Second best

Then, of course, there’s the other side of the coin. Things that we often buy to use, which actually are better home-made but are just too much trouble to make all the time, or which require a level of skill which one may not have.

In my case, the first among these is pastry. I almost always buy it – quite forgivable with puff pastry, I think, but I buy short crust too. Simply, it is one of my more puzzling failures as a cook. I’ve tried every way recommended, and it’s never very good. The best is if I make it in the food processor and don’t actually touch it with my hands at all until it’s rolled out – but it’s still not as good as other people’s, and it’s all pretty messy. In fact, I’d usually make a scone or crumble topping and avoid the pastry issue altogether.

Something that is better home made is mayonnaise – but how many of us always have a jar of bought in the fridge? I certainly do, though I will sometimes make mayo for a nice meal – won’t bother if it’s to dip chips in, though. Chips as in french fries, that is. Not potato chips, ie crisps. Although, of course, chips are made of potato.

Tins of beans (plain haricot, blackeye, kidney etc) and chickpeas – they aren’t even hard to do, one just has to start them off the day before and then actually cook them. And fresh are better than tinned. But I often get out a tin.

Orange juice. Freshly squeezed is far, far better. But the supermarkets sell an awful lot of tetrapaks – and there’s one in my fridge right now.

Yoghurt. This is no longer the 1960s, which was the last time I made yoghurt.

Muesli. Now, why does anyone buy it? It doesn’t take long to make your own, enough for weeks at a time, and you can get the proportions you like. But I don’t.

Biscuits or cookies. Home made are far better, far cheaper and not that much trouble. And I did make flapjacks yesterday – but generally, I’m likely to buy biscuits, especially savoury ones. British flapjacks are not the same thing as American ones, by the way. You melt sugar, butter and golden syrup and stir in rolled oats, then put in a tin and bake, then cut into slices. I can’t remember what American flapjacks are.

Bread. Time was, I used to make all my own bread, but that was a long time ago.

Mustard. I have several jars of different ready-made mustards, though I do like fresh mustard made from mustard powder (especially with roast beef), but it never all gets used and goes rock-hard in the mustard pot and has to be repeatedly soaked out. So I only make it occasionally. Interestingly, Martina reckons that mustard is better bought than made.

I’d have reckoned that I make most dishes from scratch, but now I look at this lot (tip of the iceberg, I’m sure), I realise that I could do an awful lot more. I also realise that I’m not going to.

Again, comments (or admissions) will be added to the post.

Frozen roast potato (for one, he points out) Dave
The best French mustard – Sarah
Bread sauce – Jane Goth (I only ever made bread sauce to go with the Christmas turkey, but we haven’t had turkey for years, so I haven’t made bread sauce).
Rice pudding – Martina, who says it’s better than the pudding she makes, and cheaper. I think there must be more to rice pudding in the US than there is here, as it’s just rice, sugar and milk, with nutmeg, cinnamon or whatever you like to flavour.

23 comments on “Second best

  1. Completely Alienne

    I completely agree on pastry. Lenin makes excellent pastry but, like you, I just can’t. Mine is awful and falls apart or goes rock hard. Anyway, I prefer puff pastry so always have some in the freezer.

    I have never actually tried to make mayonnaise, I must give it a go sometime. Funny you should mention bread – I do actually make a lot of my own now. I bought a breadmaker about a year ago so use that from time to time but have found I really like home made rolls (as do the girls) and it is easier to make them from scratch.

    I have never understood why people buy cheese sauce (packet or jar) when it is so easy to make and you can make it much cheesier yourself. I think I am corrupting Lenin’s boyfriend, who was rather surprised to find out how much I cook from scratch, how quick it can be – and how much better it tastes than the convenience food his (stay at home) mother uses.

  2. Z

    I don’t have a breadmaker – I probably would use one, but I really would prefer to make bread from scratch so have held off from buying one.

    I’ve never bought cheese sauce. I have made extra and frozen it, though, when I’ve had too much milk in the fridge.

  3. Dave

    Of course when you’re cooking for one, many things are too much bother to make from scratch, unless a large pan can be made and individual portions frozen.

    3 or 4 bits of roast potato? Peel a whole potato, parboil, roast – or use a frozen packet? Hmmm.

  4. Z

    Fair enough, Dave – I’m not criticising anyone at all – I don’t think I’d bother to roast a single potato either. I’d fry left-over boiled potato or make potato cakes out of left-over mash, but then on the other hand, I probably wouldn’t bother to make mash for one, either.

  5. Z

    You are a Good Mother. Am I right in thinking that there’s not many foods that Attila likes? In that case, I suppose it’s understandable. But I think I’d make enough for us all – with enough left over for potato cakes.

