Thursday, January 3, 2008

Cooking from Scratch

This may seem obvious (or not), but it is healthy and frugal to cook from scratch. But maybe not all that simple. I have several friends who insist that "by the time you buy all of the ingredients, it's cheaper to eat out". I have argued that while there are many reasons to eat out, don't fool yourself into thinking that money is one of them. Now, dishes...THAT'S a reason to eat out. I hate doing dishes.

Of course, it takes proper planning and the ability to cook from a pantry to really save money in the kitchen. And the more you cook from scratch, the better.

This week, my "from scratch" cooking included making my own yogurt and bread. I use a yogurt maker (working mom, so while I know you don't need one, it's just easier for me). I also use powdered milk, which you think would be cheap...but with prices going up, the milk I bought for $11.99 in July (to make 5 gallons) is now $14.99, 16.99, or 18.99, depending on the store. Of course that's more per gallon than I currently spend on milk, so I'm not buying it right now.

All in all, I can make 4 cups of yogurt for about a dollar. And here's where the money-saving idea of substitution comes in. I love cottage cheese. My favorite brand of cottage cheese (Trader Joe's) is also the cheapest. But what was only $2.59 last year is now $3.99, due to the increase in oil and dairy prices. That's for 4 cups. Since I can make yogurt for about 1/4 the price of that, I am eating yogurt not cottage cheese.

I also tried my hand at the "No Knead Bread" recipe in Mother Earth News this week. I have a few versions, including Cook's Illustrated and an internet version. It really was as easy as they say...about 5 mins to mix, 5 mins to fold over (the extra time is to avoid sticking), and 5 min to roll in a ball and let rise. Bake time is 45 min. My partial whole-wheat bread was tender on the inside with a good crust. I will be making it again this weekend, maybe a kalamata olive version to go with lasagna.

The cost of the ingredients for this bread was about $0.25, plus the cost of the cornmeal that I dusted it with, so maybe $0.35 for a 1.5 pound loaf. As far as snacks go, this ranks right up there with popcorn on cost and health (though you don't want to overdo on either - 6 servings per day of carbs for me.)

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