Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

How to Reverse Engineer a Recipe for Real Food Quality

January 26th, 2010 · 71 Comments · Do It Yourself, Upgraded Nutrition

tomato soup I used to loooove getting the Kraft Food and Family magazine, chock full of simple, tasty recipes that I could peruse and add to my menu plans.  Lately, though, I’m disheartened.  So many of the recipes have processed foods in them already (which makes sense, since it’s published by a food processing company, but still).  I figure, if I’m going to the trouble of cooking homemade foods instead of buying something in a box in the freezer section, why settle for additives, pseudo-foods, chemicals and other “junk” I don’t want my family eating?

Trouble is, I missed my old recipes.  We had some stand-bys that everyone loved that I just couldn’t get myself to make anymore.  When I started looking at the ingredients in things like onion soup mix, creamed canned soups and even pre-seasoned Italian tomatoes, I thought two things:

1.  I don’t want to eat all these “foods” I can’t pronounce.
2.  I bet I could make this taste just as good.  Maybe better.

With promises of make-from-scratch recipes next week for things that come completely in a box or bottle (crackers, for example), here’s my best shot at Reverse Food Engineering 101!

Better Than a BoxEvery real food cook needs some basic resources that everyone recognizes, just like this one. If you have a desire to cook real food more fluently or gain confidence in remaking some of your own processed style recipes using only whole foods, you’ll love the bestselling eBook Better Than a Box. With 60 ready-to-go recipes and 100 pages of kitchen tutorials, your family will be singing your real food praises in no time. Click HERE for more info on the premium package, including the Kindle version.

 

The Basic Method

Got a recipe with undesirable packaged food?  You can probably make it even better yourself.  Grab the recipe and ingredients and get to work:

  1. Read the ingredients on the packaged food you’re trying to avoid.
  2. Ignore all the words you don’t understand. For real.  They’re not in your kitchen anyway.
  3. Figure out the main body – is it a liquid oil, a creamy base, dried vegetables, or what?  Use olive oil for liquids, homemade cream of soup or yogurt for creamy stuff, and the real thing for dried veggies (as a general rule). onion soup mix
  4. What spices are going on?  Take your best guess at what would taste good in the dish if you’re not sure.
  5. Corn syrup, High fructose corn syrup, or any other ingredient that ends in “-ose” are just sweeteners.  Generally they’re included to enhance flavor, mask the lack of taste, replace some deleted fats, or as a preservative.  The only time you need to bother adding sweetener back in is in the first instance.  Many say tomatoes are enhanced by a teaspoon of sugar (try molasses!), for example.
  6. Keep the overall recipe you’re making in mind. This especially comes into play with things like bouillon cubes.  They work together with something else in your recipe (usually water), so to substitute, you need to take into account the finished product and adjust accordingly.
  7. Don’t be afraid to fail. Most of the time, you get to taste what you’re making before you serve it.  That’s the beauty of cooking over baking – you can add ingredients right up until the end and no one will know.  It’s definitely an art, not a science.
  8. The charts below might help you, especially if you feel like more of a scientist than an artist!
Main Dishes: Casseroles and Stovetop Meals

It’s a common complaint that so many casseroles call for one or more undesirable ingredients, especially the cream of {x} canned soup.  Luckily, all processed food either starts with something you have in your kitchen or is trying to mimic the real thing.  You can make any processed recipe without the processed stuff, I promise!

Ingredient Substitutions References
Cream of {x} soup Homemade 1.  Tammy’s Recipes
2.  Kitchen Stewardship’s
Ketchup Homemade is okay, but for many recipes just use tomato sauce and a smidge of sweetener of your choice I did it very successfully in my Homemade Hamburger Helper.
Mayo/Miracle Whip Homemade mayo or, depending on the recipe, sour cream or homemade yogurt with some add-ins See my reverse engineering substitution in this chicken casserole recipe.
Tomato soup I just use tomato sauce in my chili, and it’s just great. I don’t have a can to reverse engineer.  What’s in there?
Bouillon cubes/powder The goal is broth.  Use your homemade stock.  1 tsp. or one cube bouillon is usually one cup broth.  Delete one cup water and add 1 cup broth. You can also find some non-MSG stock base options at places like Penzey’s Spices.
Dry onion soup mix Onions.  Salt.  A little molasses.  Fresh garlic or garlic powder. Most of the time, soup mix just adds flavor, so all you need is the real thing.  I did it for my hubs’ fav meal, Pepper Steak.
Ranch dressing mix I haven’t tried this in my taco soup recipe yet, but I would just use the spices in my homemade ranch dressing and add a little sour cream or yogurt and see what happened!
Italian Seasoned Tomatoes Avoid the sugar or corn syrup often added by using the real thing.  Fresh garlic tastes so much better! My recipe for homemade Italian diced tomatoes, toward the end of the recipe post.
Pre-mixed spices Generally, these should be okay unless there’s MSG involved. Search for voluminous homemade options on the web.
BBQ sauce Homemade Haven’t tackled this yet!  Ideas?

