I follow three simple rules in my kitchen: no packaging, nothing processed, no waste. I should add a fourth: no effort. I do love cooking but I also love easy. I understand that not everyone will want to bake their own bread (it tastes SO much better than store-bought though!) but the following foods take less time to make than to buy and schlep home from the store. And if you can find your ingredients in bulk, these money-saving homemade versions have little to no wasteful packaging.
1. Vanilla Extract
Pour 1 cup of vodka, bourbon, rum, brandy or single-malt whiskey over 3 split vanilla pods you’ve placed in a mason jar. Shake jar once a week or whenever you remember to. Wait two months or longer to use. You’ll find more details for vanilla extract here.
Homemade vanilla extract, day 1. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.
2. Bread Crumbs
You can make bread crumbs in several different ways. I cube stale bread, whir the cubes in my blender with a bit of salt and herbs and then toast the crumbs on a cookie sheet in the oven at 300°F for 5 to 10 minutes, until slightly browned.
3. Nut Butters
I grew up on Kraft Peanut Butter. I couldn’t find its ingredients online. I did, however, found the ingredients online for Jif Creamy Peanut Butter:
ROASTED PEANUTS AND SUGAR, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: MOLASSES, FULLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OILS (RAPESEED AND SOYBEAN), MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, SALT.
Please do not eat this.
Instead, buy some bulk nuts in a reusable cloth bag, toss them in a food processor with a bit of salt give it a whir. You could make peanut butter, almond butter or a combo like pecan–peanut butter.
If your grocery store has nut grinding machines and allows you to bring your own containers to fill with nut butter, you can buy it that way and save time cleaning up. Otherwise, homemade couldn’t be easier.
Not only do beans you cook yourself taste better than canned, you also cut your exposure to the BPA in the plastic that lines most cans. Scientists have linked BPA, a synthetic estrogen, to a variety of health problems, including breast cancer, reproductive damage, developmental problems and heart disease. I cook my beans in a pressure cooker (here’s how to use one). A slow cooker also works well.
Garbanzo beans cooked to perfection in a pressure cooker. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.
5. Chocolate Syrup
Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup contains:
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP; CORN SYRUP; WATER; COCOA*; SUGAR; CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE); SALT; MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES*; XANTHAN GUM; POLYSORBATE 60; VANILLIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR *adds a negligible amount of fat
Good to know that it adds only a negligible amount of fat because I wouldn’t want to consume anything controversial (I eat fat.)
If the food-like ingredients in this syrup aren’t themselves bad enough, the plastic packaging may leach estrogenic chemicals into them. And that plastic packaging never breaks down. Ever.
You can make chocolate syrup very easily. Combine 1/4 cup cocoa with 1/2 cup water in a saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until the cocoa dissolves. Add 3/4 cup sugar and pinch of salt and whisk until dissolved. Bring to a boil. Boil for three minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from heat. Add 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Read more here.
6. Sour Cream
This wins the easiest-recipe-to-make-in-this-post prize. Combine 1 tablespoon cultured buttermilk with 1 cup half & half (~12% milk fat), let sit covered at room temperature for 24 hours and refrigerate. It will thicken up in the refrigerator. I’m lucky I can buy dairy in returnable glass bottles. You must use cultured buttermilk for this to work, not merely flavored buttermilk. Go here for four more homemade 2-ingredient dairy staples.
Okay, unless you’re a teetotaler, you probably will buy alcohol again but do you realize how easily you can make it? To make mead—honey wine—you combine raw honey and water, stir and wait. The good bacteria and yeast in the raw honey will ferment your concoction. Find a more detailed recipe here.
Ready-to-drink mead (left) and a new batch brewing (right). Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.