Sep 132012


Homemade Pantry cover



Alana Chernila has written a lovely cookbook on a subject near and dear to my heart—preparing foods at home. It’s called The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making. You may know Alana from her blog Eating From The Ground Up.

Alana lists the benefits of foods made at home:

  • They are better for you
  • They taste better
  • They usually cost less
  • They eliminate unnecessary packaging
  • They will change how you think about food.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There s a wide range of recipes: dairy, canned goods, soups, pastas, condiments, breads, crackers, cereal, beverages and desserts.

Although I’ve been making yogurt for years, I picked up a tip to keep the milk from scorching the bottom of the pan. Before adding the milk, put an ice cube in the pan. Turn on the heat and let the ice melt. Move the pan around so the melting ice coats the bottom of the pan. When the ice is melted, add the milk on top of the water. Be careful not to touch the bottom of the pan with a metal spoon when you stir.

Each recipe is prefaced by an essay that tells a story about Alana or her family. The book is filled with beautiful photos that inspire me to get into the kitchen and cook.

A couple of caveats. Some readers may object to a small bit of profanity in the essays.  And there is a typo in the white bread recipe.  Since I can’t eat gluten, I haven’t tried any of the bread or cracker recipes. But if you do try the white bread recipe, there is a mistake in the amount of salt. The recipe should read teaspoons, not tablespoons of salt.

The ideal reader for this book is someone who has some basic cooking experience and wants to spread her (or his) wings. Many recipes may be too complicated for the brand new cook or for someone who has little time to spend in the kitchen. And experienced cooks may find the book to be too basic. You can check out many of Alana’s recipes at her blog and see if the book looks right for you.

Apr 232011


If you want to save money on your groceries, start in the kitchen. Home cooking is one of the best ways to stretch our food dollars. We can prepare make most foods in the supermarket aisles much less expensively at home. When we buy convenience foods, we are paying for the price of someone else cooking for us, plus the cost of packaging, marketing and distribution.

There are other reasons beyond saving money to cook. You can eliminate excess sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and unpronounceable chemicals that are part of many convenience foods. You can fix healthy meals and adjust your cooking to your family’s diet and their likes and dislikes.

And finally, there is taste. A good home-cooked meal is delicious.

If you don’t know how to cook or if you want to expand your skills, there’s lots of help at hand.


Ask friends for cooking tips. Swap tried-and-true recipes. Have a cooking session with a friend. You can dish while you cook a dish.


Check your library for books on whatever style of food you enjoy. If you are new to cooking, look for books that explain basic techniques. The Cooking for Dummies is a good starter book.

When I first learned to cook, my two favorite books were a vintage Betty Crocker Cookbook and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Julia Child’s recipes were lengthy, but she explained why you did each step. Her recipes always turned out deliciously.

Take a class

Look for free and low-cost classes in your area. Health food stores and upscale kitchenware shops sometimes have free demonstrations. Or take a cooking class online.

Watch a cooking demonstration on TV and videos

Cooking shows are a staple on PBS and, of course, on the Food Network. You don’t need cable to watch the Food Network. They have has over 5000 videos online.

You can get cooking videos from Netflix. And YouTube has lots of cooking videos for free, for example: Great Depression Cooking with Clara to Maangchi’s Korean Cooking Show

Learn from other cooks on forums and email groups

Chowhound is one of the best foodie sites online. Check out their home cooking board.

Those who to cook ahead, might enjoy the Friendly Freezer email group.

If you or a family member is on a special diet, you can find a community of cooks who’ve perfected recipes for that diet. I cook gluten-free and have learned a lot from Baking and Cooking Tips at

Blogs, websites and recipe searches

If you’ve ever looked for recipes online, you’ve come across Allrecipes. They have a massive collection of recipes, reviewed by their readers.

Check out some of the smaller sites too. Karen Petersen blogs about cooking in a slow cooker. Ree Drummond cooks in the country in The Pioneer Women Cooks! Clotilde Dusoulier shares her love of cooking and French flair on Chocolate and Zucchini. Vegetarians and others can enjoy the recipes and gorgeous photos on Vegan Yum Yum

There are some great frugal cooking sites, such as Cook for Good, the 99 Cent Chef and Living on a Dime. Even the government has a low-cost recipe site.

Don’t forget your favorite search engine. Type in the word “recipe” and the name of the dish or some ingredients.


Try new recipes and cooking techniques. Plan a day every week or every other week when you will try something new. Sample and rate the results. Doing is the best teacher of all.

Jul 172010

A good kitchen is a place that makes it easy to cook. It doesn’t have to be large or expensive or filled with the latest gadgets. It does require a few basics.


The important thing about equipment is to avoid either extreme: too few tools to be able to cook properly and so many seldom-used gizmos that you waste money and space. The ideal is to have enough equipment—and the right equipment—to be able to prepare the meals that you want. The exact list depends on the type of cooking you do. If you are just beginning to stock your kitchen, look for simple, durable, multi-purpose tools.


When equipment and ingredients are easily accessible,  you will be able to cook more easily.  If your cupboards and drawers are jammed, it’s time to declutter them. Get rid the box of cereal that’s been sitting on the shelf for six months because everyone hated it. Move things that are seldom used to hard-to-reach shelves or to another storage area outside the kitchen. Use inexpensive storage containers and shelf dividers to make the most of your space. Try rearranging your cupboards, so that you can find things quickly. The best location for frequently-used items is near the place where you’ll use them.

Work Area:

Cooking and baking require room for cutting, mixing, grating and other activities. If you have no uncluttered work areas, consider how you can liberate some space. Moving most of the small appliances off my main counter freed up room for me to work. Flat surfaces like counters and tables seem to attract keys, mail, school books, purses and papers. Provide bags, baskets, hooks and boxes in other areas to store them. Yes, I know—just designating a place for the clutter doesn’t mean that it will actually end up there. But it’s a start.

Pleasant environment

Finally, are there things that would make your kitchen a more pleasant work area? Does it need a fresh coat of paint, better lighting or a chair for kibitzers—or for you? Would you like to listen to music while you cook? How about some flowers from your garden or herbs growing at the kitchen window? Cooking can be a rewarding and enjoyable activity. Create a space where it’s a pleasure to cook.