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Ten Easy DIY Foods

by Nick

Over the years, I’ve made a lot of different foods from scratch that you can also easily buy in the stores.

That’s not to say that I make these foods from scratch every time I cook with them, but I’m at least aware that they can be made from scratch.

In almost every case, the homemade versions are cheaper and taste better, but you sacrifice time to get them done.

Sometimes that’s not a trade-off that I want to make.

BUT there are some foods that are just so plain simple to make at home that I find myself making them almost 100% of the time.

Once you get the  hang of making these ten things at home, you’ll wonder how food manufacturers stay in business.

Muffin Mix

Boxed muffin mix is so freakin’ popular and I just don’t get it.  Basically, they take flour and mix it with baking soda and sugar, re-box it, mark up the price by 400% and sell it to you.  You still have to add liquids and eggs to the mix to make muffins!

Check out the muffin section of Macheesmo for some ideas on making your own mixes.  It really isn’t that hard and you don’t save much time by using the box mixes.

Pancake Mix

Just like muffin mix, these mixes are basically just re-boxed flour with some leavening agent.  They don’t really save you much time, believe it or not.

If you want a really quick homemade pancake mix, try out these greek yogurt pancakes.  It doesn’t get much easier and they are wonderful.

Brownie Mix

Notice a trend?  Again, these mixes are mostly flour and you still have to add-in some ingredients.

This is something you can easily do at home with just a few pantry staples and the results will be far superior to the boxed stuff which has tons of strange add-ins.

Guacamole

There are a few different kinds of store-bought guacamole – some in jars, some frozen, and some powdered.  None of them are great.  The only time I’d recommend using them is if you have a serious hankering for guacamole and can’t find any ripe avocados.

If you can find ripe avocados, then just mash them with some shallot, lime juice, salt, and maybe a couple of spoonfuls of salsa for a quick and easy at-home guacamole.

In my house, we make and eat a lot of guacamole!

Salad Dressing

This might not be true for ALL salad dressings, but most of the store-bought versions are just cheap oil and high fructose corn syrup.  So you can almost always do better at home.

Use a leftover mustard jar and mark it off with a Sharpie pen with the levels for your favorite vinaigrette.  Then you can remake the dressing in seconds when needed.

To this day, Betsy and I use this tarragon vinaigrette on a weekly basis.

Popcorn

This one is mainly a money saver.  Learn how to make popcorn on the stove with wholesale kernels and you’ll save a bundle over microwaved popcorn bags.  You can buy a pound of popcorn kernels for under a buck which will make a BUNCH of popcorn.

It takes about the same amount of time to pop it on the stovetop as in the microwave, but you do have to watch it closely so it doesn’t burn.  A small price to pay.

You can also season it to your liking which is my favorite part.  I like to season mine with seasoned salt, black pepper, and some grated parmesan cheese!

Seasoning Packets

Any sort of pre-mixed seasoning rub or packet is almost always mostly salt with a few basic spices in it.  You can save money by experimenting at home with real spices.

For example, my go-to rub for most meats is this all-purpose rub.

Another seasoning that I use a lot is a taco-style seasoning which is chili powder, paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper.

Marinades

In my opinion, there aren’t a lot of great marinades that’s I’ve seen on store shelves but people seem to love them.

In essence, most of them are cheap oil, salt, some sort of acid/vinegar and a few basic spices.

Again, you can do this at home.  A lot of times I just make it up as I go at home, but I almost always use olive oil, some sort of vinegar (white or red wine vinegar is always good), some fresh garlic, salt and pepper, and spices like paprika, red pepper flakes, etc.

It’s hard to go wrong and you’ll get to use up some stuff in your pantry rather than just buying another bottle.

Pasta Sauce

Jarred pasta sauces are gradually taking over the entire supermarket.  Every time I look down the aisle, there’s another one.  I just don’t get it.

