DIY: Five easy food hacks

Ditch the store-bought stuff for these kitchen...
DIY: Five easy food hacks

Most cooks have a signature item that they make instead of buying from the store. Perhaps you chop veggies for salsa rather than opening a jar. Or maybe you don’t want to pay six dollars for a jar of jam when you can make your own for two. My sister likes to make her own peanut butter with coconut oil, and my mom bakes bread rather than buying it. The following items are on my DIY list, including pickles, granola and fruit sauces. You don’t have to be super handy or a foodie to make these. And the beauty is, not only does making your own food save you money, but it tastes better, too.

Fridge pickles are easy–no canning required! And pickling is not limited to cucumbers. Try pickled beans, turnips, rhubarb, carrots, grapes or watermelon. The foundation for pickles is a mixture of vinegar, water, salt and spices. Sometimes sugar is added, too. Heat vinegar and water in a 3:4 ratio, and add about two tablespoons of salt per four cups of liquid. Put dry spices and fresh herbs in the bottom of a clean glass jar. Fill it with fresh or lightly steamed vegetables or fruits and pour warm vinegar mix over the top. Traditional spices include peppercorn, garlic, bay leaf and chili flakes, but feel free to experiment. Pickles are a great way to preserve and enjoy the season’s bounty into the fall.

Pickled beets and fennel fronds
1 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt

1 star anise
1 large piece cinnamon
2-3 whole cloves
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp whole black peppercorns

5-10 medium to large beets, cleaned, boiled until tender and skin removed, diced into 1-inch pieces (about 20 minutes in rapidly boiling water)
1 fennel bulb, sliced, and 1 fennel frond, cut

Place dry spices in bottom of quart mason jar. Place boiled, diced beets and chopped fennel bulb in glass jar. Heat the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a saucepan until it comes to a boil, stirring occasionally. Pour vinegar solution over beets and fennel, making sure the vegetables are submerged. Top with fronds and cover tightly. Place in fridge, or process in boiling water bath. Let sit at least 24 hours before enjoying!

Makes about 1 quart.

Total Time: 20 minutes
Total Cost: About $4 for 2 pints

Once I made my first batch of granola, I never went back. I could control the add-ins and the amount and type of sugar. My favorite recipe by far is a very simple one. With only oats, nuts and dried fruit, it has become a staple in our house. Fresh out of the oven over vanilla yogurt, it’s not just for breakfast anymore!

Maple-almond granola from Brown Eyed Baker

Total Time: 1 hour
Total Cost: About $7 for 9 cups

Salad Dressing
It literally takes seconds to whip up a simple vinegar and oil dressing, though you can certainly take more time and end up with the perfect flavor complement to your dish. I always add mustard and a pinch of sweetener to my dressing, or I might pull out the blender and make a great rendition of a ranch dressing made with tofu.

Basic salad dressing
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sweetener
1 tsp mustard
Whisk and serve.

Total Time: 5 minutes
Total Cost: $1 or less

Enchilada sauce
There’s a secret to making your own enchilada sauces. The trick? Blend the ingredients first, then cook the mixture on the stovetop. It takes less than an hour, and you can easily adjust the heat level and salt to your liking.

Basic enchilada sauce

Total Time: 30 minutes
Total Cost: About $3

Making jam does take some time, but the results are worth it. I accent the fruits with different liquors, and maybe a light spice note. I plan a morning each summer to pick strawberries, and then I generally hull and freeze them until I have time to make jam. With the prolific rhubarb plant I have outside, I can really stretch the berries and add great flavor. I do not process my jam in a boiling water bath; instead I just flip the jars over to seal, but that is not an FDA-approved safe canning method. It is just the way my grandma did it.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam
6 cups strawberries
4 cups rhubarb, chopped into thin slices
3 tbsp. apple brandy (I use Madison-made Yahara Bay apple brandy)
2 tbsp. calcium water
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. butter (optional; prevents foaming)
3 cups sugar
3 tsp. pectin

1. Place strawberries and rhubarb into stockpot.
2. Cook until soupy and mushy.
3. Add brandy to taste along with calcium water, ½ tsp. of salt and butter.
4. Mix 1 cup sugar with pectin and add to fruit mixture. Stir well.
5. Add remaining sugar and stir. Bring to rolling boil for 1 minute and remove from heat.
6. Pour jelly into sterilized, warm jars. I recommend using boiling water bath for safety.

Yields about 3 to 4 pints of jam.

Total Time: 2 to 3 hours including picking, cleaning, processing and filling jars
Total Cost: $2 to $3 per pint using organic ingredients