Thanks for hanging in there, my friends! We are halfway to 5 Top 5s!
Top 5 Foods To Make Yourself
Over the course of the last year, I got serious about tracking our food expenses. We gradually pared down our food budget by eliminating any items that we could live without or make ourselves. Surprisingly (or maybe not), the more foods I tried making from scratch, the more convinced I became that they were both better and substantially cheaper. Here are the top 5 foods you should never buy.
1. Iced Tea
During the sweltering dog days of summer, nothing offers respite from the oppressive heat like a cold glass of iced tea beading off the inescapable perspiration. The subtly dry flavor of tea leaves satiates a thirsty palate without the heaviness of juice or soda. Leaving it unsweetened makes it the healthiest choice of flavored beverages. And the best part is that it is effortless and basically free. Fill up a glass pitcher with cold water, add a few teabags or a tablespoon of loose-leaf tea and let it sit in the sun until it has steeped to your liking. You can spruce it up with fresh fruit or herbs, and mix up the flavor every week. But whatever you do, don’t buy the oversweetened, overpriced options at the supermarket—a homemade batch should cost less than a quarter!
I can’t say homemade dressing is always cheaper—as I discussed in part 2, real olive oil is inherently expensive—but it is invariably much, much better. Plus, you make it in smaller servings, sparing those abandoned corners of your refrigerator from accumulating half-used bottles of this and that. But perhaps the best reason to make your own dressing is that it’s almost absurdly easy. Do you have oil, vinegar, and a whisk? You’re ready. From there, just use your imagination. Apple cider vinaigrette? Delicious! Fresh herb buttermilk ranch? Yum. Teriyaki marinade? No problem. A trick: add a bit of mustard to help emulsify the oil and vinegar; you will not even taste it!
3. Almost any bread product
I know I’ve preached about the virtues of homemade bread here and here (and here), but I just have to repeat myself: it’s so easy and so much cheaper! If you are fortunate enough to live in a town with a good bakery, by all means treat yourself to a specialty loaf once in a while! But for everyday lunch bread, or even something different like pitas, baking at home only requires a few hours of foresight and a bag of flour. I am not sure why the perception arose that bread making is laborious and finicky, because it simply isn’t true. It is, on the other hand, rewarding, delicious, and very, very thrifty.
I confess: I love salt. I always crave savory breakfasts, and am more likely to want chips and salsa rather than ice cream when we come home late after a show. For this reason, I try very hard not to bring salty snacks into the house, because I just can’t resist. However, I do always maintain a supply of popping corn in the back of the pantry for those times my cravings get the best of me. Homemade popcorn is—you guessed it—cheaper and better than commercial varieties because the latter a) contain harmful chemicals in the lining of microwave bags, and b) are overly salty, and fake buttery for my taste. My favorite home flavorings are soy sauce and nutritional yeast, ghee and Indian curry spice, or sweet and salty a la kettle corn. Popping corn costs around $3 a pound, a quantity that lasts me more than a year. Just heat it in a covered pot with oil over medium high heat while shaking continuously until all the kernels have popped (or invest in a whirley pop or air popper if you want to get serious).
5. Ice cream
Mr. Practical is the ice cream specialist in our house. His concoctions include honey lavender, basil, and ginger chocolate ice cream along with refreshing sorbets like lemon mint and backyard marionberry. I’ve never seen any of these flavors in the grocery aisles, and just like all the other items on this list, I’ve never had ice cream that tasted so good. Perhaps it’s the total lack of industrial thickeners, preservatives and flavor enhancers that lets the taste of good ingredients prevail. Although we calculated that the cost of organic milk and cream basically equals the price of organic ice cream at the store, we won’t be going back to the carton anytime soon! And although it’s not necessary, the minimal investment of an ice cream maker soon pays itself back in the pride and satisfaction of homemade goodies.