11 Foods You Shouldn’t Bother Making at Home
While I’m not afraid to tackle big-project recipes like homemade linguine with slow-cooked duck ragu sauce, an elaborate multi-step chocolate caramel layer cake, and ice cream sandwiches with homemade gingersnaps and peach ice cream, when it comes to certain everyday ingredients, some are simply easier to buy than to make. Not only do you save money by letting the grocery store do the work, but you also save time—something that all of us with increasingly busy lives are often lacking. Wondering which food items you shouldn’t bother making at home? Here are 11 ingredients that will always be in my shopping cart, rather than stressing me out in the kitchen.
In an ideal, Pinterest-friendly world, we would all have homemade almond milk in pretty mason jars in our refrigerators at all times. However, it’s a two-day process to make and requires a lot of almonds for not very much milk. I’ve had homemade almond milk and agree that it is wonderfully creamy and delicious, but all that soaking, blending, and straining is too much for everyday purposes.
If you have a food processor, homemade hummus is fairly easy to make. You simply dump all the ingredients into the plastic container and blitz until it’s smooth and thick. The element that makes hummus a hassle to make at home? Tahini. It’s essential to the flavor of hummus, but you have to buy a huge jar and only end up using a tablespoon or two for the hummus. It took me years of throwing out full jars of tahini to realize it’s better just to buy hummus already made.
Kombucha is a fermented, slightly effervescent tea that the health-food set loves to drink. It’s an age-old elixir that’s beneficial to the liver, joints, and digestion. What it does not benefit is the smell in your house as you make it. Seriously, my sister went through a kombucha-making phase, and the smell in her kitchen was not exactly pleasant. Making kombucha also involves making a SCOBY, or a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Sounds complicated, right? That’s because it is. Kombucha: Buy it at the store.
Salsa is a staple in my fridge. It’s a tasty snack, jazzes up everything from eggs to quesadillas, and in a pinch can double as salad dressing. While I have been known to make homemade salsa for special occasions, like a big birthday party or Cinco de Mayo, my everyday salsa is store-bought. It’s cheaper than buying all the tomatoes, cilantro, onion, jalapeños, and spices that are used to make homemade salsa.
Mayonnaise is an emulsion of eggs and oil. It seems easy enough to make, especially with the help of a food processor, but every time I’ve tried to make it, I’ve run into technical difficulties. I end up wasting a bunch of eggs and a bunch of oil and feel like a horrible failure in the kitchen. That’s why now I do what Giada de Laurentiis does: I jazz up store-bought mayo with add-ins like garlic, herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese.
Anything that involves yeast and has to rise scares me. Thus, I avoid making pizza dough at all costs. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both make excellent, white, whole wheat, and herbed pizza doughs. You can make your own sausage and top it with whatever you want. For weeknights, or Friday nights when you’re tired from the workweek, store-bought pizza dough is a lifesaver.
Have you ever read a puff pastry recipe before? The complex dough involves a series of rollouts and folds that are repeated over and over again. The more times the dough is rolled and folded, the flakier and more delicious the resulting puff pastry. Temperature is a factor as well: The dough must remain as cold as possible. It’s impossibly complicated, so I’ve never tried it and have no desire to. The frozen section of my supermarket has perfect puff pastry ready to be thawed. I love it so much I always have some in my freezer.
A pot of slowly simmered pinto beans laced with fatty bits of pork and aromatic spices made by a smiling Mexican grandmother is absolutely scrumptious. I’d love seconds, and I’ll have them tomorrow morning refried with an egg on top and some tortillas on the side. However, I am not a Mexican grandmother, and you’re probably not either. Beans require advanced planning (overnight soaking) and plenty of time (several hours) for simmering, so it’s just not worth it to make your own when you can buy a can for 99 cents.
It’s pretty easy to make ricotta cheese at home. You need really good whole milk and a curdling agent (like vinegar or lemon), but it doesn’t last as long as its store-bought counterpart and is not worth it to make on a regular basis.
A couple of years ago, making homemade beef jerky was all the rage. I participated and made a huge batch that I gifted my male friends with for Christmas. It tasted good but wasn’t nearly as scrumptious as the good artisanal stuff you can find at the store these days. Plus, thinly slicing the meat, marinating it for hours, then roasting it for hours more was way too time-consuming.
If you’ve ever tried to make your own pumpkin puree, you know it’s a hassle. You have to skin and roast the pumpkin, then puree the flesh. The canned version is just fine. If Martha Stewart uses canned pumpkin puree in her traditional pumpkin pie, you certainly can use it too!