Convenience foods: make your own and save

By , special to The Christian Science Monitor

There seems to be a growing dissatisfaction among many American cooks with convenience foods, especially when it comes to condiments, salad dressings, and some baked goods.

The reliance on convenience foods not only contributes to the debasement of our taste buds, but it also leads to sharply higher food bills.

For example, an eight-ounce bottle of a brand-name oil and vinegar dressing costs roughly 80 cents, about twice the cost of the product if you mix the vinegar and vegetable oil yourself.

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Even if more expensive olive oil is used, the home version, which is 100 percent more flavorful, is far cheaper. The ingredients list on the commercial product shows that your extra money is not even getting you vegetable oil, but rather, partly hydrogenated soybean oil -- and a lot of sugar to mask the poor flavor.

Convenience foods can be justified in many cases where making the product at home would be too time-consuming for someone on a busy schedule. Bouillon cubes , for instance, are a lifesaver for people who don't have time to make stocks and soup bases.

But for many products -- salad dressing, mayonnaise, croutons, pancakes, French fries, muffins, simple cookies, and various sauces -- the homemade version is so simple, relatively inexpensive, and good that it is hard to justify paying double for inferior quality.

Here are some recipes that are quick to make and do not require any special kitchen equipment beyond a blender or just a large wire whisk and a strong arm. Green Goddess Salad Dressing 3/4 cup mayonnaise (see recipe below) 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 anchovy fillets, minced 1/4 cup minced chives or scallions 1/4 cup parsley, chopped 1/2 cup sour cream 1 tablespoon vinegar 1 tablespoon tarragon Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. If kept covered and refrigerated, this dressing will last a week or more. Mayonnaise 1 egg yolk 1 teaspoon mustard, such as Dijon 1/4 teaspoon salt Pinch of cayenne or white pepper 3/4 cup oil 1 teaspoon lemon juice or wine vinegar

In a bowl, whisk together egg yolk, mustard, and salt and pepper. While mixture thickens, slowly pour in oil. Continued to whisk vigorously or use an electric mixer.

When oil is blended in, slowly add lemon juice or vinegar; season to taste.

Note: To help prevent fresh mayonnaise from breaking up in the refrigerator, add several teaspoons of hot water at the very end, while whisking. It is best to blend olive oil with vegetable or peanut oil at a ratio of roughly 1 to 6. Too much olive oil may be overpowering in flavor. Quick Coffeecake 1 cup flour 1 teaspoon baking powder Pinch salt 3/4 cup sugar 1/3 cup melted butter 2 eggs 2/3 cup milk 1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together. In mixing bowl, beat 2 eggs, gradually add sugar, then add melted butter. And dry ingredients alternately with milk. Add vanilla and pour into a well-greased 8-inch-square baking pan.

Cover with topping (see recipe below) and bake at 400 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Topping 2 tablespoons butter 3 tablespoons sugar 1/4 cup flour 1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add four, crumbs, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix until crumbly. Barbecue Sauce 1 tablespoon butter 1 medium onion, minced 1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder 1 12- to 14-ounce bottle commercial ketchup 1/2 cup vinegar 1 tablespoon brown sugar 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1/4 teaspoon allspice

In a saucepan, melt butter and add minced onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. add ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, cayenne and mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce, and allspice.

Cook all ingredients over medium heat for 30 minutes. Stir frequently or until sauce is reduced by a third.

Note: If, sealed and refrigerated, this sauce will last for months.

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