Why Cook "From Scratch"?

Think about the last meal you cooked or ate that was made entirely from scratch. I mean entirely. No store-bought bread, no prepared sauces, no something-from-a-pouch side dishes. If you can't come up with one, you're not alone. But is it really that much more difficult and time-consuming to make a meal from scratch?

At Surfin' Pig, we pride ourselves on making our food from scratch. We've been preparing our own family meals from scratch for years, and each year we find more opportunities to create fresh offerings. Recent additions to our personal "from scratch" favorites include homemade French baguettes and Italian bread, pizza dough for strombolis and grilled pizza, homemade sausage and soppresata, fresh pasta, and homemade stocks. We've even been making our own pitas and tortillas.

There are several reasons we prefer preparing our own food, not the least of which is the taste. There's nothing like a meal prepared from fresh ingredients, especially ingredients we get from our local suppliers. If you've ever had real, homemade Italian "gravy," you'll know that a jar of prepared spaghetti sauce from the supermarket isn't even in the same food group! We also get to season food to our tastes (with fresh herbs and spices). If we don't like something, we leave it out. If we really like something, we'll use more (think fresh garlic!). And we get to experiment with combining different flavors and ingredients to create our own recipes. But there are other benefits to cooking from scratch.

One of the more obvious reasons for preparing fresh food is that we know what ingredients are included and, more importantly, what is not included. There are more than 3,000 additives and preservatives available to be added to processed food. None of them are in a peck of red, juicy plum tomatoes from the local produce market. By sourcing our food from local, trusted suppliers, we can ensure that the ingredients we use meet our high standards for quality and taste with no unnecessary additives.

Generally, fresh ingredients are less expensive than prepared foods. A loaf of Italian bread from the supermarket costs $2.50. The ingredients to make the same loaf of bread at home (flour, water, yeast, salt) cost less than $1.00. That's 2½ times more for the store bought bread than homemade. The actual preparation time to make a loaf of fresh bread is around 30 minutes, less than the time it would take to drive to the supermarket and back. And the taste of a freshly baked baguette hot from the oven is far superior to one from the supermarket, even if it was made just a few hours earlier.

Granted, it's much easier to run down to the local supermarket - especially since many of them now bake on premises - and grab a loaf of fresh bread or a prepared meal. And the cost of the ingredients doesn't account for the time it takes to make an item. There are also ingredients that cost more if bought fresh (like seafood or meat from a butcher shop). But the quality and taste of freshly prepared food is so far superior to ready-made that it's worth the extra cost in both time and money.

So here's a challenge: The next time you have an opportunity, try replacing one of the items on your family's dinner menu with one made from scratch. Instead of buying frozen meatballs, try making them. If you're reading this post, you have everything you need - an Internet connection, a search tool, and the ability to read. Google "fresh Italian meatball recipe," read through a couple of the results, and pick one you like. In about 20 minutes, you'll have your meatballs ready to cook and in another 30-120 minutes (depending on your cooking method) you'll be enjoying meatballs "from scratch."