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We’re all so busy, aren’t we? We work, work, work to earn the money so that we can have enough cash to live a fun life at the weekend. But a period of time ago, not too far in the distant past, people lived their lives at a much slower pace, more spread out geographically, and they were still in touch with the earth that nourishes them.

If you pay a visit to parts of Eastern Europe, people still live this way; they cook their own food, they have a strong emphasis on the family unit and family values, and they still take time to iron their sheets. They wouldn’t dream of buying many of the items that we buy in supermarkets at vastly inflated prices, because they could make it themselves; they have the luxury of time.

As our lives have become busier, we have been seduced by the ‘ready-meal’ culture which has swept the nation. It’s not all bad, sometimes you just can’t be bothered to cook, and a ready-meal is the perfect way to provide sustenance. Like a well placed burger restaurant, it cannot be knocked. Plus, in recent years the quality of the ready meal has improved dramatically to the point that it surpasses the culinary ability of many home cooks. It has therefore become a staple diet, albeit an expensive one for many cash rich, time poor people.

There are a number of foods that we can make ourselves with a little bit of forward planning. They are not only cheaper, but better for us than the long shelf-life products that we routinely buy from food manufacturers.

When you make food yourself, you appreciate it more, knowing a little bit more about where it comes from, and what goes into it, and expand your cooking and tasting skills; skills that you will have for life.

Here are 7 things we could make at home instead of buying.

[nextpage title=”Bread”]
Home baked bread is delicious, in a way that a store bought loaf just won’t ever be. The oft used cliche ‘made with love’ really does apply to the home baker’s meagre loaf yield.

Bread making is not so much about the time taken in bread ‘making’, it’s about the long gaps in between, where the dough is allowed to ferment. If you want good results, you need to be prepared to let nature take its course. This is what bread making will teach you. Life has its own rhythm, and it goes at its own pace. And things will turn out better if you go with the flow.

For those with very little spare time, your baking days will come at the weekend. While you may struggle to cook a loaf first thing in the morning during the week, you can use a number of tricks to have freshly baked bread before going to work.

For example, you could make your dough in the evening, and then prove the loaf in the fridge overnight. As yeast activity is temperature dependent, cooling the dough retards the fermentation process. If your oven allows, set it to come on automatically in the morning, and then pop the proved loaf in the oven when your alarm goes off (or get one of your kids to do it for you), and enjoy freshly baked toast and marmalade for breakfast.

If you’re just getting into baking bread, I recommend the following books: Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman goes into significant detail about the chemistry and the techniques of baking bread, and Paul Hollywood’s books: How to Bake and Bread are ideal for those who are less interested in the how, and just want to create some delicious home baked goods.

[nextpage title=”Pasta Sauces”]
I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this cooking faux-pas. Buying pasta sauce is easy, buy the results are rarely as good as you could make yourself with about half an hour and some basic fridge and cupboard ingredients.

It struck me after I tasted a particularly insipid Jamie Oliver pasta sauce which promised so much with its wonderful marketing department, but delivered so little in the taste department. It seems Oliver’s lost his interest in food quality in lieu of making tons of cash. I suspect if you went back ten years or so, a more principled man would have told you, “You don’t need to buy those Lloyd Grossman pasta sauces, you can knock one up yourself with a very basic ingredients”. Except now it’s his face on a jar of bland, over-sweetened, over-priced pasta sauce.

A simple tin of tomatoes combined with some bits from the fridge is all you need to make a quick pasta sauce: garlic, onion, capsicum, olives, capers, anchovies, gherkins, red chilli, mushrooms, courgettes, aubergine, and herbs (basil, oregano or even Herbes de Provence) call all be used to great effect when making a delicious home made tomato sauce.

If you have ingredients in the fridge looking for something to go into, this is the perfect time for a ‘ready steady cook’ type dish. Add a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt and grind of pepper to season, and cook it for long enough to let the other flavours infuse into the tomato sauce, and for the tomato sauce to reduce a little. Delicious tomato sauce. Pronto.

The other pasta sauce you can make is a cheese sauce for which you need equal quantities of butter and plain flour to make a roux, before adding milk. When you have a basic white sauce, grate in some nutmeg and add salt and black pepper, before adding the grated cheese of your choice. Cheddar and parmesan work well, but any melting cheese will work. Add fried pancetta and fried mushrooms and you have yourself a quick and easy pasta dish.

Spaghetti carbonara is equally easy: egg yolks and a little cream whisked in a bowl with some grated parmesan when stirred through hot drained pasta produces a quick and delicious meal. Add bacon (pancetta or lardons), mushrooms and some chopped parsely on top. It takes all of 10 minutes to make.

Start of by experimenting with flavours from the fridge, making sure that you fry things properly before adding to the tomato. Get yourself some of the elements above, especially, capers, olives and anchovies which deliver a salty, acidic kick to the sweetness of the tomatoes.
[nextpage title=”Soup”]
If you’ve never made soup, give it a go at least once in your life. It’s delicious and it’s easier than you think to make.

If you have made soup, you probably thought after you first tasting; that was easy and really delicious to make, before going back to the convenience of buying soup from the supermarket.

There is nothing holding you back from making delicious soup apart from the effort required to make it, and a blender or food processor of adequate size to zip up the ingredients. The great thing about homemade soup is that it can be made in large batches and frozen and revived when required.

All you need to make soup is some vegetables, water and stock. Principally: Onion, celery, garlic. Tomatoes are obviously popular due to their heavy dosage of naturally occurring MSG, likewise mushrooms have that wonderfully satisfying savoury umami depth of flavour.

