Sunday, March 31, 2013

Make the Ghee, Buy the Paneer

Once in a while, there comes along a book that is downright entertaining. I've been reading one such book lately, and it happens to be a cookbook: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch by Jennifer Reese. The book contains plenty of practical information and recipes for the home cook, and the author's voice is genuine and funny, which made this book an interesting and enjoyable read.

Image: Goodreads
The premise of the book is that the author looks around at all the various foods we can buy in the supermarket and in restaurants, and asks the question: Is it better to buy this food or to make it at home? "Better" is measured in terms of cost, convenience, taste and time.

While setting up the premise of the book, Reese mentions Uncrustables- the frozen (and crustless) peanut butter and jelly sandwiches sold by the brand Smuckers. I completely identified with this example because I remember being completely baffled and annoyed when I heard about this particular product many years ago. My inner monologue went something like this: They sell frozen PB & J because it is too much work to slap some peanut butter (from a jar) and jam (from another jar) onto bread (from a bag)? Come. On. What is the world coming to, blah blah. But Reese talks about how, not too long ago, people would have been equally baffled by the fact that someone would buy bread or peanut butter or jam at a store instead of making their own. She points out that it is rather an arbitrary line about what one buys and what one makes.

Reese goes on to discuss dozens of foods, and her take on whether it should be bought or made from scratch. And she's dead serious about trying to make things from scratch- she keeps chickens for eggs and meat, and bees for honey. She sweats away in the kitchen making things like glazed donuts and hot dogs from scratch. Even though I pretty much skipped over her chapters on keeping livestock and curing meats, it was incredibly fun to follow along and see what her experiences were like. For each food, she issues her verdict: Make it or buy it? And how much hassle is involved in making it?

It goes without saying that how one weighs cost, time, taste and hassle is very subjective and each home cook would have their own line in the sand, so to speak, about what to make and what to buy. As an aside, I've seen peeled hard-boiled eggs sold in a plastic pouch (Trader Joe's) so I guess these lines in the sand can be miles apart.

Based on my personal experience, here's a list in similar style to this book, about what I choose to make and what I buy. This list has evolved since I started to cook, and will further change as I go along, I'm sure of it.

Ghee: Make it.
Hassle: Minimal; you only have to occasionally watch a pot of simmering butter for an hour or so. And I do buy the butter- unsalted.
Notes: Homemade ghee tastes wonderful and it is a staple part of my favorite comfort food dinners like varan-bhaat and khichdi and to make ghee rice and peas pulao for company. I'm spoiled now and I won't ever go back to buying ghee.

Yogurt: Make it.
Hassle: Minimal; you simply stir live yogurt cultures into warm milk and leave it in a warm spot for a few hours before refrigerating.
Notes: There are so many reasons to switch to making yogurt at home. Homemade yogurt tastes fantastic- none of the sticky texture of some brands you buy. You can strain it to make Greek-style yogurt. Making yogurt at home saves money and packaging. I use yogurt in place of sour cream in most recipes.

Paneer: Buy it.
Hassle: Not much hassle, actually. Just add lemon juice to boiling milk, strain away the whey and press the solids.
Notes: It takes a whole lotta milk to make a small amount of paneer, and my homemade paneer is never as soft and tasty as my favorite brand- Nanak from Canada. We use paneer only once in a while, anyway. So I've stopped making it at home.

Idli and dosa batter: Make it.
Hassle: It takes a little planning to soak and grind and ferment the batter but is easy enough if you own a good mixie or stone electric grinder.
Notes: My friend in Atlanta and my sister in Bangalore, for instance, don't make their own idli/dosa batter because they have access to freshly made batter sold locally. I don't have that option and I'm fine with that. I happily use my grinder to make vast quantities of batter. And I can make customize the batter with brown rice or whatever else.

Rotis: Buy it.
Hassle: Kneading, rolling and griddle-baking; technically not too much of a hassle but roti making is a skill for sure.
Notes: I am singularly untalented when it comes to making rotis. They turn out too chewy or dense and just not very appealing. I buy whole-wheat tortillas to use as rotis. If you can, make them by all means.


Bread, including sliced bread, rolls and pizza crust: Make and buy.
Hassle: Bread making is certainly a hassle what with mixing and kneading (of course there are all the no-knead recipes), rising, baking, worrying, washing up. But bread making is also therapeutic and the aroma of baking bread makes a house smell like home. There are some things money can't buy.
Notes: Over the years, I've made lots of bread and bought lots of it too. When you have time, it is so worth making bread.

Beans: Make it.
Hassle: With a pressure cooker, there's no hassle at all. You just need to remember to soak the beans overnight if possible.
Notes: Dried beans are much cheaper than canned ones and they taste better to me. But I do keep a couple of cans of beans at home for really busy days when I need a last minute meal.

Spices: Make and buy (and swap).
Hassle: Minimal hassle to make spice mixes- you just need a small spice/coffee grinder.
Notes: In the US, "ethnic" stores such as the ones where Indian groceries are sold are a good source for fresh and inexpensive spices compared to supermarkets and gourmet stores. Once you buy whole spices, it is easy to make your own blends. But there are certain brands of spice mixes that I also like to buy.

Ginger Garlic Paste: Make it.
Hassle: It takes only a few minutes to peel and roughly chop fresh ginger and garlic, then 1-2 more minutes to blend it into a smooth paste with a little salt.
Notes: I've used bottled ginger garlic paste for years before I made my own, and it worked fine. Make it if you have time, otherwise, buy it. But it is an awesome fridge staple for quick, tasty meals so keep it on hand no matter what.

Tamarind chutney: Make it.
Hassle: None, just simmer a few ingredients together on the stove- my recipe is here and these days I just simmer baking dates (sold in a slab), tamarind paste and jaggery for a no-straining-required version.
Notes: Homemade tamarind chutney is cheaper and tastier than anything you can buy. And you'll use dates instead of loading it up with refined sugar. There's also the question of whether to buy tamarind (and extract the pulp yourself) or whether to buy tamarind paste. I've done both; these days I use tamarind paste that comes in a jar.