  6. Sarah

    Gone are the days when people might suspect I was a member of the WI….I still cook mostly from scratch, but like you Z have a few tins in the larder for ease.

    Poor Dave…..get him round for supper someone, before he gets scurvy!

  7. Sarah

    Oh I was going to say…..Amora mustard is my ‘can’t live without’ ready made ingredient.
    You can’t buy it in this country but every time I go to France I buy at leat 10 jars….and bribe all my friends to bring it back for me too….

  8. janegoth

    I’ve never made mayonnaise and not likely to in the near future either. I know homemade bread sauce is nicer but the packet stuff is so much quicker and doesn’t involve so much mess.

    I keep meaning to make my own biscuits but I never get round to it.

    I don’t use curry pastes or jars any more we have many many jars of spices in the kitchen so no need for them.

    Simon makes bread, pastry and pizza from scratch.

  9. ephelba

    Hold the phone!

    Ok, so biscuits are cookies, or cookies are biscuits, whichever way one wants to look at it, but I thought crisps were potato chips, and sweet merciful hayzeus are you saying you put potato chips in mayo? I’m starting to think that crisps are potato chips and it’s “Mayo” that has gotten lost in translation, because over here “Mayo” is either spread on sandwiches or used to turn any other food into a “salad”, such as eggs into egg salad, tuna into tuna salad etc.

  10. Z

    I remember my mother in the 60s,mincing liver and pork twice to make a pâté. And I used to do far more complicated things than I do now. Not that I’ve anything against stuffing mushrooms, but really…

    Hello Jane – hope you’re well. I have a jar of curry paste for emergency spicing up of kedgeree, but otherwise I mix spices for curries. Ro thought I was no end poncy the day he watched me roast then grind some cumin, grind some other from raw and use some seeds, all in the same dish.

    Oh, Ephelba, no, let’s start again. Crisps are potato chips, but chips are french fries. Crisps in mayo would be gross. I’ll clarify in the post.

  11. martina

    Flapjacks here are basically small pancakes-nothing special.
    I can make waffles, salsa, rice pudding, biscuite, cookies etc. but store bought convenience is wonderful. The rice pudding I buy is actually better than homemade and less expensive. Never liked homemade mayo. There is a jar of Best Foods Canola Oil mayo in the fridge at all times here. Cookies are what you call biscuits. Biscuits are little light buttery rolls served with lunch or dinner. Over here we call lots of things salads, even if no lettuce or tomato is involved. Tuna salad, macaroni salad etc.

  12. Four Dinners

    ‘the first among these is pastry. I almost always buy it – quite forgivable with puff pastry, I think, but I buy short crust too’

    I can only assume this is a lady thing.

    It must be as I have no idea what you are on about…;-)

  13. Marion

    We have biscuits as a breakfast bread (made from flour, shortening and milk, rolled out and baked) Eaten with eggs, or put jam on them. Do you only have toast for breakfast, then?

  14. Dave

    I realised last night that when I’m having (frozen) roast potatoes, I will usually also roast some (real) carrots. Contradictions are just part of my mystery.

  15. Z

    4D – when you eat a sausage roll, if the pastry is flaky then it’s puff, if it’s crumbly, then it’s shortcrust.

    Ah, but you parboil roast potatoes first, Dave. That’s the difference – more time and an extra pan.

    I’ve got to go out now – reply to other comments later.

  16. Christopher

    Dearest Z, I’m so sorry, I seem to have put the above comment into the wrong thread. It was meant for Vicus. Please excuse me. I wouldn’t readily muddle the two of you.

    I expect it was all that talk about potatoes. I haven’t willingly eaten a potato for years and years.

  17. Z

    Not at all, Christopher. It was a splendid comment, not least because it was so off topic. It’s good for me to be bewildered once in a while.

    In the winter I eat baked potatoes a lot, but actually I can take or leave spuds, on the whole.

    Marion, I don’t think we’ve really got an equivalent of your breakfast biscuits. I trust that toast is the same thing in both our countries! That’s what we usually eat – or else we turn to the continent and have croissants or similar.

    Martina, we call those salads too, although we’d always say pasta salad rather than identify the pasta, I think!

  18. luckyzmom

    I’ve made mayo once or twice. I make tartar sauce all the time with Best Foods (only) though, which I enjoy dipping my french fries into when I’m having fish n’ chips. I’ve been known to dip with plain mayo, which most people here find weird.

    My Mom made the best ever rice pudding with leftover cooked rice, milk, sugar and raisins. I try to recreate it (she didn’t use a recipe) and tho it is good it’s not as great as she made.


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