Tuesday’s Top Five – Things I’ve learned about cooking from scratch

I was a bit stumped about a top five list for today, I’ve got a few up my sleeve that I’m still working on but none that were ready to go.  I was considering a topic while I was in the kitchen preparing a new ‘from scratch’ staple, breakfast cereal (more on that to come).  That’s when it came to me that I’ve learned a lot in the last year or so as I’ve started cooking more and more from scratch.  For me I consider ‘from scratch’ cooking anything which eliminates the need to purchase a processed or prepared food equivalent.  I’ve never been into packet recipe bases or jars (well not since I was at Uni and didn’t have much in the way of cooking confidence), but there were a lot of things in my shopping trolley each week that I now make for myself at least some of the time.  Things like cordial, bread, crumpets, ricotta cheese, boxes of cereal, jams, relishes and stock.  So here are some of the best things I’ve discovered about cooking from scratch.

1. Cooking from scratch is almost never as difficult or intimidating as you might think at first.  For me this resonates especially strongly when it comes to cooking anything involving yeast.  I had terrible results from my first experiments with yeast many years ago and decided then that I just didn’t have what it takes.  I’m so glad that I had another go and tried that first loaf of bread.  It wasn’t perfect, but it did work and I’ve had lots of fun with yeast ever since.  Crumpets are especially satisfying to make, the mix makes loads, they taste great and freeze really well.

Home made crumpets – not quite as bubbly on the outside as the shop bought ones, but much tastier.

2. My cooking ability and understanding has really grown.  I now create my own versions of dishes, sauces, dressings and so on with the basic knowledge that I’ve picked up along the way.  I’ve always adapted recipes and had a few committed to memory, but most of my cooking followed the instructions fairly closely.  Now I tend to look at several recipes of the same thing, take what I think sounds good and make the rest up for myself.  Mostly these work well, occasionally I have a disaster, but I love the trial and error process and feel ever so proud of myself when something is really, really tasty, like my fig and orange jam.

Fig and Orange Jam

3. Cooking from scratch is CHEAP, so so much cheaper than buying whatever it is, especially when it involves ingredients gathered from the garden.  I can make a cob loaf of bread or eight rolls for about $1, stock costs only a few cents as I use the bones or chicken carcass from another meal, the herbs come from the garden along with some of the veg and the rest I use the limp forgotten bits from the back of the crisper.  Again jam and cordial costs just a few dollars (as I use the fruit from the nieghbours trees or gifted from friends) for the sugar and makes huge quantities.  Each time I go to the supermarket there is less and less in my trolley and even when I recently went and stocked up on washing powder, some toiletries and dishwasher powder I was pleasantly surprised at the check out.  It just goes to show how much packaged foods do cost.  My latest test is to cut out packaged breakfast cereal which I find hugely expensive for what you get and it concerns me how much salt and sugar in most varieties.  I’m yet to find the perfect mix though.

Lime and Cardamon Cordial

4.  Cooking from scratch means you know exactly what’s gone into the food (none of those scary numbers in the ingredient lists) and you can control the amount of salt and sugar.  You would have had to be living under a rock not to hear about some of the more frightening ingredients in processed foods and their potential health effects.  I’m not a food purist but even I think cutting out some of those artificial additives can’t be a bad thing.  Most foods I’ve made from scratch involve very few ingredients – making them easy to prepare on the spur of the moment, no need for a special trip to the shops.  Ricotta cheese for instance is just whole milk, a tiny bit of cream and some vinegar or lemon juice.  The one thing you need to remember when your making some things from scratch and not adding preservatives, it’s shelf life is limited so use it up quickly or freeze it if you can.  That said jams and relishes and other preserves last for ages in the pantry.

Home made ricotta, so much better than store bought!

5. Cooking from scratch does take time, and some things take longer than others.  Bread for example needs time at the kneading stages as well as plenty of prooving time and then baking time.  You might not have to DO much to it for most of this time, but you do need to organise your day around it to a certain extent.  Jam needs to bubble away for a long time, same with stock which I actually do over two days refrigerating overnight and then removing the solidified fat.  I can manage to keep our pantry or fridge stocked all year around with some things – jam, relish, cordial, crumpets, ricotta – but for some of the things we use everyday I find myself running out of time to make everything I would like to.  I can accept that, making it when I have the time and buying a good quality alternative when I don’t.  I definitely don’t want to be a slave to my kitchen and nor does my family.

The end result

There are lots of things I would like to have a go at making from scratch and I find I try one thing, give it a few goes to sort out the best way to make it then decide whether it’s worth making on a regular basis.  Some things I just haven’t been able to perfect yet, other things are more trouble than I can manage and then there are the things that I just don’t need to make often.  I’m yet to try making pasta which seems like an obvious one so I should give it a go soon.  I also have a recipe for flat bread that I’ve been meaning to make for a couple of weeks.  I’ve just started making cereal, Mr Good likes ‘flakes’ so I’ve found a recipe for making your own bran flakes that he can add to the muesli and I’m also going to try a granola mix which sounds amazing.  Lastly on my current list is making sausages, this definitely won’t be a regular thing as I don’t actually own the equipment, but I am looking forward to experimenting with some different flavour combinations with another friend.

