I do like to cook but I also love easy. Big Food has convinced us that cooking is very difficult, best left up to professionals, time-consuming, beneath us…and on and on. I understand that not everyone will want to bake their own bread (it tastes SO much better than store-bought though!) but the following foods take less time to make than to buy and schlep them home from the store. And if you can find your ingredients in bulk or returnable glass containers, these money-saving homemade versions have no wasteful packaging.
1. Vanilla extract
Pour 1 cup of vodka, bourbon, rum, brandy or single-malt whiskey over 5 or 6 split vanilla pods you’ve placed in a mason jar. Shake jar once a week or whenever you remember to. Wait two months or longer to use. You’ll find a few more details for vanilla extract here.
2. Bread crumbs
You can make bread crumbs in several different ways. I cube stale bread, whir the cubes in my blender with a bit of salt and herbs and then toast the crumbs on a cookie sheet in the oven at 300°F for 5 to 10 minutes, until slightly browned. You can find more details here.
3. Canned (i.e., cooked) beans
Long ago, I used to buy canned beans. Not only do beans you cook yourself taste better, you also cut your exposure to the BPA in the plastic that lines most cans. Scientists have linked BPA, a synthetic estrogen, to a variety of health problems, including breast cancer, reproductive damage, developmental problems and heart disease. I cook my beans in my slow cooker (here’s how). People swear by their pressure cookers for this purpose but I don’t own one (yet).
07/12/17 Update: I now have a pressure cooker. Life changing! Here’s a post on how I cook beans in it.
4. Chocolate syrup
Packaged in a plastic bottle, Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup contains:
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP; CORN SYRUP; WATER; COCOA*; SUGAR; CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE); SALT; MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES*; XANTHAN GUM; POLYSORBATE 60; VANILLIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR *adds a negligible amount of fat
Good to know that it adds only a negligible amount of fat because I wouldn’t want to consume anything controversial. (I eat lots of fat.)
If the food-esque ingredients in this syrup aren’t themselves bad enough, the plastic packaging leaches estrogenic chemicals into them. And that plastic packaging never breaks down. Ever.
You can make chocolate syrup very easily. Combine 1/4 cup cocoa with 1/2 cup water in a saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until the cocoa dissolves. Add 3/4 cup sugar and pinch of salt and whisk until dissolved. Bring to a boil. Boil for three minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from heat. Add vanilla extract. Read the full post on chocolate syrup here.
5. Sour cream
This wins the easiest-recipe-to-make-in-this-post prize. Combine 1 tablespoon cultured buttermilk with 1 cup half & half (~12% milk fat), let sit covered at room temperature for 24 hours and refrigerate. It will thicken up in the refrigerator. I’m lucky I can buy dairy in returnable glass bottles. You must use cultured buttermilk for this to work, not merely flavored buttermilk. Go here for four more 2-ingredient dairy staples.
6. Nut butters
In Canada, I grew up on Kraft Peanut Butter. I couldn’t find its ingredients online—why post them on the web if you’re not legally obligated to do so? I did, however, found the ingredients online for Jif Creamy Peanut Butter:
ROASTED PEANUTS AND SUGAR, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: MOLASSES, FULLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OILS (RAPESEED AND SOYBEAN), MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, SALT.
Please do not eat this.
Instead, buy some roasted bulk nuts in a reusable cloth bag, toss them in a food processor with a bit of salt give it a whir. If the nuts are raw, roast them yourself. Roasting brings out amazing flavor. Roast at 350°F for 5 minutes, stir and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. When they smell nutty, remove them from the oven. You don’t want them to darken. Err on the side of less roasted.
You could make peanut butter, almond butter or a combo like pecan–peanut butter. My daughter once made macadamia nut butter. SO good! Here is a recipe for cocoa-hazelnut butter (i.e., homemade Nutella).
If your grocery store has nut grinding machines and allows you to bring your own containers to fill with nut butter, you can buy it that way and save time cleaning up. Otherwise, homemade couldn’t be easier.
Okay, unless you’re a teetotaler, you probably will buy alcohol again but do you realize how easily you can make it? To make mead, basically honey wine, you combine raw honey and water, stir and wait. The good bacteria and yeast in the raw honey will ferment your concoction. I let my last batch ferment for two months and it tasted fantastic. You can find a more detailed recipe here.
I’ll still try to convince you to try baking bread. The process, the taste, the aroma of your kitchen…it all brings so much satisfaction. I recently baked the two sourdough loaves and sourdough crackers pictured below. They taste delicious with homemade nut butter 😉
35 Replies to “7 Easy Foods to Make Not Buy”
Miss Anne-Marie, If we grind the vanilla bean up would it take less time or effect the taste?
