Eating, Meal planning, Nutrition

To buy or not to buy: When homemade is better and cheaper than store-bought

Have you ever tried to make a dish at home just to have it cost more than double what it would have been to buy it at the store and take three times longer to make than it was supposed to? Did you end up with a complete mess and a so-so result?

Well these homemade items are the complete opposite of that nightmare!

There is something to be said for convenience. Being able to grab something at the grocery store and have it ready for immediate use is a modern miracle. We hardly think anything of throwing a jar of pasta sauce, a bottle of ketchup, a loaf of bread or a jar of salsa into the cart, right? The truth is, however, that some of the items that we buy are ridiculously easy to make, take no time at all, and come out tasting better than anything we could have bought in the store. Not all of them, of course. I am not talking about homemade everything…ain’t nobody got time for that. If you’re up for the challenge (the easiest challenge EVER), try these simple recipes to make some basic grocery items that will save you money and time on top of tasting better than store-bought.

Check out this clip from my visit with the Good Morning Washington team to learn how 5 simple recipes will change your opinion of convenience foods.

First off, let’s start with salsa. This is a fresh tomato salsa (also known as pico de gallo). This recipe costs about $7.00 for 4 cups of salsa and the same amount of comparable store-bought salsa is about $12.00, saving you money for incredible flavor! In some cases, you may even be avoiding additives like sugar and excessive sodium, as well.

PicoMakes 4 cups of salsa. Time: 10 minutes maximum.

3 large tomatoes (cut into quarters, stems removed)
1 jalapeño, cut off stem and cut in half (optional for spicy)
1 garlic clove
1/4 cilantro bunch
1/2 onion
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 lime (for juice)

Directions:

Put 1/4 tomato, the garlic clove, and the jalapeño in the food processor and mix together. Pour into a bowl.

Add the cilantro to the food processor and pulse until fine. Add to the jalapeño mixture.

Place the half onion into the food processor and pulse until chopped. Add to the mixture.

Combine the remaining tomatoes, cumin, salt, pepper, and lime juice in the food processor and run until desired consistency (less time for chunky salsa, more time for smoother salsa).

Add the tomato mixture to the bowl and mix gently with a spatula. Taste and adjust as needed. Serve immediately or the next day for even better flavor!

SpicyMayo

Next on the list: mayo. Have you ever made your own mayonnaise?? It’s actually very easy to make and when you make it at home, you can use whatever oil you prefer AND cut out any of the modified food starch, preservatives, and extra unwanted ingredients that are added in the manufacturing process. The best part is, it is incredibly versatile! You can add all kinds of fun ingredients to make your own special recipe. Truth be told, using olive oil makes the homemade version cost a bit more than the store-bought version ($4.25 for 8 oz vs $2.73 for 8 oz) and you need to find the right light flavor olive oil for the best taste. Once you start adding in extras, however, the value of the homemade olive oil option increases drastically, or you can consider using vegetable oil to drop the cost significantly.

I use avocado oil for a lighter flavor and the same healthy fats found in olive oil. The cost for homemade mayo with avocado oil is $6.64 for 8 oz vs $9.99 for the store-bought option!

Try this 4-ingredient base recipe and get creative with it!

Makes 1 cup of mayonnaise. Time: 5 minutes

1 cup avocado oil
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1 egg
1 tbsp lemon juice

Directions:

Combine the egg, lemon juice, and mustard in the food processor on a low speed and slowly add the oil. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed, pulse to mix.

Fun additions to consider: Sriracha for a spicy mayo or chopped garlic for a garlicky mayo. Herbs and other spices can be added as desired.

HUMMUS! This next recipe is only slightly more time consuming, but the result is incredible. I was shocked at how creamy and fresh this homemade hummus was! For the record: I love store-bought hummus. The ingredients are pretty reasonable and the flavor is one of my go-to favorites. The cost is usually just okay, but I’ve always considered it worth the price…until I made my own! You can use dry beans (longer option) or canned beans (faster option). This is another VERY versatile 5-ingredient recipe and the best part is…it costs less than half of the store-bought options! There will always be a place for store-bought hummus in my life (think: quick option for a party treat at a friend’s house), but I will be making my own on a regular basis from now on.

Hummus2

I would love to claim this as my own recipe, but I cannot. The folks at Inspired Taste did an amazing job with step-by-step instructions for making your own hummus (and even your own tahini (aka sesame paste) if you want!).

Start with 1 can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), 1/4 cup of tahini, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 large lemon, and 1 tsp of salt. As they mention here, the key is very thorough mixing of the ingredients for the creamiest hummus. I added paprika and garlic for extra flavor, but you could add roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto (see below!!) or more to make your very own hummus specialty.

I have a confession. I LOVE PESTO. I would actually add it to almost anything, but especially pasta. I found a delicious pesto at Union Market in Washington DC and fell in love with it. Shortly after, I found myself with an overwhelming about of basil and, to prevent wasting food if it went bad, I decided to make some pesto. I was completely blown away by how quickly I turned those leaves into my favorite sauce…seriously, about 2 minutes and I was done! You can use a variety of greens for making pesto, too. My first try was with spinach added and it was delicious. This recipe is 5 simple ingredients that you can modify to your own tastes. If you have your own basil plant, this dish costs about $4.00, ($10.50 if you buy the basil) compared to the equivalent amount of store-bought pesto at $18.75! Also, you can make this dish vegan (and cheaper!) by simply cutting out the parmesan cheese.

Pesto2

Makes 2 cups of pesto. Time: 2 minutes.

2 cups of fresh basil, packed tightly
2 tbsp walnuts
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese

Directions:

Add the basil, walnuts and garlic to the food processor and mix together. Add the oil slowly. Add the parmesan cheese last and pulse a few times to mix. That’s it. Seriously. Enjoy!

Last, but not least is chicken broth. I think making my own chicken broth is one of the most soothing and satisfying cooking experiences one can have, and it makes my kitchen smell amazing. I use leftover bits and some fresh herbs, so this recipe usually costs me about $1.25 for 4 quarts compared to $3.89 for 1 quart ($15.56 for 4 quarts!) at the grocery store. I use rotisserie chicken throughout the week and will often have leftover vegetables when I’m preparing other dishes. I keep the chicken bones after I’ve picked most of the meat off and add the vegetable remnants to a freezer bag until I have enough to make broth. I love reducing my food waste and food cost at the same time! Use this recipe as a guide. Feel free to use fresh ingredients that may cost you a few extra dollars and you can use the chicken meat for another meal or add it to the broth later for a delicious chicken soup 🙂

Broth

Makes 4 quarts. Time 2-6 hours of hand-off simmering, mostly.

3 lbs of chicken bones (I use 2-3 rotisserie chickens’ worth)
1 onion
2 celery stalks
2 carrots
1-2 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs of fresh parsley
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
Pepper to taste

Directions:

Combine all of the ingredient in a large pot with 6 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, turn down the temperature to a simmer for at least 2 hours (I prefer 4-6 hours). Add water as needed to keep ingredients covered. Every hour or so, scrape the film off the top and discard. Strain the bits and pieces out when done. Serve as is, or refrigerate to cool. Skim the congealed fat layer from the top once cooled and discard. Store in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.

Let me know what you think if you try any of these recipes! Do you have any other favorite homemade recipes??? Please share in the comments!

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