Lori sent in this question:
I want to eliminate all processed foods from our house and start making as much as I can from scratch such as bread, chips, mayo, etc. This seems like a daunting task to me and it feels overwhelming. Do you know of any classes / books / cookbooks / etc that I can refer to in order to begin this process?
I love Lori’s attitude! Here are my tips for her; I would love to hear yours – click here to leave a comment.
1. Start slowly.
Really slowly. I love your enthusiasm, but I have to warn you that quitting processed foods cold turkey and making everything from scratch is a great way to get burned out and never want to cook again.
I would recommend picking one thing that you want to learn how to do and learn that one thing really well before you start trying to eliminate another food and learn how to make it yourself. If you try to do everything at once, you’ll probably end up with a bunch of lackluster food because you didn’t have the time to really perfect something to a degree that you and your family will feel like it’s a good “replacement”.
If I was going to suggest one thing to start with, I would personally go with salad dressing, since that doesn’t require cooking – it’s fast and easy and won’t take up a bunch of time. But that’s just a suggestion. Or, another good thing would be pasta sauce or chicken stock. (I show you how to to chicken stock in From Garbage to Gourmet – it’s not only easy, it’s free when you do it that way!)
PS – I mentioned last week that I had found a fantastic 3/5th whole-wheat bread recipe. I need to finish my tweakings on the original, but I am planning on post ing it soon!
2. Decide if you need to learn how to cook it, or if you should just eliminate it completely.
While I cook the majority of what we eat from scratch, there are a few things that I don’t, and I’m not sure that I ever will. For instance, potato chips. While we do enjoy them from time to time, potato chips aren’t an integral part of our life. I feel like it’s OK to buy the “bad” stuff some of the time because since I know it’s bad, I don’t buy it very often. If I made them from scratch, I’m confident they would be so awesome that we would eat them 10x as much as we do now, which is probably not a net gain for our health.
I guess what I’m saying is that instead of trying to make absolutely everything from scratch, maybe just try to find substitutes for the space that those items take on your plate so that you don’t have to spend all morning frying up potato chips for your “easy” picnic lunch.
3. Find a trusted go-to resource.
The older I get (haha), the more important I realize this is. Look, friends – Pinterest is great eye candy but it’s not a great place to find proven recipes. It’s not a good idea to be trying recipes where someone cooked it once, took a fantastic picture, and then racked their brain to remember exactly what they did so they could post it on the internet. (Not every recipe fits this description, but I’m convinced that many do and that’s why there are so many Pinterest recipe disasters!) That’s a recipe for disappointment and frustration.
Everyone’s “trusted resource” is going to be different, so search around until to find one that works for you. My go-to sources are Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country – I know their recipes are thoroughly tested, and I’ve learned a lot about cooking in general from their recipes. Cook’s Illustrated’s recipes tend to be a little involved; but Cook’s Country is more casual. Either way, I’ve cooked a lot of their recipes and only had one or two that wasn’t a big success.
As far as cooking from scratch, one resource that I haven’t looked at yet myself (but I’m dying to!) is the The America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook. Another resource that might be helpful is Katie Kimball’s Better Than A Box – she has the heart of a teacher and really shows you how to reverse engineer your processed food recipes into whole foods recipes.
Oh, and I would encourage you to find some way to keep your tried and true recipes organized.
4. Do small batches.
Don’t make a huge batch of mayo when your family is just getting used to homemade mayo. Don’t triple your homemade bread recipe when you are used to buying loaves at the store. It’s a recipe for waste and you know how much I hate that. :)
Over time, you’ll figure out how much bread you’ll use before it spoils, and how long you can keep your homemade mayo in the refrigerator before you decide it’s not safe to eat anymore. But until you are really in a groove, it’s a good idea to do small batches and if you have to buy a loaf of bread at the store because you don’t have time to make it from scratch, don’t feel guilty about it – just pat yourself on the back for all the progress you’ve made.
5. Cook for the freezer.
Once you have recipes that are proven in your own family, then you can start doubling and tripling them and storing extra in the freezer. I make marinara sauce and chicken stock from scratch, but I do not make marinara sauce and chicken stock fresh every time I use it – I make a big batch once every three weeks or so and freeze it. My marinara sauce is pretty awesome (I credit the red wine, except when the entire bottle breaks) but it would drive me nutso to have to make it from scratch every time I wanted to use it.
Beans are another thing that are great to cook from scratch, but in my opinion, it takes so long that it’s worth it only if you freeze them. I never remember to start cooking beans enough in advance to use them for a meal the same day, so I often cook a pound or two at a time and then freeze them in two-cup portions so that I can use them as needed.
(I should insert here that I almost never soak beans anymore. I rinse them and put them in a pot of water and simmer them until they’re tender. Or, this is my favorite way to make black beans. Put me in food jail, but at this point I’m OK with not soaking my beans.)
6. Be realistic about what you can and will do.
For about two years now, I have thought I would start making my own hamburger buns. They taste better, they are better, and they are cheaper (yes, even cheaper than the $0.99 off-brand ones). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked Jeremy to stop by the store and pick up hamburger buns because I had, yet again, not gotten around to making them.
So, while I really want to make my own hamburger buns, I’ve proven time and time again that I either can’t or won’t get it done. I’m not giving up, but I have to be realistic with myself when I’m at the grocery store and looking at the hamburger buns, thinking I really could make these on my own. “Come on, Carrie, you could but have you ever?! Stop kidding yourself and just buy the buns.”
7. Don’t be afraid to give up and move on even if everyone says you can do it.
Just about anything can be made from scratch – anything worth eating, that is. But sometimes you have to be willing to admit that you can’t make something from scratch. I have tried for years to make my own yogurt, and I have success about one out of every three tries. I am so mad at yogurt that I don’t even want to try again right now. I know, you all will pipe in with your tips but I’ve tried ’em. For whatever reason, I can’t consistently make yogurt so I’ve given up on it for now. And I’m OK with that! Someday I’ll try again and maybe I’ll figure it out, but for now, I’m going to concentrate on cooking the things that I can cook well and what I enjoy and yogurt isn’t one of them.
How do you manage cooking from scratch?
Share your tips by leaving a comment!
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