Chop up half of an onion and a few cloves of garlic.  Cook them on medium heat for a few minutes in a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add a can (28 ounce for a pound of pasta) of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce and simmer it for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, maybe some fresh lemon juice, and fresh (or dried) basil.

It will taste fresh and delicious and takes the same amount of time as it takes to actually cook your pasta.

Burgers

Whether it is beef, turkey, or veggie, I make 99% of the burgers that I cook from scratch.  The pre-formed frozen stuff is just never that great in my opinion.  Sure, they are nice if you are feeding a crowd, but I’ve rarely needed to feed more people than I can quickly make burgers for.

Plus you can always make your own in bulk and freeze them.

What are your DIYs?

My goal with this post isn’t to make you feel guilty if you happen to buy some of the above things.  It’s just to give you the confidence to try them out at home and see how much quality you can gain by doing so.

There are, of course, a world of items that I make occasionally at home but also sometimes buy like breads.

Your list might differ from mine!  What are some of the things that you find yourself always making at home even if you can easily buy them at the store?  Leave a comment!

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52 comments on “Ten Easy DIY Foods

  1. Creme fraiche. It’s idiot proof, really nothing more than a mixture of buttermilk and (not ultra) pasteurized heavy cream left out on the counter for a day or so, although Ruhlman uses yogurt starter. Once you make a batch, you can just use a bit from the last batch to make more. Granted it’s not the quite the same as the stuff from France, but spoonfuls of this tangy cream can enrich practically anything, and it’s cheap compared to the domestic stuff that comes in little tubs. I have a quart jar in my fridge at ALL times.

    The easy directions are here: http://lifeonthefoodchain.blogspot.com/2011/10/bottomless-jar-of-creme-fraiche.html?spref=bl

  2. Hummus. A can of chickpeas, lime and spice. I can’t believe people pay for it premade.

    I love how this post is the antithesis of yesterday’s!

    1. Totally agree with this one! I’m embarrassed to say that I always bought it until we moved and for some reason hummus in the Dallas area is almost twice what it was in NJ, so I started making it. SO easy and much better than the store-bought stuff!

  3. Cookie dough and pizza dough. I am amazed at how many people buy those from the store, when homemade is so much better! I also use store bought corn tortillas to make my own hard tacos. I always make homemade hummus (using your technique for rubbing the shells off of the beans). And I love homemade salsa!

    1. I agree with the doughs marley even though I broke that and bought a store-bought crust for a post last week. Generally, I always make my own just because of the quality.

      1. I agree with the pizza dough (though when my husband is gone, im lazy and get store bought too). Same with pizza sauce. Make up a big batch and freeze it in small portions. :)

    2. YES to the cookie dough! I seriously didn’t know there was such a thing as store-bought cookie dough until I was in college. Cookie dough is so easy to mix up (once you get the hang of creaming butter and sugar) and the cookies are hands down one of the best desserts ever :)

      And the secret to soft cookies is to take them out of the oven before they look completely done.

      I agree with the rest of this list too :) Except the salad dressing–when I make oil and vinegar dressings my hubby says they’re too oily. Anybody have tips on getting the not-as-oily texture?

      1. You are probably just using too much oil Diana or not mixing them enough so they are still separated and therefore when you pour it you get mostly oil.

        For homemade dressings you need to make sure to shake them or stir them right before serving. Good luck!

  4. I think brownie mixes are better than homemade, one of my last hold outs because I make almost everything else from scratch all the time.

    Put 2T of popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, fold the top over and microwave just like the pre-made bags. I prefer stovetop, but in a pinch this is a good trick.

    Yogurt – I make all of ours. Sandwich bread – a little more hassle but I haven’t bought a loaf in over 3 years and we eat a lot of sandwiches…

  5. Veggie burgers – I buy the frozen kind now and then, but making veggie burgers is pretty easy, they freeze well, and you avoid all the weird crap they usually put in the pre-made versions. And like Marley said – cookie dough and pizza dough – although, again, I have bought a pre-made bag of dough from Trader Joe’s before in a pinch (it was really salty). Tartar sauce – the store-bought kind is all oil and salt – it’s super easy to make at home. I recently posted about it – I make mine with Greek yogurt. The stuff in the jar just doesn’t cut it once you’ve made it from scratch.

