I'm not by any means a Real Food Purist. While there are many "food-like-substances" that I will avoid if at all possible, there are few that Will Never Pass My Lips. I do find, though, that I prefer cooking from scratch from basic ingredients over boxed meals, seasoning packets, and ready-to-eat prepared foods. It's definitely healthier, it's frequently much cheaper, but for me the real benefit is that it's much more flexible. I don't have to worry about whether I have a packet of "taco seasoning" in my cupboard if I suddenly decide I want tacos for dinner. I sometimes miss the convenience of just being able to open a box and pull out single-serving portions of something, and so do some of the other less food-conscious members of my household. Homemade versions of "store-bought" frequently take more time than I'm willing to spend for the amount of food I get out of it. If I spend two hours of active time making something, I'd better get at least four meals out of it!
A couple of months ago I saw that Food in Jars had posted a glowing review of The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila (who blogs here). I flipped through it at my local B&N and decided that it had enough good ideas to be worth spending money on. A lot of the recipes are things that any good cook probably could have figured out, but there's something to be said for letting someone slightly more driven do the experimentation for you! Add to that a bit of "Gee, I'd've thought it would be more complicated than that!" and you've got a good reason to pick this book up.
I've made a few of the recipes now, and am starting to tweak some of them to my household's tastes and habits. The chocolate pudding recipe gets used frequently. Normally I wouldn't make a dessert on a regular basis, but this recipe came along shortly after I started putting chocolate pudding in my daughter's school lunches. I know I could have used a classic custard-based chocolate pudding recipe from The Joy of Cooking, but frankly, this one is faster and easier, and most importantly for my ASD daughter, the flavor and texture are nearly identical to store-bought. No surprise there, because they're essentially the same thing - milk thickened with cornstarch and flavored with chocolate. I have found that a half-recipe of Alana's chocolate pudding fits perfectly into five 4oz canning jars! On Sunday evening I spend a total of maybe 15-20 minutes and make five little snack-sized jars of chocolate pudding for a week's worth of lunches. Time well spent!
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