Wednesday, November 30, 2011


When I have a loaf of bread that's been around a day too long I am thinking one of two things: breadcrumbs or croutons? Post thanksgiving I had half of my herb loaf left from stuffing and I thought bake or buy croutons would be a great challenge.  These are great on salads or soups, but I must admit that I do sometimes snack on them all by themselves...

The store brand: Rothbury Farms Croutons - Seasoned - Italian Style

My recipe:
Half loaf semi-stale bread
2 tbsp evoo
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375.

Cube your bread up to whatever size croutons you prefer. Mine are fairly large - probably 1" cubes.

Put all the bread cubes in a ziplock bag and sprinkle the herbs cheese and evoo. Close up the bag and shake away! You can choose whatever combo of herbs you like.

Spread the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Bake at 375 for 20 mins or until bread is toasty, brown, and dry. Leave them open to air overnight before packaging up to ensure they are completely dry - nobody likes a soggy breadcrumb!

These were DELICIOUS.  Super crispy and the herbs were great - the parmesan cheese is definitely a winner.  I like my croutons a little larger and the little store cubes just can't stand up to these.  The store brand was also SALTY.  In just a few cubes, you get 4% your daily sodium intake.  Ouch.

Mine are on the left:

The cost?  Now, I usually use a loaf of stale bread that is about to go to waste, but I used the full store price for the bread here.  Store bought croutons are essentially really expensive stale bread.  To make your own costs less than half the store bought, and you get to use up some unappetizing bread.

Rothbury Farms - Italian Seasoned6 oz (1.5 cups) $      1.99  $           1.33
Homemade3 cups $      1.95  $           0.65

Bake or Buy?  BAKE!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Apple Cider

Another apple recipe!  I think after this, I will have contained my apple stock.  I've never even considered making my own cider, so this should be exciting.

The most exciting part was when I started looking around at methods, I discovered you don't need to peel or core the apples!  Just quarter them up and toss in a pot - easy peasy!

The Store Brand: Harris Teeter Farmer's Market Apple Cider

My Recipe:

8-10 apples (any color, any kind)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
12 cloves


- Quarter all the apples and put them in a large pot.

- Add water until the apples are just covered.
- Add sugars and spices.

- Keep at a rolling boil for about an hour.

- Cover and cook at a low simmer for 2 hours.
- Mash up the apples with a potato masher.

- Let cool and put through a cheesecloth to strain out the solids.

And finally, mmmmm:

The final product looked just like apple cider!  The flavor was good - I think the spices were a little excessive.  Next time I would probably half the cinnamon and allspice.  Once it was chilled, it was really thick.  Probably could have added some more water to get a better consistency and tone down the spices.

Compared to the store brand, I had a hard time loving my homemade version.  The homemade batch did have a great flavor, but the thickness was definitely weirding me out.  I just like my drinks to be liquid.

What about the cost breakdown?  Most of the cost in the homemade was the apples ($4.95).  The homemade version cost almost twice as much as the store bought.  $5.50 for a half gallon of cider seems pretty steep for me.  Combine that with the 3 hours of simmering and phew, I'm not sure about this effort.

Harris Teeter Farmers Market Apple Cider64 fl oz $      3.49  $           0.05
Homemade64 fl oz $      5.53  $           0.09

Even though it was a great way to use up some expiring apples, I'd have to say:

Bake or Buy?  BUY!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cranberry Sauce

This is like the best day ever.  Here's why:
- It's my birthday.
- I got an Ipad.
- I had a guest post put up on Macheesmo! (same post as below -
- I am going to get the bestest creme brulee tonight.

So anyways... onto the subject at hand:
I know... I'm just asking to make some enemies with this one.  There is a clear line between who likes their sauce from a can (still in the shape of it even) or chunky and fresh.

The store brand: Ocean Spray - I bought both Jellied and Whole Berry

My recipe:
1 bag cranberries (12 ounce)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/6 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup orange juice
pinch cinnamon

It's pretty easy - put it all in a pan and let it cook down over medium heat for about 15 minutes.  I was using fresh oranges, but I realized my oranges didn't have quite enough juice, so I ended up using half store bought juice.

And once it's all said and done (mine's on the right):

And if you have to have the can shape:

Interestingly enough, the whole berry and jellied cranberry sauce had the exact same ingredients - cranberries, high fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup.  One is just emulified and one's not.  So I win nutrition right there.

My cranberry sauce actually jelled up a lot more than I thought it would when it cooled - it was really thick and delicious (I bet you could even use a hand blender and shape it like a can if you had to).  The canned jellied version is totally out - I knew that was true for me, I need the chunk. 