Hi Mike, I’m not sure. I haven’t tried that. I did a quick search and didn’t find information on that but I did find lots of recipes for ground vanilla powder, which you can use in place of vanilla, but it sounds like it would cost a fortune to make. Vanilla beans are very expensive. Sorry I don’t have a better answer.
You are like me.. If I can DIY it is better and more satisfying. And cheaper as well…… When we do go to Mexico or a friend does we always get a few bottles of pure extract. Now I need to google growing vanilla bean tree or whatever they grow on 🙂 A man should have his own olive orchard and fig tree some say. I say have everything growing that you can.
That would be wonderful to grow your own vanilla beans. Olives and figs too. Yum!
the photo of the cocoa looks so good I want to start cooking! Your bread also looks amazing, this is definitely a skill I want to cultivate. I think I could give the mead a go too 🙂
I’ve always used a pressure cooker for beans and chick peas – you get a softer, more digestible bean. I find tinned beans much harder to digest – you know what I’m talking about!! I can also recommend soaking for two days instead of one, changing the soaking water a couple of times.
Thanks Madeleine. The bread does taste very good. I would love to get my hands on a pressure cooker. One of these days I’ll buy one… In the meantime, I will try soaking my beans for two days instead of one. Thanks for the tip. I also put a piece of kombu in the water. My daughter has trouble digesting beans and the kombu helps. Happy cooking 🙂 ~Anne Marie
can I add mayonnaise to the list? quick and easy to make and almost always nicer than shop bought one in my experience 🙂
Thanks for the vote for mayonnaise 🙂 I was actually going to put it on the list and then I think I just sort of forgot… It’s VERY easy to make and you’re right, so much tastier.
Loooove your tips! One day I’ll be able to make it all myself 🙂
Keep up the good work.
Thanks so much Larissa 🙂 I’m glad you find my tips useful 🙂
Canned beans, which are not acidic, are generally okay. You only have to watch out for sodium in them. It’s the more acidic foods – like tomatoes, that you need to worry about canned, because the acid of the tomatoes eats through the plastic lining of the cans.
I think canned tomatoes are worse but the BPA does leach into the food from what I’ve read. Also the beans don’t taste as good as homemade. But I understand their appeal.
It has a lot to do with the acidity level of the food within the cans – beans are low acid and so therefore, won’t be eating away at the lining. I find most cans of beans aren’t lined though – tomatoes, which are the most acidic and the most likely to leach the BPA, are more likely to be packed in plastic lined cans.
My main reason for using canned beans is that they stay fresh at room temperature for years yet are ready immediately when you open the can, which contains about the right amount for a meal. If I’m going to the trouble of cooking beans in the slow cooker, I’m going to make a larger amount, and then I have to store the rest–either in the refrigerator, which means they’ll all have to be used within a week, or in the freezer, where we have very limited space (we have only the freezer above the fridge) and they’ll have to be thawed before use. We would eat fewer beans if we did it that way, so we use canned beans almost all the time, except for lentils. Slow cooker black bean soup is an exception because then the labor of using the slow cooker produces soup (a meal, which would otherwise require a lot of standing by the stove stirring, so slow cooker is easier) instead of just cooked beans (an ingredient, which we could get from a can, so slow cooker is more difficult).
I think a pressure cooker is probably the best way to cook dry beans. My boyfriend has one and his beans turn out perfectly every time and they take little time to cook. The canned beans certainly are convenient. That soup sounds good. Thanks for the link 🙂
I just swap lentils for beans when I don’t have time to pre-soak/cook them up as an ingredient (still don’t have freezer space, but working at it!). For tacos I just treat lentils and a hearty grain (Farrow, brown rice) like pasta and boil in excess amount of water until tender stirring to keep things fluid. Drain excess water, add seasoning (could use packet or favorite recipe) plus a drizzle of oil. Has same texture as a finely ground meat filling but includes fiber without atherosclerosis promoting animal flesh and there is the peace of mind to boot.
And, yes, I boil them together in same pot. Not pretty, but if it’s going in a tortilla or taco shell, no one sees it!
When I make peanut butter I buy raw, blanched peanuts and dry roast on a cookie sheet at 350 until golden brown… the taste is DIVINE!!
Wowee, that sounds delicious Lisa! I’m going to have to try that. Thanks for the idea 🙂
I love these guides because you make it very doable and give me a starting place. It probably seems very basic to you but for someone like me, it does not come naturally! Thank you!