Pickles: Make and Buy it.
Hassle: Not much hassle to just clean and chop veggies and mix with spices.
Notes: Although it is easy enough to make pickles, and there are so many wonderful recipes out there, I do end up buying bottled Indian pickles while occasionally making my own. I'd love to make pickles this summer- both Indian style and pickled cucumbers in vinegar/brine, American style.

Jam: Buy it.
Hassle: Canning scares me. On the other hand, freezer jam seems to be very easy to make.
Notes: I buy good quality jam and marmalade (and often get these as gifts). We eat jam so rarely that it doesn't seem worthwhile to make it.

Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, Tahini: Buy it.
Hassle: Minimal, cleaning sticky nut butter from the food processor is probably the only hassle here.
Notes: It is too easy to buy good quality nut butters so that's what I do. I might try making peanut butter in the future though.

Pasta Sauce: Make it.
Hassle: Not much hassle at all to simmer tomato sauce on the stove, especially if you start with canned tomatoes as I do.
Notes: Bottled/jarred pasta sauce is likely to be loaded with salt and sugar and various things that have no place in pasta sauce so it is completely worthwhile to make your own.

Pasta and noodles: Buy it.
Hassle: Quite a hassle, and most recipes call for a pasta maker.
Notes: There's so much wonderful fresh and dried pasta out there so this is one food where I'm happy to let the experts do the work. I have made fresh gnocchi as a fun project once or twice.

Pesto: Make and Buy it.
Hassle: None- just a few ingredients needing a whirl in the food processor.
Notes: I make pesto in summer when basil is plentiful (always with walnuts and not pine nuts); other times I will occasionally buy it.

Soup: Make it!
Hassle: Who cares? Soup should be made at home.
Notes: I did not eat canned soups growing up, so I don't have any nostalgia for canned soups- they taste awful to me. Instead, I've collected a repertoire of soup recipes that are very easy to make and provide both comfort and nourishment.

Cookies: Make and buy.
Hassle: The usual moderate hassle of baking, but most people will agree that cookies are fun to make.
Notes: I have a few favorite brands of cookies that I can't resist buying once in a while (cough Trader Joe's Triple Ginger cookies cough). But I like to bake cookies and have my favorite cookie recipes that I make most often in the holidays. My policy on cookies, and sweets in general, is that I won't eat one unless it is excellent- no sense in wasting calories. Ditto for candy, I like making candy for gift-giving and will sometimes buy candy from excellent confectioners but I stay far far away from the horrid stuff in the supermarket candy aisle.

Cake: Make it (and not from a mix).
Hassle: Cakes are simple and fun to make. Sure, there's some clean up at the end.
Notes: Homemade cake is probably not all that cost-saving because cake mixes are so cheap, but I'll keep making cakes from scratch anyway. I don't like the ingredient list on cake mixes and I'd rather save on packaging waste.

Granola: Make it.
Hassle: Very little, just mix ingredients in a bowl and bake. Here's our favorite recipe.
Notes: Store-bought granola is ridiculously expensive; it is so easy to make your own and you can fully customize it.

Oatmeal: Make it.
Hassle: None.
Notes: I find the stuff in the packets completely inedible. On the other hand, old-fashioned oats cooked in almond milk, eaten warm with fruit, nut butter- now that's good eats, and easy to do even on the busiest morning.

Hot chocolate: Make it.
Hassle: Minimal.
Notes: Making the mix at home is super easy and they make nice gifts. I've never found a store-bought cocoa mix that I like anyway.

Dips: Make it.
Hassle: Dips are very easy to make, and even easier with a food processor.
Notes: Some of my favorite go-to dips are caramelized onion dip, sweet potato hummus and guacamole.


Thai curry paste: Buy it.
Hassle: Sourcing the ingredients is a major hassle for most of us.
Notes: I can make vegetable-rich curries in a jiffy with canned curry paste so it is an important pantry staple for me. Brands like Maesri make very good Thai curry paste.

Coconut milk: Buy it.
Hassle: For someone living in a small town in the US, it is a huge hassle to find a decent coconut.
Notes: Canned coconut milk is an absolute pantry staple for me. I love the Chaokoh brand. I never bother to buy low-fat coconut milk. If I want to cut the calories (and I rarely do), I'll water it down myself.

Ice cream: Make and buy.
Hassle: Depends on the recipe. In my case, I also need to remember to freeze the ice cream maker bowl.
Notes: I'll happily make ice cream several times each Spring/Summer but I also don't mind buying good-quality ice cream once in a while to go with homemade brownies or apple pie.

Lemonade: Make it.
Hassle: None. Stir lemon juice and sugar into water.
Notes: Indians like salt in lemonade too.

Salty snacks: Make and Buy
Hassle: Deep-frying is the biggest of all hassles for me, personally, so any snack that requires deep-frying is too much of a hassle. Other snacks that don't require frying are not much of a hassle at all.
Notes: I buy potato chips and tortilla chips. Popcorn I make from scratch on the stove top. Chivda and chex mix and spiced nuts are easy and fun to make. Crackers I prefer to buy.


There are many other things, such as ketchup and mustard, mayonnaise, creme fraiche, vanilla extract and fruit vinegar, that I would love to make at home sometime, but the truth is that I use so little of these ingredients that it just does not seem worth it to me. In general, if I find that we're consuming a fair bit of something- granola, yogurt- I'll make an effort to make it in my kitchen.


Other recipes for usually-store-bought-treats can be enjoyable weekend projects. I remember getting together with my BFF Neighbor Girl years ago to make pretzels one hot summer afternoon. It was such a memorable experience even though I haven't made them since.

With some other things, making a food/drink at home can be astoundingly cost saving. An example is this cold brewed coffee. Costs probably 1/10 of the cold coffee with the fancy name that one could be sucking down in the coffee shop all summer. In my book, these recipes are totally worth learning.


Now, it's your turn: What do you make and what do you buy? Tell us in the comments!

