Monday, January 28, 2013

The Cooking Grich, part 2

When last we visited this topic, I was griping about the current trend toward making everything from scratch, and how much I wish I was that kind of cook, but I'm just not.  I can't stand spending hours in the kitchen.  What I neglected to mention is that the prompt for that post was reading The Homemade Pantry, which is a truly interesting cookbook by Alana Chernila, who runs the blog Eating from the Ground Up.  She is amazing, and I am jealous.  (Caveat:  I have yet to try a single recipe in this cookbook, I just read it.)

I read lots of cookbooks.  I love to read cookbooks.  I've never been one for following recipes exactly, but I read cookbooks to get ideas.  When I read through a cookbook, I'm looking for simple.  The half dozen recipes out of one hundred that are from-scratch, but only take 30 minutes to make.  Or 15.

What I need to dump is the guilt.  When I read through Alana's book, I can't help but think about how lucky her kids are that they have all this homemade, from-scratch food, and how healthy they probably are.  I use that to beat myself up because I don't even begin to want to cook as much as she does.  I'd rather chew nails, and my poor kids have to eat what they can get at our house.

I'm learning to trust that I have other virtues as a mother.  I don't know what they are, but there must be some, because my kids are doing fine, and they love me and I love them, and we are pretty healthy in spite of our lack of elaborate homemade food.  I have to keep reminding myself of that. And I keep reading the from-scratch blogs and cookbooks, because occasionally among all the more elaborate recipes I get great ideas for from-scratch foods that are actually quick and easy-- like hummus, or guacamole.

Another thing I do: a couple of times a year, I go to the grocery store at a time when it isn't crowded, and I wander through the aisles and read labels.  It is amazing the things that you learn that way.  There are tremendous differences sometimes between brands and different types of food.  There is a brand of ketchup that doesn't use high fructose corn syrup.  There is a brand of frozen hash browns with this list of ingredients:  "Potatoes."  There is a brand of tomato paste that has this list of ingredients:  "Tomatoes."  I try to buy "convenience" foods that have ingredients that are pretty much the same that they would be if I cooked them at home.

As I read through Alana's cookbook, I realized something kind of odd.  I don't mind the idea of making something complicated from scratch if it is something that would only need to be made a couple of times a year or for a special occasion.  What depresses me is the idea of having to make the stuff that we eat all the time.  The idea of being chained to the kitchen for something that we eat several times a week makes me want to run screaming for the hills.

For example.  We are not big mayonnaise eaters.  I buy a small jar of mayo and it lasts for a year. I might put a tablespoon or two in with some tuna.  (Or maybe not, I have a terrific recipe for tuna salad from Nigella Lawson that doesn't use any mayo at all.)  Occasionally I will make a sandwich with leftover chicken and that seems to me to call out for a smear of mayo.  Those are the only two times I can think of that I've used mayo in the last six months.  So the idea of making mayonnaise from scratch sounds kind of intriguing.  Hmmmmm, that might be kind of fun to try.

But we eat lots of mustard.  I buy 3-4 different kinds of mustard, and every 2-3 months, I have to buy more.  Except MadMax, we all love mustard.  So the thought of having to keep us supplied with homemade mustard (which is one of the recipes in The Homemade Pantry) just depresses me.  It would be a never-ending battle.  You'd just get one batch of it made up and you'd have to make another one.  Blecch.

Which makes no sense.  It would save money, and keep all those preservatives from going into our bodies, and keep the mustard containers out of the landfill, and apparently it tastes better.  It would make much more sense to make homemade mustard, and have far more effect on us than making homemade mayonnaise.  But I'm not gonna do it, so there's no point in trying to make sense out of it.  
So it was with great surprise a couple of weeks ago that I realized that I was going to start making homemade yogurt.  Because as much mustard as we go through, it pales in comparison to our yogurt consumption.  I bought a 32 oz container of our favorite yogurt Saturday night and it will be gone after breakfast tomorrow (Tuesday morning)--and Nell is still out of town.  Last weekend I bought a dozen single-serving containers of Greek yogurt and they were all gone by Thursday.

The idea sort of snuck up on me.  The problem is all the little plastic containers.  We can't recycle them here, our recycling people only take #1 and #2 plastic, and yogurt containers are #5.  For years, I've been throwing away dozens of yogurt containers a month, and the guilt finally got to me.  So I started poking around.  Debbie has a great post about making yogurt completely from scratch, without even owning a machine.  I read through it with interest, but decided there was no way I would ever do that more than once, it is way too complicated.

So I broke down and ordered a machine, and it came on Friday.  I think tomorrow is the big day to try it out.  I'll let you know what happens.


  1. Making yogurt is a BREEZE! Now I don't have a machine, I do it the really old fashioned way but I am excited to see how your yogurt turns out. You will never go back. The yogurt you make at home tastes so much better.

    1. Our first try was maybe not quite a breeze, but not too bad. It will definitely be easier the second time. I made unflavored, and I think I will try adding vanilla and a little maple syrup next time. Thank you for inspiring me :-)

  2. Hmmm, I may have to look into making my own yogurt. I have recently revamped breakfast for me and the base is plain Greek yogurt so . . .
    I like homemade stuff, but, y'know, life is short, do what you love. Chicken stock is a staple that I make myself because it's easy, it tastes about 1000 times better than any store bought, and I get cooked chicken to make other dinners out of. Spaghetti sauce. Pesto. Salsa. I love to cook but I'm not spending THAT much time in the kitchen!

    1. OK, sometime you have to post about how to make chicken stock. I've done it once or twice, but it seemed so complicated that I can't thinking it was "easy." I must be missing something.