UPDATE:  I forgot to include “chili hot beans” in a can.  My sub is 1 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans, 1/2 can tomato paste and a tsp-Tbs of chili powder, depending on how “hot” your “hot” is!

UPDATE:  Also see the comments for some discussion/ideas for homemade biscuit/baking mix in a box.

What am I missing? I know there are other boxes, cans and bags called for in tons of recipes, but I’ve been doing Real Food long enough that I’ve forgotten.  I’ll update the post with ideas from the comments if you all have something you want me to tackle.  :)

Don’t forget the other examples of recipes I’ve already upgraded to real food at the Monday Mission post from this week, including some main dishes and quickbreads.

Quickbreads and Muffins

pumpkin muffins two With baking, it’s usually not so much getting rid of processed ingredients but in making sure your ingredients are as healthy as possible. You can try:

  • Cutting the sugar by 1/4 cup at a time.  No sugar is good for you, but if you’re going to have some, have less.  (Baby steps!)
  • Using honey instead of sugar.  3/4 cup honey = 1 cup sugar.  When you sub honey, reduce liquid by 1/4 cup per cup sugar you delete.  I’m sure maple syrup is about the same.
  • Subbing half whole wheat, or even 100% whole wheat.  Quick breads are very forgiving in this area!  I like “white whole wheat”, sold under King Arthur’s brand (and others, but KA is fairly easy to find).  It has a flavor and texture more like all-purpose white flour.
  • If you are looking for a “soaked grain” muffin recipe, I’m working on one, hopefully successful by February when we tackle grains more in depth.  I’ll teach you how to adapt regular recipes (when possible) for soaking at that time.  Sarah also has a soaked grain oatmeal cranberry muffin that we enjoyed.
  • Liquid oils:  Instead of corn or canola, try melted butter or coconut oil.
  • Solid fats: Instead of shortening or margarine, use butter, coconut oil, lard or non-hydrogenated palm shortening (oh yes, a review and giveaway of palm shortening coming soon!).
  • Choose recipes that have some redeeming ingredients, like zucchini or pumpkin breads.
  • Making Amish friendship bread?  It tastes just as good without the pudding mix.  You can add flavor with cocoa, vanilla, real bananas, etc.
Cookies and Desserts

chocolate chip cookies 2 Many of the tips for adapting quickbread recipes will also work with some desserts.  It’s when you have a cake mix + cool whip + something else recipe that was your old favorite that real foodies run into trouble.  My fruit pizza is an example of a total revamping/remodeling of a recipe.  For healthy whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, I just had to find the *right* recipe.

Some dessert tips:

  • Find dessert recipes that have redeeming qualities, too, like pumpkin, healthy fats, coconut, nuts, etc.
  • You can cut sugar, but not much.  Cookies will flatten too much (I think?) with too little sugar.
  • You can always try whole wheat flour or other whole grains.
  • Use real whipping cream for cool whip.
  • Make yogurt cheese for cream cheese-based recipes.
  • I don’t see many soaked cookie recipes.  I had a total fail on my first attempt at soaked cookies, but I might be willing to try again!  I’ll let you know when I do.  I’m also planning to share the fail soon.
  • Let yourself live a little.  ;)  Enjoy it in moderation as long as it doesn’t make you feel terrible!
Hot Cocoa

A few people mentioned that they need a substitute for powdered hot cocoa.  As you might expect, powdered cocoa is powdered milk, cocoa, sweetener, and fillers.  You can use real milk, cocoa, sweetener, and a spoon.  Here are some recipes I’ve been collecting, for I, too, am a “real cocoa” virgin as of this winter (we still have packets in our cupboard, because this stuff does take longer, but it’s worth it!):

Darn it.  Now I want to go make some hot chocolate.  !!  We’ve been using Kelly’s (more or less) this winter.  Yum-O!

Will Travel, With Food: An Idea in Need of Motivation

After the overwhelming wish of so many of you for healthy snacks and food on the go during the PlanetBox giveaway, I’m pondering something.  I have a boatload (well, maybe just a generous handful) of recipes for snacks and desserts that I can only post one at a time or so.  Last fall, I set a goal for myself to publish an eBook by my blogoversary, February 19th!  I had been thinking I wouldn’t make it, but maybe I’m inspired to at least get started now.  Two eBook ideas:

  • Real Food On the Go:  Lunches and Snacks without Packages
  • Healthy-ish and Healthy-ER Desserts, Real Food Style

Would you spend a couple bucks ($3-5) for either one of these ideas? I imagine they’d go 15-25 pages or so with at least 10 new recipes and the ever-popular practical tips for time-saving and budget-friendliness.  There.  That’s my R&D marketing attempt.  ;)  Thanks for any feedback or peer pressure to get started that you can give!