99 comments:

  1. I make my own kombucha, and it's super easy - it really makes me wonder why the stuff at the store is so costly.

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    1. I've never had the courage to even taste kombucha :D

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  2. What a great post -- it's funny, I was *just* talking about the eggs-in-a-bag this morning! I absolutely agree with you about homemade soup; with the rare exception of "I'm so sick I can't think straight", miso paste is the closest that I get to non-homemade. I almost always make salad dressing myself; I've tried my hand at other condiments but can't seem to get the proper balance or smooth texture of storebought.

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    1. Oh yes, miso paste does make for very umami soup! And I completely forgot about salad dressing- that's another thing that's so easy to make. Although in St. Louis we used to buy ranch from Whole Foods all the time for some reason.

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  3. Your article mirrored my thoughts. I often wonder if it is worth making some things from scratch. After my first attempt at homemade ghee, I hope to never have to go back to the store. I was a bit surprised on your preference for rotis. We used to get them from someone but after a couple of attempts I have got the process down from kneading the dough to having them ready for 2/3 people in about 20 minutes. Will try making dahi at home as well.

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    1. Good for you for getting the roti process down so well! I just like the taste of the tortillas so much, and they are whole wheat and all that I don't have much incentive to practice making rotis. But one of these days I will. That's why I said that everyone's list of what they make versus buy will look different.

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    2. Thanks for the post. Are the tortillas preservative free? I have seen potassium sorbate and/or other preservatives in all store bought tortillas.
      Thanks,
      Meera

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    3. Meera- what preservatives do you mean? These tortillas do have a few additives and that does not bother me too much- I'm of the opinion that if my diet is largely unprocessed food (and it really is), that's good enough. But of course that's something for each person to decide.

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    4. Thanks, Nupur. Depending on which tortilla you buy, there will be some additive(s), one or more of which will function as a preservative. I have now cut down on buying regular sliced bread because I realized that most of them have preservatives (except Wegmans brand and 1-2 other brands that I have come across). I try to buy fresh bread loaves without any additives/preservatives. I freeze part of the loaf so it can be used for a week or so. I was looking for tortillas without additives, but have not seen any yet in the stores that I have tried. And since we like to eat rotis almost daily, I make them at home. I get a little concerned eating the store bought tortillas everyday. It is definitely an additional chore and I would love to get away from making rotis, but havent found a suitable and healthy alternative:(

      Meera

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    5. Hi, ever tried the roti maker? it does not give the rotis like ones made the traditional way, but my sister, who like you is an expat, says its way better than eating tortillas.

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  4. I tend to make paneer, but I agree with you on most things. The grocery store near me marks items a few days from their expiry date down 50%. When I find whole milk marked down, I make paneer and freeze it.

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  5. This is a terrific post!!!
    I enjoyed hearing what you make and buy.
    I make my ghee and sometime paneer and bread. I use organic butter from Costco for making ghee and am extra proud of it! I make most of what my son eats from scratch except for his snack. He loves Bourbon and I don't want to spoil it for himmby making it! I buy rotis, yoghurt, and almost everything else. We rarely eat cake, unless it is a bday. Then a special cake is made for the bday person and the guests get store bought ones.
    I would like to start making yogurt. Where do you getnthemlive culture from?

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    1. I started with dried yogurt cultures from Yogourmet (I found packets of these in the baking section of Whole Foods; some local health food stores also carry one, and some online retailers). If you'd like to try a packet, e-mail me and I'll send you some of mine. I had to buy the dried cultures again after moving to GA and I have some left.

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    2. I should mention that an alternative to using dried cultures is to get a little yogurt from Indian restaurants, temple kitchens or friends! I begged for a little yogurt from an Indian restaurant in St. Louis once, and it worked OK but couldn't propagate it, just my one-time experience.

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    3. Thank you. It is super kind of you to offer it to send it to me!!!!! But I have seen the yogurt cultures online. We also have a Whole Foods nearby, so might check it out. If the yogurt cultures fail, I might beg you for some! Thanks again for the kind offer!

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    4. I had got the culture from someone who got it from India but now I use store bought ( Gopi brand from the Indian store) yogurt as culture and it works just as good for me

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  6. I l-o-v-e this book too! And I L-O-V-E how you've made your very own list! Easter hugs all around, Nupur!

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    1. Happy Easter, Alanna! I hope you're well!

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  7. I think I buy most of the things you make Nupur! I do draw the line at store made pb&j sandwiches, boiled eggs, chopped fruit and vegetables though. I will cut corners if I know something will save me prep time in the kitchen but I only do so if I know that the product does not have added preservatives/ too much salt/sugar or is not too costly. It's interesting how housekeeping has evolved over the ages though isn't it? I wonder what type of kitchen people of the future will keep? Will they do away with eating altogether and eat protein powders and dietary supplements ;-) have a great week.
    Arpita.

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    1. Hi Aprita! I think these things go in cycles. In the 60s and 70s in the US, processed food took over. In the last 2 decades, things have swung back to making food from scratch. Now it is all about clean eating and whole foods and garden to table, and supermarket food just isn't cutting it.

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  8. Great post, Nupur!
    I agree about making ghee, idli/dosa batter at home, ghee is not cost effective if it is store bought, moreover, I like my ghee slightly brown, not brown.. but a couple of shades darker than store bought ( does that make sense?)
    As for idli/ dosa batter, it is horrid and many a times, very, very sour, yuck!
    I am very surprised that you prefer tortillas to soft, 'tavwyavarci poli' made at home! I had some problem when I tried Pillsbury multi grain atta, the rotis were leathery, yuck!, same with Sujata atta, switched to Aashirwad atta and I have no regrets.

