Yes, you might think the whole cooking process can be summed up by that title – surely eschewing the ready meal and cooking from scratch is just that – doing it yourself? Well, that’s very true, but how many times have you bought a jar of pasta sauce instead of making your own, or picked up a 4-pack of burgers or a bottle of salad dressing? I’m not saying these are necessarily bad things to do, but there are plenty of store cupboard staples that are easy to reproduce in your own kitchen. And, more importantly, work out a bit cheaper too.
First up, pasta sauces. The classic that I’m sure I’ve mentioned previously is a simple tomato one. Now I’m sure there are many fantastic recipes that consist of slow-roasting cherry tomatoes, of sieving and blending and reducing and wotnot. But here, they don’t really fit the brief. Here, we want quick and we want cheap. So just fry some crushed garlic in olive oil for a few seconds, add two tins of your value tinned chopped tomatoes (normally around about 35p each these days), reduce down and season. Takes about 10 minutes, if that. And it’s versatile – you can add whatever you want to it, or just toss in your chosen pasta and sprinkle with cheese.
Another useful standby is crème fraiche. You can make a coating sauce by adding it to some fried onions, bacon, garlic, basil or cherry tomatoes and cook for a few minutes. Of course, you can also use double cream or cream cheese in exactly the same way, but I think perhaps crème fraiche is slightly more health conscious if using on a regular basis.
I hardly ever buy readymade salad dressing. And this is not because I’m some sort who banishes food additives from the home, but because I’ve always found it so much easier to make my own. I’m never without olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard and sugar. And that’s all you need, honest. Just mix up three parts oil to one part vinegar, add half a teaspoon each of mustard and sugar (obviously this amount depends on how much of the other two you’re using – these quantities make enough for one serving, but feel free to increase. Just taste before you serve to make sure you’ve used enough) and season. You can substitute the sugar for honey, change the vinegar for lemon juice and drop the sweetener if you like. And you say ‘but what about low-fat dressings?’ – have you actually tasted those things? Seriously? And a drop of olive oil really isn’t going to kill you. (Disclaimer – unless you severely allergic, then you’re probably no too interested in salad dressings in the first place).
Burgers! The only time I buy the ones that come in a packet (fresh not frozen) is when I’m really pushed for time. Because in every other case, I’ve usually got some mince to hand that takes about 5 minutes to shape into patties, once I’ve added some salt and pepper, of course. Cook them on a griddle pan or fry them and hey presto, a burger that has no added nasties in.
There are some things that I won’t attempt to make – ice cream, for starters. Good luck if you’re willing to try that one, but I really can’t be bothered. And in an ideal world, my dream is to create the perfect tomato ketchup, but in the real world, I’ll probably just end of sticking to favourite brand until the end of time. Because we get through a lot of tomato ketchup in this household. Like pretty much every UK household.