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Best bang for the (time/energy/cost) buck recipes

I'm generally a peasant cook who uses great ingredients and enjoys the whole process. I love making bread that takes days, or corn tortillas from kernel to flat toasty goodness, but those kinds of projects are not what I'm after here.

I'm looking for recipes that create things unlikely to be found elsewhere, or recipes that make you wonder why you ever bought it in the first place. I have three: enchilada sauce, homemade tonic, and pickled jalepeno peppers.

The enchilada sauce is heavy on the pepper (I use a variety) and light on the tomato (even lighter for me, since I use half the suggested amount), but the flavor, OH the flavor!! And so little effort. I haven't figured out how to safely can this, but it's simple to freeze, so delicious enchiladas are never far away. Here's the base recipe I use: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

As for the tonic, YUM!! And super easy (see the theme?) after you get the ingredients. With this tonic, gin&tonic is not just taken to a different level, but to a different playing field. http://www.jeffreymorgenthaler.com/20...

And finally, I have these pickled jalepeno peppers. Ohhh so delicious and nuanced. Not all about spice, or sweet, or soy, but a delightful mix of it all. Super simple to make (they're designed as a refrigerator pickle) but I've also canned some to extend the season. They mellow as they age, but that doesn't mean they still can't make me sweat when I get a real seedy circle. http://leitesculinaria.com/82089/reci...

So, what do you make that is so easy you can't believe you ever bought it?

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  1. Do you use that contraption for the tonic of store bought seltzer?

    1 Reply
    1. re: carrytheone

      I have used a contraption and also store-bought seltzer water.

    2. Those pickled peppers are VERY good. I enjoyed some with my lunch today.

      1. I make escabeche based on recipe that had in mexico - Tulum.

        I just add Cinnamon stick and allspice berries to the standard recipes (pick one:-)

        I love it much more than what I get in most Mexican places.


        I have made this Kimchee' a few times - pretty easy and surprisingly authentic tasting....(needs longer than a day though).


        1. Kombucha. I have been making it for a year now, my family drinks about a bottle of day. It requires about ten minutes of "work" (pour ready kombucha into bottles and cap, make tea for new batch, stir in sugar, stir in a cup of kombucha from previous batch, stir in SCOBY) a week. At $3 per bottle in the store, we save loads of cash PLUS I like my homebrew better than any I've gotten in the store.

          2 Replies
          1. re: powella

            I make kombucha too and store the ready one in a pitcher in the fridge. Great summer drink!

            1. re: powella

              Same here and we get to experiment with new flavors. I keep a 5-gallan glass jar with a spigot on the kitchen counter and we just tap off that. I add more tea when it gets low.

            2. "What do you make that is so easy you can't believe you ever bought it?"

              Salad dressing.
              I walk down any grocery store aisle and just scratch my head.

              How difficult is it to smush garlic, grind salt and shake with oil and vinegar? The flavor profiles are ~endless~. Make what ever goes with the main!

              1 Reply
              1. re: pedalfaster

                oh yes, I totally forgot the big bang for buck from salad dressing! In every way.

              2. My own ground beef. I buy lean cuts and grind my own. So much tastier. I also buy Boston butts and other fattyish pork to make my own sausage. Plus it costs a lot less!

                1. I do a summer casserole that "cooks" on grill along with whatever else is going on. It's the time of year here where you or kind neighbor could be up to their knees in tomatoes, pepper, yellow squash, zukes, etc. I thinly slice and layer in casserole dish with seasoned croutons, shredded cheese and dabs of butter. I also add thinly sliced onions and whatever else I have in fridge... mushrooms, left-over veggies (green beans, corn, etc). Add a COOKED meat (shredded chicken, ham, cooked bacon crumbles) and you have a whole meal. Packages stuffing mix works... just don't add any salt... it's in there. Nothing in it that you couldn't eat raw, so I just let it go on grill till bubbling and cheese gooey. It's one of those dishes that is even better the next day, imo.

                  1. http://www.acouplecooks.com/2012/06/q...

                    Found this recipe a couple years ago on this blog and these pickles are delicious. Good with or without the chiles. I like them best with small pickling cukes that I just leave whole.