  6. I agree that store-bought guac isn’t good! My homemade version is avocado, chopped cilantro, and chopped jalapeño!

  7. I make pretty much all of our bread from scratch. To some people this isn’t a “just as fast as buying it” kind of thing but it tastes so much better and I love knowing what’s going into the food we eat. I recently got a recipe from a friend for homemade english muffin bread and it’s become a staple in our house–and as a bonus it’s ridiculously easy: stir together five ingredients in a bowl, let it rise, scoop it into pans and let it rise again, then bake.

  8. Sloppy Joes! I had planned to make these over the weekend and realized I didn’t have the required envelope of “Sloppy Joe seasoning” or a can of Manwich on hand. Made me stop and THINK instead of just making them the way my mom always did. I went online and found a recipe. Made them from scratch and they were better than any I ever made with a mix or that canned junk. Same thing with “Shake ‘N Bake” – it is just breadcrumbs and seasoning and the box mix is soooo expensive!

  9. I love rolling out fresh pasta. It is fun and rewarding. For the small effort, it is so delicious. It is fun to involve your dinner guests in the process (depending on their personalities). For some reason, I haven’t posted about it on my blog, but I’m going to soon. An added bonus is that my Kitchenaid was a shower gift from my Mom and Dad, and I appreciate it every time I get to use it with the pasta roller attachment.

    I have to admit, while I make my own guac on almost a weekly basis, Dean’s Guacamole (which is pretty much just green sour cream with some chunks) from the grocery store is something I like to eat now and then. I don’t really consider it to actually be guac though.

  10. I make practically all my baked goods from scratch with the exception of biscuits, pie dough and puff pastry which I have yet to master. (I also mix all purpose flour with salt and baking powder instead of having self-rising flour on hand.) Cakes and frosting are easy to make. My friends say, “How come my frosting never looks as good as yours?” Well, that’s because it doesn’t come out of a can or made with hydrogenated oils! The seasoning mixes/packets can get expensive, so easy and much tastier if you have the basic ingredients on hand. I still keep packaged pasta sauce and chicken broth at home, though–but sometimes I do make them from scratch. Homemade is far superior in taste, but sometimes the ease of opening a package is necessary to get a meal on the table quickly. Looking to make breads in the future, though. Love the marked jar for vinaigrette idea, thanks :-)

    1. You really should try your hand at baking bread–you won’t go back to the store bought stuff (my kids call it “market bread” and refuse to eat it). I use a bread machine for the mixing/kneading and through the first rise, then shape in my own pans, let rise again and bake. Probably not the same results as hand mixing but it’s only about ten minutes of hands-on time and the results are vastly superior to the store bought stuff.

    2. Connie, come and see me. I’ve posted recipes that’ll have you making biscuits, breads and pie dough in no time! Haven’t posted my puff pastry yet, but eventually … So glad you’re making homemade frosting. That stuff in the can is deadly!

  11. Definitely agree with the muffin/pancake mixes, those don’t make any sense to me! Hummus is a good one to add to the list too, as other commenters have mentioned; you can get a much bigger batch of delicious hummus for much cheaper if you make it yourself.

    I think a lot of people might say homemade granola and granola bars are better to make at home as well. I think granola can be expensive depending on the type of nuts or dried fruit you add, but I make a basic peanut butter and honey granola that’s a lot cheaper than buying it (and really easy!). I’m also just starting to make my own granola bars, which again, depending on the add-ins, can be cheaper and a lot better tasting than store bought!

  12. I always DIY with dried beans vs buying cans of beans. I force myself to do it because it’s cheaper, plus the added benefits of being able to control how firm or mushy I’d like them to be! Another thing, I guess this counts more as a drink and not food– but I never buy cans or cartons of lemonade or iced tea– I always make that from scratch, too.

