I follow three simple rules in my kitchen: no packaging; nothing processed; no waste. I should add a fourth rule: no effort. 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 3 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.
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 aren’t roasted, 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 have darkened and smell nutty, remove them from the oven.
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 😉