I know there are a lot of things that seem daunting to make, and they look so pretty in their packaging at the store. But if you just put aside 10 minutes you can easily make a lot of the things you toss in your grocery cart. You'll be saving money and peace of mind knowing exactly what ingredients are in your food, unlike all that junk that's in your processed packaged goods.
This is one of the easiest recipes to throw together. Garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon, garlic, and olive oil. Just remember, your hummus is as good as your ingredients. When something is as simple as this, you taste every ingredient in each bite, so be sure to use a good quality olive oil and blend until the perfect creamy, dreamy consistency. Plus, you can honestly add anything in your fridge to your hummus and it will be delicious, I promise - roasted peppers, jalapenos, parsley, black beans, feta, artichoke, the list goes on and on.
Another insanely easy recipe, also as good as your ingredients. This time of year I find myself eating a lot of pesto because my basil plant is taking over the sunlight in my window and begging to be adding to every meal. One secret here, you can add any greens and any nuts, you don't need to limit yourself to just basil and pine nuts. I often add whatever greens I have lying around like spinach, watercress or even carrot tops! I often add almonds as opposed to pine nuts considering they're always sitting in a jar in my pantry. Just add more oil if you're leaving pine nuts out of this recipe. Also, I have a life-changing secret for you.. pesto is good on.. everything! I'm serious, you name it and pesto makes it better.
So this is something you may not even regularly buy, but once you have some in your kitchen you'll never look back. Plus you'll realize you can add some simple syrups to your coffee at home and avoid spending $5 at your local coffee shop. You can use flavored syrups for anything from cocktails to ice cream. Celebrating Spring, try a rhubarb basil syrup. Combine 4 cups of chopped rhubarb, 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Bring the pot down to a simmer and stir occasionally. After about 15 minutes add a handful of chopped basil, then continue cooking for another five minutes or so, until the rhubarb is softened. Then simply strain the rhubarb syrup with a fine-mesh strainer or a cheesecloth. Add this syrup to ice cream, yogurt, or a cocktail. If you're going the cocktail path, I would suggest something with gin.
Another fun thing to have on hand, and you can avoid the far too sugary stuff you'll find at the grocery store. Not to mention you can make more chocolate sauce than you know what to do with for the same price as one bottle. Smitten Kitchen has one of the best hot fudge recipes that can easily be bottled for desserts throughout the month.
If you sift together some pancake mix at the beginning of the week, you'll save yourself a ton of time in the mornings and avoid grabbing a quick energy bar out the door. The Flavor Blender has an easy pancake and waffle mix recipe that you can store in your cupboard. When pancake hour rolls around all you have to do is whisk in milk, vanilla, butter, and eggs. Measuring all the dry ingredients can be time-consuming and a drag when you're exhausted before your first cup of coffee.
Croutons are great to have on hand to amp up a salad. Everyone manages to let bread go stale, but that doesn't mean it has to go to waste. If last weeks loaf of sourdough is getting a little too tough to cut, do your best to tear or chop it into pieces and toss in a bowl with some minced garlic, herbs de provence, salt, pepper, some knobs of butter and a good amount of olive oil. Then bake for around 8 minutes at 350 degrees.
Making your own stock could not be easier considering it's essentially made from all your weekly scraps. Whether you want a chicken or veggie base, just simply store all your vegetable ends in the freezer until you have a good ziplock full and then steep in water with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Voila, you have a flavorful stock made with food that would otherwise be tossed in the compost. A little trick for bolder flavor: saute the veggies in some oil for a couple minutes before seeping in water. Another awesome stock to have on hand is Mark Bittman's mushroom stock. Another super easy, delicious, and flavorful stock to add to any soup, casserole, or pasta dish.
Making your own nut milk may seem daunting, and some milk alternatives are pretty affordable like almond and cashew milk. The main advantage to making your own nut milk is simply the flavor. Each time I've made my own almond milk it's tasted 1000 times better than store bought. The consistency is always creamier and it surprisingly only takes a couple of minutes. I usually soak 1 cup of almonds or cashews overnight. The nuts absorb most of the liquid by morning and I then blend the nuts with about 3 cups of water. Last, I strain the milk through a cheesecloth. You can add some maple syrup, vanilla, or other flavorings you desire. And that's it! Simple as that.
If you're anything like me, you drink just about as much tea as you do water. Okay, maybe more. Sure, I buy tons of different teas to stock up my pantry but I also always have assorted spices, blossoms, herbs, and flowers on hand. You can easily buy these in bulk at your local supermarket and make your own tea blends for a fraction of the price. Aside from being cost-effective, it's simply a lot of fun to experiment. I use these biodegradable and chlorine-free tea bags, but you can also opt for a reusable stainless steel infuser. I find myself going back to a chamomile, cinnamon, and rosehip blend often (with a dash of honey, of course).
I love buying imported spices from specialty markets. An ideal afternoon for me is sniffing nearly every spice jar with either a label I can't read or have never heard of before. Part of the fun of cooking is practicing and messing around with new flavors, right? So mix and muddle everything in sight! A traditional Thai green curry paste is a blend of primarily chilies, ginger, coriander, lemongrass, galangal, cumin, lime, garlic, shallots and some sort of fish based sauce (I often see a shrimp paste used). The High Heel Gourmet has a great, authentic Thai Green Curry Paste Recipe. You're really able to play with the level of heat with this paste, which is an important advantage because the imported pastes you may buy at the store are often insanely spicy, and I'm no wimp!