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.
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!
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.
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?