11 December 2008

Home cooking - how to

One of the things we all do every day is eat. If you're looking for a way to start simplifying your life, if you're a new wife or husband, or if you've just moved away from your parents home, learning to cook from scratch is a very important step on your road to independence. Cooking from scratch is home cooking or comfort food - it's those meals your mum or grandma made that used wholesome, fresh ingredients and staples. There was no recipe book for those meals, they came from a long history of understanding food, how to mix it together with good results and from recipes passed from mother to daughter.

No matter how many times you see a food item in a box named "Mama's Choice", "Grandma's Favourite" or "Nana's Pie", those foods would rarely have been used by our mums and grandmas. Food producers know the appeal of comfort food and try to use that longing for old fashioned home cooking to sell their products. Don't be fooled, many of them contain preservatives, artificial colourings, stabilisers, firming agents, colour fixatives and flavour enhancers. Even some precooked organic foods contain these additives, so if you're trying to eat healthy food, the best way to do that is to cook it yourself.

Here is a list of Australian food additives here and here. The FDA USA food additives list is here but I have to tell you it's quite confusing (I wonder why). Information here about UK food additives and colourings. Readers in other countries, I encourage you to Google "food additives ...." < - add the name of your country, to find out more about your food.

Buyers beware.

What you cook will be healthier, cheaper and fresher than any convenience food you buy, and it will contain only what you put in it. Now, I'm not telling you that you'll never buy another take away meal or convenience food, but I want to encourage you to move towards home cooking and to try to make most of your food. I know there are times you need a quick bought meal. Just the other day I bought a vegetarian pizza for our dinner. I'd been at work all day and Hanno was busy, but I doubt we'll do that again for another six months.

Home cooking does take longer, that is why you pay so much for convenience food. You are paying for someone else's time and experience to make your food, along with all the ingredients they use. But over time, as you develop your skills, and hopefully your desire to cook, you'll realise you can cut back on the time it takes for many things. You can cook double the amount and freeze another meal for later, you can pre-prepare and just do the cooking when it's needed, you can use a slow cooker that will cook while you do other things. There are ways around the time issue.

Over the coming weeks I'll add to this, and probably make it a series of how to's, giving hints, tips and short cuts to help you in your kitchen. But in the meantime, please look at the list below and make a start. From scratch cooking is one of the most empowering skills you can have and it will help you on your road to a simpler life.


Here is a post I wrote a long time ago about developing flavour in home cooking.
Home cooking recipes - USA, there are some good recipes here but it pains me to see them using cans of soup and something called browning sauce. I don't know what that is. Nevertheless, I believe these recipes are a good starting point for the new cook and when you get further down the track, you may wish to use something other than cans of soup to flavour some of the recipes here.
Egg recipes
For UK recipes, who else but Delia
Australian recipes - the cook and the chef
Slow cooker recipes
Australian vegetarian recipes - Kurma
Traditional Christmas dinner (Australia)
Casseroles and stews
Recipes for all meals
Food for baby
Baby food recipes
Food equivalents and substitutes
International measure calculator
Explanations and old fashioned conversions
Can sizes



  1. Hi Rhonda
    Jamie Oliver has a new idea here at the moment,which I think you might find intersting. http://www.jamieoliver.com/jamies-ministry-of-food. His ministry of food program encourages individuals to learn how to cook a small number of recipes & then pass it on to a number of other 'non cooks'.I havent watched the TV program as I dont watch much TV but I approve of teaching the world to cook again.
    Hope you find it useful

  2. Gravy browning is stuff like Bisto (UK, not sure if you have that in Australia), so maybe browning sauce is like a UK gravy, rather than the USA white gravy?

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  4. Great post Rhonda, thank you. Its a great feeling of satisfaction when you know you can produce good home cooked food, for me its been part of taking back that control that I lost for so many years. RosieB

  5. I really liked this post as I am trying to cook all our meals from scratch. Don't feel bad. I am from the USA and have no idea what browning sauce is either!

  6. Great post (again!!)
    Thanks for posting the baby food recipes--I think that all babies should be lucky enough to eat home cooked food!
    When my daughter first started solids, that's when I started questioning ingredients--and thank goodness! I can't believe some of the stuff we eat, never mind what we feed our tiny babies.
    She is only 18 months now, and I'm proud to say she hasn't had much processed sugar, and very few store bought convenience foods (crackers are my weakness). It's thanks to her that I'm learning how to feed our whole family better.
    It is my hope that as she grows older, and adds more foods to her life that our whole family will adapt, and eventually be free of most unhealthy, packaged foods!!

