This summer has been a real adventure in cooking from scratch. I think that making something “from scratch” can sound intimidating to a lot of people. Before I really starting cooking at all, that term really scared me. I thought of it as a snobby way to say that something was better than something else.
Cooking from scratch isn’t always better (depending on what you are using to determine what “better” is). The first time I made a cake from scratch, it was tough, dry, and pretty much inedible. Making ice cream from scratch is much tastier than store-bought, but certainly not cheaper and probably not healthier since we often use eggs and heavy cream. Making ice cream also takes a decent amount of time and advance planning. Pizza from scratch is probably the most delicious I’ve ever eaten, but can take at least a day of advanced planning to deal with dough and good ingredients may not be cheap.
Even when making something from scratch isn’t cheaper, healthier, more delicious, or less time consuming than buying something partially or completely pre-made, there’s something to be said for the self-sufficiency of it all. I really get a lot of enjoyment from learning how to do something. I like knowing how things are made and how much work goes into their creation. Even if I make something from scratch rarely (like pasta), knowing how to do so helps me appreciate the differences between what I am able to do and what a manufacturer can do. It also helps me make informed decisions on whether it is worth it for me to get the ingredients and make something myself or to buy it.
Last time I wrote about this, I was getting ready to make the decadent ricotta cheese that Smitten Kitchen had posted. For her, making the cheese herself allowed her to make something far richer than you can generally buy in the store. I’m less interested in eating ricotta cheese straight up – I tend to use it only as an ingredient in other recipes. The problem is that it can be a hard ingredient to keep on hand as it isn’t cheap and it can sometimes go bad before I have used it all. I really have to plan to have it around just in time for when I want to use it.
This was a case where learning how to make an ingredient from scratch meant that I would get to use it a lot more. Taking Deb’s recipe and thinning it out a bit with less fats gives me a similar cheese to what I can buy, yet I don’t have to make a special trip to the store to get it. I always have milk, lemon juice, and salt in the house. Now if I want to make a recipe that uses ricotta cheese, I can whip up the amount I need right before I need it and not worry about remembering to buy it.
While cooking from scratch can be a scary endeavor before you try it, it can be a great experiment in figuring out exactly what you can do in the kitchen. Sometimes it’s a time saver, sometimes not. Sometimes the result is so much better than what you can buy, and sometimes it isn’t. But it is always a learning experience. These learning experiences give you a little bit more freedom in the kitchen to try new things and see what happens.
So don’t be afraid of a recipe just because it starts with “from scratch.” Such a recipe can be simpler or easier than you might guess, and the knowledge could be a big benefit in a pinch.
About this author: I'm a New Yorker who would rather cook than go out to restaurants. Sometimes I think I may be in the wrong city for that. Then I remember the exotic ingredients I'd be hard-pressed to find if I lived somewhere else. My cooking style is an eclectic range of everyday-American, Italian, middle-eastern, with extensive forays into Japanese cuisine, and some pit-stops into Indian and African cuisines. I love to try my hand at recreating dishes I taste. While I enjoy most anything with a flavor, from high cuisine to instant junk food, I have a soft spot in my belly for home-style cooking no matter the geographic or ethnic origin. Read more from this author...