June 23, 2024

If you have felt startled by your total at the grocery store checkout line, you’re not alone. Since the onset of the Covid pandemic, US grocery prices have risen faster than the rate of inflation. People are now paying 25% more for their groceries than they were pre-pandemic, and for the past three years, grocery prices have increased more and grown faster than other prices, according to a recent report.

And since almost every household regardless of income buys groceries on a regular basis, it’s no surprise that higher prices are a top concern for American families. Restaurants have also gotten more expensive due to higher food and labor costs.

Food can be one of the bigger line items of our budgets, so one way to reduce the cost of your next grocery store or restaurant visit is to consider cooking some foods from scratch at home, even if you’re a smaller household. “There are many benefits to scratch cooking at home,” said Sam Baxter, executive chef at Connie and Ted’s in West Hollywood, California, “including minimizing food and packaging waste, knowing exactly what’s going in your food and saving a little money along the way.”

By cooking from scratch, you’ll also be eating less processed food, improving your culinary skills and feeling a sense of pride in knowing you made something you can share with friends and family. The Guardian spoke to four experts – Baxter, self-taught cook and baker Matt Taylor, chef Bev Lazo-Gonzalez and master food preserver Delilah Snell – who share the cost-saving kitchen staples that are easy to make from scratch and not especially time-consuming, even for beginners.


Photograph: Roman Larin/Getty Images/iStockphoto

“Hummus has the most simple ingredients and they’re cheap,” said Bev Lazo-Gonzalez, a former contestant on the food competition shows Hell’s Kitchen and Cutthroat Kitchen. Made from garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas), lemon juice, lemon zest, tahini, olive oil, garlic, salt and water, homemade hummus comes together in a matter of minutes in a blender or food processor and often tastes better than store-bought versions.

The popular Middle Eastern dish is not only protein-packed, but it’s versatile, too. “Hummus can be eaten as a dip or a spread,” said Lazo-Gonzalez. “I like to put hummus on a sandwich in place of mayo.” She said you can use any brand of canned garbanzo beans or, to save even more money, buy dried garbanzo beans and cook them like you would a regular pinto, red or black bean. After letting them cool, you can keep the beans in your fridge until you’re ready to use them.

Pro tip: If you have extra time, Lazo-Gonzalez advises roasting your garlic to take your hummus to the next level, but said using fresh garlic will still be delicious.

Hummus recipe

2 cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Zest of one lemon
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves roasted garlic
1 tsp sea salt
4-6 tbsp water, as needed
Mix in a blender until you reach your desired consistency
Garnish with parsley (optional)

Pizza dough

Photograph: Johner Images/Getty Images/Johner RF

Ever since self-taught cook and baker Matt Taylor learned to make pizza dough from scratch years ago, he stopped buying pre-made dough from the store. “Yeast-based doughs can be tricky at times, but once you get the hang of them, they are a breeze and so satisfying to make,” said Taylor, whose viral TikTok pizza dough recipe has more than 2m views. “It’s also nice knowing exactly what is going in my food, and for the most part making things at home is cheaper than buying them already made.”

Taylor, who started sharing recipes on YouTube in 2013, recommends watching a video on how to make pizza dough before following the written recipe. “That will help beginners greatly in my opinion,” he said. For the dough, you need flour (all-purpose, plain or 00 flour, also known as pizza flour), semolina flour, warm water, salt, olive oil, active dry yeast, sugar and cornmeal.

After proofing the yeast, you’ll use a whisk to mix it around before setting it aside for five to 10 minutes until it gets foamy. Then it’s time to combine your dry ingredients and combine them with the yeast mixture. You can use a stand mixer to knead the dough but Taylor prefers to hand-knead on a lightly floured surface. Either way, the kneading process takes less than 10 minutes.

Homemade pizza dough stored in an airtight container or covered in plastic wrap can last up to two weeks in the fridge. You can also freeze the dough for up to a month and thaw it overnight in the refrigerator or leave it on the counter until it thaws.

Chicken stock

Photograph: Liliia Bila/Getty Images

Whether you’re making a small batch for a one-time use or a big batch that can be divided into smaller containers and kept in the freezer until needed, making your own chicken stock is simpler than you might think. “There’s no need to be intimidated making stock at home,” said Sam Baxter, who was part of the opening crew at LA’s critically acclaimed restaurant Providence. “If you can simmer a pot of water, you are 90% of the way there already.”

Chicken stock starts with chicken bones. You can get them by butchering a whole chicken, purchasing chicken backbones from your local butcher or using the remaining carcass from a whole roasted chicken from your local store. Baxter suggests cutting the backbone into two-inch pieces, rinsing them under cool water and placing them in a small stock pot. Submerge the bones in an inch or so of water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Some thick foam will begin to coagulate at the surface and you can skim this away to make a clearer finished stock.

Let the bones simmer for an hour or two and then add a small yellow onion and one or two ribs of celery and some carrot slices (this is a great opportunity to make use of vegetable scraps). “Whole black peppercorns, parsley stems, bay leaf and thyme are also good additions,” said Baxter. “A little bit of salt also helps to bring out some flavor, but you typically don’t want to heavily season your stock with salt, as it might be further reduced in a future use, and will become too salty.” After the vegetables have cooked in the stock for another hour or two, it can be strained through a fine mesh sieve and used immediately or cooled for a future use.


Photograph: Stefan Tomic/Getty Images

Delilah Snell, author of Beginners Guide to Preserving: Safely Can, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke and Freeze Food, says quick pickles (also called refrigerator pickles) are a perfect entry point for people who are new to preserving food. “You’re going to realize it’s so easy to make pickles,” said Snell. “Especially for people addicted to pickles, you’re probably going to try to pickle everything.”

Start by making a hot brine of three-quarters vinegar and one-quarter water in a small saucepan. Snell, who owns Alta Baja Market in Santa Ana, California, prefers to use apple cider vinegar, but says you can also use distilled white wine vinegar. Once you’ve cut your cucumbers (you can also use other veggies such as carrots or green beans) into spears or slices, add salt and other ingredients such as peppercorns, garlic or spices.

Place your vegetables in a mason jar or any kind of food-safe glass container, pour the brine on top, seal the lid, let the jar cool and then put it in the fridge afterwards where it can be stored for up to two months. “Pickling is a way of remembering a part of time and a place that grew that food,” she said. “You savor the summer when you make cucumber pickles.”

Salad dressing

Photograph: VeselovaElena/Getty Images

“You can totally tell when a salad dressing is made from scratch because it is very bright and it just pops more,” said Lazo-Gonzalez, executive chef for the Arc Center Los Angeles and Orange Counties’ culinary arts program. “It’s really hard to find a good dressing on the shelf because they add preservatives so it lasts longer.”

Lazo-Gonzalez likes to make a simple lemon vinaigrette that works not only as a salad dressing, but also can be drizzled on top of dishes such as grilled salmon or asparagus. “I love citrus and this dressing has lemons, garlic, dijon mustard, salt, pepper, honey and extra virgin olive oil — that’s it,” she said. “Then taste and adjust as needed.”

In a 16-ounce mason jar, shake the ingredients well until they are blended before storing the vinaigrette in the fridge. By making the dressing in the jar, you avoid the need to use bowls or a whisk. “If you’re making salad dressing for yourself at home, you can double the recipe and leave it in the mason jar for the week,” said Lazo-Gonzalez.

Mason jar vinaigrette

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 garlic clove grated
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp honey
1/4 cup olive oil
Pepper to taste

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