Country Living Series

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Recipes for the boxed stuff

In response to the post on Packing Christmas boxes, a reader said, "Please include recipes for those who only know how to make the box stuff. That is why I come here, to learn from the pros! Thanks!!!"

I thought this was an excellent idea. Most of the time, homemade versions of boxed stuff are easy and delicious, and this reader is correct -- a lot of people don't know how to make them.

So I thought we could all contribute our favorite homemade versions of "the boxed stuff" and help those who are just learning to cook.

Some time ago we had a lively discussion about the basics of kitchen equipment. For new cooks, this is a worthwhile post to review because so many people left such excellent comments.

Everyone has a favorite cookbook. While I have many cookbooks, my favorite is the classic Better Homes & Garden. It's battered and stained and torn from many years of faithful use.

Scratch cooking requires understanding basic weights and measures. Many cookbooks include a handy table, but cooks should be familiar with such things as how many teaspoons in a tablespoon (three), how many ounces in a cup (eight), how many cups in a pint (two), how many pints in a quart (two), etc. (Those outside the U.S. will appreciate the logic of the metric system rather than the English system we so stubbornly cling to.)

Cooking from scratch requires a few necessary tools of the trade, which can usually be picked up cheaply at thrift stores... such things as cookie sheets, muffin tins, measuring spoons, measuring cups, mixing bowls, kitchen timers, etc.

Scratch cooking also requires a decent supply of such necessary additives as baking powder, baking soda, spices, vinegar, vinegar, cooking oil, etc.

So let's review some of the boxed or canned foods listed on the sheet for the Christmas boxes. I'll start with macaroni and cheese -- here's the link to a blog post on how to make it.

Bread stuffing. There are some directions and illustrations in this blog post.

Chili. Everyone has a favorite recipe, it seems. This is the one Don cobbled together (to make a large quantity). Here's a post with a tutorial on how this chili was made.

I must admit the result was delicious.

Fruit cocktail. I have a blog post on making fruit salad, which is a zillion times better than canned fruit cocktail. However admittedly the fresh fruits will cost more than a can or two of fruit cocktail.

Homemade chicken strips. Here's a tutorial blog post.

Applesauce. I don't have a blog post, but it's pretty quick. Start with peeled and cored FIRM apples (avoid Red or Yellow Delicious, as they're too mushy):

Put the apple pieces in a pot, then add half as much water as apples (you can eyeball this, it's not an exact science).

Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and let simmer for about half an hour until the apples are very soft.

Then pour the apples and water into either a blender, or use a bowl and mixer (a blender will make the applesauce smoother, a mixer will make it chunkier -- your preference).

Some people like to add a bit of sugar, cinnamon, or even cinnamon red-hot candies -- but I just like it plain. (I also tend to can my applesauce, which is why this photo depicts the sauce in canning jars.) But fresh applesauce is easy to make and can be refrigerated.

Rice. No photos, sorry, but to cook basic white rice, use a 2:1 ratio of water:rice. For example if you want to cook two cups of rice, put two cups of water in a pot, let the water come to a boil, add one cup of white rice, turn the temp down to simmer, cover, and let cook. It takes about half an hour or so.

Muffins. I decided to make muffins for breakfast this morning and use the photos as a tutorial. (For our family, I always double the recipe.)

Mix all the dry ingredients together -- flour, sugar, baking powder.

The wet ingredients also should be mixed separately. Start with the eggs...

...and give them a quick scramble with a fork.

Then add the other two wet ingredients (oil and milk). The two bowls of ingredients are now ready to mix together.

With muffin batter, don't try to get the lumps out. Make sure everything is moistened, but it's not supposed to be smooth. (No idea why.)

Now mix in the blueberries (in this case, some of the ones I picked last summer).

You can either grease the muffin tin, or use paper cups.

Doubling the recipe gives me about 15 muffins on average.

Now here's a little trick for novice cooks: If you have vacant cups in a muffin tin, fill them about half-way with water. This keeps the tin from warping due to uneven heating. This means you have to be careful when putting the tin in the oven, and especially when taking the tin out of the oven, since the water will be boiling hot.

Depending on your oven temp (as well as how brown you like them), the muffins should be baked anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes.

Showing how to make muffins took a long time, but consider: homemade muffins only have six ingredients (seven, including the blueberries) and takes no time to whip together.

And the results are mouth-watering!

In future blog posts I'll do tutorials on making pie dough and pizza from scratch, but I figure this would be a good start for those who are learning scratch cooking.

What are the benefits of scratch cooking? Once you have your basic kitchen implements as well as ingredients such as baking powder, vanilla, spices, baking soda, etc., then staples such as flour, sugar, rice, beans, etc. can be bought MUCH more cheaply and last MUCH longer than the boxed counterparts. And there's no comparison when it comes to taste.

