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
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.
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)
7). Honey, cinnamon & nutmeg
8). Leftover oatmeal
9). Leftover cream of wheat
Debbie from MA