    I used to make yogurt at home, but after a while the culture started getting weak. Now, I buy it at the store ( I have stopped eating yogurt at night as it causes cough- for my son)
    I like Gopi Paneer- have you tried it? I buy the huge block and cut it in 4-5 blocks ( into small pieces) and freeze.
    I love making cakes but sometimes prefer cake mix guaranteed results!) and make whipped cream frosting at home to decorate the cake.
    I do not make a large variety of soups, but love tomato and always make it at home, nothing beats it! Love sweet corn soup too and that too is home made, simple, fat free and amazing taste!
    Veges: Prefer frozen peas and corn, other veges: NO, they turn soggy.
    Parathas,like Kawan and snacks like aLu wadi I do buy (when leaves are old and limp or just too expensive), very occasionally.

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    1. I do occasionally buy the frozen alu wadi too- it is a treat to pan fry it and serve with dal bhaat. And yes, like you, I prefer toasty ghee so it is homemade all the way.

      As for yogurt, when the yogurt loses its viability, I start afresh with powdered cultures and that gets them going again for several months.

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  9. What a great list! I make my own yogurt, ghee (just started a few months ago), cookies, idli/dosa batter, beans, and rotis. Since my family has only three members (one of whom is under 5), I only make 6 or less rotis per meal, and I find it easier and faster to make rotis than to cook rice (with some prep work - I knead the dough the previous day, or freeze/defrost it ahead of time).

    I've always bought nut butters, jams, pasta sauce and most everything else on your list. I do want to try more soups though.

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    1. That's awesome that you have the roti-making down! Pasta sauce and soup are both things that are easy enough to make at home. And I haven't found store-bought counterparts of these that taste good and have quality ingredients so for me, they're worth it.

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  10. Hi Nupur,

    Living in India, we "make", rather than "buy" most stuff. But out here make seems to be a matter of course - like yogurt, butter, paneer, rotis etc.

    Homemade food tastes wonderful.... but I certainly agree with your viewpoint on assessing the hassle of making something at home to getting it ready made and not compromising on taste or nutrition.

    Thanks for a lovely post.

    Meenal

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    1. Meenal- I'm glad you enjoyed the post. About people making rather than buying stuff in India, that really depends on the place and the person (and the food). In many places, there are small business supplying homemade food products and many of my family and friends in India have access to locally, freshly made rotis and idli/dosa batter. Everyone I know in India has a good dairy nearby that sells khoya and cream and paneer. But yes, it depends on what food we're talking about- I use tomato puree and canned coconut milk all the time and home cooks in India generally start with fresh tomatoes and whole coconuts.

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  11. What an interesting post! I have realised that I make most things from scratch because I enjoy the process and for the freshness/purity/good ingredients, more than for the cost benefit. Most of my list of make, buy and occasionally make/buy is similar to yours except for these two:

    Rotis: I've been making rotis since I was 11 - 12 (happily practiced since I was 5, made weird uneven shapes that mom would gladly cook, smear some ghee on and let me have as a treat) and absolutely love making it even today. Last year we visited a friend who took out a small flour mill from his pantry, ground some whole wheat and made rotis out of it, all while happily chatting and laughing...it wow'ed me so much, I would love to be able to do that even though readymade aata is so cheap. It would give me a huge kick to ground my own flour for rotis, bread, bhakris and bhajani for thalipith and chakali.

    Yogurt :-( I've failed miserably in all my efforts, now I'm not trying until I get a thermometer. I've even failed using the yougourmet culture. I've watched every possible yogurt setting video online, read all blog posts on it and it breaks my heart to waste whole organic milk trial after trial. Something so simple which I don't seem to get, it's embarrassing.

    I would happily exchange fresh homemade rotis with someone who could set yogurt for me or teach roti making at my home in exchange of yogurt setting skills.

    - Priti





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    1. Priti- I loved hearing about your experiences with roti! I think enjoying the process and having positive emotional connections with it, that's what cooking fun. I've definitely heard from other food bloggers that they love using small flour mills. I wish I lived closer so we could swap yogurt/roti skills! But seriously, don't feel bad about not being able to set yogurt. This is one of those things that sometimes clicks right away and other times needs some trouble shooting. If you're interested at all in giving it one more try, this would be my suggestion: try in summer when the ambient temps in your kitchen are 75F or higher. Buy the thermometer- costs under 10 bucks and you can use it for both yogurt and candy making ;) And add cultures (whether yogurt itself or powder cultures) when the warmed milk is at a toasty 115 degrees. Good luck! And if you don't feel like giving it another shot, big deal, good quality yogurt is sold in every store.

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    2. I am definately giving it a try in summer, Nupur. Thanks so much for the encouragement. Please share the source/store for buying the candy thermometer at that incredible price, most of what I've come across is for double that price. Would it help me nail the one string sugar syrup or two string sugar syrup required in most Indian ladu/vadi recipes?

      - Priti

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    3. i have very similar experience. although i started making rotis as an adult. but now its not that much of a hassle. but i have failed at making yogurt. and also i wonder how cost effective it is making yogurt as the price of milk and yogurt is almost the same where i live.

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    4. Priti- I have the pyrex candy thermometer and it is about 9 bucks. Can't remember where I bought it, but I think Bed Bath and Beyond carries it now. A candy thermometer is certainly designed to help make candy of different consistencies (there are temp charts for hard ball, soft call- not making up the words, I promise) but like everything, candy making can have a bit of a learning curve.

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    5. Nikita- My primary reason for making yogurt at home is that it tastes better to me, and because I don't have to buy two things, which is convenient. It probably saves a bit of money as well: brand of yogurt like Dannon is something like 3.50$ for the standard 4 cup tub. A gallon of organic milk is about 6 bucks, equivalent to 16 cups of milk. So the same amount of yogurt can be made for 1.50$. The calculation will be different based on the brand of yogurt and milk.

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  12. Wonderful post, Nupur! I am quite often surprised by the items sold in the frozen/canned section. Are people really that lazy?! Btw - Nanak used to be my favorite paneer too, until I read the ingredients carefully - modified food starch and guar gum =(. I've found another brand that's pure paneer and tastes great (will tell u when I remember the name). I buy rotis from the store when I have a lot of people at home. But on a regular basis, I make them at home using Sujata atta. Try their multigrain or wholegrain.