Got an Example?

If you’ve reverse engineered a skillet dish that would pass the husband review board as a substitute for hamburger (or chicken or tuna) helper, please link up this Thursday at the one-pot meals carnival!  It will be so interesting to see how other people manage this process, so any insight into your thinking as you created the recipe, if it’s yours, would be marvelous.  Here’s my treatise on How to Feed a Husband Real Food.

Note: I added a “Print-Friendly” button to Kitchen Stewardship posts.  You’ll find it at the very bottom.  It will give you the option of isolating the text without all the sidebar mess if there’s a post or recipe you’d like to print!

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Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

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71 Comments so far ↓

  • Michelle

    Here’s my favorite recipe for homemade BBQ sauce — it’s delicious!

    http://picky-palate.com/2008/09/04/slide-on-over/

    It calls for a little brown sugar (which isn’t ideal) but after reading your ideas for substitutions, I may play around with it. Thanks so much — this article was really helpful!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kristen

    This must be the year for leaving packaged foods behind. Although my pantry is still has some in it, I am hoping to learn to make many of them from scratch. I can’t wait to see what you post next week.
    .-= Kristen´s last blog ..Shrimp Creole: Recipes from Long Ago =-.

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  • Cindy B

    I was getting ready to say, BBQ sauce should be easy if you’re already making your own ketchup – I see Michelle has the same idea. If you want to cut the brown sugar, you could probably substitute molasses, or maybe even a little maple syrup? I would probably add in some minced garlic & onion as well.

    As for the Amish friendship bread, the starter was making it rounds here about 6 months ago and I found a wonderful recipe on AllRecipes.com that called for using chopped apples, nuts, & cinnamon in lieu of the pudding mix.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jennifer

    It is like that cooking show Semi-Homemade or something along those lines. Where she takes processed ingredients to “cook from scratch” a meal. I am with you, trying to get rid of all the boxes and cans in my house and not replacing them.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Susie's Homemade

    This post is EXTREMELY useful!! I booked marked it! Thanks for helping us with the cooking tackle:-)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Megan

    Here’s a link to a substitute for can of tomato soup. It’s so easy and delicious on it’s own for an easy lunch or dinner (with grilled cheese, of course!) You can leave out the balsamic if you’re adding it to recipes:

    http://greeninapinkworld.blogspot.com/2009/02/tomato-soup-with-balsamic-vinegar.html
    .-= Megan´s last blog ..Sourdough Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Megan,
    Thanks so much! Hopefully either this one or the one Alison left will help Mary out! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Heather Reply:

    Thank you for the tomato soup recipe. Tomato soup with grilled cheese is one of my favorites!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sara @ ThrivingMama

    This is for all those who want a Real Hot Chocolate. Make up the syrup in a batch and keep it in your fridge. You can mix the recipe to the chocolate richness you prefer by adding more chocolate and less sugar. Add the syrup to milk of your choice (dairy, soy, rice, etc), heat it up and enjoy! Add whipped cream for an extra treat. I’m so spoiled now that I can’t order cocoa or use packets and enjoy it anymore! http://bit.ly/chocsyrup
    .-= Sara @ ThrivingMama´s last blog ..Mommy-Made-It Monday: More Soft Baby Shoes =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Morgan Conner

    I would buy an e-book in that price range. I want the portable lunches and snacks. If we are at home, I have no trouble finding healthy foods but if we are running errands, fast food calls our name. For tomato soup-I have found several healthy tomato soup recipes online. I make a big pot, then freeze it in smaller jars so we have a quick lunch that does not come out of a can!
    .-= Morgan Conner´s last blog ..Upcoming Appointments =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Diana

    For onion soup mix, it works great to saute the onion in olive oil before adding it, and add some pepper in with the other spices. My hubby and I love it this way :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • DarcyLee

    I have some of Tammy’s cream of chicken soup in my freezer right now that I’ve completely forgotten about. I need to use it up. I have a long ways to go with making my own mixes and substitutions ( I don’t know if I will ever make my own ketchup or mayonnaise) but I remember the first “baby” step I ever took and that was from-scratch cakes and frostings. That was huge in my family.
    .-= DarcyLee´s last blog ..Sunday Scripture =-.

