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Game-Changing Kitchen Staples You Can Make Yourself

There are a few staples in almost everybody’s kitchen that are used quite often and are usually purchased in a jar or bag at the store. Sure, these are great as they come, but making them yourself is so much more fun, rewarding, and it’s usually cheaper! Here are 5 staples that I prefer to make from scratch, and how you can do it, too!

1. Pickles

Sure, store-bought pickles can be great, but homemade pickles are so much cheaper and more rewarding to make. Not to mention that there can be endless variations past your typical dill pickle! All you need to do is slice up a veggie of your choice and stuff it into a jar or reusable container. You’ll need to choose a vegetable that’s not too fragile—cucumbers, onions, and carrots are great, while spinach may not be the best choice. Heat up equal parts vinegar and water with a little bit of sugar and salt on the stove until it boils, along with any herbs, spices, or other flavours you want! When the mixture is hot, pour it right over your veggies and pop it into the fridge! This method is known as quick pickling, so depending on the size and type of veggie, your pickles will be ready to eat any time between a few hours to a week from the time you make them. My favourite thing to pickle is red onions—they turn a beautiful hot pink colour and are delicious to eat with almost everything!

2. Bread

Bread seems to be something that lots of people are intimidated to make, but making break actually hardly takes any skill, and most of the time it takes to make bread is spent rising the dough. Generally, bread consists of flour, yeast, water, salt, and (sometimes) sugar. These ingredients can be bought quite cheaply and will be useful for many other recipes other than bread. There are 6 main steps when making bread:

  1. Mixing the dough
  2. Kneading the dough—this is what develops gluten in your dough, and gluten gives the final product the structure it needs. Kneading is also super simple to master!
  3. Waiting for the first rise
  4. Shaping the dough—perhaps into a loaf pan, dinner rolls, garlic knots, or even cinnamon buns!
  5. Waiting for the second rise
  6. Baking

This is my go-to recipe for a plain-ol’ loaf of bread! I usually half the recipe to make only 1 loaf at a time. Unfortunately, homemade bread tends to dry out faster than its store-bought counterparts due to the lack of added preservatives, but you can try freezing half of a loaf if you don’t think you’ll be able to eat it all before it gets dry. If it’s too late and your bread is not quite up to PB&J or toast standards, you can try making bread pudding, french toast, or bread crumbs out of it!

3. Salad Dressing

Hear me out: I don’t ever buy salad dressing. Making your own is super easy, and (you may notice that this is a trend) there are so many flavour possibilities! The simplest kind to make is a vinaigrette, which can be thrown together in 30 seconds using equal parts olive oil and a vinegar of your choice (plus any other flavours you enjoy), and whisking it together in a bowl or shaking it up in a jar. There are also lots of recipes out there for creamy salad dressings that either have creamy additives (like yogurt or mayonnaise) or are made by slowly emulsifying oil into a liquid like lemon juice.

Here is my go-to salad dressing recipe:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 clove of minces or crushed garlic
  • 1 finely diced shallot (or onion powder)
  • 1 tsp sugar or maple syrup
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

4. Pasta Sauce

In French cooking, there is a concept called the “mother sauces,” of which there are five. There are many variations on these 5 sauces that can fit any dish needed. For pasta, I’ll talk about two of these mother sauces: béchamel and tomato sauce. Making pasta sauce at home can be so much tastier than buying it in a jar.

For the béchamel sauce, you should start by heating a pan to medium heat and melting some butter. When the butter is melted, mix in an equal amount of flour and continue whisking until it’s thickened and doesn’t smell “floury” any longer. This technique is called making a roux, which is the basis of any cream sauce. Following that, add in your milk of choice and whisk for several minutes until the sauce thickens to a desirable consistency, then season with salt and other flavours to your liking! If you fancy a cheese sauce, take the finished béchamel sauce off the heat, and add in some shredded cheese of your choice until just melted through and velvety smooth.

For the tomato sauce, there are many ways to go about it! When I’m in a pinch, a jar of strained tomatoes or a can of crushed tomatoes works best. When I have a little more time, I use fresh tomatoes. In either case, I like to sauté some garlic and onion or shallot in a pan with some olive oil, then add my tomatoes and simmer until reduced to a saucy consistency. When using fresh tomatoes, I like to cook them up in the pan for a while, then mash them down a bit with a fork or potato masher. The key to levelling up a tomato sauce is to toss through some starchy pasta water from the water you used to cook your noodle of choice in! Also known as “liquid gold” by some, pasta water is the one ingredient that will improve the texture and consistency of your tomato sauce by an incredible amount.

For a bonus type of sauce: mix béchamel and tomato sauce together for a delicious rosé sauce. Whichever you choose, have fun with it! Experiment with lots of ingredients, pasta shapes, and flavours!

5. Jam

It seems like everyone’s grandmother makes jam, but no one actually does it themselves. I’ll let you in on what might be a surprising secret: it’s dead simple to make jam at home! Really, you can make jam out of whatever fruit you want (I usually choose what’s on sale). Prime example: the jar of jam currently sitting in my fridge was made from a $1 bag of cranberries I found at the store right after Thanksgiving! To make jam at home, all you need is fruit, sugar, water, and a little bit of time. Your jam really just needs to cook down until the pieces of fruit are soft, and it has reduced enough to be as thick as you prefer your jam to be. Many people also like to add some lemon juice to balance the sweetness of their jams. The fruits that work best for jam-making are apples, cranberries, citrus, peaches, and blueberries as they have lots of pectin, though any fruit will work.

I hope that you’ll try some of these, and gain some empowerment in the kitchen and confidence in your cooking as a result! Oh, and feel free to use my golden rule when it comes to cooking: you can do whatever the H-E-double hockey sticks you want (even when following a recipe)!

Hailing from Northwestern Ontario, Jessica is an avid baker and traveller and has a passion for learning and experiencing new things. She is currently studying Life Sciences with a minor in Aging Studies and hopes to become a dentist in the future.
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