I love the title of this post because it sounds like those fear-mongering, unsolicited internet advertisements, like, “3 Foods that are Making You have Cancer right now… You’ll never guess what number 2 is!!!”
Despite my pedantic writing style, I really hate pretension, and I don’t want to make people feel bad about enjoying their favourite foods.
Following is a list of ingredients, prepared foods, and drinks that I think no one should ever buy. Like ever. Not because they’re bad for you, but because paying money for these items makes you a sucker, both financially and spiritually. You can make the following foodstuffs from scratch for a fraction of the cost in no time at all, and your homemade version is guaranteed to be at least as good as the store-bought. Probably better.
Breadcrumbs. Purchasing breadcrumbs is the single most insane act someone can perform with regards to home cooking. Breadcrumbs used to be one of the cheapest, most humble, ubiquitous ingredients in western kitchens. It is now sold in bags at the supermarket. For the record Shake and Bake is seasoned breadcrumbs.
You’ve eaten every crumb of every loaf of bread you’ve every bought? I doubt it.
Almost any loaf of bread will make good crumbs. Some of the really dense, artisan loaves may be too hard to process. Leave the bread uncovered on a sheet pan. Don’t stack the pieces of bread or they might mould. Leave until the bread is completely hard throughout, maybe a week, depending on the type of bread and the size of the pieces. Crumble the bread into a food processor and blitz till smooth. I feel slightly ridiculous typing these instructions out, but they sell breadcrumbs in the grocery store, so some people must not know how to make them.
The main reason people don’t make their own isn’t because they don’t know how, it’s because they don’t have daily uses for them. They wait until they are taking on a recipe that calls for breadcrumbs (like this meatball recipe…), then realize they don’t have any, then rush out to pay $5 for 200 g of crumb.
The truth is that breadcrumb is an extremely versatile ingredient. Its supreme purpose is as a coating for fried items like schnitzel and fish sticks (yes, fish sticks). You can treat it like pure starch. It does contain gluten, but you can add it to mixtures without making the texture gluey. They are especially useful when making fillings for perogies and stuffed pasta like ravioli, tortellini and the like. If your filling is just a touch too loose the breadcrumb will stiffen it perfectly.
They are also an important part of traditional Austrian strudel.
And they need not hide deep within the filling of a perogy. Pan-fried in butter they can make a shockingly delicious and beautiful garnish, especially for textural contrast on steamed dumplings. Or ice cream.
Croutons. Basically the same argument as for bread crumbs: you probably already have the ingredients to make croutons, and it takes about 10 minutes start to finish. You take stale bread, cut it into cubes, then toss them with oil, salt, pepper, chopped herbs, and garlic. You spread them out on a sheet pan and bake them until they are golden brown, stirring occasionally. You can bake them hard throughout like the ones in the store, or if your bread is fresh enough you can get a good crust on the outside and leave some chew within. No matter how bad a cook you are, there is no conceivable way that your homemade croutons will be as disappointing as the ones from the grocery store.
Garlic Bread. Garlic bread is like a big crouton that you don’t bake hard all the way through. Instead of buying those soggy, foil-wrapped loaves, invest in a loaf of bread and a head of fresh garlic.
Granola. Okay we’re getting a little more complicated here, but still anyone can make granola, and it only takes 20 minutes. “But I don’t have a recipe!” Now you do.
Waffle/Pancake Mix. You can buy a mix that lets you make waffles and pancakes, or you can buy a handful of ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, baking powder, yeast) that let you make any baked good ever invented.
Any kind of Pre-Cut Vegetable. This includes but is not limited to those plastic bags of tri-coloured slaw made of green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot. I think the single biggest obstacle to cooking at home is that most people don’t have sharp knives in their kitchen. Using dull knives makes simple prep work daunting. Maintain a sharp knife, use a large cutting board properly anchored to your kitchen counter with wet cloth, and become a kitchen ninja with mad knife skills.
Frozen Hamburgers. A really good hamburger is just ground beef with salt and pepper. In other words instead of buying fresh ground beef and shaping it into a patty you are buying frozen beef that has been shaped for you. You are spending more money to save yourself 10 minutes and end up eating a worse product. Everything you need to know about hamburgers.
Salad Dressing. I’ve already made the case for homemade dressings here. A brief synopsis of that post: you almost certainly already have all the ingredients you need to make a delicious vinaigrette, you can make enough for a month in less than 90 seconds, and your homemade dressing won’t have sodium EDTA in it.
Mayonnaise. The reason we don’t make mayo at home anymore is because 1) people are paranoid that raw eggs will give them salmonella, and 2) people think mayonnaise is difficult to make. As to the first point, it’s true that youngsters, expectant mothers, and the elderly probably shouldn’t eat raw eggs on the off chance that they contract salmonella, but most healthy people are fine to eat raw eggs. I have made mayonnaise dozens of times at home with raw eggs without incident. As to the second point, mayo is definitely the trickiest thing to make on this list, but once you get the hang of it, you can make great mayo in mere minutes.
Iced Tea. It’s crazy that a homeowner with black tea and white sugar in his pantry would go out and buy powdered iced tea, or cans of iced tea. Making iced tea is a simple as brewing a pot of tea then forgetting to drink it.
For me, iced tea needs to be sweet, so I add sugar while the tea is hot. And it benefits from a bit of acidity to balance it out. Lemon is traditional, but I like using rhubarb.
This recipe for rhubarb iced tea takes less than 15 minutes to make, but then of course it must cool, so it requires some foresight. If you’re hosting a barbecue tomorrow, or you look at the weather forecast and see that it’s going to be 30°C every day next week, brew a big batch of this.
So that’s my rant. Anything you would add to this list?