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  • Mary

    Campbell tomato soup ingredients: tomato puree (water, tomato paste), high fructose corn syrup, wheat flour, water, salt, potassium chloride, flavoring, citric acid, lower sodium natural sea salt, ascorbic acid(vitamin C), monopotassium phosphate.
    They claim no added colors or artificial flavors, no msg added, no saturated fat, no cholesterol

    I wonder what “flavoring” is?! It’s probably the secret ingredient that sets Campbell’s apart from other brands.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Mary,
    Hmmmm…unfortunately, it could be a “spice” that is another name for MSG. I wonder if they can get away with using one of the many look-alikes and still say “no MSG” because they don’t actually use “monosodium glutamate”? Did you check out the tomato soup recipe Alison left here? With the right sspices and a little thickener (maybe cream?), we should be able to hit this one! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Mary Reply:

    I found a couple of other tomato soup recipes to add to the “try me” list. This one (sorry, I don’t know how to make it an active link) http://www.recipetips.com/recipe-cards/u–4071/homemade-tomato-soup.asp called for evaporated milk, whole milk and butter. It is simple, but the evaporated milk would add a different flavor from fresh milk.
    This one http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/michael-chiarello/homemade-tomato-soup-recipe/index.html has us roasting the canned tomatoes to add flavor. It also calls for celery, onion, garlic, carrot, basil, bay leaf…and chicken broth. The chicken broth takes it out of the meat-free category which is sometimes my goal, but it seems like it has enough sources to carry the flavor using water or milk in its place.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sheila

    About bouillon cubes — I discovered the hard way that there’s usually more to them than just stock. I use Herb-Ox, which is very flavorful and salty — so to replace it with stock, you usually have to reduce the stock, add a good deal of salt, and add other spices to make it taste right. The salt is key: I tried to make a lemon-chicken egg drop soup (the most delicious soup in the world) and didn’t realize the sourness of the lemon was supposed to be counteracted by the saltiness of the chicken bouillon. Without the salt, it’s almost inedible! Other additions that are helpful to correct the seasonings when using stock are garlic and onion. Sometimes I add soy sauce as well — it adds color, saltiness, and flavor. (Of course, you have to make sure *that’s* MSG-free!)
    .-= Sheila´s last blog ..My first venison stew — and my first cooking photoblog =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Sheila,
    Good to know! For tammy’s recipes white sauce, the spices she adds do great to off set the lack of bouillon. Thanks for the tips! :) Katie

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  • Meghan

    I’ve also found that stevia works really well for hot chocolate. I heat up our raw milk (not a lot, so it’s definitely more like warm chocolate), add some raw cocoa powder, and then stevia. It’s great because you can actually taste it as you go along, so it’s pretty easy to figure out how much stevia to add. (Which is why, I guess, that the other main thing that I use stevia for is homemade ice cream – you can also keep tasting the recipe for appropriate sweetness before you put it in your ice cream maker.)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Alison @ Hospitality Haven

    Thanks for your insight! I make homemade condensed tomato soup, and here’s my link to it: http://alison.blogsome.com/2010/01/13/108/
    I also make homemade ranch dressing: http://alison.blogsome.com/2009/04/16/salad-dressings/

    And I have made BBQ sauce following some of these recipes: http://alison.blogsome.com/2009/04/16/salad-dressings/

    However, my easiest way for making BBQ sauce is simply ketchup, some brown sugar, a bit of mustard, and some worcestershire sauce, and a dash of garlic or onion powder. Mix, taste, and go from there! Works like a charm!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Alison,
    Thank you for the resource links! You def. added depth to this post! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Tara Rison

    I would definitely purchase the Real Food On the Go e-book.
    .-= Tara Rison´s last blog ..What We Are Eating: Week Four =-.

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  • Lynn

    Regarding bouillon, I haven’t tried it, but the 101 Cookbooks blog just featured a recipe for homemade vegetable bouillon that looks super easy:

    http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/homemade-bouillon-recipe.html

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lenetta @ Nettacow

    I’ll be linking. :>) The “why didn’t I think of that?!?” for me was using molasses in tomato stuff instead of sugar. I can’t wait to experiment with that! It’ll add some flavor depth, too.
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Link Roundup – Will The Sun Ever Shine Again? Edition =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Lenetta @ Nettacow Reply:

    Linked. Thanks!
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Saving Searches on eBay =-.

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  • Cara @ Health Home and Happiness

    The reverse engineering is a great concept. I’ve found that with a homemade cream sauce I can make most casseroles that call for cream-of-whatever soup. And a heavy hand with real sea salt gives us needed iodine and flavor, but no MSG or industrial salt.
    .-= Cara @ Health Home and Happiness´s last blog ..Homemade Onion Soup =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • melissa

    Great post Katie!

    I would be interested in the ebooks, especially about on the go snacks and lunches!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Paula

    Robert St. John, a Southern Cook, Writer and Restauranteur wrote a book called, Deep South Staples, or, How to Survive in a Southern Kitchen without a Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup!
    I think he uses a mushroom bechamel sauce which sounds easy and could be nourishing!
    .-= Paula´s last blog ..bed and bath =-.