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    1. Hi Snehal- I hear ya on the food starch and guar gum but those are not the most obnoxious ingredients, and we eat paneer so rarely that I don't care about them. Thanks for the tips re. Sujata atta- will try it if I find it. And I think more than laziness, people choose prepared foods because as a culture, people are often plain clueless about basic cooking and often overworked as well.

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  13. your post is making me go back to ghee making. I stopped making my own and started buying amul ghee at Patel's (at a hefty price). Since my son has started eating regular meals, Ive been making fresh rotis at home - in order to feed him fresh home-made food. Recently Ive started cutting out wheat from my diet due to my blood sugar..that means only 5 rotis for dinner. Make atta ahead of time and roti making takes 5-6 mins flat. It is a hassle though - if I had the option of someone else making the fresh rotis for me - I would.

    Archana

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    1. The thing will ghee is, you can make a batch and it lasts for weeks or months depending on how much your family consumes. So for an hour's worth of work (and I always do it on the side while doing something else, or while enjoying a TV show or whatever), you get something that you can enjoy for a while. Unlike rotis, you make them everyday ;)

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  14. If you don't mind me asking, which tortillas do you use? I have tried TJ's whole wheat but just can't seem to get over the accompanying funky smell. Therefore, I have to make rotis from scratch. I do buy yogurt, paneer, coconut milk, breads, jams, butters, tomato puree and ghee. I also buy cakes and cookies simply because when I make them at home, we tend to overeat :)

    I am also ashamed to admit I very frequently buy Parampara and Rasoi Magic packets to make Indian food.

    I wish I could make idli dosa batters at home but I don't have a grinder that behaves!

    Preeti

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    1. TJ's whole wheat is what I get, and haven't noticed any smell at all. If you're making rotis, that's awesome though. I hear ya on the cakes and cookies, I always make them to share- that is, for special occasions, guests or to gift. DO NOT be ashamed about buying spice packets (or anything else for that matter). The goal of this post was absolutely not to make anyone guilty about buying convenience foods but just to think about how each of us has different priorities about what they make. I think spice mixes are great because they allow you make a meal with wholesome ingredients when you're very tired or pressed for time. We're all doing the best we can, right?

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  15. Hi Nupur
    I completely share your chapati pains. I struggled for a while and never enjoyed whole wheat tortillas. One thing I wanted to suggest was have you tried hot water for making your chapati dough. Sounds a bit unconventional but give it a try. The dough is going to be tacky, but let it sit for a while and then try making chapatis. The chapatis do turn out pretty well with minimal effort.
    Vinu

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    1. Thanks for the tip, Vinu! I'll definitely have to give it a try.

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  16. I read this book twice, once when it first came out and recently because I remembered how funny and warm Jennifer Reese's writing is and it was a pleasure to reread it. The part where she talks about procuring a curry leaf plant and musing that it will follow her to the nursing home with the same number of leaves it came with had me laughing out loud, anybody who has tried to grow curry leaves in the temperate American weather with visions of it growing into the kind of little curry leaf trees we sometimes see in India can commiserate.

    I think a lot of what we think is a hassle to make at home and what to get from outside is personal. I dont find chapatis hard, maybe because I have a husband who does the kneading for me and makes 2-3 days worth stored in the fridge that I then use up, my lodge cast iron pan makes great chapatis. But dosa batter always seems like a hassle to me, I never plan in advance to soak the rice and dal and half the time it doesnt seem to ferment right no matter what tricks I try. At the same time, I am too stubborn about buying the batter so we never seem to eat any idlis or dosas, heh.

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    1. A quick and almost fool-proof method for making dosa batter is suggested by Chef Ajoy Joshi: Mix 3 parts rice flour and 1 part white lentil(urad) flour (both found in Indian grocery store) with 3 - 3 1/2 parts lukewarm water and pinch of salt. This ferments overnight in a warm place and if a spoonful of fermented batter is kept aside and is mixed with next batch it acts like a culture and ferments the next batter even quicker (within 4-5 hours in summer). Try it! it really works in half the time as the traditional method (by skipping the time for soaking and grinding) and the dosas turn out crisp and awesome!

      - Priti

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    2. Calknit- I LOVED that bit about the curry leaves!! Also because I begged for a curry leaf sapling from an acquaintance in St. Louis and tended to it obsessively. To my joy it did grow very well, only to lose leaves and wither when we moved down South. Now I'm back to a scraggly curry leaf plant and desperately hoping that Spring will work its magic. And you'll laugh at me, but part of why I was happy to move to GA (we had to choose from three different cities) was because the curry leaf plant would be happiest here! Madness!

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  17. Ghee (nothing beats the taste of homemade ghee), pasta sauce, pesto, cookies, cakes, guacamole are some items that I make at home. Recently we began making paneer at home and I don't think we will go back to the store brand again. We use white vinegar to split the milk, not lemon juice. The results are to die for... :) The paneer is soft and crumbly but it also sets enough that you can cut into cubes. Homemade paneer drizzled with local honey is my favorite dessert idea these days.

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    1. Ooh thanks for the tip!! I don't nearly love paneer enough to have it for dessert but this is very good to know!

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  18. Good thought provoking post Nupur.

    I wish to add to your list of making at home:

    1. Pizza sauce – Between November and March, when good quality and better priced fruits and vegetables are easily available in Mumbai, I make pizza sauce at home at least once a month. Once I use for pasta and next for pizzas.
    2. Fruit based jellies, kulfis and desserts I make from scratch, especially with oranges, strawberries, chickoos, custard apples, grapes in winter and mangoes in summer.
    3. Our traditional food recipes contain coconut. Even though I have cut down on using coconut to maximum twice a week, I freeze freshly grated coconut and use store bought coconut powder only for emergencies.

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    1. Oh yes, how could I forget pizza sauce- yes, I love making my own too. Your fruit desserts sound amazing!