So here's an opportunity for all scratch cooks to post their "boxed stuff" recipes. If you have a blog tutorial, post the link as well. Let's spread the word about the benefits and ease of scratch cooking!


Debbie in Massachusetts sent in her recipe for pancakes.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
3 tblsp melted butter
2 eggs
oil or butter for cooking
1 1/4 cups milk (I use powdered milk.)

Mix dry ingredients. Stir in wet ingredients. Cook as you would store-bought.

Pancake stretchers:
1). "Supper pancakes" -- add 1/2 cup cornmeal and a can of whole kernel or creamed corn to batter
2). 2 apples cut up & diced
3). Raisins, cinnamon & vanilla
4). A banana
5). Chocolate chips (w/ or w/o peanut butter)
6). Blueberry
7). Honey, cinnamon & nutmeg
8). Leftover oatmeal
9). Leftover cream of wheat

Debbie from MA


  1. I too love the Better Homes and Garden Cook Book, I also love my 50s/60s era Betty Crocker cookbook. Some other favorites I enjoy are the Taste of Home cookbooks. And good places to find cookbooks are thrift stores, its where I've often found the yearly Taste of Home ones that have all the recipes from all their magazines for an entire year, and usually they are always priced at $3.00 or less, most of the time I get them for $1.00. I use many recipes out of those cookbooks.

    A fast and easy mac & cheese recipe that takes less than 15 min from start to finish is to put the desired amount of macaroni in a pot and cover it with milk, I don't measure just make sure its covered completely. Turn the temp up on the burner to get it boiling, then turn the temp down to medium and let it gently bubble until the macaroni is tender, add in more milk if needed, but you want the milk to almost completely be absorbed by the time cooking is done. You have to stir almost constantly. Then take it off the heat, add in some butter and enough shredded cheese to give it a nice cheesy flavor, sharp cheddar works well. Stir well and serve. It's a little grittier than the box stuff, but tastes delicious and is fast to make. It's a recipe that my family has done for many years and it has been passed down.

    For other simple box mixes, I often make homemade hamburger helper for quick meals. Just brown 1 pound of hamburger, add in approximately 3-4 cups of a milk and water mixture, if you want a cheesier flavor add more milk, add in whatever flavorings you like, add your desired amount of pasta, and simmer until pasta is done. I often do a pizza version and add in oregano and garlic powder, diced up pepperoni slices, and a mixture of mozzarella and cheddar cheese.

  2. Sometime the young don't even understand the instructions on a box. I had an co-worker, about 22 ask me how to make cupcakes! She didn't know that she could buy a box mix and make them She thought you always had to buy them at the bakery!.

  3. A German goulash recipe that has been in my family for several generations. Take a pound of hamburger, one diced onion (size depends on how much you like onions, I usually do a large one), and about 1 cup of diced celery. Brown those 3 items together on the stove, when that is browned, add in a quart of canned tomatoes and simmer until the tomato juice is mostly absorbed, at the same time cook up 2 cups of dry pasta in another pot and drain. Then pour the hamburger mixture into the pasta and you have your goulash.

    I also like to utilize my crockpot on busy days. I make homemade salsa chicken all the time, you can put your frozen chicken breasts in the crockpot and pour a jar of salsa over it and cook it at low all day long, but I prefer to do a homemade approach with things I have around the house. I put my frozen chicken breasts in the crockpot and dump a quart of canned tomatoes on top, I either dice up a jalapeno pepper or put in a good size pinch of dried hot pepper flakes, I chop up 1/2 a large green bell pepper or put in about a teaspoon of dried sweet pepper flakes, a small onion chopped up, and a good size pinch of garlic flakes. You could also add in some cilantro, but I'm allergic to it so leave it out. I keep my crockpot on low for 6-8 hours and let it cook and by the end you have nice tender chicken that you can either eat just like that or you can shred up and use in tacos. I like to cook up mashed potatoes or baked potatoes to have with it and pour the salsa mixed over the top of the potatoes to eat, it also is good to pour that over rice.

    1. Salsa chix sounds wonderful. I have quite a bit of homemade 'red' salsa on my shelves. 2 years ago I started making salsa out of the green tomatoes that hadn't ripened at the end of the season. We're hooked on the wonderful flavor of 'green' salsa- and no one wants to eat the red. This sounds like a great way to use it up. Sounds like dinner tomorrow

    2. Can you post your recipe for green tomato salsa?

      - Patrice

    3. I'm not sure where I originally got the green tomato salsa recipe. I had looked extensively for a recipe that was from a legitimate source (.edu site) that could be hot water bathed. Unfortunately, I didn't note the site when I copied it. Here is the same recipe from a blog -
      Because I can't site the reference you might want to pressure can instead of hot water bath. I also use my immersion blender because we like our salsa less chunky and more saucy. If you don't like cilantro - this might not be for you. We love cilantro and think it pairs well with the green tomatoes.. but I know cilantro is a "love it or hate it" herb.


