“Americans must have been sadly alienated from the kitchen for pancake mixes to ever have gained a foothold in the market, for these are ridiculously easy to make.”
- -Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything
Have you ever noticed how everything we eat tends to come packaged these days? All that inedible extra stuff sure makes things look more appealing, but we end up paying more for it, too. Here are four common foods that are will cost you a lot less to make at home, will probably be healthier, and might even be easier, too!
Pancake mix: I used to be a sucker for gourmet pancake mixes but now know that pancakes are simple to make with ingredients I probably already have in my cupboard. Here’s a simple recipe from the cookbook above:
Makes 4-6 servings
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 T sugar
1 or 2 eggs (optional)
1 1/2 to 2 C milk
2 T melted and cooled butter (optional) or oil
Mix dry ingredients together, then add wet ingredients, just as you would with a pancake mix you bought at the store. I actually simplify this recipe a lot by not using eggs, and I add in some water as well (because hubby likes his pancakes on the thin side). You can use your imagination and add in other flavors like blueberries pretty easily too!
Popcorn: Instead of buying that microwaveable stuff, you can get a whole bag of popcorn kernels — even the gourmet kind — for $3 or less. Put in 1T of canola or other neutral oil for every 1/4 C of popping corn (that’s about 2-3 servings) in a deep pot with a lid and pop over medium heat. On a gas stove, this takes no more than 2 minutes to pop, or the same time as the microwave popcorn (not to mention it’s healthier). You can season with onion or garlic powder for flavor, salt, or even real butter, too.
Oatmeal: A large can of Quaker oatmeal, or even steel cut oats, will last you far longer than the instant stuff. Just add in water, milk sugar, (or salt), depending on what kind of oatmeal you’re looking to make, and adjust the proportion of water or milk depending on how thick you like it. Cinnamon, maple syrup, honey, raisins — all of these can also be added to give some extra flavor.
French fries: A while ago, I found a coupon to try a new Ore Ida product for free, an individually-sized microwaveable french fry box that was supposed to make the fries come out crunchy after just a minute of nuking. What surprised me was the amount of space-age packaging that was required just to cook 12 fries in the microwave. It turns out fresh french fries aren’t so hard to make. This recipe makes them come out tasting like In-n-Out’s fries, if you like those:
4-6 large russet potatoes, peeled (optional)
Cut potatoes to french-fry size (however you like them), and soak them in ice water while the oil heats. Heat enough oil over medium-high heat (to about 375 degrees F). Drain the potatoes and dry well. Drop them a handful at a time into the oil. Remove them and drain on paper towels. At this point, the fries will be soggy and pale. Before you’re ready to serve them, fry them a second time and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re brown and crisp. Turn out on paper towels again and season and serve immediately.
I’m sure there are plenty of other foods that we take for granted that we have to buy prepackaged at the grocery store. The truth is that I didn’t realize pancakes were so easy to make until the day came that I wanted to make pancakes and didn’t feel like driving all the way to Safeway to buy a $4 mix. Lucky for me, my cookbook (which has been a great reference, by the way) had a simple recipe that, along with the quote above, got me started on noticing all the other stuff that I could make easily at home!