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  19. Nupur,
    Totally agree with your list here. I am proud to say I have never bought ghee. I also would say making yogurt is so worth it. I have bought my share of pasta sauces and hated pasta but once I started making them at home I would never again touch the jarred stuff.

    Roti - I am surprised you have problems making them, I am under the impression anyone from Maharastra should absolutely know how to make them. After 15 years of trial and error I can now make a decent roti every now and then. I used to buy the whole wheat tortilla but I prefer the taste of the homemade rotis. So I persevere.

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    1. Yeah, I've never been a fan of jarred pasta sauce either, even before I knew how horrid the ingredients are. You're right that I grew up eating rotis almost everyday in Maharashtra, but somehow never learned to make them growing up, although I loved hanging about the kitchen and learned many other things. Oh well, I'm a late bloomer.

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  20. Hi Nupur, I would love to make a no hassle tamarind-date chutney. Could you please let me know where you buy baking dates? And do you just add tamarind pulp from the jar as per taste?
    thanks
    Meera

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    1. Meera- baking dates are available from Middle Eastern grocers; some Indian stores carry them too. Do a web search for "ziyad baking date paste" to see what they look like. Yes, I add tamarind pulp from the jar and taste as I go along.

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  21. I thoroughly enjoyed and loved this post Nupur. The things I see on sale here in the US make my blood boil. Yes, the hard-boiled eggs and Uncrustables are on top of that list. And don't even get me started on brownie mix.
    I've never tried my own ghee until very recently, spurred on by a very unsettling paragraph I read in Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy where she claims that ghee made by a brand called Ancient Organics is superior to home-made ghee. I was totally dismayed because I respect her, she is a learned chef and author and started my favourite San Francisco restaurant Greens. But I know she is way off base with this claim. My mother made the best ghee I know, all at home. Nothing like it on varan bhat. Besides that bottle of Ancient Organics costs close to $20! Such an irresponsible thing to print.
    I used to be right with you on the chapati issue too. I used to make very good continental map renderings in dough. I've only gotten the hang of it more recently.

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    1. Sigh- that's the thing about being a well-respected authority figure. Anything they say is taken as the gospel truth when in fact they have the same subjective biases as everyone else. Ghee is so easy to make. One can save the $$ for other things that are harder to make.

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  22. At our place, husband and I make most of the stuff that we consume daily, or frequently (since we feel it makes sense to invest time in things that are important enough to do/eat everyday!! :D ). We buy the stuff that is not consumed daily.
    Make: rotis (of all shapes and textures, mainly chewy), granola, oatmeal, pesto, pasta sauces, soups, healthy snacks, low-fat healthy cakes ;), beans and lentils
    Buy: idly-dosa batter (rare treat), bread, paneer, yogurt (I eat this everyday, but have never succeeded in making it at home!).
    We get 2-3 jars of ghee everytime we go to india (either of our moms make it and give!) and it lasts us for a year, if not more. The ghee we get here in shops is a total disgrace :(

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    1. I'm the same way, trying to make stuff that we eat a lot of. Good for you for sticking with the roti making!

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  23. Hi Nupur,
    What butter do you buy for making Ghee? and Pls can you elaborate on the process. I really really want to make ghee at home :)

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    1. I tend to use Trader Joe's brand but any unsalted butter will do. There are many tutorials online (written, pictorial, video, whatever you prefer) for making ghee- here's one: http://www.veggiebelly.com/2012/01/how-to-make-ghee.html

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  24. Hi Nupur ,

    Great post ..

    I personally tend to make things which we consume daily at home which includes roti, beans ,ghee.
    I tend to make salads and soups at home as well .
    We don't eat dosa/ idli as much as hubby does not eat fermented stuff ...I do however make Mung daal dosa which does not require fermentation .
    I get Thai curry paste, paneer ,hummus , coconut milk and yogurt desi brand which does not have gelatin frm store...would like to try making at home .
    I do make popcorn o stove top as one of the snacks ...guess that is the only snack I make others being fresh fruit and TJ pretzel sticks , crackers and different cheeses.
    My husband has ankylosing spondylitis so he has a long list of things which he does not eat which includes tomatoes , mushrooms, tamarind , kokum , eggplant being few of them.
    If I make pasta for above reason .. with homemade pesto and mostly wheat farro . ..no tomatoes ...have to try walnut instead of pine nuts
    well I have to say ..I have been following your blog for a while never posted a comment ... but I do look forward to Monday for your new post ...I have tried multiple recipes from here as well ... keep up the good work
    Thanks
    Swapnaja

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    1. Thank you Swapnaja- and I'm so glad you enjoy this blog.

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  25. Wow, what a great post, Nupur! So much to digest. ;) I would love to make my own yogurt. Going to look at my WF to see if I can buy the culture.

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    1. LOL good luck with the yogurt making!

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  26. Great post Nupur. I've always wondered too if it is worth spending time on making something or just easy to buy from the store. I think my list would look like yours too except a few exceptions.
    My mom used to send homemade ghee every time I visited India, so haven't made it myself. I've only recently started making my own yogurt after years of failed attempts. Also I'm the only one eating yogurt at home, so it wasn't worth ruining milk for my experiments. But now, I think I have the process figured out and I've used store bought greek yogurt culture that worked perfectly well.
    I just learned how to make 'better' rotis from my mom, but I still keep frozen wholewheat chapatis for those last minute meals.
    We have stopped buying ice creams after we bought the Ice cream maker.

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    1. Isn't it fun to make ice cream at home?! But I somehow tend to use my ice cream maker only during the warmer months.

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  27. This is a thought provoking post!

    I frequently buy the regular idly batter, peeled shallots and peeled garlic from the shops. Rice sevai is something I regularly buy because of the long process involved in making it.

    If I have to make green gram dosa,ragi dosa or adai, I grind it at home.

    I came across a site which was about homemade squashes. With lots of lemon in my mom's place, I regularly make squash out of it. I don't plan to buy it (especially lemon squash) any time..

    Other thing which we can actually debate is about these powders and podis for rice/idli/dosas. Homemade is very economic and heavenly but stores have lot of varieties.