Head-to-head on the whole berry version?  Homemade crushes the taste category.  It's fresh and tart, and that hint of citrus makes it.  Period.  The canned was oversweetened, so you didn't even get a good feel for the tartness of the cranberries.

And the cost?  Well it actually costs more to make your own.  But aside from Thanksgiving, how often do you have cranberry sauce?  Treat your guests for the holiday!

      Size     Cost     Cost/Oz
Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce14 oz $      1.99  $           0.14
Homemade16 oz $      3.15  $           0.20

So, Bake or Buy?  BAKE!

On a side note, what did I do with all that cranberry sauce?  I'm still trying to get rid of an influx of apples, so I made cran-apple crisp.  Mix a batch of that fresh cranberry sauce with 4 sliced apples and top with your favorite crisp topping!
My recipe:
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 stick butter (cubed)

Fork the crisp ingredients together and spread over the top of the apple/cranberry mixture.  Bake at 375 for 45 minutes.  Eat warm!  Wish I would have shot a picture of this - it's just GORGEOUS! :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Before you even read this take a deep breath.  You can do this.  Seriously, I was really nervous to make gnocchi, but it wasn't that hard.  I watched about 10 youtube videos first to make sure I had the method down, and it really wasn't necessary.  There is minimal kneading and no wait time to cook the pasta.

I mean, just think about how delicious this will be (couldn't even wait for the end for the photo):

The store brand: World Market Original Potato Gnocchi

My Recipe:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg
3 medium potatoes (1.5 pounds)
pinch nutmeg
pinch salt

- Boil the potatoes (I halved them first) until soft.
- While they are still warm, peel the skin right off (easy to do with your hands) and grate through a cheese grater.  You can also you a ricer if you have one.
- Make a well in the middle of the potatoes.

- Sprinkle all over the potatoes with flour, salt, and nutmeg, and then add the egg in the well.

- Mix briefly with a fork and then knead for just a couple minutes until the dough is smooth and somewhat dry (continue to sprinkle flour as needed - I used ~1/3 cup more flour).
- Divide the dough up into 4 balls and roll each ball into 2 long "snakes" - maybe 3/4" around.

- Cut the snake into 1" pieces and roll across a fork to get the gnocchi marks.  Make sure to keep the dough on a floured surface the whole time.

- Drop into boiling water in batches (don't overcrowd!).
- Once gnocchi start to float, which shouldn't take more than ONE minute, remove and continue to drop batches until complete.  Melt a little butter or drizzle with EVOO while they are hot to prevent sticking.

- Top with your favorite sauce (I use vodka sauce) or butter and enjoy.

OMGoodness.  These are the best - they are fluffy and taste more like a dumpling than a pasta. 

And the comparison?  At first taste I thought the store-bought wasn't so bad... second taste I knew the homemade were MUCH better.  The store bought were much chewier and almost pasty compared to the light fluffy homemade gnocchi (Mine are on the right).

The process of making the gnocchi really only took about 15 minutes once the potatoes were cooked.  I'm sure you could even use leftover baked potatoes.  As far as nutrition goes, you save on the packaged preservatives, but the store dumplings were made with potato and flour, so not much different there.

And the cost?  Potatoes are cheap!  Making this recipe is very affordable and costs about half of the store bought.

            Gnocchi        Size    Cost     Cost/Oz
World Market Original16 oz $      2.79  $           0.16
Homemade22 oz $      1.82  $           0.08

So, Bake or Buy? BAKE!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sweet Potato Chips

If you follow my facebook page (you can "like" it on the right of your screen right now!) you would know that I have a LOT of sweet potatoes from my garden.  Like a lot. 

The store brand: Terra Spiced Sweet Potato Chips

My Recipe:
3 large sweet potatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt

- Preheat your oven to 375º.
- Start out by peeling the sweet potatoes and slice them thin (I used my mandolin, but if you're good with a knife, go for it).
- Mix all the spices together - vary amounts based on preference (I'll probably try a sweet batch later).

- Toss the sweet potato slices in a bowl with olive oil until lightly coated and then sprinkle with spices and give another toss.

- Lay sweet potatoes out in a single layer on a baking sheet.

- Bake for about 15 minutes, flip, and bake another 10 minutes.  Keep a close eye on them so they don't burn!

And the chips?  They were good.  Since they were baked, they weren't perfectly crispy, but they were still really good.  The spice was perfect.  The Terra chips were obviously fried and perfectly crisp - every last one.  I liked that my homemade batch was not as salty as the Terra chips.

The cost?  I grew these sweet potatoes myself, but I used the store price ($1/lb) for the comparison:
       Size     Cost       Cost/Oz
Terra Sweet Potato Chips6 oz $     3.99  $          0.67
Homemade12 oz $     3.61  $          0.30

Using my homemade sweet potatoes makes these chips almost free (actually 61¢).  Even purchasing the sweet potatoes, it is much more affordable to make these.  The homemade version is healthier, since they are baked.