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  • Wendy

    this is really cool! Thanks, I’m going to be refering to this page often. And I need to look around your blog a bit more too.
    I’m learning so much today!
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Boccoli Cheese Soup =-.

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  • karen

    Tammy’s homemade cream of soup is a winner. We love it. It’s not that much work and you already have all the ingredients! I freeze it 2 cups per ziplock.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • cindi

    What a great post! I have been doing a few f these things for years. But I’m always up for using less processed food “stuff.” Thanks.
    .-= cindi´s last blog ..About the Giveaway….and Kim’s Giveaway =-.

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  • Lisa@blessedwithgrace

    As always, a post full of helpful and important information and links. Thanks for linking to TMMT.
    .-= Lisa@blessedwithgrace´s last blog ..Tempt My Tummy Tuesday… Mexican Chicken Corn Chowder =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Anne

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the print friendly button. I’ve been wishing that you had one when I attempted to block just a recipe only to discover that I got all the side bar stuff. I did preview before print and was able to catch it before actually printing it out.

    Also, I love how you bulleted and alphabetized all your topics in the left margin. Makes it so much easier to find past posts.

    I would buy an e-book — I think. But would I have to buy an e-book reader or could I read it and save it on my computer — and print out if I wanted? I’m not very up on this technology.

    I’ve been curious about a homemade version of the “original pancake and baking mix” — will not name it. I sent you a recipe, Katie, for zucchini & potato pancakes, but after reading your blogs, I can see that you probably would not want to use this flour product. The ingredients: enriched flour (bleached — a no-no), partially hydrogenated soybean &/or cottonseed oil (a no-no), leavening (baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate (enhh), monocalcium phosphate, dextrose and salt. I suppose wheat flour, baking powder (?), but in what proportions? Substitute the oil with EVOO? but how would one keep it from staying wet for storage? And I just noticed on the box that I was to refrigerate after opening to maintain freshness. Oops — into the fridge it will go.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Anne,
    That is a good question! I knew there were some “big dogs” I was missing in this list. For some purposes, I would just use homemade biscuit dough, but you’re right – there are many recipes that call for (ahem) baking mix on its own. I’m guessing a good fat to use would be coconut oil as it is shelf stable and solid. I used to make a homemade biscuit mix that used shortening (gasp) and you basically just mixed up all the dry ingredients, cut in the fat and left it in a large container, then added the milk when you wanted biscuits, but you could use it for pancakes or waffles, too.

    Here’s one from the More-With-Less Cookbook:
    10 c. flour (can use 1/3 whole wheat)
    6 T. baking powder
    1 ½ T. salt
    1 ½ tsp. cream of tartar
    ¼ c. sugar (bet you could skip it)
    Cut in 2 c. fat (try butter or coconut oil, depending on if you have cold storge or shelf storage).

    I wonder how it would work with 100% white whole wheat?

    For biscuits: 1 1/2 cup mix, 1/3 cup milk. 10 mins at 450 degrees.

    For pancakes: Beat 1 c. milk, 1 egg. Add 1 1/2 cups mix.

    Maybe that’s a start! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Anne Reply:

    Thanks for the info. Having some proportions to work with helps. I have a recipe from SavorySpiceShop.com for homemade baking powder: 1/2 cup cream of tartar and 1/4 cup baking soda. I wonder if the extra cream of tartar in the biscuit mix recipe would be needed. Something to experiment with.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Robin Reply:

    Hey Katie-
    I know this is an old post, but I would use palm oil for this. It has the closest consistency to the shortening. I don’t think coconut oil would really work as well. I’ve actually made up a batch of this stuff as well using palm oil, as I wanted to make my grandmother’s sausage balls, and needed a sub for the baking mix (and that’s really all I use it for, as I would rather make my own from-scratch biscuits/pancakes), but it worked great and is very shelf stable with the palm oil. I would think the only issue might be the whole “palm oil controversy” so making sure to get it from a good source (I got mine from Tropical Traditions).

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Robin,
    great call! I use palm shortening often for biscuits and tortillas now, but I don’t think I knew much about it then. Sweet! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jana

    This is a FANTASTIC post! I cannot thank you enough for going to all the trouble of creating this go-to guide. Huge help!!!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jana

    Would totally buy and e-book! Thanks again!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lanie

    Thank you so much for posting this! I love to make casseroles and crockpot recipes for my family, but can’t stand the thought of feeding them canned “cream of” soups. Blah!

    I linked to this post in my Friday Favorites! ~Lanie
    .-= Lanie´s last blog ..Friday Favorites (Jan. 29, 2010) =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Thanks, Lanie!
    Welcome aboard! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rachel

    Great post!

