I was intrigued when I saw The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila come across my desk. Subtitled “101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making”, it’s a compendium of recipes for both staples and not-so-necessary foods that are more often bought than made at home. The thing that really caught my eye were the homemade “Pop-Tarts®” on the cover. I was a wee bit disappointed to find that the crust is simply a pie dough, albeit a good pie dough recipe. However, there are step-by-step instructions for putting the toaster pastries together, and a few suggestions for sweet and savory things to put in them (with recipes from the book) like Pesto and Ricotta or Tomato Sauce and Cheese (for your own pizza pockets).
The book starts with an introduction outlining the whys and wherefores of making things yourself instead of buying them. It also introduces the reader to one of the charms of the book—Chernila’s writing. I found her a warm and funny writer, and each chapter begins with a little story about the chapter to come. There’s a lot of personal history there, including a number of stories concerning her two young daughters. I often find that sort of thing cloying, but I enjoyed these.
Following the intro, there are several pages covering useful tools for the kitchen, ranging from cheesecloth to electric and nonelectric appliances. Really good information for novice cooks, with some interesting tidbits for those more advanced as well.
The recipes start out with Aisle 1 (clever way to organize the chapters, I think). Dairy. Yup, making your own cheese (ricotta, mozzarella, cream cheese), yogurt, butter, and crème fraîche as well as real or cultured buttermilk. I had never thought about buying starters for this sort of thing online, but Chernila includes an online store (www.cheesemaking.com) where you can buy starters for all those (and more). I might consider the crème fraîche sometime, as I sometimes run across recipes that call for it and I don’t know that sour cream is always a really good substitute. For yogurt eaters, I’m betting that it’s a lot cheaper to make your own!
Aisle 2 covers cereals and snacks, from granola to jerky. The toaster pastries are included here, as well as snack bars. Making your own snack bars strikes me as a very cost effective way to go aside from being able to leave out what you don’t like (raisins, anyone?) and add what you like better (dried cherries, maybe?)
Aisle 3 encompasses canning fruits, vegetables, and beans. I will leave it to the reader to find out all about that, as my life plan does not include ever, ever, ever canning anything again after my youthful experience with way too many tomatoes in mid-summer before we had air conditioning.
Aisle 4 has recipes for various condiments, spices, and spreads. I like the widely available “anticipation” ketchup very well, so I’ll take a pass on that. Likewise, I’m very happy with the mayonnaise that comes in the jar with the blue lid, so I’m good there. I will say that the poultry spice mix sounds very appetizing, along with the hummus, so maybe I’ll give those a shot.
Aisle 5 contains soups, including how to make your own stock to build them with. The lentil sounds good, as well as the potato leek soup. I may give each of those a shot.
Aisle 6 brings us to what I was rather thinking this book would be about: mixes for pancakes and waffles and the like. In addition to the pancake/waffle ready mix, there are recipes to make your own pudding, cornbread, pie crust, and more. Sadly, the only actual “prep ahead” recipe is for the pancake/waffle mix, but it is surely cheaper (and I’m guessing, better) than the box from the store!
Aisle 7 covers freezing foods, both vegetables in general and for some specific recipes. For example, make your own freeze-and-bake pizza, chicken nuggets, veggie burgers, and fish sticks. Again, you have control over the ingredients and I trust it can be less expensive to make your own.
Aisle 8 is pasta and sauce. The most interesting thing here is a really luscious sounding macaroni and cheese. One of my favorites.
Aisle 9? Bread and crackers. Hamburger buns, whole wheat or white bread, corn or flour tortillas, wheat or cheese crackers, or made from scratch graham crackers as well as a gluten-free cracker.
I’m about out of room here, so I’ll just mention the last two chapters cover beverages and sweets (including homemade marshmallows for those so inclined). All in all, some good recipes and some very nice writing. Now, I’m off to that website. . .