      I believe this has several salsa recipes including a green tomatillo salsa recipe

  4. Another good way to stretch pancakes and make them healthier is to ad 1/4 C of wheat germ. Makes it taste grittier. For festive days I used pureed pumpkin.
    My favorite recipe for thin pancakes is to take 4 eggs, 1/2 C of milk, cottage cheese, flour each. Add 1t of vanilla and salt if you wish. I put in 1T of oil. Whip in a blender. I put mine in my waffle iron; my MIL fried hers in a pan.
    I served with applesauce or a fruit salad, and it makes a wonderful supper.

    I think you and I have the same cookbook. I love mine!

  5. I am always on the look-out for from scratch recipes. These look yummy, thanks for posting.

  6. I just finished lunch and I had to come across this..

    I was doing okay - - until I got to the muffins.

    I am a sucker for carbs.....

  7. Thank you for much for your blog. I really do enjoy gaining knowledge from you! On the muffin mix, you can substitute the oil for 1/4 cup applesauce. I do this all the time and my sons love it. On the pancake recipe, add in old fashioned oats, almond slivers, and walnuts to create a wholesome pancake mix. Using whole wheat flour makes these pancakes truly filling and you hardly need syrup at all.

  8. Simple is good. Throw it all in a pot and come back later. My favorite.

    Oven: 350

    Meat: Chicken, beef, turkey, venison, duck, goat, lamb etc...

    Carbs: Rice, grains, potatoes, yucca, taro, yam, manioc, etc...

    Liquid: Water, broth/chicken/beef/etc; milk, coconut milk, fruit juice, tomato juice, etc... using a generous two-to-one ratio of liquid to rice/grains/etc...
    ~* You'll need to watch the milk and coconut milk and be prepared to add more if needed during cooking. ~*

    Seasonings: If all you have are dried or powdered spices it's perfectly OK. If you can get any of these ingredients fresh, so much the better.

    A very good basic combination is Garlic, Celery, Onion, Parsley, Dill, Ginger, Paprika and/or Cayenne if you like it hot, and Black Pepper. Use it all to taste, but be flavorful and bold, with the exception of salt. And use lime or lemon if you have it, likewise with a splash of vinegar. Both work wonders with flavor. Never throw away your pickle juice! :)

    Mix the seasoning with the rice/etc and liquid in a pan with plenty enough room for the food volume to double, and put the meat on top. Sprinkle it with the seasoning, cover and cook for 90 minutes to two hours, depending on what you're cooking.

    45 min before it's done you can add carrots, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, jerusalem artichokes, etc. and return, covered, to the oven.


    This is a good weekend slow cook meal that can produce plenty of leftovers for lunches and sandwiches.

    Tonight's riff on this is turkey thighs, mixed wild/brown/jasmine rice and red bell pepper seasoned with all of the above spices and some cinnamon. It smells so good I can hardy stand it. When he gets home my hard working husband will smell it before he even steps up onto the porch. It will say 'thank you' and 'welcome home.'

    Cooking this way will make your house smell like heaven and will make others very happy and grateful.

    A. McSp.


    It's a good thing I know not to check in here while hubby's anywhere nearby to get a gander at those blueberry muffins. I wouldn't hear the end of it until I got up and made some. I can hear the hinting, whining and begging now. lol

    A. McSp

  9. Hi Patrice,

    This is a great idea. When I first started learning to cook after I got married, I didn't do such a great job. Frank taught me a lot about cooking. Now we cook almost everything from scratch.

    On our blog, Thoughts From Frank and Fern, we have a page called 'Cooking With Fern' that has many tutorials. Thank you for asking us to include a link.


  10. Tomatoes in chili?

    Real chili has only beans meat and chili powder....salt to taste and maybe garlic and onion if you are going wild.

    But tomatoes? Sacrilege.

    Good thing in this country we can make whatever mistakes we wish as long as we don't hurt anybody.

    1. Laughing hysterically here! Read this to my hubby and we both shared a funny moment. Thanks for the laugh of the day!

      Just Me

    2. Sorry, but "real chili" sounds real sticky. :) I like the tomatoes in there to sauce it up!

    3. "Real" chili does not have beans either! Just meat and spices and onion and water.

  11. The reason you don't want to overmix the muffin batter is because you don't want to activate the gluten. Unless you want heavier muffins. For the light, fluffy goodness you need to use a light hand in that regard.

    Another one of my tricks is to make a quadruple or septuple batch and stick a bunch of muffins/waffles/french toast sticks or whatnot in the freezer for an easy breakfast throughout the month. I can pull a ziploc of muffins out to thaw on the counter at night after dinner so the kids can start in on those in the morning when they wake up. :)

    1. That's a good note. My world famous waffles are so delectable for the same reason.

      Just Me

  12. Now that's a great post! Lots of great information in there. I can see it took a while to pull it together, what with all the photos. It's a good reminder that scratch cooks didn't start out that way....and a new one is born every day!