    I learned about tomato sauce from my stepmother (who does not add sugar to it). I add about a teaspoon to a tablespoon (depending on how much sauce I am making) of dry sherry or some other cheap alcohol to mine. After letting it boil for a little while, something about the booze makes the sauce taste like it has sun-dried tomatoes in it. And considering that what I use has a low alcohol content to start with, most of that alcohol boils off, and I used very little of it, the dish isn’t boozy at all. Of course, if your household does not use alcohol at all, this tip is completely useless.

    About tomato soup, I use Mollie Katzen’s basic recipe (from Enchanted Broccoli Forest). Combine one 28 oz can of stewed tomatoes with a little honey and some cream cheese. Season to taste. I takes all of ten minutes to prepare and tastes soooooo much better than store bought. And I buy salt-free canned goods, so the sodium content is negligible.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rachel

    Here’s what I do instead of bullion:
    http://trialanderrorhomeec.blogspot.com/2009/03/stock-pots.html

    And it’s plenty flavorful without any salt.
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..KTT-Inventory Management =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • kolfinnas korner

    Amazing! I’m glad I stopped by. I will be spending sometime browsing as I too am trying to cut processed foods and bad for you ingredients. Not doing too bad, but sometimes it’s hard.
    .-= kolfinnas korner´s last blog ..Kitchen Tip Tuesday — Kitchen Recycling =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Stephanie R

    Has anyone reverse engineered a recipe for a stove top type ingredient?? My family has a favorite chicken dish that uses it, and I cringe every time I make it. I really hate to give up the recipe as it is one of very few new recipes that I have tried in almost 9 years of marriage that my very picky husband will actually eat. I’m sure with trial and error I could figure it out, but along with being very picky he doesn’t understand or care about eating healthy. I will only have one shot at this before he refuses to eat it if it’s not out of a box so I would really appreciate any ideas or tips anyone has. Thanks so much!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Stephanie,
    That is a really good question. What role does the Stovetop (stuffing, right?) play in the dish? Is it a topping or all mixed in? That might make a difference. You got my attention – I love a challenge! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Stephanie R Reply:

    Katie,
    I too love a challenge, but past experience has taught me that I only have one shot at this.

    The dish is called Swiss Chicken. It is chicken breast, sprinkled with pepper and garlic powder. Lay slices of swiss cheese on top of the chicken, mix cream of chicken soup (I already make my own!) with a little milk and pour over the cheese. Slightly crush the stovetop stuffing and sprinkle on top, then drizzle with melted butter and bake.

    The recipe uses a whole box of stovetop, so it is a rather pronounced ingredient. I know I can easily make my own dry bread cubes. The box doesn’t list each spice, just says spice or seasoning or something like that. I’m guessing parsley and poultry seasoning, but am not sure the best way to put it all together. Mix the seasoning with melted butter and toss the bread cubes before toasting? Mix the seasoning with chicken broth and toss the cubes before toasting?? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks so much!

    Stephanie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Stephanie,
    Oh man – pressure’s on!

    Butter has to make everything better, right? I might use melted butter before and after toasting, and get the spices right in there before toasting too. Crush up quite a bit, add more melted butter, and give it a shot. I am trying to remember the smell of that stuff; there’s something unique about it. Maybe try adding thyme, or sage! I bet there’s some sage in there, since it’s stuffing. Could you make your dish as normal except for one corner while you experiment and don’t let hubby taste that part until you do? I bet more garlic powder with the toasted bread crumbs wouldn’t hurt, either. Toss in some MSG and you’ll match the box perfectly! (Just kidding, of course. They’re just not playing fair since there’s probably MSG to flavor enhance in there.) Do you think you need chicken broth for the “chicken flavor”? That’s a tough part; I’m not sure.

    I can’t wait to hear if this works! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Another reader mentioned that Tammy’s Recipes has a recipe for homemade Stovetop! It’s got a ton of ingredients – I don’t know that I’d EVER get there by experimenting: http://www.tammysrecipes.com/homemade_chicken_stuffing_mix
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Stephanie R Reply:

    Wow! That is a lot of ingredients! Thanks so much for the link. It’s definitely a huge step in the right direction. I wonder if it will make much difference to leave the powdered boullion out?? It may be a few weeks before I get around to trying it but I will definitely let you know how it goes!

    Stephanie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Stephanie R Reply:

    I did it!!! I think it came out really yummy, and hubby ate it as well as usual and didn’t say anything! WOOHOO!!!! :-) My recipe:
    16 c. bread cubes
    melted butter – I used 3/4 of a cup because I wanted to make sure the spices were well distributed. I think it was too much, it took forever for the bread to get completely crisp. Next time I’ll definitely cut it down.
    2 t. onion powder
    2 t. garlic powder
    4 t. poultry seasoning
    2 t. pepper
    4 t. salt
    Mix the spices into the melted butter, drizzle over the bread cubes and toss until the bread is all coated. Spread on 2 parchment lined baking sheets and bake at 300 degrees until the cubes are completely crisp like croutons. Check after 10-15 minutes, but it will probably take longer depending on the size of your bread cubes and how much butter you use.

