Cooking With Confidence
homemadestuff
Musings

Is Homemade Important?

by Nick

I was having a conversation with a good friend over the weekend about homemade pasta. Specifically my friend was given a pasta maker which he claimed to have absolutely no use for.

As you might guess, my answer was, “Dude. You could make pasta with it.”

To which he replied, “Yea. No thanks. You do know that you can buy pasta for about a buck a box right?”

We continued to make fun of each other’s intelligence for five or ten minutes and never really got anywhere. I would use the pasta maker, but I already have two. He’ll never use it no matter how much convincing I try to smack across his brain.

After I left, it got me thinking if maybe I’ve gone off the deep end on the homemade front. Is it possible to be too homemade?

Is there any real value in knowing how to do this stuff on your own?

The Homemade Slippery Slope

As with most hobbies or skills, cooking is a slippery slope. Learning how to make something usually leads you to want to learn how to make something else.

Before you know it, you’re not just making homemade hamburgers, but also making hamburger buns, homemade ketchup and homemade mustard.

It’s not far after this that your friends start calling you strange names behind your back! But they always want to come over for dinner.

At some point, as someone who is always thinking if I can make things rather than buy them, I have to ask myself if I’ve slid down the slope… and off the cliff!

A Confession

It’s really important, I think, for people to know that while I post a ton of homemade things, not everything I eat is homemade. I eat boxed pasta. I buy loaves of bread.

I eat ice cream that I don’t make.

Of course, I know how to make all of these things, but I don’t always do it. I like that I know how to make them and I actually enjoy making most of them, but I also enjoy doing things other than cooking, so I try to find a balance.

I mention this because I think people sometimes get the impression that I do make everything from scratch. And that’s just not true. Even if I didn’t have a job, a blog, and other hobbies, I still can’t imagine that I would make everything from scratch every day.

The Close Calls

I have a big list of close calls that I sometimes make from scratch and sometimes buy. It just depends on how much time and energy I have. These are things that are usually very time intensive and over the years I’ve found that while I like my homemade version better in most cases, the small gain in taste isn’t always worth it.

These are some of the close calls that I will make or buy on any given day.

Homemade Pasta – I think homemade pasta is substantially better than box pasta actually, but Betsy and I eat a ton of pasta and I use it as my quick meal. Making it from scratch every time would make it a not-quick meal. When it’s a special occasion though, homemade pasta is one of my favorite things to make.

Donuts - Nothing beats a warm homemade donut, but a good bakery donut comes pretty close. Again, something that I’ll make or buy just depending on the situation.

Buns and Such - A lot of times I won’t make things like hamburger buns because they take a solid day although most of the time is idle time. If we’re hosting an impromptu cook out, it’s a timing issue.

Hopefully that gives you a feel for the kinds of things that I just don’t have time to always make from scratch.

The Sure Fires

That said, there are some things that I always make from scratch no matter what. For example:

Whipped Cream - I can make homemade whipped cream in under 60 seconds. I’ve never found a store bought version that comes even close. In my mind there’s no reason to not make this from scratch.

Spaghetti Sauce - As proven in the homemade trials post a few weeks ago, store bought spaghetti sauce doesn’t really save you much time or money and loses out big time when it comes to taste. The only spaghetti sauce I’ve bought in years was the jars I bought for this post.

Pie Crust - This is a borderline one, but I just can’t find a store bought crust that’s close to homemade. If I’m going to make a pie, I want it to be the best pie possible. I usually have plenty of warning that I’m going to be making a pie and so I almost always make my crust.

Cakes, Cupcakes, Muffins, Scones - Anything with a simple batter I make from scratch. For one, the box mixes are never that great and have tons of weird stuff in them. Secondly, mixing it up from scratch takes maybe an extra minute.

The Equilibrium

It’s hard to specify exactly, but over the years I’ve obviously established an equilibrium. There are things that I’ve never made from scratch (working on croissants still), things I always make from scratch, and a lot of things that are in between.

I imagine that this equilibrium is completely different for everyone. Some people might think I’m crazy for always making my own pie crust. Some people might think I’m crazy for NOT always making my hamburger buns.

Finding Your Equilibrium

At the end of the day, I think cooking things from scratch is important because it helps you find your equilibrium. You might make donuts for the first time and decide that there’s just no way you’ll ever eat another donut unless you make it (Also known as The Homemade Diet).

But you’ll never find your equilibrium if you don’t try to cook a few things from scratch.

