is another good one - I buy a whole lot of dried fruit and nuts and mix it up. I used to dry the fruit myself (when I worked in fruit shops years ago), but now don't have free access to lots of just-about-to-rot fruit and haven't replaced my dehydrator since moving to the UK.
posted by goo at 1:14 AM on November 10, 2007

Jam. Homemade jam is so far superior to store-bought, it's ridiculous. If you can it in a boiling water bath, it keeps for years. Seriously, I've seen people gasp with surprise after tasting homemade concord grape jam.
Spaghetti sauce.
Pickles. Ridiculously easy and vastly better than commercial.
Ice cream. Made with homemade vanilla.
Apple sauce.
Pizza (with homemade dough and sauce)
Ricotta cheese. Takes about 15 minutes, and its so good that you could cry.
Any baked good.
Soup of any kind.

You know, I can't think of any food that isn't better made from scratch, at home.
posted by Flakypastry at 3:08 AM on November 10, 2007

Can't believe no one's said pesto yet but, oh my, store-bought will be a sad, sad second place once you've made your own.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:26 AM on November 10, 2007

Stock, salad dressings (hey people actually buy that stuff!), salsa, guacomole, pesto, red sauce, alfredo sauce, hummus, fudge and pralines, and most recently preserved lemons and harissa.

I'm about to buy a pasta roller for special recipes, but I'll also always have a few boxes of the dry stuff in my cupboard for those nights when I throw something together in a hurry.

I used to bake my own bread but now I have a killer oven that refuses to hold an even temperature.
posted by idest at 4:33 AM on November 10, 2007

Pasta sauce
Black pepper (via mortar and pestle)
Soup stocks
Salad dressing
Fresh herbs
Pumpkin filling
BBQ sauce
Coffee (grinding, not the roasting)
Pudding (soft tofu, cream, cocoa, vanilla, and brown sugar-- mmmmm)
Biscuits (American-- i.e., the fluffy white breakfast rolls)
posted by Rykey at 5:54 AM on November 10, 2007

Response by poster: I am now verrrrry hungry. Thanks for the ideas and inspiration, everyone! There are some amazing things here.

Best spice mix recipes? I found this, which looks handy.
posted by lucyleaf at 6:27 AM on November 10, 2007

I forgot buttermilk biscuits. And tomato sauce with tomatoes from the garden (my husband does this actually), there's no comparison. And mac & cheese. I use boxed macaroni, but the cheese sauce is homemade. Ridiculously simple, and so delicious.

Unfortunately my 3-year old prefers the boxed stuff. So typical!
posted by missuswayne at 7:18 AM on November 10, 2007

Oh yeah, homemade tzatziki sauce is easy and awesome too!
posted by Rykey at 8:27 AM on November 10, 2007

Hey missuswayne,

Homemade mac and cheese is one thing I've had bad luck with. I've tried various recommended methods, with no good results (either the consistency is right, but the taste is bland, or vice versa).

The closest I've come is by making a roux with flour, milk, and butter, but I get the blandness problem I describe above.

What works for you?

I will gain a thousand husband points if I can figure this one out.
posted by Rykey at 8:30 AM on November 10, 2007

Pumpkin anything. Why buy canned pumpkin? I know of people who peel it, then cut it into cubes and boil it. Way too much work. One pie pumpkin, sliced in half, face-down in a baking dish for 1 hour at 350 F = several cups of fresh cooked pumpkin. When it is properly done, the skin will pull off of the flesh easily with a fork. In short you just cook it like any other squash. No cubing or skinning necessary.

Also, much easier to get the seeds out slime-free if you comb through the guts with your fingers before scraping the pumpkin innards clean. The seeds slide out, the stringy pumpkin goo stays attached to the pumpkin.

The cooked pumpkin can be tossed into freezer bags for future use. I usually throw two cups of cooked into each bag, as two cups is approximately equal to 1 can. It turns out a bit softer and more moist than canned stuff, but it also adds a lot more texture to pies.

