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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Cooking: Kitchen Staples

In my continuing efforts to save money and eliminate artificial ingredients from our food, I've been making more and more things from scratch.  And it's not just meals.  I've been making more of the basic staples.  Remember how I posted about making ketchup a while back?  Yeah, it's like that.  So here are some awesome things you can make at home to cut out preservatives, MSG, artificial dyes, and extra trips to the store!

1)  Seasoned Salt

This actually came about because I needed some in a recipe and ran out.  Apparently I am a very specific kind of lazy, because to me, it made sense that it was easier to spend 20 minutes making the seasoning from scratch than to get in the car, drive five minutes to the Piggly Wiggly (yes, I live in the South,) and buy it.  I feel like that's not actually easier, but it seemed like it at the time.

The recipe itself isn't hard.  I got it from one of the big recipe sites, but I can't remember which one.  You can Google it and find a million recipes, so I'm not going to re-post it. 

Did you know the  main ingredient in seasoned salt (often called by the brand name Lawry's) is celery salt?  Well, I mean, regular salt is the MAIN main ingredient, but the main other ingredient.  Who knew? 

It makes a whole bunch, so it's lasted forever.  Tastes great!

2)  Cream of Something Soup

I've actually tried a couple of different variations, and they all work fairly well.  I particularly like this recipe because you make up the dry mix ahead of time, and then just add the wet ingredients when you need some.  It saves time, and it works great in recipes.  I usually don't even try to put the extra flavor in it, like broccoli or mushroom, or whatever.  It works just fine as-is.

3)  Cake Flour

My first instinct is just to pretend I read my recipe wrong and use regular flour.  I mean, what's so special about cake flour?  It's like, snobby flour, right?  I'm definitely not buying a whole five pound bag of cake flour just because I need one cup for some cookies!  But before I just threw in all-purpose, I thought I would see what the deal was, so I Googled it (of course), and I found this recipe.

Turns out, cake flour is actually just regular flour that has been sifted more, and has added corn starch.  Glad I checked!  It's super easy to make your own, and then you don't have five pounds of it sitting around for years until you make that one kind of cookie again!

4)  Ranch, Taco, and Onion Soup Mixes

This blog has great recipes for ranch mix, taco seasoning, and onion soup mix.  I have made all of these several times, and they are great.  I will say, the onion soup mix is not as flavorful as the one you buy at the store, but I'm pretty sure that's because it doesn't use MSG, so I'm willing to take that trade off.  The others, however, are just as good, if not better, than the packaged kind.  Awesome!

5)  Nutella

Yes, for those who might be asking, this is definitely a kitchen staple.  Nutella is amazing, but if you have bought it, you know it is also amazingly expensive.  Aldi has their version, which is cheaper and just as good, but this is even better!

I will say, this is pretty labor-intensive compared to the others.  It took me a while to even find large amounts of raw hazelnuts (Earth Fare).  Then you have to roast them, peel them, puree them, and then you have to melt the chocolate and actually mix everything together.  Also, this is not at all healthy.  Not even a little bit.  And it does come out a little coarser than the store-bought kind, mainly because I didn't feel like straining mine.

BUT, it was really, really good.  I would cut the salt out, because mine was a little salty, but overall, it was great!  Our biggest problem was that it has a much shorter shelf-life, not having preservatives and all, so I was FORCED to eat it often to avoid wasting it.  Aww, poor me. 

7)  Yogurt

I love yogurt, so I was excited to try this one.  First, I tried this "Foolproof Greek Yogurt" in the crock pot.  It was supposed to be so easy you couldn't screw it up.

I screwed it up.

What I made was not yogurt.  What I made was a snot-like sour milk substance that still haunts me in my dreams.  It was gross, and it wasted a whole gallon of milk, which was a bummer.

I think the problem was that I didn't have a good thermometer.  I go through kitchen thermometers like the Kardashians go through botox, so the only one I had was designed for you to leave in meat while it was cooking.  It wasn't very accurate.  Obviously.

After that, I wised up.  I got a good thermometer and a yogurt maker, and just followed the instructions.  This made the best yogurt I have ever had.  I loved it.  It was actually easier than the crock pot method, too.  And it makes four cute little glass pots full of yogurt.  So cute!

On the upside, Cricket loved it.  She devoured an entire little pot in one sitting.

On the downside, she projectile-vomited it back up an hour later.

In my car.

In her brand new car seat.

I didn't give her yogurt again for a while after that.

6)  Butter/Buttermilk

On the left, buttermilk.  On the right, butter.

This is a good thing to know how to make for several reasons.  One, it also makes buttermilk, which is something I never seem to have on-hand when I need it.  (Yes, I know I could just use regular milk and lemon juice, but I'm a perfectionist.)  Two, it's fun to say, "this is homemade butter."  And three, it's a good way to use up the leftover cream you always have when you buy a carton.

It's really easy to make.  Just put some heavy cream in a Mason jar. (Don't fill it all the way.  Leave a little room at the top.)  Close it tightly and just shake it for what feels like a million hours to your triceps.  You will feel it sloshing around for a while, and then all of a sudden, you won't feel it anymore.  At this point, it is whipped cream.  Keep shaking, and in about a minute, it will miraculously turn into butter and buttermilk!

Pour out as much buttermilk as you can and save it if you want.  Then use a towel or cheesecloth to rinse the rest of it off of the butter, or it will spoil really fast.  (This part is kind of messy.)  Mix in some salt if you want, and voila!  You made butter, and you burned some Calories, so you can eat that butter guilt-free!

7)  Bread

I've been making our bread for a couple of months now.  I use an English muffin bread (pictured) for special occasions, and this recipe in the bread maker for sandwiches, and it's gone really well.  Brian loves the thicker, heartier bread and Cricket eats it like it's going out of style!  It also makes a good side at dinner, and everyone is super impressed when you serve them homemade bread, even when all I did was pour ingredients into a bread maker and check back in three hours.

Also, it's cheaper than even the bread you get at the Bread Thrift Store, which is totally a real place.


  1. That's awesome about buttermilk/butter! And the "cream of" soups! Thanks for sharing your experiences! I always enjoy your posts & can't wait to try some of this out for myself :-)

    1. Awesome! If you try any of them, let me know how it goes! :o)