                    1. Kefir. Home made yogurt is pretty easy, but the 2 pound tub from costco is even easier. . . now that they have Mountain home back at my local one at least!

                      Putting the pickled jalapeƱo peppers on my list. I always have some pickled red onions (recipe from Serious eats) on hand and love the little bits of pepper in there

                      1. Parsley pesto. I don't even think it is available commercially and so much better in my opinion than basil pesto.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: escondido123

                          Do you happen to have a link (or a paraphrase) to a parsley pesto recipe? Or is it basically subbing parsley for they basil?

                        2. Tomato sauce (pasta sauce). For years I made it in a long and arduous process, then jarred stuff came along and I began buying it. I always thought the jars were blah to meh, but it was so easy to heat it up. I was lazy.

                          Last year I tweaked (blew up, really) my old recipe and will never go back. I've got it down to 10 minutes prep, then walk away while it cooks. That's hard to beat.


                          6 Replies
                            1. re: masha

                              Tomato Sauce

                              1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes
                              1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
                              3 cloves garlic
                              1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
                              1 teaspoon salt
                              1 teaspoon brown sugar
                              1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
                              6 tablespoons olive oil
                              2 tablespoons dried minced onion

                              1. Place tomatoes (incl. liquid), tomato paste, and garlic in a *blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

                              2. Transfer the tomato blend to a 3qt saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until the olive oil is completely incorporated.

                              3. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

                              *Alternatively, put the tomatoes in the cooking pot and crush by hand or with a stick blender until they're the consistency you prefer. Mince the garlic, add it and the tomato paste to the pot and proceed with Step 2.

                              It's a versatile sauce, great with add-ins like mushrooms, and can be tweaked to preference. Fresh basil is a nice addition right before serving, if it's on hand. I've got a recipe for pizza sauce, but often I'll use this if I've got some in the fridge, with maybe some freshly grated parmesan or extra garlic added to it. It's also the base for my meat ragu for lasagna. I make it so often I've got it memorized.

                              I do use high quality ingredients right down the line, and believe it makes a big difference.

                              1. re: DuffyH


                                My husband is the pasta sauce cook in our household (we each have "our" own dishes) but I feel stupid not being able to make red sauce. (I've got his recipe written down somewhere as our son wanted it when he moved out on his own, but I'd rather make my "own" than try to replicate his.)

                                1. re: masha

                                  Hi masha,

                                  You're very welcome.

                                  For years I got out of making potato salad by convincing my dude that I didn't know how to make it, despite watching him do it for some 20 years. Then after he showed me how, I got another 10 years of no work by telling him his was better, I didn't have his knack for it, yada yada. I was shameless in my efforts to avoid making it. :-D


                            2. re: DuffyH

                              I would have put "pasta sauce" on my list.

                              Except that The Person With The Penis in our house insists on having a few familiar jars of the prepared stuff on our pantry shelves.

                              In case of the Zombie Apocalypse.

                              (In which case just look for the slightly crazed woman, wearing an apron -I LOVE aprons!- hurling jars of Prego. That will be me.)

                              1. re: pedalfaster

                                It could be worse. Could be Chef Boyardee.

                            3. I made those pickled jalapenos the lazy way.
                              I already had an 8oz unopened jar of sliced pickled jalapenos from the store (pickled in the standard vinegar and salt).

                              I drained the jar and made 1 cup (cut the recipe in half) of that great soy sauce pickling juice, boiled it, and added it to the drained jar of sliced jalapenos. It's now stored in the fridge. Wow, really good and really easy the lazy way. ;-).

                              You can do a similar thing with regular dill pickles. When the regular pickles are gone, save the jar and juice. Slice up more Persian cucumbers in any desired shape, boil for 1 minute in the reserved pickle juice (add a little more vinegar if needed to cover the new pickles). Put everything back in the jar and place in the fridge. Now you have more pickles with the same flavor as the originals.

                              I also make:

                              All of our bread, white and wheat, sweet, savory, cornbread, biscuits, muffins, pizza dough, etc.
                              Mexican chorizo
                              BBQ rub & BBQ sauce

                              1. Bang for the buck is easily steak because I can make it much cheaper at home, it's quick and easy and cooked like I want it.