5 things you should never buy at the supermarket…


…because you can make them better at home! No, really. I remember I was shocked when, some years back, I had just started to take cooking seriously and someone showed me how to make salad dressing. Really? That’s it? And it tastes better? Then I started to wonder…what else can we make at home?

As it turns out, quite a lot of items are better tasting, obviously more fresh, natural (no preservatives) and in fact cheaper when made at home. And it’s not complicated…I am not saying, “hey, let’s skip work today and make homemade lasagna sheets!” What I am saying is that there are several items that take no more than minutes that anyone can make in a standard kitchen.

Here are basic recipes (open to adaptation and interpretation) for five items that every home cook should have in their repertoire – Mayonnaise, Salad Dressing, Infused Oil, Yogurt Cheese and Creme Fraiche.

Homemade Mayonnaise
Got oil? Got eggs? Then you can make mayonnaise.

It’s pretty simple – and there is a cheat. The handheld immersion blender. You aren’t going to be whisking by hand for 20 minutes, the immersion blender dials down most of the effort and you can have mayonnaise by the time the bread is toasted for your sandwich!

– 1 egg yolk
– a tablespoon of prepared Dijon mustard (not grainy)
– ½ a medium sized lemon
– 1 cup flavourless or light flavored oil, like grapeseed oil or safflower oil or extra virgin olive oil

Find a wide-mouth glass or use the tall mixing cup that has come with your immersion blender. Place all the ingredients in the order listed above. This is important because you want the oil to be on top. Now put the immersion blender all the way to the bottom of the mixing glass / cup. Hold it there – do not move up and down! And watch as the blender slowly pulls the oil down and mixes the emulsion into a creamy mayonnaise.

Make chili mayonnaise by adding a dried chipotle chili or a Thai chili to taste. Make garlic mayonnaise by adding very finely minced garlic, from 2-6 cloves depending on how much of a bite you like. Or you can mix in fresh herbs…just use your imagination.

Homemade Salad Dressing
This is for a basic vinaigrette, but if you keep reading, you will see the variations are practically endless.

– a teaspoon of dried or prepared Dijon mustard (this is optional, but adds more body and tang to the emulsion)
– 3 tablespoons vinegar (either balsamic or red wine vinegar)
– ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
– 1 large shallot, finely minced (this is also optional, but adds more character to the vinaigrette)
– Add salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients together in a bowl and whisk until blended. You can also use the immersion blender as indicated above for a slightly creamier result.

The basic principle here is suspending the acid element into the oil element to create an emulsion. The oil element or the acid element can easily be changed. Once you have a basic vinaigrette down, there are endless variations, just remember all you need is an acid and an oil and whatever flavour you want to add.
– For example, use lemon juice as the acid, omit the shallots and add garlic for a tangy lemon vinaigrette. For a honey mustard vinaigrette, use the recipe above and add 1–2 tablespoons of honey.
– For a herb vinaigrette, use white wine vinegar and add fresh mixed herbs of your choice, like basil or dill or rosemary.
– Or change the oil to a nut oil like walnut or hazelnut and use sherry vinegar for a warm, robust nut oil vinaigrette.
– For a creamy vinaigrette, you can add 3 tablespoons of yogurt, or mayonnaise or even sour cream.

Homemade Creme Fraiche
You might be shocked at how simple this is. And if you are living in Asia, like me, you will never be faced with paying 10 Euro for Creme Fraiche again!

Combine 1 Tbsp of buttermilk for every 1 cup of heavy cream. Let sit for 12–24 hrs depending on desired thickness (in a warmish, but not hot, location)

The creme fraiche will keep for up to 7 days in the refrigerator after making.

That’s it! Easy peasy.

Homemade Yogurt Cheese
Yogurt cheese tastes an awful lot like cream cheese, but is soooo much healthier. Also here the variations are endless…mix in honey to make it sweet and eat with strawberries. Mix with chives and garlic to make a savory spread. Eat it plain on toast – with fresh sliced tomato like I do. If you use your imagination it will soon become a kitchen staple given its amazing flexibility as a base.

Start with plain yogurt. It doesn’t really matter if it is Greek or regular…because the basic principle is separating the whey from the curd, so its original texture will soon be transformed through the process of making cheese.

Start by lining a strainer with a double thickness of cheesecloth or a single coffee filter. Then place this strainer on top of a bowl to catch the liquid as it drains from the strainer.  Spoon in the yogurt , cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. As the moisture drains out (the whey) the curd will be left. Depending on how long you let it drain depends on how firm the yogurt cheese will be.

Homemade Infused Oils
You know all those fancy oils you see in gourmet shops – chili oil, Herbs de Provence oil, garlic infused oil….please promise me something – that you will never buy these again! Why? These are the items with the most shocking mark up in the entire store. And they are dead easy to make.

Just take a clean bottle, add in dried herbs or other ingredients like garlic or chilis and then pour enough oil over to cover. Let sit for a week and you have infused oil.

A few tips – use an oil without a dominant flavour, like grapeseed or olive oil, otherwise the oil might overpower the herbs. Always use dried herbs – as fresh herbs can harbour bacteria in the bottle. Dried chilies are better, but you can use fresh if they are thoroughly washed. Garlic is OK to use fresh – a naked clove, with no skin. And make sure the bottle you are using is completely clean and completely dry – any water or debris can breed bacteria. And keep in the refrigerator to prolong the infused oil’s life.

Again, here the variations are as broad as your flavor imagination is. My personal favorites are the simple ones like chili oil, garlic oil or rosemary / thyme oil. And the uses are just as varied. Use the chili or garlic as a variation in the salad dressing recipe above. Brush chicken with the herb oil before grilling.

Now take all the money you have saved and buy yourself a kick ass bottle of wine to have with your garlic chive yogurt cheese and your herb oil basted roast chicken!

About Joanna Hutchins

Joanna Hutchins is a culinary travel blogger based in Shanghai, China.. In 2009, Joanna founded Accidental Epicurean, a culinary travel blog focused on Asia. Joanna is also a contributor to CNNGo, Look East magazine, SE Asia Globe and Two magazine.