Over the years I’ve begun to make from scratch a number of things we used to buy ready made. With our greater focus on reducing waste and our carbon footprint, I’ve added more things to my repertoire in the last year.
Making from scratch can save lots of plastic packaging but I also go back to basics so I can control exactly what goes into our food and it can save quite a bit of money too.
Yes, making things from scratch can take more time than picking up the ready made alternative so it is about finding a balance between time, convenience and your sustainability goals. I’ve found, however, that with a bit of organisation and employing the tools I have available to me, it doesn’t take too long to make many things from scratch. In fact, some things take hardly any time at all.
So, here are ten things I encourage you to give a try and make from scratch.
To be honest, I loathe shop bought salad dressings so this one is a no brainer to make from scratch and couldn’t be simpler. Two our our staples are a red or white wine vinaigrette and a balsamic vinegar dressing. We use about equal parts vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and add pepper to taste.
Lemon juice, olive oil and pepper make another flavourful dressing too. Of course there are all sorts of ways to get fancy with your dressings but these are the ones we use almost daily at our house. Shake it all up in a jar and that’s it. Fast, simple and tasty!
Red Wine Vinaigrette
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
- Add all ingredients to a small jar and shake well.
It’s been a long time since I bought a packet of seasoning for burritos or tacos. Seasoning mixes are available for any number of cuisines such as Mexican, Italian, Moroccan, Tuscan, Thai… I might occasionally buy something interesting for the barbecue from an independent maker at a market but generally speaking, we just mix our own from our spice drawer or fresh from the garden.
For Mexican foods, use spices including cumin, coriander, oregano, smoked paprika and chilli. I always use fresh garlic and add some stock into my chilli (con or sin carne) but if you wanted to replicate a store bought seasoning packet you could add garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. See below.
Italian seasoning includes dried herbs such as oregano, parsley, thyme and rosemary with some garlic and salt. Again, I just throw these in (fresh or dried) as I cook.
Moroccan flavours include spices such as allspice, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, nutmeg….
You get the idea. A quick google will yield a multitude or recipes for seasoning mixes for your favourite cuisines. You could pre-prepare larger quantities of seasoning mixes and have them on hand but just throwing in the individual ingredients when cooking is just as easy, saves storage space and generally means using fresher ingredients.
Mexican Seasoning Mix
2 parts ground cumin
2 parts ground coriander
1 part dried oregano
1 part ground chilli (more if desired)
1 part smoked paprika
1 part garlic powder
1 part onion powder or flakes
1 part salt
1 part ground pepper
- Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Use immediately or store a larger quantity in an airtight jar.
Pizzas are a bit of a staple food in our house. My fussy boys will often make themselves a pizza if my humble dinner offering is rejected. To facilitate this I try to have individual balls of pizza dough in the freezer.
Pizza dough is very easy to make but you do have to allow rising time so if weekdays are busy, make a big batch on the weekend and freeze it in individual or family pizza sized balls. It freezes very well.
The trick to getting pizza dough to rise is two-fold. One, the yeast needs food and the second trick is warmth. I shared my Pizza Dough recipe in my Quicker Than Takeaway post. Head over there for instructions.
Don’t dismiss this one out of hand. Making pasta has become an almost weekly event in our house. I use the dough hook on my stand mixer to make it really quick and easy. Last year for my birthday I received the pasta machine attachment for my KitchenAid and this makes pasta making a one person job. Prior to that, we used a hand operated pasta machine and I employed one of my boys to turn the handle for me.
Although making pasta may sound like a time consuming and laborious process, it actually doesn’t take very long if some tools are employed. And fresh pasta cooks much quicker than dried so there is a time saving there.
TIP: Egg whites freeze very well. Freeze in ice cube trays so you can pop one out if you need a bit more egg for making pasta.
Fresh Pasta with a Stand Mixer
300g ‘OO’ (strong) flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
30ml extra light olive oil
1 egg white (on standby)
Extra flour, for dusting
- Add flour, salt, whole eggs and olive oil to the bowl of the stand mixer.
- Using the regular mixing paddle, mix until the dough starts to come together.
- Sometimes, if the eggs are not large enough or the heavens do not align, the pasta does not come together at this point. If this happens, add small quantities of egg white until it does.