    Learning to cook from scratch is a lot like learning how to fish...once you know how, the chances of you going hungry go way down!

    Just Me

  13. The pancake recipe looks good but would probably not make enough pancakes for our family - two teenage boys! Here is my recipe:

    2 1/2 c buttermilk (can use reg. milk with a little lemon juice or vinegar added)
    2 eggs
    @2 t. shortening (I use oil and just eyeball it - two swift glugs)

    Mix in a large bowl with a whisk. Add:

    2 1/2 c flour
    @ 2 t. sugar (again, I eyeball it)
    2 t. baking powder
    1 t baking soda
    1 t salt
    (I also shake in a little cinnamon)

    Mix it up with a whisk, just until smooth. Amazing pancakes! You can also mix it up the night before and put in in the refrigerator overnight - ready to pour and flip first thing in the morning. My boys like to add a few chocolate chips to each pancake as it bakes; blueberries would be easy too.

    Occasionally I have mixed the dry ingredients together ahead of time and bagged them in a heavyduty plastic zip-top bag, ready to use like a boxed pancake mix.

  14. I make just about everything from scratch; that's the way my mother cooked and we like eating that way. I've warned my boys that when they get married their wives may not know how to cook. The 13-yr old replied, the other day, "That's okay Mom, then I'll do the cooking." He has already started his own cookbook and copied some of my recipes into it. Thank you, Patrice, for posting your recipes and photos on your website. Fancy cooking shows may be fun to watch (actually I don't watch them) but plain everyday cooking is desperately needed!

  15. Hi Friend, Your efforts made the paper! :) Check it out - jessica

  16. Ooops, my last comment should have posted at the Elks Christmas Basket post. jessica

  17. So maybe you could post your English muffin recipe. I have scoured the web, and even have a version of the BH&G cookbook. Alas, mine was my great-grandmother's, and doesn't have the recipe for English muffins. I have some in the kitchen rising right now, but see so many different recipe versions. Does yours have an egg in it?

  18. I too was once one of those kids who was completely unaware that you can make brownies from scratch and not from a box. I truly had no idea, and when you are raised in a household that prepares everything from a box it is easy to see how the thought of using basic ingredients can be daunting. I now make everything from scratch because I can make it SO much better then a box can. So let me share my brownie recipe because I had never had a homemade brownie from scratch until I was 30 years old.

    1 Cup room temperature butter
    2 Cups sugar
    2tsp Vanilla
    2/3 Cup cocoa powder
    1 Cup Flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2tsp baking powder

    Preheat oven to 350

    Grease 9x13 pan

    In a medium bowl sift together flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder-mix completely

    In large bowl (with a mixer) beat sugar, butter and vanilla until creamy.

    Slowly stir with a wooden spoon one egg at a time and then the flour mixture until just combined (do NOT over stir or you will get CAKE not brownies).

    Spread in pan.

    Bake at 350 for 25 minutes-do not over cook.

    ~Learning in NY

  19. We make homemade cream of mushroom soup in batches, and freeze it in "can batches" (1-1/2 cups each) for use in recipes that call for canned condensed soup. It's pretty easy!

    Saute a few teaspoons of minced garlic, half a small onion (minced) and 1/2 cup of minced fresh mushrooms in 1/4 cup butter until softened and fragrant.

    Add 1/4 cup flour, and cook the roux for a minute or two. Add 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup broth (beef or veg or chicken). Stir until thickened, and use in any recipe calling for a can of cream of mushroom soup!

  20. We make homemade cream of mushroom soup in batches, and freeze it in "can batches" (1-1/2 cups each) for use in recipes that call for canned condensed soup. It's pretty easy!

    Saute a few teaspoons of minced garlic, half a small onion (minced) and 1/2 cup of minced fresh mushrooms in 1/4 cup butter until softened and fragrant.

    Add 1/4 cup flour, and cook the roux for a minute or two. Add 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup broth (beef or veg or chicken). Stir until thickened, and use in any recipe calling for a can of cream of mushroom soup!

  21. Try adding cooked rice to pancakes. With a house full of teenage boys and all their friends I use a lot of stretchers. Rice also works great in taco meat.

  22. Mom fed six of us on a tight budget. Leftover homemade chili (w/tomatoes) was stretched for another meal by adding some cooked elbow macaroni with a little of the cooking water. Chili Mac. brenda from ar

  23. Just thought I'd share on the paper muffin cups. You can get sticker shock when buying them even at good ol walmart. I discovered that at cash and carry in spokane muffin cups can be had for ALOT Cheaper