I've been posting on One Hot Stove for about 16 years now. Yep, I've been blogging here practically since dinosaurs roamed the planet. I thought it might be fun to revisit some of my favorite posts from yesteryears.
Today I am revisiting "Make the Ghee, Buy the Paneer" from March 2013. I started that post saying, "Once in a while, there comes along a book that is downright entertaining." Well, once in a while, there comes along a blog post that is downright entertaining to write, and this was one of those.
The post centers around the question that every home cook has surely considered. In a world where anything and everything (and many things I could never have dreamed up) can be purchased in a store, should I buy or make any particular food or ingredient? In that post, I listed out things that I buy and things I make, and why. There are 99 comments on the post, counting both reader comments and my responses. Several readers chimed in with their own lists of things that they prefer to make or buy.
In the post, I predicted, "This list has evolved since I started to cook, and will further change as I go along, I'm sure of it." What has changed for me in these 8 years? I still make all of the things that I used to make back then. But there is no denying that my life has gotten busier since that time.
It is said- Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick Two. Meaning, there are always three competing values of time, money and quality and there are compromises and trade-offs to be made. And truly, life in a nuclear family with two working parents and two young kids (not to mention a needy dog) does not lend itself to an abundance of free time. This past year has been particularly time-strapped as we are try to be playmates and companions to our kids on top of everything else. And so I prioritize getting a hot dinner on the table every evening, and make the extras that give the biggest bang for the buck (or the minute), using convenience foods to fill the gaps.
After I wrote that post, my dear friend Cathy gave me a cookbook that is written in a very similar vein, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila. This is a beautifully designed book and fun to read. When Chernila addresses the "why" of making foods at home in the introduction, she mentions, "Food made at home will change the way you think about food" and this is such a true and thoughtful statement. Making things at home does make you understand where food comes from and what goes into making it, at a time when we as a society seem to be consuming food products rather than eating food.
Chernila's book is organized by supermarket aisle, and she provides a few homemade recipes for each aisle. Each recipe comes with a charming story or note, making this book more of a loose cookbook-memoir. I decided to take a tour of the supermarket with her and add my own notes.
Aisle 1: Dairy- Chernila gives recipes for making butter, buttermilk, yogurt and some cheeses like ricotta and mozzarella.
I make- yogurt and ghee. I generally sub yogurt in recipes that call for buttermilk or sour cream.
I buy- whole milk for the kids, non-dairy milk for the grown-ups, some cheeses as needed- cream cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, cheddar, paneer.
Aisle 2: Cereal and snacks- The book offers recipes for granola, instant oatmeal, popcorn, cereal and granola bars, toaster pastries, potato chips, etc.
I make- granola in large batches. My daily breakfast consists of steel-cut oats which also I make from scratch in batches in the instant pot every 4 days or so. I make snacks like cornflakes chivda, popcorn from kernels and mixed roasted nuts every now and then.
I buy- some cold cereal to have on hand for the kids (I try to read labels and buy ones that are low sugar and high fiber that the kids will still eat.) I buy tortilla chips which we like as a topping for soups and bowls. And potato chips and other snacks are an occasional indulgence.
I'd like to make- granola bars more often for the kids.
Aisle 3: Canned fruits, vegetables and beans- applesauce, jam, pickles, sauerkraut, cranberry sauce, canning tomatoes and beans.
I make- beans and lentils on a daily basis; cranberry sauce during the holidays.
I buy- cans of beans for last minute meals, Indian pickles and American pickles, cans of crushed tomatoes.
I'd like to make- refrigerator pickles. Quick pickled onions, for instance, are a lovely addition to many meals.
Aisle 4: Condiments, spices and spreads- The book has recipes for ketchup, mustard, salsa, hot sauce, salad dressings, mayo, hummus, nut butter and a few spice mixes.
I make- salad dressings, some spice mixes like cumin-coriander powder, salsa, hummus, peanut chutney (podi).
I buy- hot sauce, nut butter, peanut butter, mayo, ketchup, mustard, some spice mixes.
I'd like to make- dips more regularly to always have on hand to accompany raw veggie sticks.
Aisle 5: Soups- Chernila gives recipes for stock, lentil soup, pureed soups etc.
I make- all kinds of lentil and vegetable soups.
I buy- jars of stock concentrate.
Aisle 6: Baking needs and mixes- The book has recipes for pancakes, waffles, cornbread, yellow cake, frosting, pudding, vanilla extract, etc.
I make- pancakes and waffles, cornbread, cakes, frosting, cornstarch-based vanilla and chocolate puddings.
I buy- a buttermilk protein pancake mix that my husband likes to use to make the kids pancakes on the weekends.
I have made my own vanilla extract once, years ago, by infusing vanilla beans that my boss brought back for me from Zanzibar. Except for that glorious exception, I buy vanilla extract. For the holidays, I treated myself to a big jar of vanilla paste (with the seeds in).
I'd like to make- pancake mix.
Aisle 7: Frozen foods- Chernila describes how to freeze vegetables, and gives recipes for pizza, veggie burgers, fish sticks, chicken nuggets and ice cream.
I make- extra portions of meals to freeze for later, ice cream and popsicles in summer.
I buy- frozen saag paneer boxes as emergency lunches, frozen peas, green beans, spinach, corn; some meatless frozen stuff like meatballs and nuggets.
I'd like to make- more meals to freeze and stash away.
Aisle 8: Pasta and sauce- The book has recipes for pasta dough, tomato sauce, pesto, mac and cheese and lasagna.
I make- lasagna, mac and cheese, marinara sauce, enchilada sauce from dried chiles.
I buy- pesto outside of summer, bottles of pasta sauce for last minute dinners, dried pasta.
I'd like to make- gnocchi.
Aisle 9: Breads and crackers- Chernila offers recipes for burger buns, sandwich bread, tortillas, breadsticks, crackers, etc.
I make- I rarely get around to making bread on a regular basis. It is an occasional project.
I buy- sprouted grain bread, rolls for the kids, wheat tortillas, corn tortillas.
I'd like to make- bread more regularly!
Readers were most surprised/irked at my lack of roti-making skills in that post. For many Indian families, rotis (wheat flatbreads) are a number one staple and I did grow up eating them on a daily basis. But in my family here, we don't eat rotis on a regular basis- Indian vegetable dishes and curries in my home tend to be served with rice, or other grains, or just as a stew (think misal with toppings) or with dosa/adai.
Aisle 10: Drinks- The book has recipes for lemonade, chai, herbal tea mixes, soda syrups, hot chocolate and liqueurs.
I make- Chai, iced coffee (instant coffee frappes) in summer, hot chocolate in winter, smoothies, and the kids like to make lemonade and limeade on their own. My husband buys locally roasted coffee beans and grinds and brews his own coffee.
I buy- loose leaf tea, herbal tea bags, instant coffee.
I'd like to make- hibiscus tea.
Aisle 11: Candy and sweet treats- Chernila gives make-at-home recipes for supermarket favorites like Oreo cookies, Fig newtons, Twinkies, peanut butter cups and marshmallows.
I make- date and nut treats; cookies occasionally, including almond biscotti, jam thumbprint cookies, cardamom shortbread.
I buy- pound bars of dark chocolate; cookies on occasion.
Your turn: Tell me what you buy versus what you make!