I think knowing this equilibrium is really important because it helps you maximize your meals. Once you find it, you’ll know how to extract maximum nutrition and flavor from your meals, while saving time on the stuff that maybe isn’t as worth it to you.

Besides all of this, it should be noted that if there’s a Zombie Apocalypse you’re going to want to know how to make stuff from scratch. So you might as well learn, just in case.

Where’s Your Line?

What are the things that you always (or never) make from scratch? What are the things that you’ve seen me make from scratch and think that I must be certifiably crazy? What do you want to try to make from scratch?

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35 comments on “Is Homemade Important?

  1. I make probably 3/4 of the bread I eat at this point, and all the breakfast baked goods (poundcake is a breakfast thing, right??), but supposing I ever get employed like a proper person, there are some things I can't see myself making as much. Yesterday, for instance, I made apple sourdough. Even after 8 days of developing the apple starter, it was still another 2 day process, and with all the awkward rising times I ended up having to wake up at 6, prep the bread for its final rise, and go back to bed. Not really a pre-work activity!
    I like to eat homemade because it seems healthier (sometimes) and just…more worthwhile, but I've got non-classy enough tastes I think the microwaved chicken parm from the freezer section is just as swell as homemade.

      1. To avoid the weird timing… just put it in the fridge and work on it when you have time — about an hour out from the fridge and you're ready to use it like normal again. Might save you a little headache :)

  2. I love this post! I often find myself walking that same line; homemade pasta vs boxed pasta especially. Since I went back to school we've been on a pretty strict budget, so we cook even more at home than we did before; in most cases it's cheaper for me to make something than it is to buy it. I try to make most of the bread we eat and I think I succeed about 95% of the time, (but like you, impromptu cookouts mean store-bought buns) but bread is important to me because it's cheaper and it tastes better. I have made my own yogurt, but that's one thing that it's easier for me to buy, and it's no less expensive. I also try to consider my own time when I'm deciding if it will be cheaper for me to buy or make any given item, and if something is right on the border money-wise but will take me six hours, that's usually one of the things I make once to try and then go back to buying!
    My recent post Roasted Lamb Sausage with Grapes

  3. This post resonates with me in a big way!! Only homemade: pies, cakes, cookies, biscuits, pancakes and waffles. Also, pierogi (once a year), cinnamon rolls, (recently) beans – why did I ever buy canned??? Also, baking powder – try it! My daughter says she expects me to make air from scratch next!!!

  4. I have to say that homemade pasta is dangerous, precisely because it's so much better than any boxed pasta product. Once you have a taste for homemade, you'll find it very difficult to go back to that boxed stuff that tastes like it's made from a mixture of white bread and saw dust.

  5. I'm adding frosting to your cakes/muffins point — I made a birthday cake over the weekend and the buttercream and ganache I needed took maybe 10 minutes total (not counting cool-down for the ganache). Sure, I'm eating 4 sticks of butter and a pound of sugar…but at least there aren't any weird preservatives and colorings in there, right?

  6. I guess I should consider myself lucky to be on a diet, otherwise this fresh vs. boxed pasta would demand I do a side-by-side comparison myself. As a general rule, I attempt to eat fresh whenever possible. This means that I avoid most convenience foods. I don't eat in fast-food restaurants, and I have greatly scaled back my visits to sit-down restaurants, too. I have precious few cans and boxed goods in my pantry. However, I do depend on canned goods for things you just can't get fresh: water chestnuts spring to mind. I use canned tomatoes with wanton abandon in my "homemade" sauces. I don't make all my bread (again because of my diet), but I do enjoy making special occasion bread. When going to someone's house for a pot luck, I'd never dream of getting something already prepared. Bags of chips and store brand potato salad are for college kids. I have made cakes from scratch, but depending on the time, I will go with boxed. As for you, the only thing I questioned either of our intelligences about was the beef burgandy. That sauce took for-ev-ah, but dang….it sure was good. But for anyone who just has a general interest and curiosity about food, I don't think it is unusual to wonder, "Can I make this better myself?" And then to actually find out.

    In fact, I think that's a pretty good standard by which to live your life. Whether it's your clothes, your kid's toys, or anything else. Some things are better just by virtue of being homemade. Christmas ornaments, for instance. In the end, how we choose to spend our time is a personal choice. And those choices define our lives. I'm completely alright with being the chick who spends a lot of time in the kitchen experimenting.
    My recent post How The Pioneer Woman lost her groove

  7. We buy all of our sandwich bread. I've considered trying to make it all myself, but honestly, I don't consistently have the time to devote to it. I know that I could do the no-knead bread, but if things get busy, it might be a few days before I can get to it and it would just sit in my fridge in the meantime.