Leeks, potatoes, cheese, ham, peas, the possibilities are quite literally endless. If you need inspiration, check out something like the New Covent Garden Food Company Soup Book, which gives you one soup for every day of the year, and will make sure that any leftover food in your fridge is put to good use.
[nextpage title=”Chicken”]
I’m not talking about having chickens scrubbing around for worms in your back garden. I’m talking about our habits of buying pre-processed birds. The manufacturers add cost to chicken when they pay people to butcher them on your behalf, so if you like chicken, and you know how to chop one up, buying a whole chicken can prove a very efficient way of eating good quality meat. The next time you are in the market, have a look at the price of two chicken breast fillets, and then have a look at the price of a whole bird, and tell me you’re not paying a lot for the convenience of butchering.

Most people buy a whole chicken to roast, which is a wonderful use of the bird. But rather than roasting a whole chicken you can also chop it up into thighs, legs, wings and breasts, and have them in a casserole, or make your own deep fried chicken to the Lieutenant Colonel’s recipe.

The correct technique for butchering a bird (as well as a great recipe for fried chicken) can be found in Tim Haywards book, Food DIY. I have mentioned Tim’s book in my earlier post on cold smoking salmon at home.

I really rate Tim’s attitude to food. He is a man after my own heart. His approach is about as far as it is possible to get from the faddy gluten free, meat free, taste free diets so popular with the yummy mummies nowadays. It is a wholesome approach which connects us back to the ingredients of our meals. In our appreciation of  our food, it benefits us more .
[nextpage title=”Mayonnaise”]
As someone born in Germany, and raised in Holland as a toddler, I absolutely adore mayonnaise. It is one thing I couldn’t live long without. I also lived in Belgium in my teens, and developed a taste for the slightly acidic version of mayonnaise they serve in the friteries. Frites in a cone with a dollop of mayonnaise on top, a two pronged wooden fork and a frikandellen on the side. Fast food heaven!

All praise this most wonderful of condiments. Mayonnaise is so versatile in its application. It can be successful cut with: ketchup, curry powder, mustard, peri peri sauce, basil and garlic, lemon juice, caper and gherkins, and even avocado, or mixed with cream cheese and yoghurt to make a delicious dip base.

The basic mayonnaise is an emulsion of oil, water and an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar.

Basic mayonnaise recipe from the Guardian Online

The tricks to making mayonnaise are as follows:

1) Use ingredients that are at room temperature and you will get better results. If you normally keep your eggs in the fridge, remove them before making mayonnaise, including an extra spare should you need it (see point 4. below)

2) Don’t add the oil too quickly or you risk curdling the mixture. Start out with a drop at a time at the beginning, and get more bold as you go. This is about trial and error, but do it more slowly than you think and you will be more successful.

3) Avoid strong flavoured oils like olive oil, instead use neutral tasting oils like vegetable oil and groundnut oil, and add a little olive oil for flavour at the end if you like a strong tasting mayonnaise.

4) If you accidentally add the oil too quickly and your mayonnaise curdles, don’t panic, all is not lost. Take a new egg yolk and whisk it up on its own, before gradually beating in the curdled mixture one spoon at a time. Once stable, you can add the remaining oil, this time at a slower rate.

I would also advise beginners to use a food processor when starting out, it is much easier to deal only with the gradual addition of oil, than it is to deal with whisking of the mixture and the addition of oil.

When you have added all of your oil, and thickened up your mayonnaise, you can add a teaspoon or two of hot water to reduce the thickness of the mayonnaise as desired.

Derivatives of mayonnaise such as tartare sauce are easily made by adding chopped capers and chopped gherkins to a basic mayonnaise. Likewise garlic and mustard mayonnaise are just a crush and a mix away. You can also use store bought mayonnaise for this too, and will be able to make appropriate quantities to order.
[nextpage title=”Guacamole”]
Until you have made your own guacamole, you haven’t tasted the real thing. Some people I know haven’t even tried Avocados! They were obviously born outside the 1970’s when the avocado prawn cocktail was de-rigeur.

The key to good guacamole is perfectly ripe avocados in abundance. You will also need:

  • Fresh tomato, seeds removed (ideally remove the skin by blanching the tomato for a minute or so in boiling water and then peeling it)
  • Fresh lime juice,
  • Freshly diced red chilli,
  • Finely diced red onion,
  • Chopped Coriander
  • Salt and pepper.

You can also add in extra items such as pomegranate seeds which add a delightfully sweet explosion, but I like to keep it simple and straight up, like the Margherita’s and corn chips you will serve with it. 

Don’t blend the avocados, mash them roughly with a fork, and leave them in a nice chunky state. Add seasoning to your taste. Avocados do not keep well, so you will be making this dip fresh to order.

Serve with tortilla chips and a refreshing beverage such as a Margarita.

A good recipe can be found here
[nextpage title=”Hummus”
If you regularly visit this site, you will know that hummus (humous) is one of my favourite things to make at home, and the great thing is it can be served to anyone; even the faddiest vegan loves hummus. So the next time you have some friends round for drinks, wow them with a bowl of your own home made goodness.

I have a feeling that as my affinity with hummus expands, so will my recommendations about how it is used. The basic recipe is smooth and rich, made so delightful by using fresh soaked (rather than tinned) chickpeas and lots of tahini, lemon juice and salt. The simpler the better. The addition of bicarbonate of soda to the cooking process breaks down the tough outer skins and gives the end result an unfeasibly smooth texture.

But this is just the beginning; hummus can be successfully cut with many things: coriander, lemon juice, spices, beetroot, as well as other dips such as tzatziki and guacamole.

Tip: If you have a food processor with two bowls, use the larger bowl which has a faster tip speed and you will get a smoother hummus.

I won’t repeat the recipe as it can be found elsewhere on this site. You can find it by clicking here.

Did I miss anything off the list? Leave a comment below.

Bon…. Apetit!

 

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