    This isn’t designed to be made into stuffing, just used when the Stovetop is used dry to top a dish or coat meat.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Stephanie,
    I’m so proud/impressed/thrilled/relieved that it worked out great! Well done, good kitchen steward! ;) Seems like a pretty easy recipe, too. I will have to keep this in mind when the bread starts getting a little stale; I definitely have some recipes that call for Stovetop that I just don’t use anymore. Now I’m saved! Thank you!!! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    elaine Reply:

    I am totally shooting from the hip on this one (I usually follow a recipe to the letter and am a little hesitant to venture out on my own but my mom makes the most awesome stuffing at Thanksgiving and Christmas and it’s not really by a recipe). We were lucky enough to find some organic stuffing mix in the health food section at a local Kroger. One was cornbread and one was herb seasoned … they were on closeout and I bought every bag!! If you could find something like that you could work with butter and chicken broth (and make sure the seasoning suit your taste) and see what you come up with. Absent the bagged mix you might try to make homemade bread crumbs that you have already seasoned before you dried them out and using butter, chicken broth and seasonings. Katie is right about the sage – it is a must in our stuffings. Also, poultry seasoning. We have a “good, better, best” philosophy around here and all of these ideas would come in the “better” category than Stove Top … to get “best” you would have to go the entire sprouted/soaked/sourdough method with bread and then make your own bread crumbs. So, it just depends on how far you would like to take it — but anything would be a step up from Stove Top. Good Luck!!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lori

    This is what I would try…getting the proportions may be a killer, but considering what I put in “real” stuffing I would start with instead of 100% butter for the liquid flavor base for the croutons I would use part (maybe half of what you would use for butter) chicken stock (the rich jelly kind might be best and or a melt bit of the chicken fat that rose to the top of the stock) as the dried seasoning flavor delivery system. The seasonings would be ground sage, dried celery leaf or seed (crush the seed, it won’t take much), dried minced onion, dried minced garlic, salt and pepper. I would put those spices in a coffee mill/grinder or mini food processor to blend together and make consistent in size (a mortor & pestle would do it too). Add the seasonings to the butter combo toss with bread cubes and bake the croutons on low and slow as you normally would to make crouton. If this isn’t just a crunchy topping, I would probably make the “real” stuffing and put on top of the base to bake and add a few crushed plain croutons at the end to give the dish the “crunch factor”. To make stuffing: I use plain bread toasted into croutons; an egg or 2; saute diced onion, crushed garlic, and diced celery in a bit of butter; add ground rubbed sage, then salt and pepper to taste and add chicken stock. Mix all of that together and spread over the top of the base and bake. Sorry, for not being able to provide exact amounts for you, but I do believe that without the celery flavor, the stuffing may be “flat”. My apologies for the lengthy response!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Lori,
    I’m sure the celery is key, too! And I thought I was sitting pretty figuring out the sage. ;) Thank you! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Julie

    For probably all quick bread and muffin recipes, you can use fruit purees (appesauce, mashed bananas, pumpkin puree) instead of oil or butter! I have done this many, many times, and it always turns out great! Just reduce the sweetener and liquid a little bit, though!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Megan

    So I’m definitely behind on reading this post, but I’ve gotten motivated lately to get rid of some of our boxes and knew you were a fan of reverse engineering many things! My husband loves your cheeseburger helper!!

    We make our own BBQ sauce with just ketchup, sorghum molasses, and vinegar. I think the molasses gives it even better flavor than brown sugar because it’s not quite as sweet and has a much more complex flavor. Hubby likes our homemade much better than anything we’ve bought in the store! Sometimes we add chilli powder if we want a little extra kick.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • shalom

    What about hard-crack chocolate – the liquid chocolate that hardens to a shell when pourd on ice cream?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Oh, man, I have no idea the science behind that one! Coconut oil melts easily and solidifies FAST when it hits cold stuff, so maybe a nice coconut oil/cocoa/honey/? blend, nice and thin? Fun to test out and yummy either way! :) katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Lenetta Reply:

    Actually, Katie, you’re on the right track! (apologies for butting in, but I bookmarked this not too long ago): http://blogs.babble.com/family-kitchen/2010/12/23/peppermint-magic-shell-candy-cane-sundaes/ Of course you could leave out the peppermint flavoring. I suppose the chocolate chips aren’t the most real food way to go, but it’s certainly a place to start.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    The point of the blog and comment subscription is to encourage “butt-in-skies!” Love it! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • shalom