  13. I agree with all of the ones you’ve chosen. I’m currently trying to wean our house off store bought salad dressing. I just posted a roasted beet vinaigrette recipe that is DEEEEELICIOUS!

  14. I also microwave bulk popcorn in a paper lunch bag, but a $20 air popper also does the trick. Here’s a quick and easy base for instant lemonade:

    Lemonade Syrup

    2 cups sugar (granulated white)
    1 cup water
    6 lemons

    Zest 2 of the lemons and put zest in a pot with the sugar and water. Bring to boil and boil for 5 minutes, then cool.

    When cool, add juice of all the lemons. Store in a jar in the fridge.

    To use: put 2 – 4 Tablespoons in a glass, add ice and top with water or sparkling water. Stir.

  15. We make a gallon of homemade full fat yogurt every other week. We diy many things, but we do store buy many of the things on your list. We make and can our own pasta sauce so that it is as convenient as the store bought jars for weeknight dinners.
    Our big thing is the yogurt though. It’s so very much cheaper. For the cost of a gallon of milk and a tablespoon of starter, we have an entire gallon of fresh, healthy, no-additives-whatsoever, tastier-than-store-bought yogurt. Its so easy, takes just a few minutes to scald the milk and sterilize the jars then set it and forget it in a cooler with a heating pad for several hours.

  16. I still can’t believe how many people think pancakes are hard to make from scratch. It couldn’t be easier and I can’t believe people shell out money for crappy prepackaged mixes.

    But that’s the scary thing about how Americans eat, too many people think prepackaged and processed is the only way to eat.

    1. So true. I’ve even seen people scarily close to me buy FROZEN pancakes, because even the mix is too inconvenient for them :-/
      And others that, given the homemade mix, couldn’t even make the pancakes….

      The convenience factor that Americans suffer is truly sad :(

      Homemade bread is the easiest thing! Can’t wait to start making more homemade noodles, but have to get rid of the bulk premade stuff I already had on hand.

      Nick, can you do a post on homemade noodles, maybe something more fun and different than plain spaghetti noodles?

  17. Taco Seasoning…….I just made the best batch of taco meat from scratch. It was my first try, and so I kept tweaking and tweaking to get it just right. Trouble is, I didn’t keep track of how much of what I put in. Not sure I can replicate it again. :-( If I do, I will be sure to write things down this time.

  18. I make most things myself because living abroad doesn’t allow me to eat a lot of the same foods I would eat in the US. I’ve found I really like spending the time to make things from scratch. Usually I make a full recipe for the two of us and freeze the half we don’t eat. I figure the time I spend making our own meals is less time spent at the doctor’s office, even though I use butter, heavy cream, and all that stuff, but in moderation. Even the majority of our dog’s treats are homemade.

    Things I don’t “make”: canned tomatoes for sauces, tomato puree, bread (it’s always fresh here and preservative free), tortillas, ice cream, pasta, sometimes pizza crust and some of the spicy sauces in which the peppers are not available here (like arrabiata sauce).

    Things on my current make-myself rotation: buttermilk biscuits, banana bread, American pancakes, lasagna, burritos, meatloaf, and dog treats. :D

  19. One thing I’ve made before, and now I have a hard time buying is whole wheat pitas. They are so good and don’t tear as easily as store bought.

    I almost always do homemade of everything you mentioned except for pasta sauce. And it’s not that I love the taste of jarred sauce, I guess I’ve just never made a sauce I love.

  20. I HATE canned biscuits. I can whip up a batch and have them slathered with butter and orange blossom honey or my mama’s mayhaw jelly in less than 30 minutes. I drop mine instead of rolling and cutting. I’m Southern — making biscuits is in the blood, I think.