    I can't say that there's much of anything that absolutely must be homemade instead of storebought….well, I suppose pumpkin pie, since the storebought version never seems to have any sort of flavor. It all depends on how much time I have to dedicate and what I have on hand since I live 30 miles (one way) from my grocery store and can't just make a quick run down the street to get ingredients.

    One thing that I've never been satisfied with when it's homemade? Stuffing. Give me the boxed stuff any day over that horrible stuff that people concoct in their own kitchen. I'd rather just pick the onions and celery out than eat whatever all people put in their soggy/slimy stuffing.
    My recent post Quick Update

  8. I just made my first whole wheat pizza crust from scratch, and even though it took sooo much longer than our usual frozen pizza (aka Old Faithful), it really does taste so much better. Although I suspect there's a part of our brain programmed to think everything tastes better when you put more work into it…
    My recent post Sausage and Pepper Penne with Basil

  9. Fear of a zombie apocalypse is what put me on the track to homemade goodness in the first place! That and my lack of counter space also convinced me not to get a microwave or a mixer–how would using these help when electricity is but a distant memory? Time, however, does play a large role in my equilibrium calculation.

  10. I have to find a balance between the two for a totally different reason. My husband thinks store bought is the ultimate goal, therefore store bought is better than home made. Some how home made, in his opinion, is lesser quality. So what is that saying about my cooking? hmmmm….have to ponder that one. I would make everything home made, and do make as much as possible, regardless of his opinion!!

  11. Some things I always make from scratch are spaghetti sauce, hummus, pizza dough, muffins, pancakes/waffles and marinades. Some people think it's weird when you can easily go to the store or use a box mix, but I love cooking and making things from scratch. It's fun, plus it nearly always tastes better!

  12. There are things I always make from scratch – pasta sauce, pizza, Hot Cross Buns, quiches, burger etc. But there are other things I have done before, but like you, due to time, it isn't always possible and have to buy. Your right – you need to strike a balance.
    My recent post Do you remember me

  13. This is a great post! I'm always battling myself on this topic bc there are things I feel I should be able to make at home but am too lazy/tired/crunched for time. Like mac & cheese. I resort to the boxed stuff too often, and I feel a bit ashamed while pouring that orange powder, thinking "I totally could've made this from scratch with REAL cheese!" Maybe one day I'll at least kick that habit.

    I also love baked goods, and even though I bake at home, I still enjoy going to local bakeries and tasting their versions of cookies and cakes. But I refuse to buy boxed mixes from the grocery store. For some reason I'm happy to take the time to make brownies from scratch but mac&cheese still eludes me!

  14. Microwave popcorn – I always make my own in a paper lunch bag with some olive oil. It's SO much better than the store-bought stuff!

  15. Great post, Nick. I always appreciate your realistic approach to eating better. We make most of our own sandwich bread because the quality is so amazing and it fills you up much better. Homemade pizza is pretty common. Maybe the biggest thing we make from scratch is your 'bar bars' that have become my morning staple. I do manual labor for a living and those sustain me better than any store brand.

  16. At the moment, I can't think of anything that I ALWAYS make – I make most of our bread, cakes, cookies, most of our salad dressings, most of my stocks and soups. I make some of almost everything. I'm always trying new recipes, rarely (but not never) use packaged stuff. Like another poster, I wouldn't dream of bringing pre-made food to any kind of gathering – everyone I know would faint at the very idea.

  17. I believe no place like home, or homemade. I learned my cooking basics or attempted to from my husband’s grandmother who did not own a measuring cup/spoon or cookbook. Her repertoire was limited, but I never saw a personwho could dice, make streudel, halupki or pierogie like her. I wish I had the opportunity to learn more from her and I think it is a shame that most of these skills are not passed down anymore. Unfortunately, many of these skills require time and when people work fulltime outside the home, time is limited. That said, the more I learn about our food system, the less food I can eat from a chain grocery store.