- Change to dough hook and knead dough until it is smooth.
- Transfer the dough to a lidded container and rest dough in the fridge for about 15 minutes.
- Cut the dough into four pieces.
- Take one piece, press it flat-ish and dust with flour.
- Using the widest setting on the pasta machine (usually numbered “1”), pass the dough through the machine.
- Fold the dough in half and pass through the machine again. Repeat this step until the dough is smooth. Dust with flour as necessary.
- Change the pasta machine setting to “2” and pass dough through once. Move on to “3”, “4” etc until the pasta is the desired thickness, dusting with flour as necessary. I find “6” or “7” is perfect for fettuccine.
- Repeat for each ball of dough.
- Change to the desired cutting attachment of the pasta machine and pass each sheet of pasta through.
- Pasta can be hung to dry or dropped immediately into boiling water to cook.
Shortcrust pastry is seriously easy to make – really! Three ingredients in the food processor and it is made in minutes. I’ve been using Donna Hay’s recipe from the Marie Claire Cooking cookbook for about 20 years. It is very similar to this recipe on the Donna Hay website. If you want a little extra sweetness for a dessert recipe, just add 2-3 tablespoons of caster sugar with the flour.
Making fresh naan is a more recent addition to my repertoire but it has been a very popular one! There are expressions of appreciation all round when I make this.
Again, I use my stand mixer to prepare the dough and cook it on a pizza stone in the bottom of our oven. The recipe I use is from Taste although I admit I never bother with the ghee and sesame seeds.
While not quite as wonderful as naan from a tandoor oven, this is streaks ahead in taste and texture of any packaged naan from the supermarket.
Ricotta cheese is another very simple item to make. Unlike many cheeses, no culture is required to make whole milk ricotta. All that is needed is something to separate the milk into curds and whey, such as lemon juice or vinegar. Kitchn has a basic recipe very similar to the one I have used in the past. No need for special equipment. A colander lined with a clean tea towel works fine.
What you will realise when you make your own cheese is that it takes quite a bit of milk to get a couple of cups of curds. The remaining liquid, the whey, is essentially waste although there are ways to use it. This was eye opening for me and a reminder that the waste associated with the food we eat isn’t just what we throw into our bins (or compost).
Once you’ve made ricotta, you’ll want to try other simple cheeses such as mascarpone.
Making yoghurt is also an easy process of mixing hot milk with a couple of tablespoons of live culture yoghurt and keeping it warm overnight. If you get into the rhythm, you can take a couple of tablespoons from your current batch to make your next batch and never have to buy yoghurt again.
TIP: If you use a lot of buttermilk, you can have a continuous supply of buttermilk in the same way.
We are lucky to have a local teenager who has a little business making delicious fresh yoghurt in reusable jars and delivering them around our area. However, I have been experimenting with making my own yoghurt. The process is easy but I’ve been striving to improve, particularly to produce a thicker yoghurt. The Kitchn (again) has some good tips I am testing out.
UPDATE: I have found a method that works for me every time and I’ve posted it in How to: Homemade Yoghurt.
Another shop bought product I can’t abide is pesto sauce. I can’t eat pesto sauce unless it is homemade. Fortunately, it is extremely easy to make, again in the food processor. I use Stephanie Alexander’s recipe from The Cooks Companion and it can be found online here. I do reduce the amount of garlic to one large clove for our tastes.
Many sauces such as tomato pasta sauce, béchamel, cheese sauce, and pizza sauce are all easy to make. Many freeze very well too so you can make up a big batch and have them on hand later.
Fresh made custard takes a little time (all that stirring) but it is a winner! It tastes real, unlike the pre-made supermarket custards. Try this recipe from Jamie Oliver. You can substitute vanilla extract for the vanilla pod if you prefer.
Once you’ve made custard, it is just a short few steps to making your own ice cream (which is actually ice custard). You don’t need an ice cream churn, although I wouldn’t be without mine (it attaches to my KitchenAid). I love knowing exactly what is in our dessert! And I can freeze those leftover egg whites for making fresh pasta (see above).
There you have it. 10 things to make from scratch. What other things do you cook from scratch? What other making should I be getting into? Share your thoughts (and recipes!) in the comments below.