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What Good Cooks Know
10 Things We Recommend You Make Instead of Buy
Prepackaged treats from the grocery store don’t always guarantee the best results. Our recipes do.
01-29-2019
Ashley Delma, Cook's Country

With the right recipe, anything homemade is better than even the best version you can find at the grocery store. Clearly we have strong feelings on this subject—but with good reason. Our test cooks spend countless hours in the kitchen developing recipes that they know won't disappoint you and your family the first time around. Yes, many of said recipes cater to dinner, but we do have a lot of breakfast, snack, and DIY recipes that will fulfill and truly satisfy your everyday needs. Not convinced yet? Keep reading to see which foods we think you should be making at home instead of buying—and, more important, why.

Do It Yourself

D.I.Y. Cookbook

Everything is more satisfying when you do it yourself, so why stop at dinner? 

What's your favorite food item to make from scratch at home instead of buying it at the grocery store? Let us know in the comments!

1. Salad Dressing

Salad Dressing

This is one of our favorite condiments to make from scratch and can easily become one of yours. If you’re a home cook, there’s a likely chance that you have many of the ingredients called for in homemade dressings—such as mustard, vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil—already hiding in your cupboard. Also, making your own dressing ensures that it contains few or no additives and preservatives, which is something you can't always be sure of with store-bought versions. 

While all of that is dandy, our favorite reason to make homemade salad dressing is that it’s normally cheaper. Who doesn’t like low prices paired with great flavors?

Test Kitchen Winner

OXO Good Grips Salad Dressing Shaker

This salad dressing shaker is just the right size and easily emulsifies both small and large volumes of dressing.

2. Spice Blends

Yes, you can buy different kinds of seasonings at the grocery store, but why settle for dusty premade mixes when you can make a fresher, tastier blend yourself? In the test kitchen, we've found that it’s easy to make your own versions at home with dried herbs and spices you may already have on hand.

Test Kitchen Winner

Krups Fast-Touch Coffee Mill

This tool grinds all spices exceptionally finely; in our tests, it left behind very few larger particles in a fine-mesh screen.

3. No-Churn Ice Cream

Ice cream is something most home cooks just don’t mess with in their kitchens. It’s as if there’s an unwritten rule that we shouldn’t attempt to make our own ice cream. This thought must exist, because there are already countless options at the supermarket that are much more inviting than whatever you could possibly whip up at home. Or maybe it’s because taking on such a task as making ice cream is asking for disaster—the chances of you getting the right consistency or having the right tools on hand to make this delightful treat are quite low. Right? Wrong.

We’ve proven these theories false with a few of our favorite ice cream recipes developed in our test kitchen. And guess what? You don’t need expensive, fancy tools to make something better than what you can find at the supermarket.


A Few of Our Favorite Ice Cream Recipes 

Test Kitchen Winners

High-End Vitamix 5200

This quiet, high-powered blender has simple, intuitive controls.

Midpriced Breville Fresh & Furious

This new blender from Breville can make smoothies and almond butter even smoother than its predecessor could.

Inexpensive NutriBullet Full Size Blender

Our top-rated inexpensive blender makes impressively silky smoothies and almond butter.

4. Spiced/Candied Nuts

Nuts are expensive, so it’s especially disappointing when you buy a batch of spiced nuts that doesn’t measure up to your standards. Through our recipe development for spiced nuts, we learned that the best recipes produce nuts that are crisp and evenly coated with spices. Oh, and they don’t turn soggy after a day or two. Our nut recipes fulfill both of these requirements.

Test Kitchen Winner

Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet

Everything prepared in this sturdy, warp-resistant sheet cooked appropriately and evenly.

5. Lemonade

Homemade lemonade is refreshing, invigorating, and much better than store-bought. It’s also easier to make than you probably think. We know that it’s easy to just reach for bottled lemonades in the grocery store beverage case, but unfortunately, many of these cheek-sucking versions are packed with sugar, flavorings, and colors and not much else (often they don’t even contain real lemon juice). With our homemade versions, you get fragrant, bright, and fresh lemonade without any bitterness or unwanted artificial flavors.


A Few of Our Favorite Lemonade Recipes 

Test Kitchen Winner

Zyliss Stainless Steel Potato Masher

In the test kitchen, we use our potato masher to mash (or muddle) herbs or fruit.

6. Oatmeal

The choice between a bowl of creamy, plump, pleasantly chewy slow-cooked steel-cut oatmeal and the gummy stuff you get from those just-add-water packets is a no-brainer. Or at least it should be. We get it: You want something quick and easy in the morning. But through our recipe development, we’ve learned that when making oatmeal, speed often trumps quality. When it comes to quality, you should never settle.

Test Kitchen Winner

All-Clad Stainless 4-Qt Sauce Pan

Our longtime winner excelled with uniform, steady heating and good visibility inside the saucepan to monitor browning. 

7. Dips

There’s nothing worse than getting a dip from the supermarket that’s chalky or bland and doesn’t meet your needs. Don’t worry—our homemade dip recipes won't disappoint. Whether you’re looking for a Buttermilk-Peppercorn Dip to serve the kiddies after school or a Garlic and Rosemary White Bean Dip to snack on as you watch your favorite show this weekend, the recipes below will be easy and perfect for you.

Test Kitchen Winner

Cuisinart Custom 14 Cup Food Processor

This food processor has many great attributes: a powerful, quiet motor; a responsive pulsing action; sharp blades; and more. 

8. Bread

Baking good bread can be a challenge, but with time, the right formula, and the right tools on hand, you’re destined for success. All our bread recipes show you how to get bread just as crusty (or soft), chewy, and flavorful as the kind you leap over the table for at your favorite restaurant. Yes, some bread recipes require more work and more time, but they’re worth it.

Test Kitchen Winners

High-End KitchenAid Pro Line Series 7-Qt Bowl Lift Stand Mixer

This powerful, smartly designed machine makes quick work of large and small volumes of food.

Inexpensive KitchenAid Classic Plus Stand Mixer

This mixer aced every test. Testers praised it for its "intuitive" controls and "solid" feel. 

9. Chicken Stock

In the test kitchen, we believe that every freezer should be filled with homemade chicken stock so that you can easily access it for soups, stews, pan sauces, or any recipe that needs a rich, deep, meaty base of flavor.

Really, nothing beats homemade chicken stock. It tastes better than even the best store-bought broth, and it can be made with ingredients that you’re used to throwing away. In this case, that’s chicken bones. Here’s another advantage to making your own stock: It can be frozen for up to two months so that you can use it at your leisure.  


A Few of Our Favorite Stock Recipes

Test Kitchen Winner

KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker With Solid Glass Lid

The roomy, heavy stoneware crock cooked gently and evenly and never boiled, so food emerged tender and juicy.

10. Nut Butters

Making nut butter at home really couldn’t be any simpler. Our fellow test cooks over at our sister site Cook’s Illustrated developed a few nut butter recipes in which they used a food processor to grind the nuts into a paste. 

While creating this recipe, they learned that pecan and hazelnut butters needed to be thickened after grinding to give them a spreadable consistency—that’s because both nuts have more fat than the other varieties they tested. Check out one of their recipes below to see what ingredient they used to thicken these runny kinds of nut butter.


A Few Of Our Favorite Nut Butter Recipes (from Cook's Illustrated)

Test Kitchen Winner

Checkered Chef Cooling Rack

A wire rack isn’t just for cooling cakes and cookies; we use it to let the nuts cool before processing them.

What's your favorite food item to make from scratch at home instead of buying it at the grocery store? Let us know in the comments!

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