Ok. So I’m not really a baby stealer. And I might lie on occasion, but never to you lovely readers.
It’s very possible that I’m a hypocrite though.
Allow me to explain. A few days ago a very astute reader commented on an old post:
I think it’s funny that the cook spouts so much fanatical anti-can propaganda and then procedes to produce a recipe that requires two cans (or one can and one foil lined box.) Make up your mind. Either make your meal from scratch or don’t, but don’t preach about not using canned soup and then use canned broth and vegetables.
After I pulled my shriveled ego out from under my desk, I thought to myself that this reader is actually correct.
I’m not sure that I would call my normal Macheesmo writings “propaganda”, but it’s very true that I sometimes contradict my own advice.
I’m a big believer in airing grievances so this post is my attempt at a defense!
What is From Scratch?
There are multiple recipes on Macheesmo that I claim to make something from scratch.
What does that mean though? Depending on who you are talking to it could mean very different things. A dairy farmer might think that you have to churn your own butter to make something from scratch. Maybe it means you grind your own flour?
Maybe to call something “from scratch” you have to grow and make every single aspect of the dinner including smelting and forging your own cast iron pans!
Of course, I do none of that. So what do I mean when I say something is from scratch?
I define from scratch as anytime you cook something using mostly raw or minimally processed ingredients.
Using this definition, I can cook something with canned tomatoes and still call it from scratch. I don’t think this is a travesty. Canning tomatoes is just a way to preserve them so they can be easily used when they aren’t in season. In fact, I think it’s better to used canned things like tomatoes when they are out of season.
There’s a big difference between preserved tomatoes and cream of mushroom soup. Even if both of them come packaged in cans.
The Gray Zone
Obviously, there is a huge amount of gray zone with this definition. Depending on your experience and skill, you might have a completely different definition of what from scratch means. Here’s a few examples of things that I think are in the gray zone:
Chicken/Veggie Stock – If you are used to making homemade stock often, you might think that you must make your own stock if you call something from scratch. Others might consider store-bought stock a perfectly acceptable ingredient.
Pasta – Pasta is definitely something that’s possible to make at home, but it’s also a pain in the butt! Some people might be better at it than others and think of it as a necessity for some meals. Some people have never made homemade pasta, will never make homemade pasta, and do not consider it necessary to do so.
Bread – If a recipe calls for bread, do you need to make that bread on your own or can you sub in store-bought bread? Again, I think it depends on your experiences and level of cooking.
Where I Went Wrong
The thing that I think the above comment nailed is that I did use store-bought stock in a recipe that I called “from scratch“. For a dude who raves about homemade stock as much as I do, that was maybe a stretch.
The only defense I have is that I was focusing on the normal preparation of the meal in question, beef stroganoff, which involves noodles, beef, and a few cans of cream of mushroom soup.
I didn’t make the noodles from scratch and used store-bought stock instead of homemade. Instead of the cream of mushroom soup, I made a simple pan sauce with fresh mushrooms, cream, and a few other simple ingredients.
In my mind, I basically thought that since I wasn’t using the canned soup that it was from scratch.
I’m not sure that that is correct. I can tell you that it tasted better, but I’m not sure on the from scratch issue.
Macheesmo the Human
Sometimes I get carried away with making homemade pasta and stock and all that stuff. I enjoy doing that stuff and I think the results can be worth it.
That doesn’t mean that I do it all the time. This is an important distinction.
I have a job, a wife who would like to see me outside of the kitchen occasionally, two needy animals, and some sort of feeble social life.
So I don’t make all my own pasta. I try to make stock and freeze it, but sometimes I’m out. I love making homemade bread, but sometimes I still buy the sliced stuff.
Basically, I’m busy like most of my readers. I prioritize a lot of time and money toward cooking good meals because it’s important to me, but I’m very far from perfect.
I take shortcuts on occasion.
The Macheesmo Goal
The goal with Macheesmo has always been, since day one, to find ways to inspire people to cook more. I don’t want people to think that if they don’t have the time to cook everything from scratch then they might as well just order take-out.
There’s a middle ground and that middle ground is huge. And delicious.
I’m thrilled to death when someone tells me that they have tried one of my recipes. Honestly, I don’t care if they change it or substitute store-bought stock for homemade stock.
You have to make the recipes your own and make them fit your life.
So yes. You’ll occasionally see me use store-bought stock in recipes. This doesn’t mean that I don’t fully realize that homemade is better. It means that I just plain didn’t have time to make any!
It’s not my goal to be a hypocrite, but I can see how I might come off as one on occasion.
What do you think?
What makes a meal from scratch? More importantly, do you think I’m a horrible person on par with baby stealers?