Cooking from scratch is not difficult! It just requires a little planning, time, and knowledge. I cannot help you out with the planning or time (since I seem to have challenges with both of those!), but I can help you out with some basic knowledge! The easiest way I came up with to break this down was into the 5 basic food groups: dairy, grains, meat, vegetables/fruits, and fats. We are going to start with the first one: Dairy. Stay tuned till the end for some Cooking from Scratch recipes using dairy products!
Last night’s dinner
Milk accounts in some way for the majority of the Dairy food group. There are two terms you need to know: pasteurized and homogenized. The milk you get from the supermarket is pasteurized, meaning heated to kill dangerous bacteria, and homogenized, meaning treated so the cream will not separate from the milk. If you can find a source of non-homogenized milk then you could potentially make all of your own dairy products except eggs; however, it really is not cost effective without owning a cow!
Plain yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk are all initially made using an active live culture (whether that culture is still alive once it hits the store depends…). Plain yogurt uses a different active live culture from sour cream and buttermilk, and it is very good for the intestinal track. All three can be used interchangeably in recipes; however, depending on what kind you use, you may notice a difference in thickness. We currently only use plain yogurt, which I make in our Crockpot using milk and an active culture, usually store bought Greek yogurt. (Sour cream is made using cream and an active culture, and buttermilk is made using milk and an active culture.)
But how do you know how long to keep your homemade yogurt? For cooking, I keep all dairy products until they start to look funky or smell funky! The last yogurt I made lasted about 2 months! (However, the good bacteria died after a week.) Because yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk are just soured milk/cream, they last for quite a while. I personally do not use yogurt for non-cooking purposes past a couple weeks. It would probably be fine, but it might not be as palatable. The same holds true for store bought yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk. As my mother has told me multiple times, “As long as the store bought buttermilk has not changed colors or has too many lumps in it, then it is ok to cook with!”
Now what if you are in the middle of cooking pancakes, for instance, and suddenly realize you are out of milk? Not to worry! Just use yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda! Odds are the recipe will not turn out any differently, although sometimes I have noticed that pancakes will turn out a little fluffier! Now what if the situation was reversed? You need buttermilk but are out of yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk. All you have is milk! You can take a cup of milk and add either 1 3/4 tablespoons cream of tarter or 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. While this does work, I get better results using milk that is a day or so past the use by date instead.
This is actually a good time to talk about milk. I used to buy only fat free milk, because it lasts the longest in the refrigerator (almost a month). I now buy fat free for my husband, and whole milk for me and my daughter. Milk that is on its way out is actually a great substitution for buttermilk or perfect for making yogurt! Once it starts getting lumpy though, pitch it. I prefer the whole milk for making yogurt because it comes out thicker; however, you can fix that problem by adding a little gelatin, like most manufacturers. You can also use milk before it “goes bad” to make cheese.
About cheese, I am not a hard cheese making expert quite yet; however, my favorite website on cheese making is Fankhauser’s Cheese Page. I do frequently make soft cheeses. For “cream cheese,” or yogurt cheese, I pour yogurt into a handkerchief lined colander and let it drain in the sink for about an hour. Then I tie the handkerchief up in the fridge and let it drain over a bowl for about another 8 hours; however, if you need it earlier, just try to squeeze as much of the liquid, or whey, out over the sink! The (sour) whey can be used to fertilize plants, cooking noodles, as liquid in a recipe that calls for water, etc. However, this type of (sour) whey cannot be used to make ricotta. That has to be made using (sweet) whey from making a hard cheese (the ph is different). Cheese can be kept until it starts to mold; however, if it is a hard cheese, you can use white vinegar to rub off the mold or simple cut it off. You can also try to scoop mold off of a soft cheese but that might prove more challenging.
Finally, there is the cream that originally came off the top of the milk. This is used to make sour cream, whipping cream, butter, etc. I currently purchase whipping cream at the store and use it to make my own butter/margarine and whipped cream. It is also useful for making alfredo sauce, etc. To make whipped cream, you simply put a cup or so of whipping cream into a cold bowl and beat it with a cold whisk until soft peaks form. If it turns to butter, then you have gone too far!
That is most of the information that is helpful to understand when cooking with dairy products. Eggs are the only thing we did not discuss, mostly because eggs are eggs and cannot be substituted easily like milk products. One final note, I have been known to freeze dairy products, but I usually only use them for cooking afterwards because the texture is a little funky sometimes. If I am freezing cheese, I try to grate it first. If I am freezing eggs, I separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. If I am freezing anything else, I leave it as is.
Below I have included some Cooking from Scratch recipes using dairy products. The more you cook and the more you learn about the foods you use, the better you will get at substituting and adding things by taste and what “sounds good.” I would also recommend checking out startcooking.com!
From Scratch Pancakes
By: My Mother
1 cup flour, 2 T. sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 3/4 cup milk, 1 egg, 2 T oil
Mix ingredients in order listed. Do not beat. Batter should be well mixed but somewhat lumpy. Cook on a hot griddle, lightly oiled, over medium heat. Turn when bubbles burst and cook on the other side until done.
2 T flour, 1 cup water, 1.5 T beef bouillon granules, 8 oz sour cream, pepper to taste, 1 pound ground beef
Brown meat and drain. Slowly stir water into flour. Add beef bouillon granules. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Add sour cream and ground beef just prior to serving. Serve over noodles, toasted hamburger buns, or English muffins.
Corn Light Bread
By: My Grandmother
1.5 cup plain corn meal, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1.5 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup melted margarine (also known as oleo)
Mix ingredients in order listed. Let better sit 20 minutes. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 F for one hour.