We're cooking a couple of pumpkins today, actually...
posted by caution live frogs at 8:33 AM on November 10, 2007

Lots of this has been mentioned, but a few things that i always make by scratch are:

salad dressing
coffee (the more steps you do yourself the better)
cranberry sauce (even though i only make it once or twice a year)
Popcorn - extremely easy to make on a stove
Mashed potatoes
cookies - (i freeze the dough, and just make 6-8 cookies at a time in my toaster oven)

Really, anything you can do yourself, you should do yourself. Pick a few things you really like and learn how to make them.

homemade cornish pasties are amazing!
posted by Black_Umbrella at 10:03 AM on November 10, 2007

Rykey - your basic mac n' cheese only has 5 ingredients:
milk or cream

Now, 4 of the 5 are bland by nature, and there's really not a lot you can do with them. So you've got to focus on your cheese, and grocery store cheddar is going to fall flat. I would suggest a 50/50 mix of premium sharp cheddar (like Tillamook), and God's own melting cheese, Gruyere. If you haven't had Gruyere before, it's a type of Swiss cheese that packs a huge umami punch. It will give you the same savoriness that the boxed stuff uses MSG to do. Alternatively, you could use (real) parmasean as it also packs a huge amount of umami, but I don't think it's quite as good matched with cheddar.

There's always the option of adding other things to jazz the mac n' cheese up a bit. I've made this Green Chile Mac and it's incredible. In fact, it's the single most popular item at Chef McGrath's James Beard Award-winning restaurant.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:14 AM on November 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

I forgot mayonnaise. Very easy and much better than the supermarket stuff.
posted by transient at 10:25 AM on November 10, 2007

Re: the consistency
The sauce for mac n' cheese is actually one of the classic French sauces, Mornay. Mornay is just another classic French sauce, BĂ©chamel, with shredded cheese stirred in. You've got it right about the roux, here's the super simple way to make the base sauce:
2 T butter
2 T flour
1 c milk

Make a roux out of the butter and flour, and cook for 1 minute to get rid of the floury taste. Add the milk and salt, and whisk as you bring it to a boil. Let it boil, still whisking for a minute, then take it off the heat and stir in your cheese. Voila, you have a nice thick Mornay.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:32 AM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also hamburgers. I really cannot fathom why people buy pre-made burgers. Mix your ground beef with egg, oatmeal, onions, and some spices, and maybe mustard and some parmasan cheese. And I only recently learnt that you could buy bread crumbs.
posted by carolr at 10:35 AM on November 10, 2007

There's also the custard-style mac and cheese, which has a firmer, more "set" texture. Basically you build up alternating layers of noodles, and grated cheeses (and sometimes onions) in a deep buttered dish and then pour a mixture of milk and beaten eggs over it. Really easy, really rustic-looking, and really yummy.
posted by idest at 11:57 AM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

"... What works for you?

I will gain a thousand husband points if I can figure this one out."

posted by Rykey at 11:30 AM on November 10

This is heresy to many good cooks, until they can be strong armed, or kid wheedled, to try it:


Seriously kid approved, "home made" mac-n-cheese.

Go ahead and snigger. I'm confident in the worth of simple pleasures :-)
posted by paulsc at 12:55 PM on November 10, 2007

Waffles using this traditional family sourdough recipe which is also fine as a pancake batter.

How anyone can stomache the likes of "Eggo" is beyond me.
posted by Rash at 2:00 PM on November 10, 2007

Awesome, thanks!

posted by Rykey at 4:14 PM on November 10, 2007

Roasting your own meat is a great DIY thing, because the improvement in quality is so huge. Another thing where it makes a big difference is grinding your own hamburger meat. Get top round or the like, trim the fat if you want it lean, add some smoked bacon to add fat back if you like, and grind a couple times coarsely with some garlic cloves and peppercorns. Add some salt and a little worcestershire if you like, but don't add too much.

Once you taste a fresh-ground burger, you'll never want the preground stuff again.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:46 PM on November 10, 2007

Oh my gosh, Deathalicious' carmel corn is uh-may-zing. I thought I would be logging on here asking for more instructions, but I decided to try it myself first. I used a half stick of butter, a few handfuls of brown sugar, and it was perfect. I will be doing this often.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:52 PM on November 10, 2007

Deathalicious and/or croutonsupafreak: for that amount of caramel (half a stick of butter-ish) how much popcorn do I pop?
posted by arcticwoman at 9:24 AM on November 11, 2007

Just about every week/every two weeks I:

Roast my own coffee
Make tempeh from scratch
Make soymilk (along with rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, walnut milk, quinoa milk, etc.). I am also attempting to perfect my soy coffee creamer recipe but i'm not quite there yet.
Make soy yogurt
Make tofu
Grind peanut butter (or cashew butter or almond butter or walnut butter)
Make muesli or granola (really excellent in the soy yogurt)

Last week I made kimchi, cabbage and radish, which was delicious with homemade ddoekbokki.