  7. Browning sauce is also known in the US by the brand name "Gravy Master". It comes in a little brown bottle with an orange label, and is used to season, color and slightly thicken sauces. I dug through my kitchen cabinet and found I had a bottle. The ingredients don't look horribly awful: caramelized sugar, caramel, color, water, hydrolyzed soy and corn protein, apple cider vinegar, salt and spices (onion,celery,parsley,garlic). I'd prefer to brown my own gravy base, but I suppose this would do in a pinch. Since my bottle looks like it's never been opened and I can't recall when I got it, it's going in the trash.

    Love your blog, Rhonda! Best wishes from Lilburn, Georgia, USA.

  8. This is something I've been trying to do to reduce additives in my kid's diet.
    It helps to remember cooking from scratch isn't always slower! Queueing at the deli for a chicken and then again at the checkout and driving through peak hour traffic can take a while too! I'm trying to compile a list of home-cooked "fast food" for time-challenged evenings.

  9. Great post, as always. I'm always hunting recipe sites for inspiration.


  10. Hi Rhonda,

    I've been reading your blogs for weeks and I love it!

    Though this has nothing to do with today's particular post, I was wondering if you have any solutions for controlling helicoverpa caterpillars? These are the ones that burrow into fruit - I've never had problems before but they are attacking everything in my garden! I don't use any sprays (though I have started using the eco-naturalure baits). I actually work at a nursery so I know exactly what those pesticides do - I hate them. The only solution I can think of is to dust the fruit on my plants with plain flour - we had a customer tell us recently that she does this and it stops all the pests (including fruitfly! I don't know about that one, I'm not taking any chances this year...).

    Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!


  11. I found the Turkish recipe blog a few weeks ago and I love the recipes. I have to admit, I don't cook from scratch as much as I should, mostly because I dislike cooking. However, this blog did inspire me. All the recipe's I've looked at so far are from scratch. Thought you might like to add it to the list.


  12. I've been reading your blog for a while and love it! You are really inspiring.

    I live in Chicago and have no idea what browning sauce is, either. And I have never heard of the "Gravy Master" that Barb mentions. Doesn't sound like something I'd want in my family's food, really.

    Thanks for the great information!

  13. Hello everyone!

    Lizzie, I hate to disappoint you but Jamie Oliver is a no go zone for me. ((Shudder))

    Barb, thanks for the explanation. That 'color, hydrolyzed soy and corn protein' would set my alarm signal off. Thanks for taking the time to comment. :- )

    Hello Thursday, welcome. We use Dipel on the caterpillars here that we don't pick off by hand. You can read about it here: http://www.greenharvest.com.au/pestcontrol/caterpillar_prod.html
    Good luck.

    Thanks Jen, any from-scratch webpages are welcome.

    Joanne, thanks for your thoughts. I'll use that fast food home cooking for another post. You might get some more meals for your kids' list.

  14. Thanks for this blog Rhonda, what a great topic and one that helped us save alot of money on our groceries; along with making me feel like a true homemaker and proud that I can now serve nutritious and yummy meals to my family! I also love wearing an apron, it's bit like being dressed for work!
    Looking forward to reading more of your posts on this topic. I have put a link on my latest post on my blog http://www.ohsewbusy.blogspot.com
    Bec xxx

  15. Here's another Australian site that I think has a good range of basic recipes & explanations of how to do some techniques - http://www.taste.com.au/

    It has recipes from a number of different magazines, like super food ideas, taste, vogue entertaining & others.

    The recipe on the front page of the site changes daily, today it's a yummy sounding chocolate & walnut fudge.

  16. Oh, and while you may not like Jamie Oliver, he does have some fantastic basic recipes on his ministry of food site (http://www.jamiesministryoffood.com/content/jo/recipes.html), including how to make real gravy from scratch, instead of using a powder from a tin.

  17. Jamie Oliver's chav persona *is* irritating, but I loved the school dinners program he did -- if you want to see what happens to cooking in a poor urban situation, watch his show! WRT home cooking for the inexperienced: I think the real difficulties are knowing how long to cook different foods for, and how to have everything ready on time. And my most important tip is how and when to vary ingredients.