Overall, they were just different.  SO different.  Making these with my own potatoes is something I would definitely do again.  Would I go to the store and buy sweet potatoes to make my own chips?  Negative.  We don't eat many chips anyways, so when I do crave something crunchy and salty, I'd likely just buy a bag.

So on a normal day where I'm not digging potatoes out of my garden...
Bake or Buy? Buy.

P.S. I'm still going to try the sweet batch - keep an eye on my facebook page for the recipe!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pie Crust... Failed.

Nobody's perfect, ok?!?  In the spirit of humbleness, I'm going to write about my first real Bake or Buy failure.  It was time for the pie test, which I was very excited for.  I was attempting apple pies with a refrigerated crust and a crust from scratch, made with oil (I don't keep shortening on hand, which is how a typical crust is made... I don't know why I didn't do butter).

The store brand: Harris Teeter Refrigerated Pie Dough (store brand)

My Recipe (from
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil

- Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl.
- Measure the vegetable oil and the milk into the same liquid measuring cup but do not stir.
- Add to the flour/salt mixture; mix briskly to combine until the dough comes together into a ball.

I could already tell there is an issue going on here...

- Divide the dough in half. Roll out each half to 1/8 inch thick between 2 sheets of wax paper.

So, how did it go?  It was laughable.  The dough was so crumbly that it would never make a pie shell.  So instead, I did some little tarts with half the dough:

But the dough burnt and was really hard when they were done.

The other half I added some water to and did a bottom pie crust (the bottom pie - I just made a crumb topping):

The top crust is the store brand.  It was SO easy.  And tasted so much better - the oil crust was just hard and awful.

It was so bad/sad that I didn't even photograph the final product!  UGH.  The pie crust will be revisited, but for now...

Bake or Buy?  BUY!

Do you have a great pie crust recipe? Do you just want to poke fun at my failure?  Share in below in the comments section!

Saturday, November 12, 2011


We used to have a tortilleria (a Mexican store that specialized in homemade tortillas) right down the street from my house.  When it went out of business I was SO sad.  The tortillas were fantastic - they were like a corn/flour mix and you got a pound for $1.50, which was about 30 of the small tortillas.

In absence of the fresh tortillas that I used to get warm on my way home from work, I am going to attempt to make my own tortillas!  My mom was in town for the weekend, so she was really the mastermind here.

The store brand: Mission Flaxseed and Blue Corn Blend

The Recipe:
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil (or shortening)
1 cup warm water

- Mix the flour, salt, and vegetable oil together until crumbly.

- Add water and knead on floured board until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes).
- Cover with plastic and let stand for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
- Divide into 12 equal balls and roll out to ~8" circle.

- Cook on hot griddle (no oil) about 1 minute on each side until lightly browned.

And the result?  They were delicious.  We let them rise for just 30 minutes while I cut up the taco toppings and they were perfect.  They were so good fresh, that nobody wanted to touch the store bought version!  Though the store bought was pretty good also.  The next morning we made breakfast burritos, and the shells were still awesome.

What about the cost?  Making your own tortillas is incredibly affordable.  It's almost 4x as much to buy them!  Easy choice on cost.

    Size     Cost  Cost/Shell
Mission 10 Ct  $2.69  $0.27
Homemade 12 Ct  $0.84  $0.07
The homemade version costs a lot less, tastes better, but is quite a bit of work.  Nutrition depends on the type of flour you are using I suppose, but you do save the preservatives with the homemade.

Bake or Buy?  BAKE!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

English Muffins

My first of what will probably be many bread posts.  There is nothing better than homemade bread, but I don't have a bread machine.  I'm always looking for recipes with minimal kneading and waiting, because let's face it, when I want fresh bread, I want it NOW!

The store brand: Thomas' Original Nooks and Crannies

The recipe (comes from The Breadmaker's Apprentice):
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 Tbsp shortening or butter (at room temperature)
3/4 – 1 cup milk (at room temperature)
cornmeal for sprinkling

- In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Mix in the butter and 3/4 cup of the milk. Add the remaining milk if the dough is too dry.
- Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes (took me about 15). Place in a lightly oiled bowl and roll to coat.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for about an hour.
- Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and shape into balls. Lay parchment paper on a baking sheet and spray or lightly coat with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Move the dough balls to the baking sheet evenly spaced apart. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow them to rise for another hour.

- Heat the oven to 350º and heat up a skillet on medium heat on the stove top. Brush the skillet with oil and gently transfer the dough balls to the skillet a few at a time. Allow them to cook on the skillet for 5-8 minutes, until the bottoms are nicely browned. Carefully flip and cook the other side for about 5-8 minutes more. They should flatten as they cook.