Thanks Christine. I’m glad you find these posts helpful. When we wanted to go plastic-free, we didn’t know where to begin and I felt overwhelmed. It took us a while to get used to our new routine and it’s a constant work in progress. But it’s also a fun work in progress 🙂
One of the first steps to saving money on foodis to cut down on the fancy nights out and cook at home. So if you’re already doing that, congratulations!
So true Wiley! And much healthier too. I know people who eat out for lunch every day. That costs hundreds of dollars each month!
the thing is when we travel it all gets out of hand – here I am visiting Dad and sister neices cousins etc in NZ and finding food a bit of an issue. One I do eat differently from them all and as you say with the bread the taste difference is huge. two like you we cook from soaked chick pea to hommous and here it is all packaging with cakes out of boxes and flavours out of packets and meals out of the freezer and then omg into microwave. struggle struggle. and then I feeel so darned ungrateful. my apologies I just must have felt like a winge. another week and I will home and restored to my garden water and pantry. until then I must practice love and gratitude love and gratitude love and gratitude …. and YOU are a shining example of the way to go.
Thank you Sandra. I find traveling difficult too because of the food. I think you are the shining example, with your positive attitude. You should have heard me at my brother’s at Christmas. He said I would be horrified by how he eats and I was. I tried not to go on about it too much. And he did laugh at things I said/the expression on my face, like when I found the package of plastic-wrapped hardboiled eggs in the refrigerator–that’s a thing here in the US! Some people can’t boil an egg! There has to be a joke in there somewhere… His housemate had bought them. I took a picture, I was so horrified. But I need to be more grateful too. You must be home now. I hope you had a safe trip back 🙂
I love your spirit! I sounds so easy and doable 😉 I get a lot of questions. When do you do all this. I wish more people would appreciate the simple and more healthy, delicious way of preparing their own food. For the majority it is more convenient to open a can or to go out and buy stuff in plastic. Food that is no longer food, that’s always ready if you feel hungry. The smell of your own backed bread, the taste of your home made dices is far better than any food you eat in a restaurant. It is also more environmental friendly. 🙂 Thanks Esther
Thank you Esther 🙂 I totally agree with you. We’ve given up taste for supposed convenience. But in the long run, we damage our health and that of the planet. ~ Anne Marie
I would add ketchup if you can get organic tomato paste in can, minimizes plastic vs. Plastic bottle of same and can control amount of sugar. Ditto pickle relish and mustard as well as salad dressing and jam. All of which are high ticket items if looking for glass jar, no HFCS and organic ingredients…
Hi, reading this now. I love your blog and been trying your methods.
To add to your list mayonnaise. I don’t consume much of it, but when i do want it for a coleslaw, it’s so easy to whip up.
i am currently reading up your ur sourdough posts and going to start on my own starter soon!
Thank you Anjee for that addition. That’s another easy one to make. Enjoy your sourdough adventures! ~ Anne Marie
[…] package. She is so incredibly resourceful and I have used her blog for numerous things; chocolate syrup and sour cream to name two (bye bye, store-bought […]
I don’t own a blender or food processor so I often feel recipes are out of reach for me – everything from hummus to nut butters. I bake a lot and will happily beat together butter and sugar, whip cream or eggs etc by hand; I’m often startled when I watch a baking recipe to see someone whip out a blender to make a cake mix! Other things take more than a little elbow grease, though. Hummus in a pestle and mortar is possible, and I have done it in the past, but nut butters would definitely not happen. Bread crumbs are also a problem! I usually just leave them out, having tried many times to make them without a blender. I certainly wouldn’t buy them, although I do buy hummus. I often feel there’s an assumption that everyone owns a food processor – certainly most vegan recipes do! It’s all ‘pulse for 5 seconds’ :-(. I’d love to make my own oat milk (I can get oats in bulk for free), nut butters, nut ‘cheese’ and so on. How do I do these things without investing in a (bulky, expensive, electricity-guzzling) food processor? Anyone have any good ideas?
Bread crumbs: that metal box grater works is you’re careful not to cut yourself. Use dried out French or Italian bread cut into chunks first. Keeping in paper bag for 5 days should work. We used to run through collander to have most uniform crumbs go to storage container. Can add seasoning and bake briefly to toast after grating. Best done with a few other people and make a lot at one go.
Just made sourdough starter crackers.. they’re soooo good! My husband and I went through our little batch as quickly as they came out of the oven. Thank you for sharing that recipe with all of us.