DIY Dinner

I was struck with a thought a couple of years ago at the grocery store: this stuff is expensive. I was looking at frozen pizza, an emergency staple that got shoved to the back of the freezer and was used too often. My second thought was: I can make this myself, and I would bet that it won’t taste like cardboard.

Since then, I’ve worked on making my own pizza: it’s simple enough, and takes only a little longer to make. 3 cups of flour, some yeast, salt and a cup of hot water, and I’ve got dough that makes a pizza easily twice the size. I’ll grate my own cheese (a mix of Hunter Sharp cheddar, mozzaralla and some oregano) and recently, mix up my own sauce, and together, it’s something that’s quite good. More than that, it’s somewhat more rewarding to put on the table for dinner. I’ll still get a frozen pizza or order out every now and again for when I’m either really busy or just plain tired of cooking, but that’s become a rarer occurrance.

Back in college, I made my own bread: a superb loaf that was ridiculously simple to make. Since then, I’ve been finding that the foods that I regularly consume that comes in a package are something that are not only easier to replicate than I previously thought, but generally taste quite a bit better, but give me quite a bit more flexibility on just how I want it to taste. I’ve taken to experimenting with my food a bit more than I used to, coming up with some interesting things.

A recent notable example is chicken nuggets. I’ve had mixed experiences with buying a bag of them: some come out fine, but they have a tendency to burn under the right conditions, and a couple of times, they’ve made me ill. Looking around online, I’ve found that it’s reasonablely simple to make them: strips of chicken with a coating of egg, flour and spices. The result was quite good, even if their manufacture was a bit hair-raising (I hadn’t fried anything in oil before). Where I’m stuck with what I’ve got with a bag of them, putting together every ingredient allows me do to more than simply throw them into a heating mechanism.

I’m enjoying this DIY approach to cooking, for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s simply cheaper to purchase the raw ingredients and assemble them accordingly. A frozen pizza costs anywhere from 4-8 dollars. From scratch, it’s considerably less: Three cups out of a 50 pound bag of flour is about 3%, or 30 cents for what I paid for it. Sauce (from a jar) is about $4, and cheeses are around $8. That comes out to $12.30? Half that, because what I make is about twice the size, and we’re down to $6.15. But, The sauce and cheese can be made into at least 3 pizzas. $2.05 for a dinner is something that I’m more than happy with. To order out costs at least ten times that amount, and I generally get a better deal.

The other major reason is the ingredients label. Here’s what I pulled offline for a Red Baron 4 Cheese Pizza (admittedly, this is a decent brand):

ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), TOMATOES (WATER, TOMATO PASTE), LOW MOISTURE PART SKIM MOZZARELLA CHEESE (CULTURED PASTEURIZED PART SKIM MILK, SALT, ENZYMES), WATER, CHEDDAR CHEESE (PASTEURIZED MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, ENZYMES, SALT, ANNATTO [COLOR]), VEGETABLE SHORTENING (PALM OIL, SOY LECITHIN, BUTTER FLAVOR), SMOKE-FLAVORED PROVOLONE CHEESE (PASTEURIZED MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES AND SMOKE FLAVORING), CONTAINS 2 PERCENT OR LESS OF: YEAST, SUGAR, SOYBEAN OIL, PARMESAN CHEESE (PASTEURIZED CULTURED PART-SKIM MILK, SALT, ENZYMES), MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, SALT, SPICE, MALTODEXTRIN, HYDROLYZED SOY AND CORN PROTEIN, ISOLATED CARROT PRODUCT, PAPRIKA, GARLIC POWDER, DOUGH CONDITIONER (WHEAT STARCH, L-CYSTEINE HYDROCHLORIDE, AMMONIUM SULFATE), ASCORBIC ACID.

There’s a lot there that I don’t recognize, and that seems to be the case with most of the products that I’ll pick up off the self. Admittedly, I don’t know much about some of the components, but if I go the distance to making my own sauce and crust, I know exactly what’s going into what I’m making. Some things, like Cheese, is outside of my control, but I tend to go with local companies with a good reputation for quality.

This extends to meals beyond pizza. Chicken Tika Masala is a dish that I’ve made from largely from scratch, as well as bread, salsa, hot chocolate, various types of chicken, hamburgers, and a couple of others. While there are things that I largely won’t be able to make on my own – due to constraints from not owning livestock or poultry, what I can control is most of what goes into the meal.

Breaking one’s food down to it’s rough component parts has been a rewarding experience thus far. The food tastes better (although there’s the points where I screw it up – which does happen), it’s largely cheaper, and it’s something that I’ve made myself. A year or two ago, it never would have occurred to me to try and figure out just how to go about making something like Chicken nuggets. I suspect that there’s a certain DIY mindset that’s bled over from my work in the 501st Legion, playing with Legos as a kid and other things like that, and it’s something that I think should be ingrained more firmly with the public at large. We place an enormous amount of trust in persons unseen, and while I certainly don’t believe in conspiracy theories (that requires a guided intention), I think that it’s far easier to simply not expend extra effort when it’s seemingly redundant.

So, while you browse your local supermarket next, think about what you’re buying.

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