I make any sweet stuff we eat, from cookies to candy to sweet korean pancakes.
posted by hecho de la basura at 9:27 AM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

arcticwoman: I popped a heaping half cup of kernels in my air popper.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:52 PM on November 11, 2007

Ok, I botched the caramel corn twice and am now out of butter. I tried and tried, and just couldn't get the brown sugar to melt. I ended up with dry, brown sugar coated popcorn. How disappointing. Tomorrow I shall have to look up a recipe with measurements as I am clearly too inept to wing it. Sigh.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:58 PM on November 11, 2007

Pate. Most recently, smoked mackerel:

4 smoked mackerel fillets
tub of cream cheese
lemon juice

Put the ingredients in a food processor, and mix. Start with a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice and gradually add more till you hit the sweet spot.
posted by primer_dimer at 3:36 AM on November 12, 2007

arcticwoman: you might actually have better luck with normal sugar, depending. White sugar is always the same; brown sugar changes depending on how dark it is and whether it's very moist or it's dried out. I also think this might be a case where fine or superfine crystals don't work as well as coarser crystals. Don't forget that a tiny bit of water helps to get the sugar to dissolve. Best of luck on your next try. It is sooo worth it and it's just like riding a bike, once you've figured it out you can make it come out okay each time.

Oh, and since giving out the recipe I've seen in other recipes, as well as on a cooking show, that you're not supposed to stir syrups or candy mixtures while they're cooking, once the sugar has dissolved. So it might help to just let it sit once it's all combined, although I myself have never run into problems from stirring.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:31 AM on November 12, 2007

Oh my god, I can't believe I did that. What a dumb move. Ok, I'll get some more butter today and give it a try with regular sugar. Thanks for walking me through this Deathalicious, I'm sure I'll have wonderful, tasty, homemade caramel corn yet.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:04 AM on November 12, 2007

Second roasting (and then grinding) your own coffee.

(Sigh -- a pleasure lost, since I'm now decaffeinated.)

posted by Rash at 12:36 PM on November 12, 2007

I love cooking and will DIY pretty much everything from mayonnaise to pastry to dips. But if I had to nominate one DIY thing that makes the biggest difference I would vote for stock. Make your own stock and your dishes that require stock will be elevated to a new level. Risottos. Soups. Sauces. Ragouts. Casseroles. Not saying you should go all the way and make espagnole and demi-glace (I take my hat off to any home cooks who do) ... Just basic stock frozen into ice cubes for convenience.
posted by Tsar Pushka at 2:25 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ok, I finally got it - with help from some extra instructions on this page.
posted by arcticwoman at 4:04 PM on November 12, 2007

Caramel Corn derail: For vegans, omit the butter and believe it or not, it will still work. Use more water and make sure the sugar is completely dissolved, then cook it over low-medium flame until dropping the candy into cold water makes a hard piece of candy (it's called "hard-ball" because theoretically the drop should form a ball, but in my experience it always shmooshes out a bit). At that point, remove from the heat and stir in the popcorn. You now have candied, not caramel popcorn. I just made some today and it works really well when you've made the popcorn in a pot. Pour the candy mixture over the popcorn in the still-hot pot (although not over a flame). The pot will continue to cook the candy a bit, keeping it soft as you coat the popcorn. Had it tonight and it was *tasty*. I definitely encourage people to use at least some white vinegar instead of water, as it definitely adds a delicious kick.

Sorry for the continuous caramel popcorn derails.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:14 PM on November 13, 2007

Ice cream. There is nothing - NOTHING - better than the sound of an ice cream maker slowing to a stop and then licking the paddles clean.

cookies, desserts of really any kind
pizza dough
pasta sauce
pancakes and waffles
pad thai
zucchini bread
posted by rhapsodie at 11:41 PM on November 18, 2007

I make my own coffee liqueur
Pickles, Pickles, Pickles
(red) pasta sauces - marinara and meat
Cakes (box mix? pfeh!)
Biscuits that melt in your mouth
Pancake and waffle batters (no Bisquick!)
Steel-cut oatmeal
(pulled) BBQ beef/pork for sandwiches
Cheesecake (the no-bake mixes are an atrocity)
Lemon curd
Popcorn (whirly-pop is just as fast as a microwave!)
posted by spinturtle at 12:38 PM on March 25, 2008

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