I have a Master's degree in Procurement and Acquisition Management and I am a Procurement Specialist in my real life. One of the decisions that you need to address on a daily basis in the world of procurement is to make or buy. Can you make what you need? Does it make sense from a stand point of cost and time? Are you the best most qualified person to make this product? Can someone else make it better or cheaper. This same question comes up frequently in the kitchen.
Some people assume that because I like to cook I make everything from scratch. Other people, people who know I throw together dinner every night of the week in under 30 minutes, assume I must be using a lot of store bought stuff. The truth is its a mix, there are certain things I only make from scratch or use fresh and other things that I just don't think are worth the effort, time or expense.
Brownies -- always use a mix. The homemade ones never turn out as yummy or chewy.
Lemon Juice -- always use fresh lemon juice, the bottle stuff taste fake to me.
Lime Juice -- oddly enough I'm not offended by bottled lime juice. In a recipe I can't tell the difference at all. I always keep a bottle of lime juice in the fridge.
Garlic -- always fresh, never powdered and never pre-minced in a jar -- YUCK!
Parmesan -- always freshly grated, never powdered out of a can.
Spaghetti sauce -- jarred. I prefer Ragu super chunky mushroom. I have made red sauce from scratch and it is good but I think the jarred stuff is just as good and cheaper and way easier. I remember Rachael Ray saying you could make a spaghetti sauce in no time that was just as good as any in a jar......um, hello? If it is just as good as the stuff in a jar, why wouldn't you just use stuff in a jar. Now the disclaimer is I never just dump it out of the jar. I always start by sautéing peppers, onions, and/or mushrooms. I sometimes add fresh garlic and fresh basil. Viola! Better than the stuff in the jar!
Cake Mix -- I'm not a baker. I make a mean carrot cake from a recipe that I got at work and that is made totally from scratch. Other than that one exception if I'm going to make a cake it starts with a mix. However, cake mix is great to have around for other stuff too. I have several cookie recipes that use cake mix (I've included one below) so I always keep some in the pantry -- lemon and yellow are my standbys.
Pancakes -- I use to always keep pancake mix in the pantry. Then when Haley was about 8 she got into a habit of making pancakes on the weekends and they were delicious. One morning I happened to be awake early enough to help (love my sleeping in days ;-) and she asked if I wanted to make them with her. I headed for the Hungry Jack and she headed for a recipe book. What?? You've been making pancakes FROM SCRATCH?? Turns out it is pretty easy, flour, eggs, milk.....a no-brainer. Now the only Hungary Jack in my house is the microwave-able bottle of pancake syrup. Recently we had some leftover buttermilk in the fridge from a failed batch of homemade blue cheese dressing so we made buttermilk pancakes and they were INSANELY good.
Waffles -- See pancakes above. They are actually a little more complicated because the recipe in the red and white cookbook (you know the one, everyone gets it as a wedding gift) says to beat the egg whites separately before adding but they are fabulously light and fluffy and again very basic ingredients.
Salad Dressing -- this is a mixed bag. For vinaigrette I prefer homemade but I keep Ken's Light bottled ones in the fridge for quick access. For creamy dressings (Ranch, Blue Cheese, Honey Mustard) I'm all about the bottled. Specifically KENS. If you have not had Ken's Honey Mustard you are missing out. We like to refer to it in our house as "the sauce of the Gods" (which Olivia finds offensive since "there is only ONE God." Good Catholic school girl :-) Anyway, Ken's Ranch, Blue Cheese and Honey Mustard are all great and I have never been able to make any of those from scratch that came close in flavor so why waste the energy.
Gourmet Food Mixes -- you know those companies that host home parties and sell mixes for things like chili, guacamole, etc. I don't get it. Guacamole is super easy (recipe to come in a few days -- keep checking back) and requires 3 ingredients -- one being avocados....so why the mix???? Beer bread mix for $6..... are you kidding me? Beer bread is 3 ingredients! What exactly are you getting for $6? Flour? I'm not a fan of the mixes. However, I do indulge in a bottled marinade from time to time.
Biscuits -- again, the baking issue but the God's honest truth is there are some rocking biscuits available in the grocery store. In the frozen section Pillsbury sells heat and serve buttermilk biscuits that are great and when cooking for a crowd, or if you just want to break them up and freeze them, Sam's sells restaurant quality biscuits and they are CHEAP. Now I do make a mean, completely from scratch sausage gravy to serve over those biscuits but that recipe is for another day.
Piecrust -- one of my few exceptions to the baking rule. I make the most amazing pie crust. This used to fall into the "buy it" category until I discovered Martha Stewart's pie crust recipe and the trick of using frozen butter and ice water. Now I will never use a store bought crust again.
So ladies (and perhaps a few gentlemen?) those are my opinions on some items that should be fresh/home made vs. store bought/pre-packaged. As promised here is one of my favorite cookie recipes. Perfect for summer!
1 pkg Lemon cake mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup flaked coconut
1 T. lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine first 5 ingredients. Drop by tablespoon onto cookie sheet, bake 6-8 minutes or until lightly browned. Dust with powdered sugar while still warm.