Considering the rising popularity of supper clubs, underground dinners, and other DIY food experiences, home cooks are doing just as much experimentation as professional chefs in restaurant kitchens. Cooking at home obviously isn’t as competitive as the culinary world, but now that everyone is a foodie these days, one-upping your other friends who love to cook is part of the fun.
Cooking a meal from scratch is one thing, but making all its components from scratch is a whole ‘nother level of culinary ability. It might feel a little pretentious to say “Yeah, I made that mayonnaise with eggs from the backyard,” or “I just finished fermenting a new batch of kimchee” at first, but once you taste just how much more delicious these seven food DIYs are than their factory-made counterparts, you’ll find that you’re just not able to stick with the stuff from the store. In fact, you might just start trying even more complicated foodie ventures.
Many people say that they don’t like mayonnaise (or really hate it), but that may be because you’re used to scooping bland store-bought mayo out of the jar. When made at home, mayonnaise is velvety, rich, and full of flavor. To make it at home, you only need eggs, vinegar or lemon juice, and any oil with a neutral flavor. If you want to add even more flavor, you can use olive or avocado oil, or mix in herbs, garlic, and spices for a homemade aioli that is better than anything that’s ever been in a jar.
The jarred spaghetti sauce that you grew up on is just fine for most, but when you’re trying to step up you’re culinary game, you really have to pull out all the stops. Nothing says “I worked really hard on this meal” than a pot of marinara or arrabbiata that has been simmering on the stove all day. Depending on the season, canned tomatoes may be a better option in terms of flavor than fresh, but you should still add in your own fresh herbs, garlic, onion, and any other aromatics you enjoy. If you have leftovers, just stow ‘em in the freezer for the next time pasta is on the menu.
Baking bread is both an art and a science, but there are plenty of simple loaves that are an easy introduction into this yeasty world of homemade baked goods and pastry. Many rustic loaves can be prepared without lengthy proofing times or complicated cooking processes, and will yield the same tender, flaky loaf as you’ve come to expect. Spend a saturday afternoon perfecting this now-classic, no-knead recipe, or try your hand at baguettes — they’re easy to learn, and incredibly challenging to master.
Even if you don’t normally incorporate much Mexican or Southwestern influence into your own cooking, salsa can be a great way to brighten up just about any savory dish. A combination of tomatoes, cilantro, onion, chili peppers (like jalapeno and serrano), and garlic can be either roasted or left fresh and mixed in a food processor or blender if your dinner needs a little punch of heat and acidity. Once you’ve mastered a basic tomato-based salsa, get adventurous and try salsa verde, or fruit salsas with mango or pineapple.
Those packets of taco seasoning or vinaigrette mix that you pick up at the grocery store are full of salt, preservatives, and other stuff that just doesn’t need to be in your dinner. Making things worse, they’re often more expensive than just simply mixing up your own spice blends. Taco seasoning can be made by mixing chili powder with cumin, a little coriander, and garlic salt. Once you have an idea of which flavors pair well together, you can get really adventurous and mix up your own curry blends or stir up your own barbecue rub.
Homemade almond milk is much richer and creamier than its store-bought counterpart, and is extremely easy to make at home if you’ve got a good blender. All you need to make your own is raw almonds, water, and a pinch of sea salt. You can also create your own flavored almond milk with vanilla, molasses, or spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. Other nuts, like cashews and pecans, can also be used to make dairy-free milks that are surprisingly delicious.
Flickr/Rebecca T. Caro
This DIY is probably best for people who feel pretty comfortable in the kitchen, but homemade gnocchi is totally worth the trial and error. Store-bought gnocchi is incredibly dense, starchy, and flavorless, but when made fresh, these pillowy little bites are beyond heavenly. Gnocchi is much easier to make than semolina-based long pastas or ravioli, and only requires a little bit of elbow grease and a potato ricer to master. Mario Batali’s gnocchi recipe is easy to follow and a great base for experimenting with other flavors, like garlic-herb.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. She enjoys DIY experiments of all kinds and arguing with celebrities on Twitter @aemccarthy.