  18. I used to be a fan of Delia (UK) but her latest book 'How to Cheat at Cooking' isn't cooking from scratch and advocates using tinned food & prepackaged food eg tinned mince & frozen mashed potato for shepherds pie besides lots of other convenience stuff full of additives.
    Thanks for the conversion tables, quite often something I want to cook is measured by the cup, but the conversion table only shows how to convert cups to fluid ounces not dry measures for instance what is the equivalent of 1 cup of flour in grammes or ounces?

  19. That Gravy Master stuff sounds awfully like Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce (UK). I have to say, its not actually bad stuff and is lovely on cheese on toast. Its quite a traditional food that's been around for donkey's years, although I'm sure that in recent years they will have started pumping it full of additives to make it a better colour/make it last longer etc.

    I'm ashamed to say I don't cook much in our house, hubby does most of it, although I bake the bread and do help him out. Its something I've wanted to get learning though, especially since finding this blog. I'll give it a go soon!

  20. Hi Rhonda
    thank you for all those lovely links in this post. I haven't had an oven since january (needed to save for the new one I wanted and the unit to fit it in)It has made me very creative in my cooking but it will be nice to be able to bake again. It will be all fitted and ready for use when I return from my trip. I am sure I will find the Australian sites useful while visiting my daughters.

    Pippa xx

  21. My mom always used the browning sauce, here called gravy master, to darken her gravy for whatever reason. I actually have a bottle in my cupboard, but never used it. I guess I have it because my mom always had it on hand and thought I needed to have it.
    I am looking forward to more cooking tips.

  22. There`s a great site I use that teaches how to cook from scratch,
    http://blog.cooklikeyourgrandmother.com Check him out!

  23. Hi
    I just found your blog via Homespun Living and just love it here. Thanks for putting everything that I am interested in, thinking about and trying to do in one lovely place!

  24. I love to cook! I use to use the "helpers" but cook completely from scratch now. I'm from the US but have never heard of the gravy browning stuff. Gravy is so easy to make, and I have no idea why you would want to add anything to it. *shrug*

  25. we cook almost everything from scratch. My daughter is 12 and cant tolerate any processed food not from any allergies or illness but because she has never had it! it makes it hard when she goes to parties as a vegetarian (a decision she made when she was about 6) and they are always kind and have frozen veggie pies or veggie pizza and she just cant stomach it.

    She knows where food comes from and the only thing we have out of cans is tomatoes and from the freezer - peas and sometimes raspberries for muffins or sauce. And that is only rarely as a standby.

    She will try almost anything and loves vegetables like broad beans (raw and in pasta) , all sorts legumes, wholemeal pastas and rice. People ask me what I did to get her to eat so well and I just smile and say I fed it to her and that really is all I did from when she was little. Mind you she still likes chocolate and I cook sweet things with sugar too so she has some of that but it is all balanced out. No trans fats in this house thankfully.

    The steps I have taken lately are to go even further and we make our own pasta once a week - free range eggs and organic flours, we bake all our own bread (thank god for the no knead recipe), we plan to start grinding bean flours and I am hoping to get some tomatoes bottled from our crop next month.

    I think Jamie Oliver is fabulous... I dont agree with the salt he uses though. But his series in the garden inspired me so much and the Ministry of food series that was shown here in Australia a few months back showed at least he was trying to do something. The expose he did on chicken farms was excellent as well.

    Gabriel Gate had four or so great family cooking books that I still use all the time. Fresh foods, minimal ingredients and quick.


  26. Hi all
    Jamie can be irritating, no doubt about it, but if he gets people cooking that weren't cooking before then I can put it with the irritations.

  27. Thank you for all the wonderful links you have on this post.
    I'm a homeschooling Mum in Victoria and I've been ensuring my children learn as much as possible about what's in their food.
    I had to laugh when yesterday my 7yr old daughter stopped mid-sip from a glass of cordial she was given. It was apple and blackcurrent, but she asked "Mum! Do you know what colours are in this cordial? Is the red colour from beetles (cochineal)?"

  28. Our next door neighbors gifted us with half a Blue Hubbard Squash (think very big) and I immediately baked it and then it was made into soup with some leftover chicken and rice and a few onions. Being able to take immediate advantage of free foods with down home cooking skills seems to be a lost art.

    It seems that folks plan menus to save money but have forgotten how to be spontaneous with what's available when.

    I'd love to see Home Economics address this (actually I'd love to see Home Economics taught again).

  29. Great post! I know I feel so much better when I cook from scratch than processes foods.

    Here's my favorite baby food site. I made all the food for my sons.


    I sell Pampered Chef and am always amazed when people really don't "cook!" It's a lost art that is making a comeback - or trying to.


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