    I never buy brownie mix. Fortunately (or unfortunately for my waistline), I always have ingredients on hand to make brownies from scratch and I know the recipe by heart. You don’t even need a mixer. You can make these up with one bowl and a spoon. It’s Baker’s One Bowl Brownies:

    1.5 sticks butter (This is the only change I’ve made. Trust me on this one — use salted butter NOT unsalted.)
    4 oz unsweetened chocolate baking squares
    2 cups of sugar
    1 cup all purpose flour
    3 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    Chop chocolate coarsely. Cube butter. Melt together in microwave. Mix in sugar. Mix in eggs. Mix in flour. And finally, stir in the vanilla. Bake in 9 x 11 pan at 350 for about 28 to 30 minutes. These are fudgy but I like them extra fudgy so I underbake them just slightly. You’ll NEVER buy brownie mix again.

  21. In addition to the 10 you list, I’ve been making my own stock and yogurt on a regular basis lately. The yogurt is much cheaper and tastier and I love using all of my veggie scraps for the stock. It’s essentially free!

  22. love this post and the comments. The manufacturers brain wash people into thinking making these packet goods are so complicated! When I turned vegan I had to get used to making things from scratch and using substitutions. I found it so empowering. I’ve danced around the kitchen on many occasion when I’ve bagged a scratch recipe I was so excited when I made.Sriracha – http://aveganobsession.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/hot-n-zesty-sriracha-tofu-secret-recipe.html

  23. I agree completely with all those things… not that I am doing all of them yet but I am getting there. As a mom with small kids one of our favorites is Jam… the last few summers we have picked 5-6 gallons of fresh strawberries. I spend an afternoon or 2 making the jam and it lasts us almost a year. Soooo good!

  24. I’ve done many batches of yogurt, 99% of the bread in the house is made at home, and my latest home-made projects were Mozzarella and Ricotta cheeses. Surprisingly easy to do, and man oh man were they good. Hardest part of that was finding Citric Acid (check your local italian deli if you don’t want to do the internet – that was where I finally found mine).

    As soon as the tomatoes come back into season at the local farmer’s market, it’ll be Caprese salad big time! :)

    This year will be when my wife and I finally get serious about jams and canning.

  25. Agreed! Mixes of any kind don’t save more than a few minutes, and they’re full of additives we shouldn’t be eating AND they don’t taste as good! And real old-fashioned from-scratch comfort-food cooking is fun and so satisfying.

  26. Roquefort dressing. Have the recipe from a restaurant my family owned. Sold the restaurant, kept the recipes.

  27. I LOVE popping corn on the stove! I can’t believe I ever ate that microwave crud. It tastes terrible! I top mine with butter, salt, cracked ground pepper, cayenne pepper and chili con limon. Sometimes I throw some chili oil on it for smokiness. Delish!

  28. This post is great. I just ran across your blog and am loving reading through it! I usually use bottled pasta sauce for an easy, fast dinner, but I’ll have to try your version. However, I make most things from scratch…breads (whole wheat sandwich bread once a week, quick breads, english muffins), pancakes, muffins, salad dressings (still looking for a good ranch mix since my kids are obsessed with ranch!), pastries, granola bars, hamburger buns….basically everything that I can make. I tried yogurt, and my kids wouldn’t eat it, but I need to try it again. I like knowing what we’re eating, and it makes me feel better when I’m feeding my family healthy things!

  29. I make mayonnaise….I haven’t bought it from the store in years. Like most of the other post here I bake 99% of our bread, mixes and seasoning packets.

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  33. I bake everything from scratch. I never thought of making things like mixes for muffins or brownies or such. Two of my fav simple but great recipes are for pie crust and biscuits. Easy peesy. (I would NEVER have thought of not making burgers!)

    I make pretty much everything on Nick’s list from scratch except seasoning packets; I just use fresh seasonings from a fresh spices store. Well worth it. Esp the true cinnamon. And turmeric.

    I would love a ranch dressing recipe though. I confess I buy all my dressings.

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