    After going through all comments, I am definitely going to make ghee at home.

    Thanks.

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    1. With the podis (and Maharashtrian dry chutneys), I tend to both make and buy. Like you said, some stores sell really good podis and I'm happy to buy them, but I also have 1 or 2 that I enjoy making at home.

      As for garlic, I buy it whole and if I want to peel several cloves of garlic, I pop them in the microwave for a few seconds- the peel pops right off.

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  28. Loved your post and your blog.

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  29. Wonderful post, Nupur! My list looks very similar to yours. I had a question for you about vegetable stock. Lots of soup recipes call for it, and I have noticed that the soup has more body when i use stock, instead of just water. I use the store bought version, but was wondering if you (or any of your readers) had any pointers on how (or whether) it could be made easily at home. Thank you!

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    1. I meant to include veg stock on the list but forgot! I never buy store bought stock because I feel like I'm basically paying for water (and those tetrapacks can't be recycled-ugh) BUT I do like buying stock concentrate such as Better than Bouillon brand mushroom stock. As for the homemade option, check out this recipe. A friend gave me a jar of this stuff and it made great stock!

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    2. Save vegetable peels and stalks (assuming you wash veggies before peeling and chopping) that you like in a ziplock bag or airtight container and keep it in the freezer. When you buy celery and have some leftover after the recipe (I always do) thaw the peels/stalks, add celery, onion, whole spices if you like (black pepper, bayleaf etc.). You can also add fresh ginger root and garlic cloves or add fresh herbs if any (add fresh herbs at the end) in a stock pot with enough water. Boil and strain. Your vegetable stock is ready.

      Use in soups, dals, rasams, to knead dough for roti/paratha, boil rice or while making pulaos/biryanis.

      - Priti

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  30. awesome post and lovely list Nupur!. I do make a lot of stuff homemade. It includes ghee, yogurt, spice mixes, molaga podi ( chutney podi/gun powder for dosa, idlis etc), sun-dried items like vodis ( vadis/sandige), theekha papad, snacks like chakklis, shankarpali, seedai/thattai, nankhatai, dates ladoo and all these are very simple. I also make string hoppers ( idiappam) at home. Working fulltime has never dampened by spirits to do all these at home just because my kids love to see the process and enjoy it when made and now they know what goes in it as they are all home made. It can not only be healthy but a great way to spend time with kids and food conversations are always very common and interesting in my house hold. The incentive is way too much to compromise, unless I am really tired that day or sick. Keep posting your lovely posts. Always a treat to visit your blog. - Vidya

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    1. Thanks Vidya! And you bring up a very good point- that making all sorts of food at home is a wonderful thing to do with kids. I've never made sandige and those sorts of dried-to-be-fried goodies at home but regularly get them as gifts from family members in India. How wonderful that you make string hoppers at home!

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  31. I make ghee whenever I need it. I heat little butter as needed. If I make ghee by the batch, I drink at least a 1/4 cup on the day I make it. So making ghee tsp by tsp helps me control the urge.
    The most cumbersome ghee process is from the In-laws. They buy fresh milk from the milkman(FIL supervises the milk extracting process to ensure no water is added!), make yogurt, make buttermilk, and you have to churn it for at least 40-50 minutes, get butter and then make ghee from that. Everyday, the 85-year old grandma makes the butter from buttermilk.
    They do not have yogurt at night to avoid getting cold but have buttermilk instead.

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    1. Yes, starting from fresh milk- that's how I have seen ghee made in my childhood too.

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  32. Hello Nupur,

    Enjoyed reading the list of "To make or Buy"
    Agree with your list!
    I think making Green chutney( for Chaats and Sandwich) at home is so much better than buying a jar.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Best,
    Sheela

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    1. Oh yes, I forgot to mention green chutney- that's super simple to make at home too. Although in the past I've bought a jar of very spicy green chili chutney and used it as a stand-in for chili paste in recipes.

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  33. As usual a delightful post.

    I make rotis. We cannot eat the packaged ones - they are rubbery an taste of preservatives.

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    1. Yup- I realize I am by far in the minority where rotis are concerned!

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  34. So interesting--I feel I know your kitchen well now!
    I have to confess that I *really* dislike ghee, on rice, on rotis--something about the mouth-feel creeps me out. But I'm with you in principle!

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    1. You know- the funny thing is that I only like my own homemade ghee- most of the ghee out there I can't stand!

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  35. Superb and interesting post as always!
    Things I make at home:-
    ghee,yogurt,dosa/idli batter, pesto, pizza/pasta sauce, green chutney, meethi chutney, coconut chutney, ginger/garlic/green chili paste,cake(sometimes without frosting), enchilada sauce, all kind of beans (refried and black benas), shrikhand from greek yogurt(really easy!), ladi pav for pavbhaji,dabeli and vadapav, roti and all kind of paratha, theplas etc.., poha chivada, cereal chivada, salad dressings

    Thing I buy:-
    paneer, chinese/thai condiments (sriracha sauce,schezwan sauce etc..),peanut butter, jam, granolabars, bread, burger patty from traderjoe's, hummus, tahini, ketchup

    Tips:-
    For any tomato based sauce, I have tomato puree ready in my freezer. I make big batch of it during peak season in summer and store in freezer ziplocak bags.

    Make big batch of pesto, coriander chutney in summer and store in ice cube tray.

    For meethi chutney.....I have one different type of recipe. I use applebutter+tamarind paste+salt+water....done!

    I have green and date chutney alwasy ready, so I can make any chaat kind of items easily!

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    1. Thanks for all the tips! You certainly have a busy happy kitchen!

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  36. Wow, loved this post of yours!!! It is really interesting...And you have tempted me to make granola bars!! Thanks for sharing...

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    1. Thanks :) Granola bars are fun and easy to make!