    Dh loves pineapple upside-down cake–it’s his favorite birthday cake. I don’t mind making cake from scratch, but he likes my version using Duncan Hines Pineapple Supreme cake mix better than my mom’s from scratch one. I replace the water called for with pineapple juice. I know I can use a basic white or yellow cake recipe, but what can I add to get even more pineapple flavor to make up for the pineapple flavored mix? Also Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe is recommended by Wilton for cake decorating, a good basic recipe that works well like this mix would be nice.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    That’s a tough one – I’ve never made a pineapple cake! Hmmm…

    [Reply to this comment]

  • sandra

    Hi! I’ve never used many processed ingredients in my cooking, but I have been trying to cut back on the ones I did use (and prefer some over others) thanks to your blog and other similar blogs/websites.
    Boullion cubes was/is something I would use when I didn´t have any stock. Now I have stock much more often, because I make a point out of making/freezing it whenever possible!
    We have never used cake mixes and such or buy salad dressings (olive oil + vinegar are a permanent staple on every table around here). Even condiments are rare in most households. Except for mayonaise (that I now make) and mustard most people only buy other sauces like ketchup, cocktail, bbq… for a specific recipe. My MIL threw out a small but almost full bottle of ketchup a while ago because it had been rolling around in her fridge for about a year.
    Canned soups are not easy to find in the supermarket although packaged soups in the refrigerated section are an expensive novilty that most households eye with suspition!
    Dried poudered soups however, have been around for a long time and people buy them frequently and use them as an ingredient (not to be consumed as the actual soup – YUCK!). I was happy to find a way around instant onion soup mix and will let you know how that works for my recipe. The other dry soup mix that gets used alot is seafood bisque. 2-3 tbl spoons are added to shrimp bisque and to seafood rice/pasta dishes for an extra punch of seafood flavour and colour.Your post has got me thinking on how to avoid this processed ingredient as well. I’m going to sleep on it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Brandis @ Crunchy Thrify Cool

    I use that recipe, it’s super great and keeps forever (I have one jar in the freezer for later and one jar in the fridge, although you can keep it all the freezer as the salt and oil keep it from freezing solid). It’s just vegetable bouillon, but I use it mainly as a seasoning. Like if I’m making a recipe that calls for bouillon (beef or chicken) I use stock instead, plus a tsp or so of the veg bouillon. Or just generally I use it as a seasoning in soups, sauces… whatever.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Brandis @ Crunchy Thrify Cool

    I’m sorry, I replied wrong, I was referring to the recipe for vegetable bouillon cited in a previous comment… This link: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/homemade-bouillon-recipe.html

    [Reply to this comment]

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  • John

    Athough I agree that avoiding processed foods is a good idea in general (to certain exceptions, ketchup for instance – the home made stuff will be horrible in 99.99% of the cases, let’s be honest) I do feel that this here is going a little too far.

    Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with using sugar, fat or salt. Just don’t overdo it. You will get a bland dish if you avoid those main ingrediants but if you use them sensibly, you will not only get a tastier dish but also use less of the aforementioned ingrediants than with the processed ones.

    Just a couple of examples: barbecue sauce without brown sugar? Won’t work (okay, maybe if it’s a Carolina mustard sauce, different story here, though) and there just are no adequate substitutes. Period.

    Eating healthy is not about self-chastisement, it’s about being sensibly and maybe just not overeating. Why would I bother making Onion soup myself if I only use onions, salt and molasses? This isn’t onion soup, it’ll be some abomination vaguely resembling a soup with some onions. Why? Would it kill you to do it properly by adding white whine, beef stock, garlic and some flower? Of course not!

    Home cooking from scratch is simply the best way to eat healthy but you don’t have to ruin the food by doing it.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    John,
    I agree with you wholeheartedly that we don’t need to remove salt and fat from our diets, but we need to have the right kinds – unrefined, naturally occurring salt, real fats that have stood the test of time. Sugar, I’ll disagree. We eat far, far too much, especially the refined stuff but even natural sweeteners. I really enjoyed the homemade BBQ sauce I made with very little sweetener, just some sorghum or molasses. The onion soup mix is just an ingredients in other recipes – when I make French Onion Soup, from scratch, it’s with red wine, homemade beef stock that’s incredibly rich, tons of butter, onions caramelized to perfection – it’s to die for. So I’m certainly not advocating for a lack of taste, just a lack of refined, processed junk. Come on over for a visit and I’ll show you that we don’t ruin food by making it at home! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Ariel Osborne Reply:

    Coming from a baker’s daughter, I’ve developed quite a sweet tooth… but if you give yourself a week of avoiding the refined stuff, in addition to things that easily break down into sugars, like refined breads, white rice, alcohol, the cravings go away A LOT. Now here is an article that gives the facts: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/08/sugar/cohen-text

    Please share. It really broaden’s your perspective of the world.

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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