I’ve love to hear about your from scratch cooking experiences.  Is there something you discovered that slotted easily into your cooking routine or do you have to find the time like me?

Liz’s list is here if your after a bit more list-y-ness.

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11 Responses to Tuesday’s Top Five – Things I’ve learned about cooking from scratch

  1. Pingback: Value Space Rating – Autumn Top 5 | Suburban Tomato

  2. leduesorelle says:

    Found you through Liz’s Top Five, thank-you for sharing an excellent one! I make as much as I can from scratch for these very same reasons. It waxes and wanes as time and the season allows, especially when it comes to breads and soft cheeses (chevre, ricotta). My usual weekly staples always include making granola, yogurt, and something baked, whether bread or something sweet. The Gardener here is allowed as many sweet things as long as they’re home-baked!

    • Barbara Good says:

      Thanks, I’ll be sure to check out your blog also. Unfortunately I have long periods between bread making sometimes (though have some baking as we speak), but the ricotta I find less time taxing. I’ve got granola on the list for next week – I’m experimenting with home made cereal, but haven’t found one that will tempt Miss Three yet. I’m curious about yogurt, but have no idea where to start and I love baking so there’s usually a cake or muffin or biscuits or something. Though my banana cake last week was a complete flop, not sure what happened there.

  3. I’m a relatively recent convert to making bread from scratch routinely, and it’s because I discovered sourdough. I used to make bread sporadically, when I was in a Domestic Goddess mood, but it took too much dedication to become a routine. But I haven’t bought bread now for over a year, and I’m finding that even when I’m crazy busy sourdough is worth making. I agree with you about cheap too – I’m always shocked at the value for money – less -ness of processed foods.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Linda, I’ve read so much on sour dough lately, but I have to say I just don’t like it that much. I find it too sour and sometimes difficult to eat. Have I just not had good sour dough or is it just not to my taste I wonder.

  4. Phoebe says:

    I totally aggre with all your points Barbara, and I think the satisfaction in providing good food for you family can’t be beaten!

    I love making flat bread and do it once a week or so and it’s SO EASY! Its obviously great with a curry but I like it with Moroccan baked eggs or a good old stew.
    I also make a no knead ciabatta loaf that is super easy and no fuss – you just mix it, leave it for a day and then cook it pretty much!
    I make a cake weekly to take to work and thus have been improving my baking skills to no end. I know understand the chemistry in cakes a little better to make sure I end up with a consistent result regardless to the recipe tweaking.
    Custard is also something I make a lot of (having extra eggs from the girls). It lasts for a couple of days in the fridge and is so yummy!

    Otherwise that’s about all the scratch cooking. Oh – how could I forget gnocchi?! I LOVE making it even during the week after work! Tastes so much better than from a packet and so quick.

    • Barbara Good says:

      I tried flat bread for the first time just the other day Phoebe, you’re right very easy. I’m going to do some today to have with a curry I’m making too. That bread of yours sound great too. My baking in general has improved since I started doing it on a regular basis. I’ve never tried custard from scratch, now that really should be on my list, though I don’t have the ready supply of eggs you have.

      I can’t believe you can do gnocchi quickly, I love making it but it takes me half the day, more practice needed obviously.

  5. Andrea says:

    A very inspirational post Barb , it is easy cooking from scratch you just need to find the time.
    I suppose i was very lucky with both my mum and our cookery teacher at Tech we learnt from year 7 to year 10 how to cook everything from making stock,pastry, filleting and cooking fish, to finally cooking a 5 course meal for the teachers.(we were marked on that) So i haven’t found cooking at all hard except when i became a single parent with 3 small children and then weetbix and noodles were about all i had time to serve up, but that didn’t last for long.
    Yes if you cook from scratch you know what you and your children are eating , especially the sugar content. I never had lemonade in the house while the children were growing up (only for birthday parties) just water and fruit juice watered down. People would think it strange when my eldest daughter refused lemonade and asked for water, she is now 25 and recently had a dental check-up, all ok just wisdom teeth coming through, she’s had one filling in her lifetime.
    Hey i did something right! just don’t ask me about the tattoos………..

    • Barbara Good says:

      Yes, it’s finding the time that is sometimes tricky. I too grew up with a Mum that loved to cook (and grandmothers too), but I wasn’t interested in Home Eco at school for some reason – I always found the things we made weird, like pineapple baked custard with meringue??? I did do textiles, but sadly still can’t sew. I imagine those first stages of becoming a single parent would be insane on many fronts, cooking would certainly take a back seat.
      You definitely did something right with the sweet drinks, my three year old drinks hardly any water. She has some juice and an ovaltine in the morning, but other than that she hardly drinks anything at all. Perhaps I’ll be better at talking her out of tattoos than getting her into the habit of drinking water!

  6. We seem to live similar lives, just on opposite sides of the globe!

    I find cooking things myself to be much cheaper too – plus we control the ingredients.

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