- When the muffins look as if they are about to burn, remove them from the skillet with a spatula and transfer quickly to a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 5-8 minutes. Do not wait until all of the muffins have been cooked on the skillet before moving them to the oven – as the first batch is baking, move the second batch of muffins to the skillet.
- Transfer the baked muffins to a cooling rack and let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing or serving. Store them in a sealed ziploc bag in the fridge or freezer.

Well it takes a few hours to crank these out, but a lot of it is just waiting time.  I spent about 15 minutes kneading, which isn't that fun, but I took my flour from the freezer, which causes the process to take longer.  Here is the side-by-side:

The Thomas' are on top.  I will say mine were much more dense.  The flavor of the bread was soooo much more delicious, but I really did miss the nooks and crannies!  I'd guess that my english muffins had more calories, but just due to the fact that they were heavier.  The Thomas' had quite a list of preservatives (hence they last forever on my counter).

And the cost?  Wowsa, you can save some money making your own!

Thomas' - Original6 $      3.89  $            0.65
Homemade6 $      1.22  $            0.20

So overall, I think my english muffins had a different sort of charm.  They just tasted so much better (regardless of density), and at less than 1/3 the cost?  Psh, I might have to make english muffins as part of a new Sunday routine.  Really, it's only about 20 minutes of actual work.  I'd highly recommend you try this!  I'm also going to keep my eye our for a recipe with more nooks - I'll keep you posted if I find a good one.

Bake or Buy?  BAKE!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Peanut Sauce

Rice paper wraps?  I love them.  They are a regular at our house, and I don't think I've ever eaten them without peanut sauce (well I probably did once, just to realize how lame it is).  I have bought peanut sauce before in a fit of laziness, but I usually do make homemade.

The store brand: Asian Gourmet - Thai Peanut Sauce

My recipe:
The amounts have been approximated - I never measure when I make it:
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)
4 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce (more or less depending on spice preference)
1 teaspoon fish sauce (or not)
2 tbsp cilantro
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp lime juice

I basically put everything in my small food processor:
- Start by adding the garlic and ginger and let it get well minced. 
- Add the peanut butter, tamari, rice vinegar, chili garlic, fish sauce, and sesame oil.  Process and then add the cilantro and lime and blend lightly. 
- At this point add water a tablespoon at a time until it is your desired thickness.

I do make this every time I have rice paper wraps, but I make a lot so that I can add it to stir fry later in the week.  You can also thin it out a bit and use it as a salad dressing.  Or add it to soups.  Or use it as a sandwich spread.  Or dip carrot sticks into it.  THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS!

And here's the outcome, with mine on the left:

So, how do the tastes compare?  It doesn't.  Not to gloat, but I can't even tell you how good mine was.  Seriously, it's like crack to me.  This store bought version was not my favorite of the prepared peanut sauces I've tried - it was just too sweet (water and corn syrup topped the ingredient list).  So needless to say, mine wins the nutrition category hands down.

And the price breakdown?  A lot of the Asian ingredients are expensive at the grocery store, so I get them from the Asian market in town.  For the cost breakdown, however, I used the standard grocery store price, and it's still a little cheaper to make your own.

      Size     Cost     Cost/Oz
Asian Gourmet - Thai Peanut Sauce7 oz $      2.19  $            0.31
Homemade10 oz $      2.67  $            0.27

I just can't get past the taste difference here.  If you are going to buy store brand, I would steer away from this one.  There are some decent ones out there, though I always prefer my own.

If you're interested in the rice paper wraps, here is how I make them:
(serves 2)
6 rice papers
vermicelli noodles (I buy them in single serve 2 oz packages for these)
1/8 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup peanut sauce (we love it, okay?)
And then use any combination of the following:
1 cucumber, julienned
1 large carrot, julienned
1 red bell pepper, julienned
diced, fried tofu (8 oz)
crumbled, fried tempeh (8 oz)
pan-fried shrimp
1 cup cooked cabbage
shredded romaine lettuce

Dip your rice paper in water for about 15-20 seconds until it just starts to soften (don't oversoak - it will continue to soften while you add the fillings).  Put it on your plate and fill it with desired fillings - top with sauce.  Wrap it up like a burrito - and don't worry, after a few, you will be a pro! 

So once tasting both sauces in the wraps, has my opinion changed?

No way, the homemade has so much more flavor, and is much more peanut-y than the sugared up store bought and it's about the same price.  The time to make it is really just getting everything together and into the food processor (and many times I've left out an ingredient or two I didn't have on hand - still awesome).

Bake or Buy?  BAKE!