There are a lot of reasons to make more of your food at home, but from-scratch cooking can be intimidating for a lot of people, especially when it comes to kitchen essentials like bread, pasta, or peanut butter. Fortunately, a number of the foods you’re buying on a regular basis are easy to make at home. Even better, learning how to make them from scratch means you can control what goes into them, allowing you to create foods that fit your personal taste, budget, or dietary needs.
Kelly Senyei (whose work has appeared on websites like The Food Network and Food 52 and both online and in print at Better Homes and Gardens, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Bon Appétit), founder of Just a Taste, shares a few of her expert tips for making your favorite kitchen essentials at home.
Why do it yourself? What are the advantages over buying?
It can be kind of intimidating to make pantry essential and kitchen staples at home. The biggest reason to give it a try is that it allows you to know exactly what goes into each of the dishes you’re making; whether it’s granola, pesto, pasta, or peanut butter, you can control exactly what goes into it. This will give you peace of mind about what you’re eating and what you’re feeding your family.
You can also customize the dishes based upon what you have on hand; for example, you can make pesto with kale or asparagus instead of basil, or make it vegan by not including the cheese. And, if you don’t have pine nuts on hand, you can use almonds or pistachios.
What are the most important things for a first time do-it-yourselfer to keep in mind?
Look in your refrigerator and pantry or look at your grocery list and pay attention to those things that you keep buying time and time again. What are you constantly stocking up on? Granola bars? Butter? Pasta? Not everyone has the same kitchen staples, so look at what you’re buying all the time and start by learning to make just one of those things. Once you learn to make one of your kitchen staples (and incorporate it into your weekly routine), move on to another.
And, a lot of these essentials can be made in bulk. Think about making large quantities, freezing them, and then defrosting when you’re ready to use them.
Is there a meal or type of dish that’s best to try first?
Homemade pesto is one of those things that I love recommending to beginners; everyone has pasta night. Instead of buying pesto in the store, learn to make and customize your own. All you have to do is put herbs or kale into your KitchenAid® Food Processor or blender with spices, seasonings, and oil, and you have a homemade pasta sauce. And, pesto freezes incredibly well. I like to freeze mine in ice cube trays then, depending on how many people I’m feeding, I defrost just the quantity needed.
What are a few of the most useful gadgets for a first time do-it-yourselfer to have on hand?
It’s also really useful to have a blender (I use the KitchenAid® Diamond blender). It’s great for smoothies, sauces, and dips.
What kind of pantry staples should you have on hand if you want to start making kitchen essentials from scratch?
I’m not a big believer in buying expensive ingredients, but when you’re making these kitchen essentials from scratch, the better the quality of your ingredients, the better the quality of your finished product. For that reason, I’d say stock good-quality basics like flour, full-fat yogurt, and cream. Flour can be used to make bread or pasta, yogurt is great for sauces, dips, and baking, and heavy cream can easily be used to make homemade butter.
Is there anything else to keep in mind when you’re making kitchen essentials from scratch?
The most important thing is don’t be intimidated. Lots of kitchen essentials can be made in bulk (so you don’t have to make them on a daily basis), are really simple to make (I promise, once you try a fresh potato chip you’ll never go back to store-bought), and can be customized to meet specific dietary restrictions (don’t let food allergies be the reason you don’t make your own peanut butter, for example — replace the peanuts with the nut of your choice).
Click here to see Kelly's tips for DIY pesto.
Click here to see Kelly's tips for DIY granola bars.
Click here to see Kelly's tips for DIY potato chips.
Click here to see Kelly's tips for DIY pasta.