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  37. Hi Nupur,

    how is the little one. Been some time since I stopped by. Loved this post specially because of the decisions involved in making/buying your own stuff. I do make my own yogurt, ghee, jam, bread, rotis, cakes etc. sometimes i buy granola at sprouts if I dont feel there is too much sugar. I love making all sorts of savories at home for the festivals. I never bought them even when we lived in India. I make and buy my pickles! NEver thought about a write up like that...I guess it depends on whether the stuff you buy have harmful chemicals/ingredients, time available, cost involved etc. I wantd to make my own nutella byt the recipe calls for truffle oil. ...I am wodnering if I can substitue anything else...What do I do with a $15 bottle of truffle oil???
    Shobha

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    1. Hi Shobha- thanks for stopping by! About the nutella, I've seen lots of recipes and actually not a single one of them calls for truffle oil. Here are some links if you're interested:

      http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2011/02/homemade-nutella-recipe-chocolate-hazelnut-spread/

      http://bittersweetblog.com/2008/12/19/viva-la-vitamix/

      My major reason for not making nutella at home is that removing hazelnut skin is a total pain! But I've seen recipes that start with hazelnut butter, and use coconut oil for the fat, and raisins for sweetness- so I guess the recipes are totally adaptable.

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  38. Loved this post too. My list is pretty similar to yours. Love homemade ghee, yogurt and baked goods. Since we eat meat, I make chicken broth at home too. I'm lucky that I'm able to get chapatis from a lady here so, don't have to deal with that hassle. Makes meals super easy!
    I've never made icecream but regularly make popsicles by just pureeing different fruits. Got the molds from Ikea I think.
    I've also never made pickles.
    I bought a bread machine last year (zojirushi brand) and love the ease it offers. However it has been gathering dust since life got busy with our baby the last few months. Your post reminded me that I need to start using it again. I do however prefer oven baked bread to the one from the machine.

    -Anu

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    1. Love the idea of making popsicles from fruit purees- I'll have to remember this for summer. I'm not too keen on a bread machine- just no room in the kitchen for one more appliance!

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  39. Great post, Nupur, got to read that book. We don't make our own chapatis either - buy TJ's whole wheat tortialla or pita breads or just some corn tortialla for a change! The hassle of making chapatis is just too much for daily meals - it's reserved for lazy Sunday meals or for thepla/paratha nights.

    Most of our meals are unprocessed local ingredients; but yogurt, paneer and idli batter are all store bought for us - it's directly corelated to the mommy busy-ness :)

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    1. The book is a terrific read, PJ. Like you, I do make theplas and parathas every so often. And yes, one always have to balance how busy life gets vs. what you're able to make at home!

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  40. Such a great post Nupur. I also end up doing most of it... Make ghee buy paneer. I also make chapatis at home if someone is visiting otherwise we get store bought ones. Make parathas at home though. How is the food diary going? How is Lila doing?

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    1. Hi Mandira- The food diary is on hiatus while my parents are visiting- but I know I'll get back to it later. Lila is doing well, "outside" is her favorite word and she loves to climb on everything.

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  41. An awesome, informative post, Nupur. Especially for folks living abroad and do not know what to buy and make. We buy whole wheat Tortillas for bean wraps, egg wraps and they work just fine. Very handy on days when you don't want to move a muscle.

    I prefer making Ghee and buying Paneer, just for the ease. This spring I began making good old Limbu Sherbet at home. Sigh! the sweet joys of life. I also want to add Pesto to my make-at-home list.

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    1. Thanks! Pretty soon as the weather heats up, I'll start making lots of lemonade concentrate for entertaining. Pesto is super easy, same as making any chutney.

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  42. Hi Nupur, How've you been? I must compliment you for this lovely post. It is quite a write up!
    To remove the gummy label all you need to do is heat that portion a bit - like put on your stove & hold that portion above the flame gummy side up. The back portion when slightly heats up you will see that the gummy portion starts glistening a bit. Immediately wipe it off & rinse.
    Hope it helps! :)

    Visit me when time allows :)

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  43. wonderful post as usual!! and so true about the lines being miles apart for every individual.. I too have wondered at many of these 'convenience' items - hard boiled eggs and frozen pbj sandwiches being classic examples. for what its worth here is my list:
    ghee: Make all the way. I make my own butter (loni) and squirrel away some to accompany thalipeeth.. aah! so good!:)
    yogurt: after successfully making it at home for 5 plus years i have gone back to store bought because it JUST won't set. I have no idea why. not giving up though!
    idli/dosa batter: make. with you on the store bought stuff in indian stores being yucky and expensive. I could live on dosas so i want enough batter to last a couple meals at least:)
    rotis: make/buy. used to make for years, went to store bought after having my second baby - 'desi roti' brand - but not happy with it anymore. might go back to /make'
    bread: make. haven't bought bread more than a couple times in the past 3-4 years. loooove home made bread.
    beans: make
    spices: make and buy
    ginger garlic paste: N/A. i chop and freeze little cubes of ginger and garlic individually and use those. work beautifully.
    tamarind chutney - make
    pickles: make and buy but preferably 'import' from mom or MIL :)
    jam/peanut butter/etc.: buy
    pasta sauce: make and buy
    pasta and noodles : buy
    pesto: make and buy
    soup: make and buy. I love the tomato and tomato/corn soup at trader joes and they are wonderful standbys when i need something to round out a meal
    cookies: make and buy
    cake: birthdays only. make from scratch for home. buy for birthday parties: my cake tastes great but can't compete on the decoration front :)
    granola, oatmeal: buy. sometimes make
    hot chocolate: make of course!
    dips: make and buy
    thai curry paste: buy
    coconut milk: buy
    ice cream: make and buy.
    lemonade: make!!
    salty snacks: make and buy. i loooove deep fried stuff, thank god i don't do it often or i would weigh a ton!

    many more items that bear thinking about.. but certainly we are moving away from the 'convenience' foods. its a good feeling!
    thanks again for inspiring thought as usual!



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    1. Thanks Nisha! I know what you mean about the elaborate decorated birthday cakes you can buy but I have a special place in my heart for homemade birthday cakes, simple as they are.

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