When I got out of college, I wasn’t much of a cook. Most of what I made wasn’t awful, but much of it wasn’t good either. Still, I never bought those Hamburger Helper type products, and I have gradually stopped using most processed foods. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot. Here are some things that trust me, you really can do at home.
Whip Butter: Put some softened — not melted! — butter and some milk (or half-and-half) in the mixer. If it’s unsalted butter, add a teaspoon of salt. Start your mixer fairly while everything mixes up or you’ll spray milk everywhere. Keep turning it up gradually until it’s set to the highest setting. Keep going until that stuff is light and fluffy! Put it in a container in the fridge and enjoy for a week or two. Oh, whatever shall you enjoy that butter on? How about some homemade sourdough bread?
Sourdough Starter: Until recently, I kept a starter in the fridge. Let’s start with a film:
The short version is mix whole wheat flour with bottled or filtered water (chlorine in tap water kills microorganisms that would make you sick, but it will also kill yeasts). Put it out someplace covered with cheesecloth to keep bugs out. Once it’s going, you can use a folded paper towel and rubber band instead. Add some more water/flour mix every day until it gets foamy. Feed daily if you leave it out, weekly if you put it in the fridge.
Caesar Dressing: Ok, there are two intimidating parts to making this at home. First is called “coddling the egg.” Put a small pot of water on the stove. Use a pin to poke a small hole in the big end of the egg. Put it in boiling water for a minute. The other “hard” part is the emulsion. More on that in a minute. Toss a clove of garlic, a couple tablespoons of lemon juice, your choice of a total of 2 teaspoons of anchovy paste/Worchestershire/both (I use both), fresh ground pepper, and everything you can scrape out of 2 coddled eggs into a blender. Turn it on, and keep blending even after it looks blended. Now comes the “tricky” part: very slowly add a half cup of olive oil. Seriously, very slowly. That’s the key to the emulsion. Once you’re done, toss that stuff with some romaine hearts and parmesan and call it done.
Devein Shrimp: Ok, I admit this one is a little gross. Recently, my partner got “a great deal” on a box of frozen shrimp, and we discovered that they were whole. Get some water running because you’re going to need it. If they still have heads, you’ll need to twist their little heads off. Then follow these easy tips. By the time dinner is ready, you will have forgotten the shrimp heads.
Seasonings: I am mystified by those little packets of things like “taco seasoning” or “Italian seasoning” sold in every grocery store. Come on folks! I know it seems more expensive to buy things like garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and basil, but a bottle of each will last quite a while through many meals. And you’ll probably get a lot less salt and preservatives too.
And don’t even get me started on canned soup as an “ingredient.” Expensive, loaded with crap you don’t need, and not nearly as good as making your own sauces.