  18. For me, it's really the challenge of making something myself. I love it when I hold up a hunk of homemade cheese or that sloppily-cut-but-very-tasty homemade pasta. Some things I'll never make again – usually because it's more expensive to make it from scratch. Cakes/cookies/muffins/frosting (except for Oreos) are something we exclusively make at home. My son's food allergies put most convenience foods off limits for us …. especially the cake mixes and frostings. I love seeing all the things you make from scratch, Nick. It usually gives me a little kick in the pants to try it myself! :D

  19. Nick, this post is what life is all about — priorities and tradeoffs. Yesterday, I was at work 6am-4pm; came home to tutor from 4:30pm-5:30pm. And I still opted to make homemade fajitas (storebought tortillas, though!) and made a ham stock from the Easter ham-bone I confiscated from my parents. Tomorrow, I'm making a homemade casserole…but I'm using a can of cream of celery soup as a base. I won't have time to make my own bread.
    What I'd give to have my own restaurant — I'd be more than happy to prep food for 6 hours a day, and then cook for another 6 hours. But in the meantime, we all have to balance the hours in our day.

  20. I think we make the majority of our food homemade. I have fructose malabsorption which necessitated some of the homemade since sugar and HFCS are in so much. I make all desserts unless there is something when we're out I really want to try. Growing up we always made mashed potatoes (I didn't know there were boxes until late in high school), but conversely made cakes, brownies, pancakes, mac and cheese, etc from a box. I still buy boxed pasta – though I think now I'm going to try to make some on my own next week. I think pancakes and brownies to me have really been a revelation – they are so simple and so good (you should do a trial on these). I buy tortillas too – I made them at home once and the flavor was incredible, but I couldn't get them flat or thin enough.

  21. Another excellent and thought provoking blog! Since moving to Europe two years ago, I make nearly everything homemade except pasta, bread and bolognese sauce. It's considered 'odd' here to buy bread that has preservatives in it. I typically buy it at the bakery or get it from the bread vending machine on my street. There are not as many convenience food items here-no Hamburger Helper (thank god), no Cheddar Broccoli and Rice, no Lipton Secrets mixes and not as many frozen foods. I do not think TV dinners even exist over here. The advantages are clearly lower amounts of preservatives and god-knows-what being digested. The advantage nowadays with the Internet is if I don't like a version of a particular dish but can't quite put my finger on what needs to be added/omitted, I can keep searching. For instance, I really don't like homemade mac & cheese that has flour. A few minutes on the Internet and I found an awesome recipe that does not have flour.

    As some readers have pointed out, homemade is the way to go. I am not a health nut by any means, but I figure making homemade meals is just one giant step to prevent ingesting of completely unnecessary 'food' items. Try doing completely homemade for a month and go back to all the quick versions of those same meals. How do you feel? I have my husband pick up some things when he is in the US on business…and after eating some things that normally did not affect me, they now give me a minor stomach ache. Ugh.

    Anyway, great post :D

  22. Just to set the record straight, it was me who smacked convincing across your brain, not the other way around.

    But about the issue you raise: to me, the gift of the pasta maker was like giving me a flour mill or a build-it-yourself groundwater well kit. I don't have unlimited time, so I'm not going to go and pump my own water out of the ground or make my own flour. I'm not going to make pasta either. That said, I do make all the same things you said you make–tomato sauce, etc.–because I can customize the flavor and make them much healthier than their store-bought counterparts. (I would put ice cream in this category as well.)

  23. I love this entry! I think my big turning point was when I made my own black bean burgers. As a vegetarian, I spent many years buying boca and other various veggie burgers. Then I decided to give your recipe for homemade black bean burgers a try! They are so much tastier and cheaper. I can't imagine paying 5 bucks for a pack of 4 frozen veggie burgers again. If I make them myself, that same 5 bucks will make about 20 of them.

    There are a lot of things I'd love to make myself, but it just doesn't work out in my tiny apartment kitchen. I have about 18 inches of counter space. I can't wait to move!

  24. Awesome post!
    Things I always make from scratch – marshmallows (only eat them 2x a year), cookies, salad dressing, soup.
    Things I usually make from scratch – bread, chocolates
    Things I always buy? hmmm. hard one to narrow down – I'm continually surprised that hey – I can make that? Like sprinkles is the latest one. But if you can buy it, you can prolly make it!
    My recent post Yeastspotting- Basic Bread

  25. Great Post, right on! I constantly have to work on the balance that is right for my family.
    Recently I had to make a strawberry cupcakes for a science experiment for my daughter's Kindergarten class. Because they weren't to be frosted or really enjoyed I bought a box mix. My daughter got home from school, saw the box on the kitchen counter and said (shaking the box), "Mom, they make cake in a box?? Look, there is cake in this box!! Wait, this doesn't feel like cake… Is there cake in this box?" I was secretly happy that she never knew that there was such a thing as cake mixes, and we eat a lot of cake!
    Funny, though, she thinks pie dough comes out of the freezer, so I guess you pick your battles!

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