I've been cooking from scratch since I started cooking nearly fifty years ago. It makes sense to me because it's tastier, I know what is in my food and it's cheaper. Of course there are many other reasons but I reckon those three oblige me to do it. I went through phases of adding gravy powder to my gravy, buying pastry cases because it was easier, and making stock with stock cubes, but none of them lasted long. My gravy didn't taste as good, the pastry I bought was capable of sitting on a store shelf for weeks, and tasted like it, and I discovered that making stock with bones and herbs was much more satifiying than boiling water and stirring in a cube of who knows what. I am much more cautious of synthetic food preservatives than I am of the fungus and bacteria they prevent growing. If I want to provide my family with healthy and safe meals, I much prefer to use fresh clean food, add only natural seasonings and cook it from scratch. I want to eat real food.
Humans have survived all these years without eating artificially preserved and flavoured foods and now it is our turn to control the food chain and what do we do? We change it, just because we can. We add compounds that we don't know the long-term affects of and we eat things because we like the taste, or the advertising. We're eating food prepared by people we don't know and most of the time we have no idea what's in it, how it was cooked or how old it is. And it's not just food, it's drinks as well. The obvious ones we should avoid are soft drinks/sodas but many fruit juices contain a lot of sugar, preservatives and are made with reconstituted juice. Water is vital for good health so it's not just consuming these laden drinks that's the entire problem, they stop you drinking water too.
If you're still using a lot of processed and convenience foods a good place to start is your breakfast menu. Stop buying boxed cereals and replace them with rolled oats. Soaking the oats overnight in warm water not only softens the oats to make them cook faster, it makes them more digestible. Make sure you pour off the water and rinse them well before cooking. Here is a recipe for soaked oats. You could also eat poached or boiled eggs with wholemeal toast, fresh fruit juice or fruit, or buckwheat pancakes with yoghurt and fruit. Of course, the pancakes and yoghurt would be made from scratch. Maybe you could add a weekly yoghurt making session to your kitchen tasks and store it in the fridge for breakfasts and desserts.
I can't give you an arm load of scratch recipes right now, although I have a lot of them on my blog if you care to look, but will encourage you instead to learn the various ways you can cook from scratch. Once you understand and master the techniques, you can make your own recipes up, according to your family's tastes and the food you have on hand. The commonly used ways of cooking from scratch include:
- shallow frying
- stir frying
- braising - slow cooking in a closed pot on the stove top or in a slow cooker or in cast iron or Pyrex in the oven
Of course, you'd also include raw foods, even though they're not cooked, they still have to be cleaned, prepared and stored so they're served at their best.
If you're just starting out and want very basic instruction on how to cook, as well as some good recipes to try, I recommend the Women's Weekly cook books. They've been around for donkey's years, I still cook from the Chinese, French and children's birthday party cooks books I bought 30 years ago, but I've also bought the slow cooking and the preserves cook books in the past year. They're excellent - they encourage simple home cooking using ingredients most of us have in the pantry. You can see the range at Fishpond but most of the newer ones should be available at your newsagent if you're in Australia. BTW, I have no affiliation with these cook books. I recommend them because I use them, they feature real food and they offer good value for money for new cooks.
Cooking from scratch will stand you in good stead if you're wanting to simplify your life, eat real food and cut back on food additives. If you couple that with setting the table with cloth napkins, a water jug and glasses, and gathering the family around it to eat together, you'll be doing just what your grandma and her grandma did. And that's a wonderful example to follow.
ADDITION: Melissa from Frugal and Thriving, a great Australian blog, sent me her ebook Plan, Cook, Save this morning. I've just gone through the recipes and read a few of the earlier pages and I have to tell you, I'm impressed. It goes into Scratch Cooking in depth and has quite a number of recipes for the home cook. I recommend it to you but you can read about it here and decide for yourself.